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Hi there,

I have a 2010 Thunder Ranch 550. I have a Volkswagen 4-speed cable shifter and would like to improve the feel as it's now very loose and not very tight. Any recommendation to replace it with a more robust and better-feeling shifter?  I saw somewhere a company that sells these shifters that is much better than stock.

Thank you in advance.

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Hi James,

I don't think you have such a thing as a stock Volkswagen 4-speed cable shifter.  The "cable shifter" is not a VW device.  In fact, none of the 550 shift mechanism layouts are a stock VW device.  (Remember, the trans is backwards located from a VW, and the shift pattern at the tailshaft is reversed from 'normal', so a custom non-stock solution must be applied in order to end up with familiar H-pattern at the knob.)

Your 2010 might have been originally provided with a Jamar  tail shaft adaptor (that reverses the shifter action) and could have been connected maybe a stock VW floor shifter box via a long rod under the trans and engine, with probably a few universal joints along the way.

Some owners had difficulty with the Jamar.  But once they were properly adjusted, they were trouble free and smooth shifting.  But there came a time when it became popular for owners who couldn't get the hang of adjusting their hard-connected linkage to replace their "old school" shifter with cable shifters.

There are several aftermarket cable shifter "kits" and shifter box configurations, not counting the home-made variations on the theme.  Brandwood               is one of the popular cable shifter conversions.

In the end, nothing you do will make your spyder shift with the snick-snick-snick like a Miata, or some such.  There is literally a near century-wide chasm between original VW and new showroom mechanicals.

So, post some pictures of what you have, and the folks here can identify it, and maybe suggest how to tighten it up or replace it.

Last edited by RS-60 mark

James said he has a cable shifter. Back in 2010 the only one available would have been a Brandwood, unless I'm mistaken.

The PBS is pretty good. It isn't like a Miata(which isn't a cable shifter) but it's almost as good as my Cayman. It is very easy to shift and is pretty precise.

I'd suggest taking apart and troubleshooting the shifter you have. Chances are, something is worn or loose, especially where the mechanism attaches to the transmission.

I'm with you, Mark, there's NOTHING "stock VW" about any Spyder.

As Danny said, the only cable shifter available in the aftermarket, that is from that era would be a Brandwood ( and they are notorious for being too stiff, notch and having a very heavy lockout spring that can take 2 hands to take out of reverse... so if you're feeling a sloppy shifter I'd certainly bet that something was loose or broken.  We also had our own design cable shifter at the time but it wasn't available outside of a new build, so I doubt you have ours.

Post some photos and we can help identify and diagnose.

The PBS style shifter is, IMHO, the best that has ever been available and would be an upgrade to just about any shifter in a Spyder, however it is difficult to install and in most cases requires engine/trans removal to retrofit it.

I didn't find the PBS difficult to install. I've only done two of them, and they both shift very well.

Removing the 7mm studs in the gear carrier isn't hard.

Cutting a small portion of the reverse gear shift fork isn't bad either. I just taped/masked it all off and used a cutoff wheel. This allows the PBS selector rod to work in a straight line rather than the arc of the hockey stick.

The hardest part is installing the tail-shaft mount for me. This needs to be exactly on to preserve the engine mounts and rear wheel alignment. The Vintage uses a 1 x 2 crossmember there and I drilled the holes oversize and welded tubing into the holes, then ground it flat. A bit of chassis black and all set.

Up front is easy, route the cables and mount the shifter.

This install does require some fabrication skill, but it isn't too much for a home mechanic-type guy to get done.

I've done it in the car, but wouldn't recommend it.

For nosecone (tailbone in this application) mount, we've made spacers and we change the 7mm studs to bolts, so you can mill a small recess in the nosecone mount to clear a couple of bolt heads and then then whole thing bolts to the stock 1x2 in the stock VW mount holes.

One thing Danny probably hasn't experienced is that not all of the gear sliders are shaped the same, so there are a few styles that are vulnerable to letting the hockey stick slide out of reverse without actually shifting the trans out of reverse, so you have to TIG a small bead on the end of the 2nd gear slider to prevent this, but now the slider is too long to engage 2nd gear fully before it bottoms out inside the nosecone, so you have to mill a recess inside the nosecone directly across from the 2nd gear slider to make room for a full shift.

Yes @DannyP the shift rails, not the sliders.

We've had a few, probably more recently than our conversation, that the hockey stick had just enough room to slip out of the reverse rail whilst reverse was still engaged and trying to stop the rail short, closing that gap,  didn't allow for full engagement of reverse so it would want to pop out of gear.  We had to add a small bead to the bottom of the 1-2 rail which closed the gap slightly and prevented this from happening, while allow for full engagement of reverse.

I am not as internally familiar with the T1 trans (never rebuilt one in house), as I am with the Porsche 901 and 915, so I don't know if the shift forks can be moved on the sliders  fore and aft before locking them down, but in a 901/915 you have a little bit of wiggle room and rotation that can change the amount of throw and rotation on the lever.  If the T1 is the same I can see that having a small effect on how far the rail stuck out when the gear was fully engaged.  If R rail was set at it longest and 1-2 rail was set at its shortest, you have the largest gap possible.  Again, I am only assuming that the slider/dogteeth/synchros/forks in a T1 are similar to the early 911/914 stuff, so my "theory" on that may be way off if they are vastly different.

There is a bit of room for in/out but not much, the detent ball/spring combo holds them in their "neutral" state pretty well. There is also not much rotating movement, as if there was, the fork could come right off the slider. All the rails should be in the same plane to allow whatever shift actuation you use to go freely when wiggling the shifter in neutral.

Also about rotation, there is a pinch bolt for the fork that goes in a groove on the rail. I don't see much room for movement there.

I can definitely see how slipping between the rails could happen if there was enough gap.

Is it possible the ball end on the cable shifter units you have is smaller than the stock hockey stick? Mine measure the same, but mine is a standard PBS, about 7 years old.

Last edited by DannyP

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