1991 VW Jetta – part 1

We have a new project at Jim’s Garage.  A good friend with a small web business (www.justgerman.com) lucked out and found a 1991 Jetta for $500.  He’s done some work on it, putting in a new clutch and changing out the front grill for a European model with round headlights, but we thought it was time to give this black beauty some handling.

The first thought was to get some nice tires and, of course, some nice wheels to fit them to.  Not wanting to get too radical we decided on 16 x 7 inch wheels.  These were Sport Edition D3’s with a 38mm offset and weighed in at seventeen and a half pounds.  Not bad for less than $100 a piece.  This gave us a lot of tire choices in the 205/45-16 size.  Kumho had a great tire that we think will be perfect.

Next was to improve that suspension.  This car had a lot of miles on it, plus it has sat around for several years.  Just changing out either the struts or the springs didn’t work for something that needed a lot of suspension components refreshed anyway so we did some research and decided on the H&R Touring Cup spring and strut package.  This not only replaced a lot of worn parts, but dropped the front by 1.3″ and the rear by 1.25″.

Now I’m not a big proponent of changing ride height, although I’ve done it to a few cars I’ve owned.  You run the risk of changing the roll center and roll axis in some very bad ways.  Of course you also lower the car’s center of gravity, which can be a real improvement.  You just have to be aware of what other changes you are creating along with improving ride height. Another consequence is alignment.  Negative camber is fine, but you really have to be sure to have the toe set to zero as you go more negative.  A trip to the alignment shop is a must when you lower the car.  While we were under the car we also checked on the condition of the tie rod ends and the anti-roll bar bushings and end links.

The mounts at the top of the struts were in sorry shape and we had to replace them.  The tie rod ends were okay for the time being as were the anti-roll bar bushings.

Then we took a look at the brakes.  As I said earlier, the car has been sitting for quite a while.  We knew that the brake fluid had to be flushed and broke off the bleeder valve from a rear caliper when we attempted to do so.  We were able to bleed the other corners, but it was just temporary.  It was clear that this car needed new caliper, pads, and rotors.  The parking brake cables also needed replacement.

My friend Jake and I are scouting around for a brake system upgrade that won’t break his budget.  So we won’t be converting to Brembo’s at this go-around, but we will definitely be improving on the stock set up.  If we can we will see about some Porterfield R4-S pads and some high quality rotors.  Right now we are not certain about going to slotted or drilled.  We will use a very high quality brake fluid like Ate Blue.

Fortunately Jake’s business specializes in performance parts for German cars, including VWs.  This means we can maximize his budget!

As you can see there is a lot of research and many decisions that go into improving the performance and handling of any car.  Jim’s Garage will follow up

This entry was posted in Cars, Modifying Cars, Servicing Cars, Suspensions. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 1991 VW Jetta – part 1

  1. Noel says:

    Sounds like a fun project. I’m about to order a new suspension for my Saab 9000. These cars came in two standard models (CS and CSE) and an Aero version. The Aero had more power, Recaro seats, stiffer shocks and springs and sat a bit lower. There are a number of suspension kits out there, but Sachs, who made the originals, has a “SportChassi” kit that is the duplicate of the Aero suspension. It is a shock/strut/spring package that drops the standard CS and CSE cars about 10mm and firms things up. And it doesn’t upset anything else on the car as it is a factory set-up.

    Word on the street is that the other kits can be too firm for roads here in NH, especially when the frost heaves come in in winter. And since I run this car year-round, (it takes me skiing every weekend, Dec. – March) that’s a consideration.

    So a SportChassi it will be. Once it’s on I may add a front stress bar to tie the tops of the struts together. I’m considering adding sway bars, but the install is a bear –a day long job– so I may put that off for the moment.

    Will do some other suspension bushings and probably ball joints and tie-rod ends while at it. Suspension work is in some ways more rewarding than engine stuff. These days you can only relly put your foot in it in limited places or tracks, but you can always have fun in corners if you tweak the handling.

  2. Andy says:

    What information can you suggest to improve the ride on a 2001 VW Beetle. Right now it has 36000 miles and all stock. I would really like to make this a long distance ride but it has very little suspension travel and bottoms out easily. |Is it worth going into the shocks, struts, and sway bar, with after market parts or just forget trying to improve on this model? Have you ever tried anything for this moddel?

  3. Jim says:

    Andy –
    The new Beetle is a great car from VW and brings with it a lot of charm. Since it is based on the Mk4 chasis there are a lot of aftermarket parts for it. The thing here is – what are you looking for? Your comments about suspension travel lead me to believe that you are looking for some sportyness in the handling area, but you are also looking for practical comfort. At this point in the car’s life the stock shock are likely approaching end of life. Going to a new higher end shock would be good in any case. Koni makes a nice adjustable front and rear shock for the new beetle. From your note I would not suggest lowering springs like Eibach’s if you already have issues with suspension travel.
    If body roll is something that you feel is too much right now I would first try the new Koni adjustable shock – see how you like them. If body roll is still something that bothers you then it is time to add roll stiffness with anti-roll bars.
    Clairify your goals and try things one step at a time. It saves money and dissapointment.

    I hope this helps.


  4. charles park says:

    We own a 1991 Jetta. Apparently the wire hireness as it connects behind the steering column has shorted out and is now a tangled mess of molten wires. The car will not start at all.

    I am at a loss of what to do. One mechanic, who did not impress me, told me the car was toast. That all sorts of things could be messed up including the computer.

    Do you have any recommendations for proceeding. I do not know what caused the problem.

    Thank you so much in advance.

    My car knowledge is mediocre.

  5. jimsgarage says:

    Charles –

    Sounds like quite a mess. You probably could luck out ant the computer will still be fine, but the wiring needs to be replaced – CAREFULLY ! If you haven’t done so already be sure to leave the battery disconnected.

    I expect you will need to replace the wiring harnes and in the process you will likely discover the source of the problem. You may find switches need to be replaced or electrical junctions.

    If the computer (ECU) is messed up you should be able to find another one in a salvage yard.

    If you don’t have much experience with this kind of qutomotive work you will need to find someone who knows what they are doing and that kind of experience will not be cheap.

    I wish I had better news for you. The car is not toast, but it will take an investment of money and love to get it going again.


  6. brad says:

    Does anyone know where i can get the weather stripping for a 1991 Jetta L drivers door? Thanks


  7. jimsgarage says:

    Be sure to leverage the http://www.vwvortex.com/ site as well as check eBay.

  8. bandsxbands says:

    I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our society, and I am 99% certain that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside… I just hope that as the price of memory falls, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.(Posted from SerVo for R4i Nintendo DS.)

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