Gene Berg 5 speed

Hi there,
I'm new to this forum. I'm really interested in getting a 550 Spyder. I would really like to fit a 5 speed transmission. I've seen some Spyders with Hewland 5 speed dog boxes, but I don't know how practical that would be for street use.
Any of you know if the Gene Berg 5 Speed is going to fit? Also, would the 914 transmission fit?

Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Nick H.
Original Post
Hi there,
I'm new to this forum. I'm really interested in getting a 550 Spyder. I would really like to fit a 5 speed transmission. I've seen some Spyders with Hewland 5 speed dog boxes, but I don't know how practical that would be for street use.
Any of you know if the Gene Berg 5 Speed is going to fit? Also, would the 914 transmission fit?

Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Nick H.
The 914 transaxle is an IRS, not swing-axle. The Berg 5-speed conversion kits are currently the only way I know of that work with swing-axle setups. If you're going to spend the money for the Berg 5-speed have someone GOOD build it on a late stype (stronger) swing-arm core.
Hey George,
Thanks for your info. I called Gene Berg. They would need to do some modification work to fit the 5-speed conversion since the Spyder isn't built on a VW pan. They quoted me $1300.00 to do it.
Hmm, sounds very appealing to me. There's just something about having 5 forward gears in that car...just like the original :)

Nick, I don't think Porsche ever had a 5 speed for the 550, the trans case was too small and no room was available for the 5th gear.

FYI, the 5 speed offered by Gene Berg does not have an overdrive beyone the .80 stock 4th gear. They claim that if you slow down the engine, heating problems occur. Apparently the HP required to keep the car moving at freeway speeds produces too much internal heat if the engine fan is slowed down too much. (One of the original problems with power pulleys) The Berg Trans only offers close mid gears. Besides that, as much as Gene Berg liked to brag during his life, his kids have taken over the bragging rights, the 5 speed reeks of trouble, I've had several friends that have had 5 speeds and were miserably unhappy.
(Message Edited 8/1/2003 2:08:01 PM)
Larry, when you have a Berg 5-speed built you should select gear ratios and ring/pinion to give you the final drive ratio and gear "stack" for the performance you want. Going from a 4.12 to a 3.88 ring/pinion and shuffling the gear ratios should work fairly well.

Cooling is a function of fan output volume, integrity of the engine tin, correct air/fuel mixture, properly sized exhaust, power output, and oil cooling system(s).

A good final drive ratio in top gear is about 3.5 to 1 overall which with 25.5" tires will give around 70 mph at 3,250 RPM.
Thanks for the information George, however I already knew that if you have "someone" else build a Berg 5 speed you can choose gear ratio's. In Nick's post, he stated that he was talking to Berg about building a trans. Berg WON'T put in an over-over drive, see Berg's statement below from their web site:

"So, if ours was so wonderful, why did we stop making it for so long? Two basic reasons. It took 5 years to sell 112 kits at a price of $742. Secondly, what we continually heard and still hear from many people we talk to today that want a 5 speed today, is that they are doing it to get an "overdrive". The problem is that "all" VW's ever made already have an overdrive in 4th gear. In my opinion, people who try to install a even higher than stock final drive for an air cooled VW are crazy. Our tests have proved conclusively over and over again that a higher overdrive causes the engine to get "less" mileage, and runs much hotter because the fan turns slower, which obviously shortens the life of the engine. Few people stop to think about what is actually happening when a higher overdrive is installed. You are giving the leverage to the car and taking it away from the engine. Like moving the teeter-totter leverage out to the heavy person's side rather than to the light person's side. Thus, taking more HP to drive the car the same speed regardless of the size of the VW engine. More HP is more heat, less mileage and a shorter life. I tried a bigger pulley to speed the fan up again. However, it took more HP, which caused as much heat as it removed. I have found nothing to cure these problems so simply stay with the factory overdrive 4th gear in the 5th location"

(Message Edited 8/2/2003 11:58:51 AM)
Larry, we are pushing lighter cars (less rolling resistance) with (in most cases) reduced frontal area and usually more than stock power. Building a Berg 5-speed with a 3.88 ring and pinion and carefully selecting the transmission ratios (there are quite a few custom ratios available) can give a VW engined replica much improved overall performance and a decent cruising speed without any engine heating problems.

Of course any time you want to make significant changes to a car's power delivery one should consider and provide for any anomalies that might arise - like if the cooling fan speed is a bit too low at the desired cruising speed, speed the fan up at that RPM via different sized drive pulleys. Porsche increased fan speeds on their USA cars after they found out most US drivers were puttering around at low RPM in fifth gear on the freeways.
Again George, I'm fully aware of your comments however, as I stated in the above post, Nick was writing about having Berg build the trans. If so, they will not alter gear ratio's. They make this clear in their ad, and when you talk to them in person.

That is why I posted the quote from their web site.

If Nick chooses to buy the 5 speed kit and have someone else build the trans, they will not hesitate to alter gear ratios to his liking.
(Message Edited 8/6/2003 6:05:46 PM)
"we are pushing lighter cars (less rolling resistance) with (in most cases) reduced frontal area and usually more than stock power."

Correct George! This is why it's not apples to apples when we are talking about our much lighter vehicles and hipo powerplants.

Regards,
Tony
Just like with their Compression Ratio suggestions I think THEY are crazy......... I guess we all run a stock tire size too!! Tires alter MORE than a trans gear change will!!

The stock gear ratios are good for a stock engine! Over gearing can be an issue if you can't do math...

Thats why I like TIVs.... its damn near impossible to over gear one!
George Brown's review of the gear selection article from "THE 911 Performance Handbook" is EXACTLY ON TARGET for the PROPER method to use for either 4 or 5 speed ratio selections (FOR THE STREET) which is many a Spyder owner's interest.
After searching for some direction as to the gear selection process in "OTHER" forums, I was never able to get a response to my questions??

Reading George's article was like a breath of fresh air in a sea of misinformation!

Please, I have no axe to grind other than Spyder ownwers recognizing good information when it comes along. THIS IS IT!

Also, regarding Top gear (OVERALL: ie ring and pionion ratio times top gear ratio). With our cars I again agree with Mr. Brown that a little stretch toward the Taller eg 3.875 times 0.89. is more than ok for our engines to handle.
Berg's literature never addresses the fact that the over heating condition from an air cooled VW engine cruising at highway speeds at too low an rpm. as as much or MORE due to the fact that lowering the rpm of a given cruising speed forces the engine to produce the needed power at higher torque. Higher torque always means the engine will produce more heat which must be rejected, apart from the issue of FAN SPEED.

Best Regards Will Stonich
I have to disagree about the 5-speed. Porsche did in fact have a 5-speed, I just can't recall what year(CRS) they started. I know all 550-a's had them. I am pretty sure some of the later 550's had them. I believe the new tranny was made for the "a" and retrofitted to the 550 for a few races when the new cars were ready. This of course is probably just the insane ramblings of cobwebs in my brain. I do believe for certain situations, i.e. autocross, road racing, the extra gear may be a benefit. However, it all depends on how it's geared and for what application.
Wow, I haven't been to this thread in a few months, looks like George Brown removed all of his posts, makes it appear as if I'm responding to a ghost.

In the 70's and 80's, I drove EPA test cars for Porsche. The man I worked was a Porsche of Germany compliance expert. In the "old" days, he went from race track to race track setting up all forms of Porsche race cars, including 550's.

When I was showing him my Spyder, he commented that the 5 speed wasn't available for that car, wasn't enough room for the 5th gear in the old trans housing. Of course, he's 80 years old and may have forgot???????
I also noticed that George B's posts were removed. I snipped the following history from Terry Hill's Spyder history page which indicate a 5 speed and a flat 8 engine:

1955 Spyders win 1100cc and 1500cc class at Le Mans. Factory cars fitted with semispaceframe to improve rigidity, plus closer ratio five speed gearbox. Lighter and more rigid Porsche powered Coopers ('Poopers') outrun Spyders in US and Maserati 150S, EMWs prove embarrassing in Europe. Total production run 78, excluding works cars.

1956 Power raised to 130bhp and chassis revised as a full spaceframe along lines of 356/01 for the type 550A, nicknamed RS. Swing axle rear suspension revised in keeping with low pivot system used by Mercedes to counter extremes of camber change. Umberto Maglioli wins Targa Florio and annexes another Porsche model name. Type 550A production run believed to be 37. Works cars sometimes use larger bore 1587cc and 1679cc engines. Narrow track, short wheelbase, low drag, wishbone rear suspension type 645 version called Mickey Mouse (after its handling). Conveys works driver Richard von Frankenberg over banking at Avus and into life saving tree.

1957 Type 550A doubles up for new formula two against open wheel racers. Iron Curtain refugee Edgar Barth's works car wins class in German GP. Front suspension is revised, having transverse torsion bars in K shaped framework to promote negative camber in lower, sleeker car using type 645 nose. Mechanic's nickname of RSK sticks although the suspension reverts to near normal, the K shaped front frame disappears and Porsche calls it the type 718.

1958 Rear suspension again revised to have Mercedes style Watts linkage location (and Lotus type coil springs) to control geometry changes. Power of works engines for 1500cc class raised to 142bhp, necessitating complex oil cooling matrix using surface of nose panel. RSK converted to central seat configuration to win Reims formula two race.

1959 Production run of 37 Spyder Type 1500 RSK customer cars started, using 148bhp engines. Several buyers, including Jean Behra and Carel Godin de Beaufort, buy dual purpose sports or central seater RSKs. Goodbye to swing axles: works cars reach 162bhp, have lighter frame and wishbone rear suspension. Old RSK wins Targa for Barth as new one's suspension breaks on last lap. Formula two development roars ahead as 1.5litre F1 announced for 1961.

1960 New Appendix J sports car regulations dictate large full width screen which hinders small engined Porsches more than larger Ferraris. Porsche updates RSK to longer, smaller wheel, RS60 form, using 166 bhp formula two engine. For the first time, private owners can buy works specification cars. Alternative 1600cc engines gave 178 bhp. RS60s having 185bhp 1679cc engines narrowly beaten by Ferrari for manufacturers' championship after winning Targa.

1961 RS60 renamed RS61. Racing development concentrates on reluctant flat eight formula one engine, wishbone and coil suspension, plus new fangled disc brakes. Tough and reliable RS61 wins Targa again and special bodied Carrera Abarth version of production car takes GT events. Rakish Zagato designed GT nose then combined with Spyder body as basis of two works 718 coupes and one open W-RS using 1966cc 165bhp version of standard Carrera GT's, more torquey plain bearing engine. RS60 retires four miles from end of Targa while in the lead, W-RS takes second place, then fifth overall at Le Mans.

1962 W-RS fitted with new 210bhp 1982cc version of flat-eight engine and disc brakes. Crashed or placed in numerous endurance events, fails to outrun agile RS61s because of heavy engine.

1963 W-RS receives wishbone and coil front suspension to herald end of traditional VW system. Fitted with experimental glassfibre panels and 225bhp flat-eight. Type 718 version wins Targa; W-RS only seventh (stuck in first gear). Barth wins European Mountain Championship: 240bhp on tap.
Thanks for the info George, but I don't see any mention re: 5 speed for the early 550's namely the 55 and 56 which leads me to believe that the Porsche employee I spoke of earlier was correct, but like I said, although he was "there" during those times, he's 80 and may have forgot. Who knows???
Hi Larry;
Here is the piece I was thinking about for the 5 speed reference:
1955 Spyders win 1100cc and 1500cc class at Le Mans. Factory cars fitted with semispaceframe to improve rigidity, plus closer ratio five speed gearbox.

Your friend could be right that the early (pre 1955) cars did not have a 5 speed

And the reference to the flat 8:
1962 W-RS fitted with new 210bhp 1982cc version of flat-eight engine and disc brakes. Crashed or placed in numerous endurance events, fails to outrun agile RS61s because of heavy engine.

I also have a theory on why George B's posts are missing. When I tried to post the history above, a box comes up and tells me the limit is 4000 words per post, so I had to delete 2000+ words of the early history to get it in (In retrospect, I should have just put in the link to the page). I think that some of George's replies must have been over 4000 words and they were deleted by the forum software.
For George Watson and Daniel Piperato,

I called my retired Porsche friend, basically, all of us correct.

He chewed my out for giving out some semi-bad information, he said he told me this but I guess I forgot????? Who knows maybe CRS???.

Here is the straight scoop. The production 550's such as James Deans car and many others intended for on-highway use DID NOT have a 5 speed. The transmission case wasn't large enough to accomodate the 5th gear.

"Some" racing 550's did have a 5 speed, that was accomplished by removing the reverse gear set from the transmission to make room for 5th gear.

He reminded me of some old film clips we had seen showing the 550 race drivers pushing the car backwards to get back on the track when they spun out, that was because the car didn't have a reverse gear.

I hope this answers the question,

Question: Did the 550 have a 5 speed??????
Answer: Sometimes YES and mostly NO

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