A Harsh Ride?

VW Beetle Front Suspension SimplifiedHaving changed from driving a 1952 Citroen Traction Avant with with Torsion Bar Suspension I found the Beetles ride very harsh in comparison and eventually decided to see what was needed to improve things.

First we need to look at how things actually work and the diagram shows a simplified view of a Beetle Front Beam with the torsion bars and trailing arms and the mounting points for the shock absorbers.

Now the front and rear suspension basically work the same way. The 'Torsion Bars' twist under load and spring back when the load comes off but the car would then tend to 'bounce' so shock asorbers are fitted to dampen that motion.

The type of shock absorber fitted and the condition of them plays a big part in the Beetles ride quality so getting it right is important. Now when we bought the car we were told that the suspension had been 'lowered' and it had new shock absorbers, well neither was actually accurate!

First I did the rear suspension as a 'bounce test' showed that the rear shock absorbers were past their best so I sourced and fitted a new pair of standard length Sachs 315 093 Gas filled ones. Now Gas filled work slightly differently to oil filled ones and are always trying to 'extend' which is fine on the rear of the car as it has all the weight of the engine and gearbox over the rear axle. I also replaced the missing rubber bump stops with a used pair which I cut down by 1/3rd to allow for the rear suspension being lowered by 1 spline just to give a bit of clearance as the rear bump stops are solid rubber and not very forgiving.

Rear Shock Asorbers fitted

Front Shockers FittedReplacing those did help but the front end still crashed and banged on some roads so it was time to check the front. I had originally replaced the front shock absorbers for a 'short' pair after raising the front beam adjusters to maximum height, but I never measured it, doh. I eventually found a local owner with a standard car so asked him to measure the height of the front beam of his car from the road and it was circa 17cm (just over 6 inches) which was near enough the clearance VW claim for Beetle ground clearance so I checked my car.

Now the short EMPI 9653 front shock absorbers that were on the car mount in such a way that there is no rubber 'bump stop' and are fixed top and bottom between the trailing arm and top mount so there is no 'cushioning' effect for the suspension travel when the car hits a bump.

Low and behold when I compared the measurements for my car against the 'stock' one it was sitting at the same 17cm beam to ground distance, so I decided to go back to 'stock' setup. I replaced the short 'EMPI' shockers with a pair of Sachs 313 898 Oil filled ones complete with new rubber top mounts which incorporate hollow rubber bump stops (part: 131-498-441) which act as additional 'cushions' alongside the shock absorbers themselves.

With standard oil filled shock absorbers and cushioning top mounts fitted, the car rides like it was designed to out of the factory and is a much pleasanter drive.

Why oil filled at the front and not gas filled? Well there is a lot less weight at the front of the car so oil filled are far more forgiving as they don't naturally try to expand and absorb the motion far better

Now others will claim that 'lowered cars' are fine but it really depends on how it's actually done and a 'lowering beam' removes parts of the suspensions ability to absorb road imperfections with shorter shock absorbers and no bump stop 'cushions.

There is an alternative by using an 'Air Ride' kit which replaces the shock absorbers with a compressor and air cylinders but they don't come cheap and not something I personally have any experience of or you can get 'adjustable' shock absorbers like coil overs if you have a 1302 Beetle that uses McPherson struts instead of torsion bars but they can't be used on the vast majority of Beetles out there so are not covered under this guide.

Instead of using a lowering 'adjustable beam', 2" 'Drop spindle' assemblies will lower the front end of the car, but still allow original shock absorbers and mounts to be used which should help a lot with ride quality. Going in that direction will also give a far cheaper option to convert the car to Disc Brakes at the front as kits are readiliy available at circa £300 for pre 67 cars running 5 bolt wheels.

So there is no need to suffer a hard, harsh ride in a Classic Beetle! or spend hundreds of £'s remedying it. I found that there was a nice cost effective solution for a total outlay of less than £150!

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