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Project VW GTI 16V Part 3: Shifter and tie rods

Jul 30, 2002 SHARE

So far, the experience of owning this GTI has had all the charm of pulling out of the garage and backing over Grandma. Before it happens you hear a tiny voice scream, "No!" but you aren't paying attention, you're singing along with "Hot for Teacher" on the radio. Then, there's all this wailing and howling, all this commotion, and you have no idea what it all means.

When you get out of the car, you see the mistake, you feel like the garbage you forgot to take out, and you spend days wondering how in God's good name you could have avoided the whole scene. Worst of all, it kills Grandma.

Every day I come into the office, I'm forced to confront this VW, the equivalent of a dead grandmother. In my dreams, it's a sexy autocross champ, a king of the local canyons. But, when I wake up, the sad truth envelopes me like the smell of a bad exhaust.

I've been spending lots of time at Eurosport in an attempt to put things right--so much, in fact, that everyone hides when they see (and hear) me pull up. The phones go unanswered, UPS guys stand around impatiently, and I think I can hear people whispering behind closed doors. That they've grown weary of Project GTI is obvious. In an effort to win back their favor, I started showing up with beer and pizza (it seems to be working). If that ever fails, I'll simply back the car into the Eurosport facility, let it run a few minutes and smoke 'em out.

For the record, these restorative procedures aren't particularly fun--like prostate exams and root canals, they aren't fun, but they are necessary. Especially if I want to make this GTI a happy, healthy member of the Volkswagen community. In the meantime, the labor has taken up a fair amount of my idle time (I'm drinking less and learning more, and I've started to run in the morning. I don't even have time to key SUVs anymore. What the hell is happening to me?).

In this part, I will address the shift mechanism and the steering linkage, areas that had this VW going places it wasn't pointed. I knew the shifter was bad when I accidentally backed into a Ford Lightning belonging to a burly member of the Truckin' staff. The failure is common: In attempting to choose first gear, the worn shift-lever stop guide fails to keep the shifter from going into reverse, so instead of first, you get reverse. Moreover, the shifter exhibits a general sloppiness that makes precise gear selection impossible. Except for tires, no vehicle system is subjected more to repetitive movements than a shifter--subsequently, it's prone to wear and typically needs to be rebuilt every 100,000 miles or so.

Before running off and getting a short-shift kit, be advised reducing shift throws will not clean up an aged linkage--if anything, it will aggravate the situation. Pretty much the whole apparatus needs to be rebuilt to function properly.

Shift Linkage and Eurosport's Short-shift Kit
The transverse mounting of the transaxle requires a relatively complex mechanism of shafts and levers to transmit the movements of the gearshift lever to the transmission for gear changes. There are two dozen or so bushings, ball-joints, balls, ball housings, rods and levers continually moving against each other, placing substantial load on seven main parts: 1) the relay shaft and ball; 2) the relay lever; 3) relay shaft bracket bushing; 4) shift rod bearing assembly bushing; 5) gearshift lever ball; 6) ball housing for the gearshift lever; and 7) rubber washers. Typically, if you replace just these parts you can tighten up a sloppy linkage. Of course, in the case of this GTI, it was like an old person with a broken hip: The whole damn linkage and shifter needed to be torn out and replaced.

Following his stunning 13.9-sec. pass in Eurosport's all-motor VR6 Corrado, I managed to badger ace-wrench Vik Kazanjian into performing the procedure. This kid's got an innate mechanical sense I really admire, and though the service manual gives the procedure 3 hours, Vik finished it in under 2.

While the linkage was removed, I augmented the shifter with Eurosport's short-shift kit, a simple program designed after the later-model Mark III and IV cars. The Eurosport short-shift kit is comprised of a weighted connecting link and a modified relay lever--the extra weight lends a smoother feel to shifts, and the relay lever reduces throw distances. I've never been a fan of modified shifters, primarily because they assume each driver has the skill of Max Papis. Put an unskilled pilot behind the controls, and he's liable to find 1st rather than 3rd during spirited driving--there is very little room between gears.

Eurosport's short-shifter features either 30- or 50-percent reduction settings and installs in about 10 minutes. To make Eurosport owner Raffi Kazanjian and Vik happy, I put it on, fully intending to remove it when I got home. However, after rowing through the gears for a few days, I'm going to leave it in place--it feels exceptional, better than the chunky shifter on our long-term TT. It's set on 50-percent reduction, and I'm guessing it works as well as it does because the entire linkage has been rebuilt. Something to think about.

Steering Tie Rods
The steering wheel and steering column are connected to the rack-and-pinion gear by a flexible universal-joint shaft. When the steering wheel turns, the steering rack moves the tie rods to turn the wheels. Wear and excessive play or clearance anywhere in the system will cause sloppy, loose feeling and imprecise steering.

In the case of this GTI, the steering was so bad it would need to improve just to suck. A quick look beneath revealed torn protective boots and excessive play between the steering rack and tie rods and between the tie rods and the steering arms. We saw it when we replaced the subframe and knew they should have been replaced then while they were easily accessed, but I ran out of steam (and beer). Basically everything was just hanging there, dangling like parts of naked old people in a sauna.

Raffi suggested getting brand-new tie rods rather than salvaging the parts and rebuilding them. Although the Robert Bentley Service Manual suggests removing the steering rack, Vik removed the tie rods by carefully holding down the rack and turning the rods. It takes a while, but it's do-able.

Although the GTI is in dire need of an alignment, it feels like a completely new car. It goes where it's pointed and no longer sounds like a 1953 Chris Craft battling high seas. Pretty soon, I'll be ready for the fun stuff like performance heads, cams, exhausts, brakes, etc.

I'd like to send a special thanks to the crew at Eurosport for sharing more than a decade of expert VW experience with me.

Eurosport Accessories LLC
1464 N. Hundley St.
Anaheim, CA 92806
(800) 738-3876
(714) 630-1555
Fax: (714) 630-1599
www.eurosportacc.com

Robert Bentley Inc
1033 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02138
(800) 423-4595
www.bentleypublishers.com

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