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Old 11-16-2009, 12:54 AM
STC STC is offline
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Default Suspension rebuild

Finally got the body off the car and moved into the next phase of this rebuild. The big question is that I don't know the year of this pan. Would you guys mind taking a look at these pics and telling me what I'm dealing with? Swing axle, IRS, adjustable/nonadjustable... I don't know what any of that means (in VW terms, anyway).

Take a look and throw out any observations. Please feel free to include an tips, tricks, or experiences with sources/venders.

The more I deal with the stock vw stuff the more impressed I am with their engineering. Simple, elegant, robust, and light... all good things. For that, I'm going to try to stay stock vw with perhaps minor upgrades (disc brakes, coil over shocks) for at least the time being until I can gain more experience and a better understanding of what's what.


body removal

(The pics of the pan are towards the bottom of the thread)

Last edited by STC; 11-16-2009 at 12:57 AM.
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Old 11-16-2009, 09:09 AM
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I can't find any good shots of the rear suspension, even the one from the back after you rolled it off the trailer. It looks like a swingaxle, which would be evident if it has a very thick looking axle with one boot at the transmission side. An IRS would have two CV joints - one at the axle, one at the wheel. The front end is standard Bug ball joint, non-adjustable. Which, if it is indeed a swingaxle rear, puts the pan to a late '66 or early '67. If you can post the chassis VIN, then we can look it up in any number of places to pinpoint the year of manufacture, like here: TheSamba.com :: Beetle VIN numbers

If you've never worked on a Bug before, you'll find that lots of parts are interchangable. Once you get the year of your pan, go immediately to eBay and buy the Bentley manual for that year. DO NOT buy a Chilton manual. Bentley is the only one that has definitive step-by-steps to work different areas. But yes, overall the Bug suspension is a pretty decent piece of engineering. Even the venerable swingaxle, hailed as hard to drive into corners, can handle quite a bit more horsepower than an IRS, just due to the axle design. And don't believe the hard to handle in corners bit... with a camber compensator, I was able to keep up and occasionally dust a couple of the local rice racers in my area, until their horsepower won out.

My best advice is to read-read-read and find other local Bug owners near you. There are tons of technical bug sites out there, and I have many of them listed here Links . Aircooled Tech and VW Resource are excellant places to start for newbies, especially when it comes to valve adjustments and general maintenance like that.
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Old 11-16-2009, 05:06 PM
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Actually he has a IRS. If you look at the last picture, you can just see the connection to the inside of torsion tube, next to the tranny horns. Also I think the protrusion out the ends of the torsion tube also indicate IRS.
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Old 11-16-2009, 05:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nic View Post
Actually he has a IRS. If you look at the last picture, you can just see the connection to the inside of torsion tube, next to the tranny horns. Also I think the protrusion out the ends of the torsion tube also indicate IRS.
Good call on the torsion bar housing! That alone would say IRS!
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Old 11-16-2009, 08:04 PM
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I think I can see an outer CV boot in this photo of your car, too:

Suspension rebuild-stc_irs.jpg

So, we're all about 99% sure you have an IRS rear...which is good.

As a quick primer...

The older style rear suspension (pre-1969) was referred to as a "swing axle" set-up. Like Rick said, it had a universal joint at the transaxle, but it didn't have any universal joint/CV joint out at the wheel hub. It just had a stiff tube that ran out to the wheel (with a drive axle hidden inside of it). If you think about what this does to the suspension geometry, you quickly realize why they called it a swing axle: When the wheel goes up, it actually swings up in an arc (ie, the top of the wheel and tire arc inwards at the top), and when you go over a bump and the wheel falls, it doesn't fall parallel to the ground but rather it arcs inward a little at the bottom. This is where most of its criticisms come from, because, if that arc-ing isn't compensated for, the wheel and tire can try to tuck under the car a little during hard cornering over bumps.

The IRS set-up is like the front suspension of virtually every modern front wheel drive car you've ever seen. It has a CV joint at the transaxle AND another one out at the wheel. This allows the wheel to always stay parallel with the ground regardless of how far up or down it's traveling. (But like Rick said, the IRS design is a little bit weaker. Drag racers choose the swing axle. In general, street racers choose the IRS.)

To verify what yours is for 100% sure, just run you hand from the trans out to the wheel. If you have an axle that turns, and it has a "universal joint" out by the wheel, then it's an IRS setup. If it has a solid tube that goes out to the wheel, it's a swing axle.

I found a cool little video that summarizes the beginning of a Bug chassis restoration pretty well. (Note: His car has a swing axle. You can distinctly see the solid tube/lack of outer CV joints towards the end of the video.)

In the video, you can also see some front beam adjusters that he welded in. Inside the two big tubes of the front beam are "leaves" of a torsion bar. That's what gives the spring to a Bug's front suspension. At the very center of both tubes of that front beam, there is a little bolt that sticks out the front surface of each of the two tubes of the front beam. Go confirm this on your own car. Those bolts are essentially the "set screws" that holds the inner ends of those torsion leaves in place.

On an "adjustable" front, someone cut out those bolts and added a mechanism that allows those set bolts to be angled/rotated up or down a few degrees, which alters the inboard end of the torsion leaves, which alters the outboard end of the torsion leaves, which makes the front suspension higher or lower than stock.

You can buy the adjusters and weld them in yourself, but...my god...why would anyone do that! Entire, rebuilt front ends are available and are quite inexpensive, and they can be ordered with adjusters already built into them.

Anyway, here is that video. Nothing special. It just shows some of the things we're talking about:

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Old 11-17-2009, 12:58 AM
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Well, it's official, the car has a IRS. Just checked it out and confirmed the dual CV joints.

A couple more questions:

1) Do you think it's worth it to buy an adjustable front end or go with drop spindles? Especially considering that I want to do a disc brake conversion and drop spindles are typically available?

2) The car has had very minimum rust and everything seems to work alright. I know people here that are bug men so I do have some resources in that regard. Do you think it's worth the cost to replace the front end, when just rebuilding it seems to be pretty simple?
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Old 11-17-2009, 08:04 AM
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Err... well.. personally, I'd stay away from drop spindles or an adjustable beam. There's really no need on these cars - the nose is close enough to the road as it is. Any lower, and you'll rub even more going over road transitions and speed bumps. I had minimal sized tires with 15" wheels on my Ghia braked car, and coil-overs to boot, and the tires would still rub the fenderwells under really hard cornering and long 'ally-oops' on the highway.
As for new or rebuild... chances are that everything is probably ok with the car. If the front end won't bounce back up when you take the front shocks off, then you'll need to replace the spring pack in the torsion tubes, and there are ways to make it ride softer if and when you do, but if the front end rebounds, then simply grease the fittings and all's good. Things to check, though, would be the grease seals at the end of each arm where they join the tubes for cracking and splitting. If that's happening, then definately replace those. Otherwise, just for safety sake, plan on replacing the ball joints, the steering damper, the rag joint on the steering box and check the box for excessive play. Check the bearings on the front and rear wheels, rebuild the brakes front and rear and replace all the lines and master cylinder. The rear suspension usually doesn't need any maintenance unless the car is sagging to one side, so really no need to touch it. As you've noticed - Beetles are pretty easy to work with!
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Old 11-22-2009, 11:42 AM
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STC,

When I got my first Sterling -- which was just a raw body that needed a chassis and, well, EVERYHTING -- I figured I'd probably need an adjustable front end due to the front of the Sterling being considerably lighter than the Bug. But surprisingly, through that project (and the running Sterlings that I have subsequently owened), I made the same observation that Rick mentioned: In all my cars, the front tires were already very, very close to the fenders and I definitely didn't want to lower them any more.

Again, this was a surprise. I thought for sure I'd have to lower the front, but as it turns out, none of my cars needed it.

If you do decide to lower the front, the common advice on the street is that dropped spindles are good because they preserve the steering and suspension geometry whereas the adjustable beams change steering a bit and necessitate further re-alignment, etc.

My suspicion is that, because you would only be lowering the front a little tiny bit -- not two full inches like in most dropped spindles -- that maybe the better option would be an adjustable front rather than the dropped spindles. I have never tried (or seen) dropped spindles on a Sterling, but I'm worried they'd be too low and would cause lots of headaches with tire clearances (especially in turns).

One other thing to think about...

In my red rotary turbo, the builder used just some cheap air shocks on the front and rear. They have very little pressure in them. The "spring" actually still is coming from the stock bug torsion leaves (in the front) and torsion bars (in the rear). So they mainly are being used just as dampeners. But the cool thing is that I can boost them UP a little if I need to. When would this be necessary? Well, the Sterling's front bumper is very close to the bottom of the legal height limit. If anyone every tried to challenge you on that (at an inspection, etc), you'd have an ace up your sleeve if you could bump the nose up and inch or two.

But even cooler...

I haven't done this yet, but I'm very tempted to get one of those little compressors and small air tanks JCWhitney makes for load-leveling trucks. Some kits even have electric solenoids that can be controlled from inside the car. I'm not talking about a $2000 full-out show car low-rider air bag system. I'm just talking about a $175 add-on that is subtle and low volume. Anyway, I figure that, when installed, I could bump the front up or back down to stock when needed for, say, getting into a tricky driveway or over a speed bump without dragging the nose. The total cash outlay for such a system is just about $25 a piece for the shocks and $150-$250 for the load leveler from JCWhitney.

In total, I personally wouldn't do drop spindles. As for the adjuster and/or the issue of a rebuild, I'd use this logic: If you want the fun of rebuilding it/swapping out some seals and bushings yourself (which isn't too hard), just rebuild it and don't worry about the height 'cause it's likely to be 'just right' in stock form. Conversely, if you want a rebuilt front -- with all new ball joints, steering box, etc (which is not very expensive and is an excellent upgrade), then get a rebuilt front WITH adjusters. Adding the option of adjusters only adds literally a few bucks to the overall purchase. And then you have the ability to fine tune things if you want to. (Chances are, you'll end up leaving the adjuster at the 'stock' height.)

And seriously think about that air shock option. It doesn't change any of the rest of the decision-making, and it might give a welcome option when you have to traverse and ugly surface with a car with a very long, low nose.

Photo of my front suspension:

Suspension rebuild-air_shocks-front.jpg

But now I'm very curious: What do all you other guys have on you Sebrings and Sterlings? Does anybody have adjustable fronts, and if so, can you tell whether they are set in the middle of their range or are they set to one extreme?


Update:
See, now I just went to Dave's site to see if he used adjusters in a newly built Sterling -- and he does -- but from what I can see, they are in stock height. It could be that he definitely wanted to lower it. More likely, he didn't know what the best height would be either, so he has them there so he can tweak it if need be.

Also, I'll crawl under my cars next week and double-check to see whether they are adjusted down at all. I'm 99% sure that they are at stock height. A two inche dropped spindle is definitely too low. I know that for 100% sure.
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Old 11-23-2009, 12:15 AM
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I really liked the idea of the air shocks when I first saw them on your car and spent some time on the JC site trying to find them. Unfortunately, no luck. I would really like to do what you're discussing and toss a toggle switch or something on the dash to allow the thing to raise a couple of inches for slow travel around speed bumps and the like... I once had a 240sx with coilovers that sat about 4" off the ground. Handled great on the autocross courses, but was annoying and embarrassing as hell when I had to drag the nose over every single dip or bump. It had a bit of a nose on it, but nothing like the sterling so I can only imagine what that's going to be like.

I think what I'm going to do is just what letterman7 describes and stick with just doing the seals, bearings, etc.

It's kind of a situation in which I don't know what to do first. I'm going to go with disc brakes on all 4 corners and have them drilled for a 5x114.3 lug pattern which is consistent with basically every Nissan and Infiniti RWD rim. To do this means it makes sense to get the disc kit, rims, and tires all at the same time (or at least before doing anything to the suspension) so that I can mount everything up, throw the body on, and see how everything aligns. That way I know if I need to lower it or if I need a narrowed front end.

At that point it becomes a matter of budget... Still working on it. In the meantime, I have plenty of time consuming, but cheaper projects to keep me busy until I can save up the coinage...
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Old 11-25-2009, 11:15 AM
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I welded in the adjusters. As cheap as they are & all is apart what the heck!
I think the adjustable spring plates are a good idea. sterlings & sebrings tend to sit a little high in the back
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