Type Three Tuning Page -- Front suspension system
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Some first-hand input by Keith Park on the T3 front end. This was written by him
and he gave me permission to post it on this web site, as I found it to be
useful for beginners. Please note, however, that I do not share his view on
lowering; yes, the more the car is lowered the greater the geometry will be
affected and this needs to be considered. Removing the bump stops is something I
don't recommend, either, but I prefer the mild drop (<3 notches) and not a
radical drop (>3 notches).
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By: Keith Park
The type 3 front end is a very well designed one and will last literally forever
if properly maintained and not lowered but with improper maintenance and rough
treatment can be shot in as little as 60Kmi. This article is to supplement the
Bentley manual, and show some practical shortcuts and things that that were left
out but you WILL need the torque specs and such from the Bentley and it is
HIGHLY recommended you read over the whole chapter on the front end before
proceeding with any work on it. I will write the article as a procedure to
disassemble and adjust the suspension height. If your not concerned with doing
this read through anyway as I will include the little things to look for that
may cause other problems.
Begin by raising the front end of the car and supporting it with jack stands
under the beam. Remove the front wheels. Next remove the spindles, the ball
joint clamping bolts are a tricky breed and must be delt with appropriately.
They are 9.8 Shanked bolts which means they are hardened and MUST be replaced
with hardened bolts as they are torqued to 40 ft-lbs. The bolts may be broken
loose with weight on the ball joint but must be removed without any weight on
the stud or the stud will jam against the bolt and roll the threads over.
Lastly, most of these bolts are frozen so you'll have to wrap the ball joint in
a wet rag and use an OXY torch to heat the knuckle where the bolt threads in RED
hot to remove the bolt. Don't even bother with a propane torch as there is not
nearly enough heat and this is the LAST bolt you'll want to break off, its
hardened so drilling it out is a nightmare. Take your time and get torch help
where you need it and they will all come out.
Once you've loosened the lower ball joint stud bolt raise the lower torsion arm
with a floor jack being careful of the stability of the car and shifting on the
jack stands. Once you have the top torsion bar so that it is no longer pushing
against the top rubber snubber you have relieved the pressure on the ball joint
stud and you can fully remove the bolt. Next drive a cold chisel or wedge into
the ball joint clamp to free the ball joint stud and raise the lower arm further
until the stud is loose. Remember to check the car and make sure it isn't
shifting on the jack stands but you may actually have to lift it off one with
the jack under the lower torsion arm to get the arm high enough to remove the
ball joint. Once it is free you can let the jack down and remove the top ball
joint stud in the same manner only you won't need the jack. Hang the knuckle in
such a way as to not stress the brake hose. If your just adjusting the
suspension height or servicing the lower torsion bar you don't need to remove
the top ball joint.
Now that your spindles are off remove the shocks making sure that the lower
bushing on the shock comes off with the shock and that you don't rip it out of
the rubber on the shock. Your now ready to take the bars out of the front end.
Lower bars first, First, and most important, is to take a cold chisel and mark
the stationary unloaded position on the arm and beam so you can put it back on
the same spline later. Next remove the anchoring bolt on the opposite side and
the retaining finger and thread in a longer version of the same bolt and pound
it in till the bar comes loose and hangs free. These splines are notorious for
rusting up and perhaps NEVER coming loose so be prepared for a showstopper here.
You can heat but it you deform the end of the beam with the heat and pounding
you'll ruin it and never get a proper alignment again. One of the locals here in
town years ago had a tool he put on it and vibrated it along with heating that
worked very well but finding this is probably an impossibility.
Get it loose? GREAT! Now carefully remove the bar, supporting its weight and
keeping it in the middle of the hole so as not to damage the bushing and bearing
surfaces in the beam on the way out. It will be VERY greasy so wipe it down and
examine it. The bar should not have more than very minor surface rust and NO
cracks. The bar should be concentric in the hole where it enters the torsion arm
too… if it's just a little off OK but if its really noticeable then you have a
bent arm and its scrap. This will cause the inability to get proper Caster on
alignment. Look at the inner area of the arm where the inner bushing rode on it,
if its shiny and just a bit worn its OK, if its scored or grooved but not worn
into the arm its been improperly greased and is near end of life but if the wear
is down into the arm its junk and so are the bushings in the beam. Look at where
the needle bearings ride, there should be NO scoring or pitting here and NO
rust. If you see rust your beam is probably rusted through under the clamps and
needs to be replaced.
If the arm checks out you can loosen the clamp bolt, mark its position on the
bar with a grease pencil (the bar is too hard for a cold chisel) and pound it
off. These splines are also a bear and heat can be used but as a last resort and
with care as the grease in the arm will melt and try to catch fire.
The inner beam bushings and bearings are replaceable but obtaining these part's
is VERY difficult. The outer needle bearings are easily removable with a puller
and a slide hammer but the inner bushings are a different story. VW had a tool
to do it but it's hard to tell what it was in the literature and the bushings
are usually really in there. I have used an assembly of washers on a rod filed
on the edges so they will slide through and latch on the other side. This gave
me limited success and installing the new ones must also be done with care using
a punch that will hold the bushing and a lip that will pound it in to the
correct depth. I wish I had better suggestions other than to hope the bushings
are good but perhaps someone else will invent a better way of getting them in
and out without damage.
Now that you've inspected the lower portion of the beam lets look at the upper
stabilizer bar. These tend to work loose on the left side of the car so grab it
and you should feel no in and out play, just rotational and the arms should both
track with one another, both be tight on the bar. If you want to remove it just
loosen the set screw on the left side or the bolt on the right side and rotate
the arm up so it will slide off. NOTE that these also tend to rust solid and may
need heat. Inspect the arms as you did on the lower ones but there shouldn't be
a problem here as they are lightly loaded. If you had a loose left arm inspect
the bar and arm to see of the edges are rounded off where it had been chucking
around in there. This is a common problem and if left very long you will need to
replace the arm and bar as they will never stay tight. If they look rounded or
don't fit together tightly then replace them.
Now here's a hint...a REAL hint on how to improve the body roll of your
Notchback or Fastback. The Squareback's, at least the late model ones, used a
significantly larger sway bar and it's a direct swap with the other cars. This
will make a very noticeable improvement on the cornering and only a small amount
of increased stiffness of the front suspension.
Lastly, inspect the ball joints as they are good for about 180K on the bottom if
the boots are good and will last forever on the top as they are lightly loaded.
They should show no signs of rust inside and move freely with NO play. Sometimes
they are a bear to remove and heating them is tricky as they have plastic parts
inside them sometimes. Try just heating the nut and using an impact wrench. On
the early joints you can grease them with a fitting but be careful not to blow
the boot off. Inspect the tie rod ends the same way.
Start with the stabilizer bar, grease the entire length of the bar and arms and
use anti-seize on the ends where the bar enters the arm. Tighten the arm on the
left side, make sure it cant move around in the hole and then tighten the bolt
that goes into the bar on the right side until the O ring seals (don't forget
these) squish out. You want it just tight enough so you don't get any axial play
but it will rotate smoothly. Then tighten the clamp bolt.
The lower bars should be assembled on the arms with plenty of anti-seize in the
position previously marked. Grease the entire length of the arm and bar, use
anti-seize on the splines and insert it in the marked position carefully not to
scratch the bearings or bushings during assembly. Adjustments in ride height can
be made but rotating one spline at a time for a very coarse adjustment and the
Bentley manual gives the procedure for the fine adjustment. I have found that
advancing 4 notches on the inner spline and decreasing 4 notches on the outer
spline (1'20") change is the finest noticeable change. Be sure to keep the 2
sides even.. this is critical and you want the car, unloaded, with a half tank
of gas, to have about 1/4 to 1/2 inch space between the upper rubber stopper and
the upper torsion arm. This may take several tries as the car has to be
assembled and let down each time to check the height. With the bars set to where
you want tighten everything down and make sure the metal finger mounted on the
inner bar bolt is rotated so its over the lip on the lower torsion arm. THIS IS
A SAFETY ISSUE that is often overlooked or assembled wrong. This is the only
thing that keeps your lower arm and bar from coming out completely when the
torsion bar breaks and they do. The early beams had these fingers welded on the
beam and they were bent over the arm once the arm is in place.
Install the top ball joint after making sure the boot is good and use lots of
antiseize on the stud and clamp bolt. Make sure the clamp bolt is at least a
hardened 9.8 shanked bolt. Now lift the lower arm onto the knuckle with the
floor jack again making sure the car doesn't shift off the jack stands and let
the stud down into the hole until the bolt will enter freely. Rotate the ball
joint stud until the notch on the end faces front and tighten and torque this
bolt now before letting the jack the rest of the way down. I don't install the
shocks until I have let the car down and checked the ride height as it usually
needs some tweaking.
A NOTE ON LOWERING...
Those that know me know that I shudder at the thought of lowering any type 3 so
let me put my reasons down on paper.
First off, sit next to your car with the front wheel off and look at the front
suspension. Now notice how little suspension travel there is, now imagine
changing the lower bar angle by I notch which is nearly 12 degrees. Now where
are you? Right against the lower rubber stopper! Now imagine how hard the ride
will be! Also note that the Caster which should be 4 degrees is determined by
how far the upper ball joint sits back from vertical from the lower ball joint.
This is a function of the geometry of the car and is not adjustable. Now think
how much the Caster will be reduced with the lowered stance. Yep! You'll lose it
all with just one notch down. Without Caster or with negative caster your car
will wander, especially in the wind and every bump you go over will steer the
car in random directions (called Bump-steer). These conditions are dangerous for
emergency handling characteristics and are just not acceptable.
I have seen some people remove the rubber stoppers to lower the car even more
and this really exasperates the shock loads on the bearings and bushings in the
beam which are so hard to obtain and replace. I've seen bent frame heads because
the car bottomed out in a dip and hit the clamps. Your front end wont last long
if lowered and those who say the handling feels good have probably never driven
a properly set up, tight, type3 that's been aligned properly.
If your car is a trailer queen or a sunny Sunday car on smooth streets then
lower away but for the daily driver, especially the highway car you probably
won't be pleased with the high-speed handling and the suspension won't last
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The one thing many customizers want to do is lower their ride. Luckily for the
Type III crowd this is easily accomplished in a day as our front ends are
splined like the rear end. Since the procedure is somewhat involved I will not
explain how to do this as you should use a shop manual to help walk you through.
I lowered my Squareback using the Haynes manual.
Some things to remember:
- 1. Use a china marker or grease pencil to mark the lower arm and the torsion
bar that it surrounds.
- 2. Slowly pull the lower arm and give it a very slight twist. As soon
as it is free from the torsion bar splines (it is able to rotate freely) slowly
and carefully rotate it in the direction you want and push at the same time.
This way you will feel when the splines remesh. That is one notch.
- 3. Repeat step 2 for every notch you want to adjust the height to.
- 4. It is possible to adjust the height by rotating the torsion bar as well,
however, this is not the standard way to adjust the ride height. It is normally
used in conjunction with the arm end to fine tune the ride height but it isn't
as easy to do.
Empi-style after-market anti-sway bar:
Front view-1 Front
view-2 Close up Bottom
view View through trunk