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After years of 356 dreaming, I'm the proud new owner of a virtually untouched CMC speedster project. Other than the two bolts holding it to the dolley, there haven't been any holes drilled or routed. The seller purchased the kit from CMC in the late 80's and has been accumulating parts ever since. It sits on an already shortened Super Beetle chassis and has the conversion kit to attach the standard front end. It also came with a standard Beetle chassis with rotted floors and a set of new floor pans, should I choose to go that route. Also included is a 0-mile 1776cc motor built by Wagenschmitt in Seattle as well as nearly every other part needed to build it. I'm sure there will be a few bits here and there that are missing but it's surprisingly complete. He had CMC sew him custom upholstery made from genuine leather.

I'm really looking forward to the build and being a part of this community. My plan for the car is a mild outlaw look with pod mirrors, fog lights, and hub cap delete. I'd really like to find or make a tonneau cover with fairing like the one used on the Emory speedster. For the color, I'm leaning towards Aquamarine Blue or Auratium Green.

My first questions for the group is if there are any cons to the super beetle based speedster. It seems like it might be a little heavier than the standard beetle once you factor in the conversion bracket up front, but I don't really know.

It came with a transmission core. What I'd like to do is buy a rebuilt transmission and trade in the core. I owned an MGB for a few years that had a 4 speed with electronic OD. I loved that setup, made for comfortable freeway cruising. I would like to either do a 4 speed with OD or a 5 speed. What are folks running?

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5-speeds are rare and pricey in the VW world.  Others will chime in about it, but expect a good natured religious war .  I had a Rancho ProStreet 4-speed that was bulletproof, but I understand the desire for an OD gear.  Electric ODs like the MGs had have never been available for VWs.

Good luck with the project and keep us posted on progress.  Oh, and Welcome to the Madness!

Hi, Adrian, and welcome to the madness of replica Speedsters.

You might want to contact @Marcel in Europe about his hard tonneau.  His looks just like what you want, but I don't know where he got it.  Lord knows, maybe he made it from scratch - he has some mad fabrication skills.

I once owned a CMC front end conversion kit and can attest that they're very well made.  Since I never actually used it (didn't need it) I can't say how straight it is, but anything can be adjusted.  It is an easy install, from everything I've read, and adding another 20 lbs to the front end is actually a good thing.  The final weight of a pan based speedster is very close to the weight of a VW sedan - maybe a tad lighter, especially in the front.  OTOH, if the standard beetle pan frame is in good shape without too much rust, then those new floor panels can be cut, dropped in so they overlap 2" or so and then welded in - it's pretty easy, just time consuming.  

If the old pan is a swing-arm rear suspension, rather than dual CV joint drive axles of the super beetle, I would opt for the super beetle and front conversion because it will handle better.

Transaxles:  5-Speed transaxles are available but the waiting period seems to be measured in years.  They don't provide you with any more of an "overdrive" than a similar 4-speed, but they will give you shorter gaps between the lower gears, good when carving through curvy mountain roads.

Both the 4-speed and 5-speed can be had with a 3:88 (preferred for your 1,776 engine) or 3:44 ratio final drive, along with a .89 fourth gear.  The .89/3:88 combo gives your around 3,250 rpm or slightly less at 70mph.  You want to keep the engine rpms at 3,000 or above on highways for adequate cooling of the engine - NOT like a water-cooled engine at all.  There are a few other gear ratios available, but you've got time to decide what is best for you.

If your heart is set on a 5-speed, expect to pay 2X - 3X the cost of a 4-speed, both newly rebuilt.  Most of us get our transaxles from Rancho Performance in California.  I don't know it they offer 5-speeds or not - Nothing on their website but you could ask.  The only other alternatives are a Gene Berg 5-speed conversion kit ($$$) or a Porsche 901 5-speed complete from Rancho ($$$$) which will require some frame mods to accept it.

That's all I have for now.  Keep the questions coming!

Many later Supers had a transaxle with the 3.88 R&P which is desirable over the normal 4.125 R&P. Check the serial number.

AS        1600           3.875          Type I from 1973

AT        1600          3.875         Type 1303 and Verts from 1973

AU        1600           3.875          Type 1303 with LSD from 1973

A '70-72 Porsche 914 5 Speed (tail shifter) can be used too and more available (cheaper).  It is a 901 trans just like the early 911/912.  You have to flip the R&P, add a vent hole and swap the nose cone (and the shift linkage).

Do you have a VW title for both Super and Std beetle pans?  That may be deciding factor in which you use as it may be difficult to register a pan without a title (dependent on state).

Last edited by WOLFGANG

Thanks for all your replies so far guys! I raised the body off the super chassis to get a better look at it. It appears as though both chassis are IRS. I have the titles for both. The Super is a 73 and the standard is a 74. The super is in good shape, just needs to be cleaned up and painted. The standard chassis needs the works: new pans, shortening, etc. It's very rusty in the floors, not sure about the rest of it.

I am going to call Rancho to get their $.02 on what they recommend. I appreciate the insight regarding gearing and the relative availability of the 4 speed.

@Adrian Tayne-  I could write 400-500 words, which would take 1½- 2 hours with all the editing/re-writing I do, but this is way easier- 

https://www.speedsterowners.co...rsche-901-914?page=1

and this-

https://www.speedsterowners.co...1#564965618986679951

and more if you're really diggin' our banter and prose-

https://www.speedsterowners.co...r-disc-brakes?page=2

After reading all that- I probably know as much about the Berg 5 as anybody and know more about gearing than most, so if you have any questions feel free to ask.   Between myself and a couple others that are very knowledgeable we can probably help you with anything you need to know.  I'm away for the day (going to help a friend finish digging trenches for the new septic field) but will be back tomorrow.  Al

Last edited by ALB

That's true, if you are replacing the front mount on a beam pan, which I did, too, I would agree that it would have been easier to have it on a frame rack.  I bought a complete headset and welded it in, but I must have spent well over an hour getting everything as true as I could before firing up the welder - a true PITA!

He has a useable Super Beetle pan, though, and a CMC conversion kit which bolts up to the SB suspension points (Struts, A-arms and shock mounts) and that accepts the new beam.  It should be as true in alignment as the original SB was, I would think.  It certainly is rugged - IIRC the conversion kit was made from 1/4" steel plate with rectangular tubing welded on as mounts!

Last edited by Gordon Nichols

Good morning gents, I took a couple pictures of the transaxle and the CMC super beetle conversion kit. It is the adapter plate mentioned above that CMC sold to bolt directly to the frame. The manual makes it sound simple but I haven't looked into it much yet. If it's all bolt-on which would allow for future adjustment, I should be able to wait to get it aligned until after it's all assembled, no?

I included a picture of the transaxle and the number stamped on the side. I also took a picture of the front beam.

To @Gordon Nichols's point, the conversion kit does appear to be 1/4" plate and is pretty beefy.

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Looks like you have some good things in there. The transaxle looks a little worse for wear; maybe it sat on the ground for quite some time; I would look for corrosion holes at the bottom; same thing happens with the OEM magnesium engine cases. God knows; if the bottom of the transaxle is not porous you might get away with cleaning it, changing the gear oil and the final drive seal; it might still be good.

Last edited by Impala

I've done some searching and found that there have been several posts about the CMC Super Beetle conversion kit but I haven't come across anyone who actually built one. Is there anyone that can vouch for how theirs turned out and how it handles? I'm at a cross-roads and want to make sure I'm not getting off on the wrong foot using the super beetle with the conversion kit.

I've done some searching and found that there have been several posts about the CMC Super Beetle conversion kit but I haven't come across anyone who actually built one. Is there anyone that can vouch for how theirs turned out and how it handles? I'm at a cross-roads and want to make sure I'm not getting off on the wrong foot using the super beetle with the conversion kit.

@Gordon Nichols built his on a Super Beetle I thought?

Adrian, if I were you I’d get a couple of cans of Gibbs Brand penetrant/anti corrosion treatment and a few brass wire brushes and give that transaxle a good going over. Just going by the pictures, I think there’s little chance that case is still good.

My brother just bought a 1500 that sat in the dirt like that and when he went to change the oil the whole bottom of the sump turned to dust in his hand when he tried to pull the sump plate off.

Last edited by dlearl476

I've done some searching and found that there have been several posts about the CMC Super Beetle conversion kit but I haven't come across anyone who actually built one. Is there anyone that can vouch for how theirs turned out and how it handles? I'm at a cross-roads and want to make sure I'm not getting off on the wrong foot using the super beetle with the conversion kit.

I thought somebody here had a car with that adapter. If you ask me it's even sturdier than the Napoleon hat on the standard models; the steel gauge is heavier. I wouldn't be hesitant to use one; just make sure all your measurements line up when installing it; but you're doing this anyway. If the Super chassis is in better shape it might be the best alternative. Except for that small front section the cars are identical, chassis-wise.

By the way; that engine you have has a VW Mexico case; I haven't seen one since the late '80's when I worked in a VW parts shop/machine shop. The ones you still find are mostly VW Brazil.

Last edited by Impala
@Impala posted:

I thought somebody here had a car with that adapter. If you ask me it's even sturdier than the Napoleon hat on the standard models; the steel gauge is heavier. I wouldn't be hesitant to use one; just make sure all your measurements line up when installing it; but you're doing this anyway. If the Super chassis is in better shape it might be the best alternative. Except for that small front section the cars are identical, chassis-wise.

By the way; that engine you have has a VW Mexico case; I haven't seen one since the late '80's when I worked in a VW parts shop/machine shop. The ones you still find are mostly VW Brazil.

That's a good eye you have. How on earth could you tell the case origin from that pic?!

I found all the hardware and the 35 year old conversion kit instructions and thought I'd throw it together to see how it worked. The hole alignment is really bad so it will take some "wallering" but this at least gives me an idea. It seems very sturdy with lots of attachment points.

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@WOLFGANG posted:

Many later Supers had a transaxle with the 3.88 R&P which is desirable over the normal 4.125 R&P. Check the serial number.

AS        1600           3.875          Type I from 1973

AT        1600          3.875         Type 1303 and Verts from 1973

AU        1600           3.875          Type 1303 with LSD from 1973

There was nothing special about Super Beetles other than the different front suspension. Nothing special at all with regards to the transmission.

Just about all type 1s had the 3.88 ring and pinion from 1973 on. Beetles and Ghias, and some others, type 3 and Thing included.

Also, there is no such thing as a "Super Beetle main shaft". The 3.78 stronger first was in everything from pretty much 1973 on.

Why did VW switch from the 4.12 to the 3.88? Two reasons: The 1600 dual port either carbed or injected made more power so taller gears could be pushed, plus lowering the revs a little lowered emissions.

And good luck finding a trans with the LSD installed. Rare as hens teeth.

@Adrian Tayne-

You won't know the transaxle case condition until you clean it up.  It can look all crusty (like yours does) and be fine (all the sealing surfaces still good) , or as people have said, be so corroded that the bottom is eaten away and/or the sealing surfaces are gone (again, at the bottom).  I have heard of people using a liquid metal type epoxy to fix small areas around the drain plate on engine cases, so if the areas are small I imagine it would work here as well.

Re 4.12 vs 3.88 r&p- If you want your car to be more zippy around town and have a smaller engine (sub 2 liter) then keep the 4.12.  If you see yourself as more of a tourer, doing huge highway miles on a regular basis then the 3.88 may be the better way to go.  It all depends on what you want, and if you want it all, now you're talking about joining The Way OF 5.  You just have to open your wallet really big, but The Way OF 5 is amazing, and it will transform you.  Just ask Mitch- after becoming a member of The Way he now looks amazingly like Brad Pitt- it's truly amazing!

When VW went to the 3.88 they also shortened 4th gear from 0.89 to 0.93 in the Beetles, as the 1600 now overheated at highway speeds due to it's poor aerodynamics.  This combo is almost exactly the same final drive as the 4.12/0.89 (3.66 vs 3.60 for 3.88/0.93).  The Karmann Ghia, with it's slipperier shape, kept the longer 4th gear with the r&p change, going to a 3.45 final drive.

And don't hold your breath hoping to run into an AU transaxle- no Volkswagens were ever brought into Canada or USA with a ZF limited slip differential by the factory.  As Danny said, in these 2 countries they are as rare as hen's teeth.  Al

@ALB your post cracked me up. I can't wait to see this Mitch guy.

I actually do see myself doing more of the around town zipping around. When I had my MG, I rarely took it on the interstate. Avoided it like the plague as there are lots of country roads around here to get where I need to go. The MG had big rpm drops especially between 2nd and 3rd. It was a real drag and made climbing hills a challenge.  I was either revving too high in 2nd or lugging in 3rd.  I've got a brand new engine to break in and based on what I was reading lugging it should be avoided.

The 4.12 sounds like a good option for me. I've read that using a .82 4th gear along with the 4.12 makes for a nice highway cruiser, but would want to make sure it's not too big of an rpm drop from 3rd.

I need to decide on tire size, was thinking standard 356 whatever that is. Then run all the rpm/mph numbers.

.

Adrian, Al and I have never met. Like many others, he's been duped by an aggressive PR campaign mounted by my staff. You would probably be more than underwhelmed by my physical presence.

Not so, a five-speed, though. It's just the ticket for an underpowered Speedster. Maybe more than your MG, the Speedster with basic VW 1600 'power' suffers from the big gaps in gearing that are also present in a stock VW four-speed.

There are many threads in the archives about gearing and how to get around these deficiencies, including long discussions of the five-speed.

The main problem is that you can't just go to the five-speed store and buy one. No one makes them as a finished piece. There are a few routes to getting there, including a conversion kit for a VW four-speed, but they all involve gathering up rare or unobtainium parts from various sources and then finding a guru to build you the finished transaxle. Then, there are modifications that must be made to the car just to mount them and to get them to fit. The whole process usually takes a year or so, costs many dollars, and will shorten your lifespan by more than that. You might well end up in therapy. Most rational people don't bother.

One thing to remember is that the more low-end torque you have, the less you need a five-speed. I have a mild two-liter (about 120 estimated hp) which benefits mightily from five forward gears. But with 150 hp or more, four carefully chosen gears and the right r&p might do you. Several million words have been written here about that.

If you're starting from scratch on a project that will probably take at least a year of your life, I'd give serious thought to acquiring more motive power than that 1776. We all start out thinking that this iconic sports car left the factory with only 70 hp, so how much power do we really need? In short, a lot more. We forget that roads and traffic were worlds different in 1955. To survive in today's conditions, you just need more.

Even with my two-liter and a five-speed, I still stay off the freeway when possible. A low, open car (actually very low and very open) is just not happy in a world of 500 hp mastodons, where to the left and right of you are nothing but menacing, spinning wheel covers and lug nuts.

My car will attain an honest 90 mph, maybe more, and would probably cruise all day at 75 mph, but in quiet moments of self exploration, when I'm being truly honest with my inner soul, I know that it's happiest at 60 mph on a twisty, two-lane mountain road, like the ones in Bavaria it was originally designed to own.

Good luck with the project. I think you'll discover, if you haven't already, that it's not about the car, it's about the journey.

.

Last edited by Sacto Mitch

Do not get a .82 4th gear. You will be recreating your MG gear gap issue, at best.

With a good 1776 engine (i.e. 80-85 hp at 5000 rpm, 100 ft-lbs at 3600), a 3.88 R&P with all stock Bug gears (.93 top gear) and normal tires (165/80-15) will give the best overall performance. You'll be doing 60 mph at 3000 rpm in 4th and the car will like you in every gear, and vice-versa.

If you end up with a 4.12 R&P you will want the .89 4th to get the same cruising speed/rpm and it will open the 3-4 gap just slightly, and you'll be quicker off the line.

Both the above options will get you a fun car with minimal hassle and expense, grasshopper. As Mitch alludes to, The Way of Five is for black belts only.

I met up with a friend who really knows his VW's and took a look at my engine with me. It's got lots of Gene Berg parts including heads, cam, and crank, and has been fully balanced. He thought it may be good for 100 hp.

@edsnova thanks for your insight. The .82 4th is standard on the Vintage Motorcars speedsters which appears to be a reputable builder (link). If my engine performance is close to what he's using in his, I thought that gear setup might work well for me too.

@edsnova posted:

Do not get a .82 4th gear. You will be recreating your MG gear gap issue, at best.

With a good 1776 engine (i.e. 80-85 hp at 5000 rpm, 100 ft-lbs at 3600), a 3.88 R&P with all stock Bug gears (.93 top gear) and normal tires (165/80-15) will give the best overall performance. You'll be doing 60 mph at 3000 rpm in 4th and the car will like you in every gear, and vice-versa.

If you end up with a 4.12 R&P you will want the .89 4th to get the same cruising speed/rpm and it will open the 3-4 gap just slightly, and you'll be quicker off the line.

Both the above options will get you a fun car with minimal hassle and expense, grasshopper. As Mitch alludes to, The Way of Five is for black belts only.

Exactly how my VS works; 3000 RPM at 60 mph. There is a noticeable gap from 3rd to 4th; annoying when driving behind someone at 40 something miles an hour; you’re either at high rpms or lugging it.

Do you know what the 1-3 ratios are?

I posted what Greg used in his transmissions somewhere before. I’ll see if I can find it. FWIW, I think he had these made for him by Rancho. Kind of a custom Freeway Flyer.

Here it is. From Greg:

3:88 R&P

310. 1st

193. 2nd

121. 3rd

082. 4th

I got these numbers from him when I was contemplating recreating, as closely as I could, the “BBAB” gear ratio set that came with the original 550’s and 356 Carreras. I have a feeling they go with the optional 2335 motor Greg uses. I don’t know if he’d recommend it for the smaller, standard engine, for all the reasons Ed mentioned.

Last edited by dlearl476

That earlier 1.21 3rd gear would work OK with a .82 4th and a 4.12 R&P In Adrian's car, I think. But a lot would depend on the torque curve of the engine.

Greg's big 2332cc engine is, as I recall, made to be a low-rev torque monster: 150-ish hp in the 5000 RPM range. That makes it a different mill than, say, a CB Performance 2110, with its 150 horses coming around 6000. Either one would pull Greg's gears in a Speedster, but the 2110 would do it with more pizzazz in a Spyder, with about 200 pounds less mass.

Adrian's engine, even—maybe especially—if it's cammed up to make power at high revs, is going to want the closest gear spacing available. Pace ALB (and his love of jack-rabbit starts), the 4.12 R&P is still a second-place choice (unless Adrian also wants to drag race the car). The stock late Bug gears provide the strongest, closest-ratio set available without going into high-buck custom stuff from Weddel. And it's dirt cheap.

I know how much all of us like spending other people's money, but I like to believe that most of the people who get into this hobby at least start out with a reasonable budget in mind, and with a goal of getting a super-cool looking car that they can look cool in whilst cruising around, cooly.

It's only later, and only sometimes, that the desire arises to make it something it's not and can never be.

As @Stan Galat warns: "Don't be like Stan."

And don't either be like Ed.

For reference, Ed's gears, in both his clown cars, are 3.80 / 2.06 / 1.26 / .93 with a 3.44 R&P. Car 1 is a 1700-lb MG TD replica with a 2.2l Subaru engine and stock sized 165/80 tires. The engine is rated at 137 HP @ 5200(?) RPM and makes about 140 ft-lbs torque pretty much from 2000 to redline, which is rev-limited to 6000.

Car two is very well known on this site. It weighs 1550 wet and the engine is rated at 120 HP @ 5500 RPM and makes about 125 ft-lbs peak torque at 4000. It also redlines at 6000 RPM. Both of these vehicles, weighing substantially less than a Beetle but with two to three times the stock Beetle's power, possessing but two seats (instead of 4) and with limited trunk space, have no need for the Bug's stump-pulling 4.12 R&P + first gear, designed as that was to haul four passengers and luggage up an alpine pass with 40 horsepower.

It's that first gear, which in a stock Bug tops out around 20 mph and necessitates shifting into second halfway through the intersection, that limits the utility of the gearbox for our more sporty pursuits. In my applications, with the much taller 3.44 ring and pinion and higher-than-stock shift point, top speed in first is increased to about 35 mph, which is very near what the original 550 Spyder did.

Top speed in second (6000 RPM) is a bit over 60. This is equal to a 1955 Spyder geared for LeMans (although the Spyder achieved that at a rather show-offy 7500 RPM).

Third tops at 100 mph, again, same as a Spyder. And 4th is theoretically above 140 mph, which is a little more than the original Spyders could reportedly manage.

Now, as every schoolboy knows, successful as they were, the early Porsche racing gearboxes were a compromise, which is why the company rushed to get a 5-speed box in place. But remember too the engines they served: the four-cams were moon-revving beasts with no torque down low. They needed closer gear ratios in a way our street-rod engines—with their broad torque bands and 6000-ish redlines—do not.

In fact, the lower the redline on the engine, the wider-spaced the gears can actually be—which is why all the ultra close ratio boxes first came out on the high performance and race vehicles. It's not that close gear spacing isn't nice to have behind a pedestrian street engine. It definitely is! It's just that, when you look at the dyno sheet on a race motor you tend to see a very small gap between peak torque and peak horsepower. They're both way, way up there in the rev range. So if you're trying to keep the engine revving between those two figures (which you absolutely are!) then you need very close gear spacing. To win races.

Case in point: Boxster v. Spyder. 2.5 liter Boxster 6: 201 hp @ 6000; 181 Ft-lbs @ 4500. A 1500 RPM gap between peak torque and peak HP. 1.5 liter Typ 547 flat 4: 120 HP @ 6200 RPM; 96 ft-lbs @ 5300. A 900 RPM gap.

Despite their ancient pedigrees, our hot-rodded Type 1 engines behave—if they're built right—much more like an early Boxster mill* than a four cam. We're getting broader, flatter torque curves that make it easier to keep them "on cam," as the old chaps used to say. They don't blow up if you lug them to the donut shop when the oil's still cold.

Anyway, don't be like ED, and spend your life thinking about it. Just get a good stock-geared Bug transaxle, preferably one with a 3.88 r&p, put it in the car and be happy.



--

*Excepting the dreaded IMS bearing issues, of course.

My biggest complaint about my trans is that first gear. And I’m pretty sure I have a 3.88 R&P, I think the 1-2 shift point is about 20-25, but it’s for sure “the GAF side of the intersection.


The rest of the ratios are pretty good, as I have 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gear mountains around here.  TBH, some of the most pleasurable drives I have are really tight mountain passes at 20-35 mph in second gear.

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