When was the last time you bought a high-performance anti-roll bar for 10 bucks? How about a limited-slip differential for $75? You say you just spent only $500 for a set of wide wheels for your car? Hey, we could have gotten the same size wheels for only $100-and that’s for all four of them.
You may think we get these deals thanks to our industry connections, but in reality, it’s not who you know, it’s where you shop. The key here is that you, too, can get the same deals we get. Thing is you’ll never get them at Swanky Bob’s Auto Boutique; you need to cross the tracks and pay a visit to Zany Bob’s Auto Boneyard.
That’s right, folks, we’re talking about automotive salvage yards, also known as junkyards, auto recycling centers, boneyards, auto salvages and wrecking yards. A friend of ours euphemistically refers to them as “where you buy the parts that carry the ‘brand j-y’ label.” Whatever the name, these are the speed shops of the frugal enthusiast.
The platform concept of automotive design and manufacturing has meant that many different models are built on similar or identical chassis; this means they have a number of interchangeable parts and sub-assemblies. Many of these parts can be mixed and matched to create high-performance option packages that the manufacturers never offered.
In other words, thanks to the fact that they share a common platform, the beefy brakes and high-winding 1.8-liter VTEC engine offered on the Acura Integra GS-R can be swapped into any late-model Civic. If you’re more into classic iron, the same philosophy allows you to swap the big brakes from a Triumph GT6 into a Spitfire.
Also remember that many models came in both “regular” and “hi-po” guises. If you have a standard Nissan Sentra E, search the wrecking yards for the hotter Sentra SE-R model and start grabbing all of the trick bits (engine, suspension, brakes, seats, etc.). Likewise, if you have a VW Rabbit, look for a GTI; if your Ford Escort needs some more flash, search out a wrecked Escort GT.
What we have done here is assembled a guide to some of the more popular boneyard hop-ups, which you’ll find listed according to marque. Before getting into the specifics, however, we would like to start with some disclaimers.
First, although we used the most reliable sources we could find, we have not personally tested all of these swaps. We are therefore offering these tips with the caveat that you may find some inaccuracies. (Then again, you may find these ideas work even better than anyone had ever hoped.)
Second, realize that boneyard shopping requires some work and knowledge. You will get dirty, you will get some skinned knuckles, and you will have to do some searching. In other words, no one said this was totally easy.
Third, since the parts waiting in the salvage yards are generally far from new, use some common sense when installing them. Since brake parts are so vital to the safety of your car, rebuild and replace consumable parts (rotors and pads) whenever possible.
Fourth, this is far from everything that is known on boneyard shopping. So if anyone has any tips they’d like to share, forward them to us.
Finally, since many of these swaps are not legal for some racing classes, check your rulebook before proceeding. You may also want to give your competition a better look-over next time you’re sitting on the false grid.
Despite these few drawbacks, once you get hooked on boneyard shopping, we think you’ll find it to be a rewarding-and fun-experience. Have fun building your own boneyard brigade.
Now…on to the swap guide!
BMW owners enjoy the advantage of interchangeability between many popular models. In fact, lots of parts from early four-cylinder BMWs are interchangeable with one another, and many six-cylinder cars can swap parts back and forth between them. Late-model, computer-controlled cars, however, may require a bit more work to make all the systems compatible.
Owners of 2002 models should look for a 1972 tii distributor, as it features the preferred mechanical advance. Avoid the 1975 distributor, which has a vacuum advance. The 1974-and-up cylinder heads are the most desirable. (Look for an E12 designation cast into them.) These heads feature 44mm intake valves as opposed to the 42mm intake valves found on earlier heads. Installing one on a earlier motor will necessitate the installation of the E12 pistons, however.
The slave cylinders on the 2002 and 320i transmissions are different, but the units themselves may still be interchanged. Use a 1980-‘83 320i five-speed in a 2002 for the best results. This swap requires some creativity (see the March/April 1992 GRM for details), but we’re not talking brain surgery.
The hot differential setup for a 2002 is to find a limited slip from a 320is model. This rear end features a 3.90 ratio and can be identified by a big “S” painted on the case. (Who said junkyard shopping was tough?) The number 10.39 should also be stamped into it. You’ll need to use the inboard CV joints that came with this diff, however. For an even better ratio, the 1600 had a 4.11 rear end.
Speaking of 320i to 2002 swaps, the 320i’s larger rear brakes (one-inch larger drums) will swap right on to a 2002. With some minor wiring, a 320i alternator will also fit a 2002. (The 320i piece features an internal regulator and higher output.)
If your E30-chassis 3-series needs some more spunk, almost all of the trick stuff fitted to the M3 will fit. Unfortunately, it’s not every day you find an M3 sitting next to a bashed-up Chevy.
However, there is a pretty good chance you’ll find a 325is, which does feature some cool stuff like front and rear spoilers, sport seats, and limited-slip differential with a 3.73 or 3.93 gear. If you’re into mixing and matching engine parts, the following combination builds a very stout 2.7-liter engine: 325i head, 325i rods, 524td crank and 325e block.
It’s not something you’re likely to find in the junkyard, but the trick, finned aluminum rear differential cover fitted to the new M roadster and M coupe will bolt to any E30 diff. You may want to check with your BMW dealer for this one.
The later E36 3-series cars also have a few hop-ups. The convertible models came from the factory with an X-brace under the engine that connects both frame rails, and it can be retrofitted to a hardtop model. If you find an E36 M3, start grabbing stuff for your non-M car, like the larger engine (3.0 liters in 1995, 3.2 liters afterwards), big brakes, beefier suspension, and nice interior. Note that some of this stuff won’t just jump onto the car, as the larger M3 brakes require the matching M3 struts, and 1996-up cars can have some OBD-II compatibility problems.
Many U.S.-market BMWs can benefit from their European counterparts, as they usually came with close-ratio gearboxes and factory-installed oil coolers. Generally, if first gear is located underneath reverse, you have found a Euro tranny.
Speaking of transmissions, a lot of four-speed cars can be converted to five-speeds with a hardware transfusion, and generally an automatic transmission can be replaced by a manual unit if you swap over the transmission, pedal box, clutch/flywheel assembly, driveshaft and hydraulics.
Many BMW wheels are interchangeable, provided you keep the four-bolt wheels on four-lug cars and five-lug wheels on five-lug cars. However, offsets can vary between models. For example, to use 14-inch 325 wheels on a 320i, you’ll need a one-inch spacer.
Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, as Dodge and the Chrysler Corporation were heading away from bankruptcy and towards profitability, they cut costs by building almost all of their cars on one common platform: the K-car chassis. To add some zing to these models, Chrysler had Carroll Shelby and his people turn up the wick on many models, grafting serious hardware like turbochargers and upgraded suspension components onto the slightly mundane sedans. After all, in stock form an Omni isn’t exactly the most exciting car-until you add about 15 pounds of boost.
During the production runs of these cars, several different versions of Chrysler’s turbo four were used, and fortunately you can swap around a lot of the better pieces. First, however, you need to understand what engines were used in which model years: The Turbo I is the basic SOHC eight-valve, non-intercooled turbo engine (2.2 liters in 1985-‘88, 2.5 liters after 1988); the Turbo II is similar but features an intercooler for the turbo and was used in 1987-‘90 models plus the 1986 Shelby GLHS; the Turbo III was offered in 1991-‘93 and came with a DOHC cylinder head and an intercooler; the Turbo IV used a SOHC head along with a Garrett VNT turbo and was fitted to many 1990 models plus the 1989 Shelby CSX. In general, the newer the engine the better, but be warned that the Turbo III and Turbo IV engines are quite rare.
If you are looking for a complete bottom end, the pre-1989 Turbo II units were stronger than the ones in the Turbo I cars. However, starting in 1989, Turbo I and Turbo II engines shared the “common block,” which is quite strong.
Aside from the rare twin-cam Turbo III engine, Chrysler used only two significantly different cylinder heads in their turbo cars. Prior to 1986, the G-cast head (or “bathtub” head) was used; starting in 1986, the high-swirl head was fitted. Since the bathtub head features larger combustion chambers (58cc vs. 52cc), a popular trick is to stick the bathtub head on a later engine. This move lowers the static compression ratio, allowing higher amounts of turbo boost to be safely run (21 to 30 psi).
To identify a cylinder head, look for a casting number near the number-four spark plug: 445 is the 1983-‘84 bathtub head, 287 indicates an ‘85 bathtub head, and 782 reveals a later swirl head.
Not counting the Turbo III engine, three different intake manifolds were used over the years: The original 1984-‘87 “log-type” draw-through manifold is restrictive and not so great; the 1986 Shelby GLHS and all 1987 Turbo II cars came with a two-piece blow-through intake; and the 1988-up cars all feature a one-piece blow-through manifold. The two-piece unit features the desirable, longer intake runners, and its two-piece construction facilitates porting. Unfortunately, since these are a bit rare, most people just use the one-piece manifold.
All blow-through intake manifolds came with a 46mm throttle body that can be replaced with the 52mm unit from early 3.0-liter and all 3.3-liter V6 engines. Remember to hog out the intake manifold when doing this swap.
Different turbo units were used over the years, too. The early Turbo I and Turbo II engines came with a pretty decent Garrett turbo. The guts are the same on both, but to facilitate the intercooler install, the Turbo II’s outlet faces towards the radiator versus up.
Starting in 1988, the Turbo I engines used a smaller Mitsubishi turbo to allow for quicker spool-up and less lag. It will max out at about 17 to 20 psi depending on engine and turbo condition, but is nice for around-town motoring.
The Turbo IV cars came with the variable-nozzle turbine, which is desirable in almost every way-it combines the Garrett turbo’s high top-end with the Mitsubishi’s quick spool-up. Adapting it to a non-Turbo IV car may take some work, never mind that Turbo IV cars are kind of rare.
When upgrading your intake, note that the early hoses were ribbed and caused turbulence and a slight loss of power. Later hoses are smooth inside and thus more desirable.
Most Shelby Dodge cars came with decent brakes from the factory, but boneyard upgrades do exist. The 1984-‘90 Caravan features a larger Kelsey Hayes caliper (60mm piston) which bolts right on, yielding more swept area. Those looking to replace their rear drum brakes with discs can look to all-disc Daytona/LeBaron cars.
The two best transaxles for these cars are the A-555 and A-568 units. Early cars came with rod-actuated transmissions, so these cable-shifting boxes may require some creative engineering. To tell what you’ve got, check out the location of reverse: the A-555 tranny features reverse next to first gear, while the A-568 tranny has reverse below fifth gear. A circular ID tag on the top of the case should also help. The A-555 came in 1987-‘89 Turbo II cars (Daytona, Lancer, LeBaron, etc.), while the A-568 came in many 1990-up cars. Avoid the weaker A-520 box.
Drag racers looking for a beefy automatic transmission do have some options. Since the Turbo I engine is automatic-friendly, the heavy-duty transmission guts from a V6 minivan can be adapted into an early Turbo I automatic case. Talk to your local transmission shop about this one, however.
For more info on these swaps, check out Dempsey Bowling’s very informative Web page: www.xmission.com/~dempsey. It’s fully devoted to front-drive Dodge performance.
Some people have called the 1979-‘93 Fox chassis Mustang the ‘55 Chevy of modern times, as hot rodding the car has become a way of life for many people. Even though the aftermarket has flooded the scene with every bolt-on part imaginable (plus some that require more than a few bolts to hold them on), some boneyard tricks can add extra life to your Mustang. As the Mustang steadily evolved through the years, generally installing hardware from a later car in an earlier car is the hot tip. A s the basic unibody of the car didn’t change, engine swaps are pretty easy. The engines got better as the series progressed, with the 1987-up cars featuring the best blocks and heads. The 1989-up cars came with the preferred (by most) Mass Air fuel injection system. If you have an early carburated car and don’t want to deal with hooking up the injector hardware, most any small-block Ford V8 is a bolt-in project. Basically, the pre-‘85 Mustang V8 engines are best avoided.
To help point that power in the right direction, the four-speed box fitted to 1979-‘82 V8 cars can (and should) be replaced by the Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed fitted in later cars. The 1983-‘84 T-5 close-ratio boxes are not super-attractive either, because of reliability problems; the 1985-‘89 T-5s are a little better, but are still a little weak; the 1989-up T-5s are a good choice and are easy to find in salvage yards; the T-5 fitted in the limited-edition Cobra and ‘93 high-output Mustangs features even stronger guts; and the Saleen Mustangs came with the very desirable World Class close-ratio five-speed.
Clutches also improved through the years, with the 1986-up 10.5-inch clutch assembly and flywheel being the preferred choice over the earlier 10-inch setup. The later flywheel and clutch will fit all earlier V8 Mustangs except the 1979 version.
In 1986, Ford also upgraded the rear axle from the sorry 7.5-inch axle assembly to the superior 8.8-inch unit. Rear end ratios of 2.73, 3.08, 3.27, 3.42, 3.55 and 3.73 are available, but the last two were special-order items.
Some other tips and tricks: the 1992-up gear-drive starter is lighter and more efficient than earlier models; 1990-‘93 tie rods offer better bump steer control; the 1990-up lower control arms will give a better anti-dive angle but will increase the front track by one inch and are not as strong; the front cross member from a 1979-‘80, 19841/2 or 1991-‘92 Mustang will provide the most bracing with the best control arm locations; the rack-and-pinion from a 1986 Mustang SVO has a very quick ratio; and 1987-‘88 Thunderbird and Cougar front control arms will provide more track and negative camber.
Depending on how early your car was produced, Mustangs can use some brake upgrades, too. At the least, replace the stock pre-‘85 front 10-inch rotors with the 1986-up 11-inch setup. For rear disc brake action, check out the following Ford products: 1982-‘83 Lincoln Continental, Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, 1987-‘88 Lincoln Mark VII LSC, or SVO Mustang.
When searching for anti-roll bars, remember that bars fitted to the Ford Fairmont and 1983-‘86 LTD will also fit. Check out junked four- and V6-powered Mustangs for more anti-roll bars, too.
If you have a GT and are tired of looking at the louvered taillights, the smoother ones offered on LX models swap right in. Ditto for the current-generation SN95 cars; the 1996-‘98 retro-look rear lights will replace the 1994-‘95 pieces.
For some more cross-polination tips, check out Mustang Performance 2 by William R. Mathis.
Fiat 1800cc Spiders have their share of junkyard hop-up opportunities. The head from the 1592cc engine may be bolted onto the 1800 for a compression ratio increase. The exhaust manifold and downpipe from the 1592 is also a much better unit than the 1800 unit. The electronic ignition from the 1979 and up model can be retrofitted to the earlier car, but the distributor must be recurved to use all centrifugal advance. A 2000cc engine will interchange, but there may be some hood clearance problems.
The suspension springs from the 1968-‘71 cars are shorter than the later model units and will drop right in. For a serious weight savings, the 1968-‘74 chrome bumpers may be fitted to the later cars with minimal headaches. This will save nearly 100 pounds.
The 1968-‘74 1438/1608cc 124 Spiders have limited junkyard hop-up potential, but are worth mentioning. The ‘74 1800cc carb will bolt on, or the linkage from the later carbs can be used to make the standard carb a mechanical secondary.
The Fiat X1/9’s recent boom in popularity means that a few tricks are just becoming known. For example, the 1975-‘78 Lancia Beta carb, which features 22mm primaries and 25mm secondaries, may be adapted to the X1/9. These carbs do not have the vacuum advance port for the 1979 and on X1/9, so the distributor will have to be modified to full centrifugal advance. The block-mounted electronic ignition from the 1979-‘88 cars can be adapted to the 1974-‘78 1300cc cars.
The 1300cc X1/9s can benefit from the improved compression ratio provided by the 1971-‘73 Fiat 128 1100cc head. The 1500cc X1/9 can use the same head, but the compression ratio would be astronomical. The 1300 car can also be converted to a 1500 via a simple engine swap. Be sure to use the 1500’s engine cover as well. If you’re swapping to the five speed as well, be sure to swap the rear suspension arm that is unique to the five-speed cars. The best exhaust manifold is the four-into-two unit from the 1974 X1/9. Lancia 14-inch wheels will bolt right on for a plus-one effect. To save weight, the 1974 X1/9 bumpers are a must. These are quite rare, however.
Late-model, third-generation F-body cars (1982-‘92 Camaros and Firebirds) came in a wide range of models, from the super-sedate to the super-sporty. This is of great benefit to owners looking to hop up their cars with junkyard parts.
F-bodies came with a variety of anti-roll bars, all of varying stiffness and weights, and all are interchangeable. Listed from stiffest to softest, front bars came in the following flavors: 34mm solid bar, 36mm hollow, 34mm hollow, 32mm solid, 30mm solid and 28mm solid. Rear bars, all solid, start with the ultra-rare 25mm bar found only on a few Pontiac Firebirds. Moving from the stiffest to the softest, rear bars were also available in widths of 24mm, 23mm, 21mm, 18mm and 12mm.
All front springs have a similar rate (about 550 lbs./in.), but many different years have slightly different ride heights. Poke around until you find something that meets your needs. Rear springs from the 1982 and early ‘83 cars (about 183 lbs./in.) are non-progressive and are preferred by some for racing.
Earlier cars came with fully-welded front cross members, while the later ones were skip-welded and therefore not as sturdy. GM phased out the fully-welded cross members around 1988 or 1989.
If you’re lucky enough to find a 1LE Camaro in a junkyard, swipe the rear control arm bushings. These are some of the stiffest made for this car (even stiffer than many aftermarket types). The idler arms, tie rods and center member from the 1988-up cars were improved over earlier models and are the preferred front end parts.
One little-known fact about Camaro rear ends is that the ring and pinion sets from the 71/2-inch and 75/8-inch rear ends are interchangeable. This gives racers a wide choice of rear end ratios. As long as you’re choosing a rear end, look for a 1988 or later unit. The larger pinion bearing means increased durability. The 1989 and later models had the big pinion bearing with superior rear disc brakes. These brakes will adapt to a compatible (same size) earlier rear end, but it’s just as easy to find the later model rear if you’re shopping. If you do find a 1LE, its driveshaft is aluminum and offers a considerable weight savings over the stock shaft. This piece only adapts to the 700R4 automatic and T-5 five-speed transmissions, however.
When motor shopping, a 350 is the way to go. The 1988 and 1989 Camaro 350s have the best cams, with 1989 being the hotter setup between those two. The 1990 and 1991 model 350s have the best heads, while the 1987 pistons are considered to be superior.
The best Camaro manual transmissions are the 1988-up T-5 units. The 1991-‘92 is even better because the guts have been hardened. In the middle of 1986, Chevy started putting a lighter, 11-pound flywheel in the car.
While not exactly a junkyard swap, if you’re cruising the yards for a Camaro or Firebird tub, look for a 1991 or 1992 car. As the tolerances in GM’s dies became larger over the years, they started to use structural adhesive to put the cars together in the later years-makes for a strong platform. Finally, probably the best-known Camaro secret is the use of lightweight fiberglass hoods from 1982 and early 1983 model cars
If you have a late-model, front-drive GM car (Beretta, Cavalier, etc.), look towards the sportier models for junkyard jewels. Sport models like the Olds Calais 442 and Chevy Cavalier Z24 tend to feature heavy-duty suspension and brake packages. Convertible models tend to come with factory-installed strut bars and other braces that can be used to stiffen a sedan.
With so many C4 Corvettes out there (1984-‘96), boneyard hop-ups are available here as well. One way to wake up an early C4 Vette is to install the 3.45 rear end gear from a 1991-up car. It will do wonders for any early car with the automatic or 4+3 transmission. Some 1989 models featured a 3.54 gear, which is also a nice upgrade.
If you have a pre-1988 Vette and would like to increase its handling, then look for a 1984 car that has the Z51 package and snag the springs, anti-roll bars and lower control arms. If you have a 1988-up Vette, you want to grab the suspension package from either a Z51-equipped 1988-‘90 car, a 1991-‘93 Z07 car, or if you happen to find one, an R9G-equipped car (Corvette Challenge package).
When talking engines, a few years slightly stand out: 1990-‘91 for the L98 and 1993 for the LT1. (By the way, Chevy made a big improvement to the L98 in 1987 when they switched from flat tappet cams to roller cams.) A flywheel from a 1984-‘88 car is better than the heavy two-piece units used in later cars; there will be some gear noise when fitted to a 1989-up car, but acceleration will improve.
While it is possible to retrofit the six-speed gearbox into an earlier car, it’s not exactly a low-buck move. When cruising the wrecking yards, remember to look for cool aftermarket parts like Flowmaster mufflers and Koni shocks.
The earliest Honda Civics with the 1170cc engine suffer from terminal anemia; while the chassis is decent, the engine is not quite up to the task. Honda bumped the displacement of the Civic’s engine to 1238cc in 1973 by increasing the bore to 72mm. In 1976, the Civic was blessed with a new head that offered significantly larger valves and a domed combustion chamber to match the new domed pistons. This popular big-valve head will bolt right onto the earlier Civics.
Another good trick is to use pistons from Honda’s GL1000 motorcycle in any of the early Civic blocks with a 72mm bore. These pistons offered a substantial compression increase without a huge weight gain. With some minor clearance modifications, the crank from a 1980-‘83 Civic 1300 can be installed in the early blocks. The additional 6mm of stroke that this crank yields turns the little Civic motor into a torque monster.
If you don’t want to screw around with swapping parts, just grab an entire engine. The 1975-‘79 Civic engine can be transplanted into an earlier car with a minimum of modifications (mostly mounting hardware). If the four-speed blues have got you down, fear not. The five-speed transmission from the 1975-‘79 Civics will bolt right onto any other 1973-‘79 Civic. The hot five-speed is the one from the 1975 Civic Wagon, as it has good first through fourth gears with a nice fifth for cruising. The one problem with this swap is that you lose the great 4.93:1 final drive gear that the four-speed comes with. There’s a solution to this dilemma: just get a final drive from a 1980 Civic 1300 five-speed. Coincidentally, this is also a 4.93.
The 1975-‘79 Civics are longer and heavier than their predecessors, so they feature heavier springs. The front springs from these cars will fit any Civic from 1973 to 1979. Just cut to the desired length and pop ‘em in. For the rear, use Civic 1200 front springs cut to the desired length.
For some real improvements, bolt Civic Wagon (1975-‘79) steering knuckles onto the bottom of your Civic 1200 struts. This allows you to bolt on Accord front brake calipers, which are much stronger than the stock Civic units. With some work, the wagon’s rear brakes can be adapted to the 1200 Civic. Early Accord front lower control arms also can be fitted to the 1200 Civic for an increase in track.
The early Civic also had the complete wiring harness in place for a tach and auxiliary gauges. Consequently, the gauge cluster from the Civic five-speed can be easily installed in the 1200.
Those of you with late-model Civics and CRXs (1984 and up) should look towards the Acura Integra for sourcing junkyard hop-up parts, as the cars are very similar underneath the skin. For example, the twin-cam, 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter 1986-‘87 Integra engine will easily bolt into the engine bay of a 1986-‘87 Civic Si, replacing the original 92hp single-cam engine. We did this swap on one of our project cars; the job is detailed in the May/June 1996 issue. Swapping in the Integra’s close-ratio gearbox also makes the Civic more fun.
Even if you’re not up for swapping the heavy stuff, just replacing the original 1986-‘87 Si computer with one from a same-year Integra should raise the redline by 500 rpm.
The brakes on the 1984-‘87 Civics can also be upgraded thanks to the Integra. Tossing the original 9.2-inch solid front rotors and seven-inch rear drums for the 9.4-inch vented front rotors and 7.5-inch solid rear rotors off a 1986-‘89 Integra is once again a bolt-on deal. Check out our Nov./Dec. 1995 issue for the details. The 1988-‘91 Civic hatchback can also enjoy an easy big-brake upgrade. The stock 9.5-inch front discs and seven-inch rear drums can be replaced by the 10.3-inch front discs and 9.5-inch rear discs from either a 1990-‘91 Civic EX four-door sedan or 1990-‘91 Acura Integra. When doing the swap, you’ll need the rotors, calipers, brake pads and steering knuckles from the donor vehicle. To swap the rear brakes, also grab the control arms, parking brake assembly and anything else that looks important.
To upgrade to rear discs on a fifth-generation Civic (1992-‘95), install the hardware from either a 1992-‘95 Civic Si or third-generation (1994-up) Acura Integra. Actually, lots of neat parts from the current Acura Integra will spice up a fifth-generation Civic: seats, anti-roll bars, wheels, etc.
Probably the most common mod is to swap out the original single-cam Civic motor for the Integra GS-R’s 170-horse, twin-cam VTEC mill (engine code B18C). This is pretty much a no-brainer bolt-in swap. While the Civic motor mounts are ready and willing to receive the Integra engine, you will need to grab the transaxle, axles, shift linkage, and computer from the Integra. The del Sol’s VTEC engine (code B16A3) will also swap into the Civic, but it offers less torque since it has less displacement (1.6L vs. 1.8L).
The Integra GS-R engine will physically fit in the current sixth-generation Civic, but making all the wiring work is another story. If you do decide to try this swap, note that you’ll need to shorten the Integra’s rear engine mount. For more info on Honda engine swaps, check out a Web page like http://hybrid.honda-perf.org.
The first-generation RX-7 came in a variety of models during its six-year lifespan. This makes junkyard shopping a pleasure because many hop-up parts are available.
The 1981-‘85 cars had the best factory ignition systems. However, the ‘80 car is the easiest to convert to an aftermarket electronic ignition because none of its electronics are in the distributor, as was the case with the later cars.
The transmission changed in 1981, when the shifter was brought closer to the driver. This made driving more comfortable. The later trannies will fit the earlier cars, but the tunnel must be modified.
Some later GSL-SE models feature a 4.08 limited slip rear end with giant brakes. This is a good setup, but it’s heavy. A better choice is the GSL rear end with limited slip.
All early RX-7 steering wheels are interchangeable. Later cars had nicer wheels. Later cars also had nicer seats; these bolt right into the early cars.
The RX-7 GSL had a rear anti-roll bar that can be fitted to any of the other cars. The later model cars were heavier and had more options, so they had slightly stiffer springs. Unfortunately, these springs will adversely affect ride height unless they are modified.
The 1983-‘85 cars have a bigger radiator than the earlier cars, and it will bolt right in. The 1979-‘82 cars have an oil cooler which can be used with a 1983-‘85 radiator for the ultimate cooling setup.
A few boneyard swaps are also possible with the second-generation RX-7 (1986-‘91). If you have a base-model car, look to the GXL and turbo models for lots of neat bits: five-lug hubs, four-piston front calipers and vented rear disc brakes. The turbo models also feature a beefier transmission and rear end. The Miata has been with us for about 10 years, so it too can benefit from some creative engineering. To help increase the stopping power of the early, 1.6-liter cars, the larger front rotors from 1994-up cars can be adapted with the use of the late-model caliper brackets (see www.teleport.com/~miq/miata/brake/bigbrake.htm for more info).
These early 1.6-liter Miatas can also replace their 205cc injectors with 230cc units from 1.8-liter cars. Speaking of increasing the power of the 1.6-liter Miata, the air-flow meter from a 1986-‘88 RX-7 is larger and an easy replacement.
The second-generation RX-7 can donate some other parts to a Miata. The 1986-‘91 rear end from the non-turbo models can be a low-buck replacement for a 1994-up Miata rear, and the 1986-‘88 RX-7 clutch-type limited-slip differential can fit a 1994-up Miata if you don’t mind doing some grinding to the interior of the housing.
If your Miata is running a little warm, some simple tips may help. First, the 1.8-liter cars came with a simple, yet effective radiator support cover that helps direct more air through the radiator. It will bolt onto any 1.6-liter car. Also, the three-row radiator from any automatic-equipped Miata will bolt into any five-speed car, replacing the original two-row piece.
To shed some weight from the car (and if, for whatever reason, you’re not too concerned with side-impact protection), the pre-1993 doors are lighter because they feature one less brace. Swapping doors on a Miata is a bolt-on deal.
To help increase the engine’s clamping power, the 1994-up 1.8-liter flywheel and clutch assembly is a perfect fit in an earlier 1.6-liter car and only creates a slight, one-pound penalty (19 pounds vs. 18). The limited 1994 R model seems to have the most desirable anti-roll bars that bolt into any late car. This front bar can be installed in early cars if a new end-link hole is drilled about 1/2- to 3/4-inches closer to the bar bend. The 1993 Limited Edition and all 1994-up cars feature a more desirable, 1mm smaller rear bar. If you grab the bushings, it can be adapted to fit any year Miata.
The Mazda Protege, which came with the same engine as the Miata, features a resonance box in its intake plumbing between the air cleaner and throttle body. Its purpose is to use the Hemholtz resonance theory to increase torque in the midrange; check 1990-‘94 Proteges for one.
Different gear sets will fit into a Miata case, and currently 3.909:1, 4.10:1, 4.30:1 and 4.44:1 ratios are available from the factory. Check out the front axle of 1987-‘88 four-wheel-drive Mazda trucks for the 4.44:1 gears, while the 3.909 ratio can be found in automatic-equipped 1984-‘85 RX-7 GSL-SEs.
While not a Miata-specific swap, all Miatas came with a light- weight gel cell battery. If it has enough juice to get your car going, then there’s no reason why it can replace a heavy battery in any other car. Note, however, that the nature of their design means it can take up to two days to recharge a dead gel cell battery.
The Miata, non-turbo RX-7, rear-drive 626 and B2000/2200 trucks all use very similar transmissions. While they are different with respect to model-specific cases, bellhousing bolt patterns and tailshaft extensions, the guts are basically the same. In other words, the gear sets from one tranny can be swapped into another. To change individual gears, you’ll need the assistance of a transmission shop, as bearings need to be changed and gears need to be pressed on and off the layshafts.
The 1983-up trannies are reported to be better-built than the earlier units, while the 626 offers the tightest spacing of third through fifth gears.
For the record, here are the gear ratios featured over the years: 1986-‘91 RX-7 non-turbo: (1) 3.475, (2) 2.002, (3) 1.366, (4) 1.000, (5) 0.697 (1986 only), (5) 0.711 (1987-‘91). Miata: (1) 3.136, (2) 1.888, (3) 1.330, (4) 1.000, (5) 0.814. 1979-‘83 RX-7: (1) 3.674, (2) 2.217, (3) 1.432, (4) 1.000, (5) 0.825. 1984-‘85 RX-7 and B2000/B2200 truck: (1) 3.662, (2) 2.186, (3) 1.419, (4) 1.000, (5) 0.758 (all 1984 RX-7 and ‘85 12A), (5) 0.711 (1985 GSL-SE), (5) 0.858 (truck). RWD 626: (1) 3.214, (2) 1.818, (3) 1.296, (4) 1.000, (5) 0.858.
To learn how to swap a 1.8-liter Miata engine into an early car, check out our Jan./Feb. 1997 issue. Used 1.8-liter engines are out there for under $1000. For some other Miata tricks, and for some more info on the swaps discussed here, take a look at Randy Stocker’s Web page.
MGA 1500 owners who are unsatisfied with the brakes on their cars can upgrade to the disc brakes from the front of the 1600 model. For a really cool setup, the entire front suspension from the MGB can be bolted onto an MGA. The only hassle with this operation is that the shocks must be changed. Use either MGB shock arms on MGA shocks or MGB shocks with the arms put on backwards.
The MGA and MGB both use a B-series engine. Many parts will interchange freely between all of these engines (whether they are three- or five-main engines). The best heads to use are the big-valve heads from an MGB. These can be identified by the 18-V or 18-0 designation cast into the top.
The best engine swap for an MGA is to transplant an entire 18-V MGB engine with a five-main bottom end. The MGB SU carbs are the same size as the ones on the MGA, but are of a superior design. To complete the swap onto the MGA, the manifold must be swapped as well.
The MGA transmission can be replaced with an MGB four-speed or four-speed overdrive with very little trouble (the engine backing plate and starter must be changed).
The MGA uses a 4x4.5-inch bolt circle for the wheels. Coincidentally, this is the same bolt circle used by the Triumph TR2 through TR6, as well as many Datsuns, Toyotas, Mazda RX-7s and Saabs. Due to offset and center bore differences, not all of these wheels will fit, but it’s a start.
MGB drivers looking for a kick can benefit from good ol’ American horsepower. All MGBs from 1975 on will readily accept a Buick, Olds or Rover aluminum V8 into their engine bays (remember, these cars came with that engine in Europe). Some special parts, like headers, are required, but it’s not that difficult. Our Nov./Dec. 1997 issue details this swap.
The 3/4 floating-type rear end from the early (series 18G and 18GA) MGB is very easily serviced and quite durable. There’s a variety of ratios available for these early rear ends.
Power brakes from the 19741/2-up MGB will easily swap into the earlier cars. Just remember to use the master cylinder from the power setup. MGB V8 front brakes are hard to find, but the thicker rotors make them worth the search. The dual circuit brakes from the 1968 to 19741/2 MGB can be retrofitted to the earlier cars. This must be done as a complete system, however.
The hot setup for rear springs are the MGB GT units. To use them on a roadster, however, they must be de-arched. MGA front springs are shorter and stiffer than MGB or MGB GT front springs and will swap right in. The biggest front anti-roll bar offered on an MGB was on the GT or the 1977 MGB. This bar was 5/8-inch in diameter as opposed to the 9/16-inch unit used on the other cars. The 1977 car also had a rear bar. This bar can be adapted to the earlier cars, but brackets must be fabricated and the fuel pump must be moved.
Any MGB tranny can fit into any MGB, but you will need to change the rear engine plate and starter when switching from a three-synchro box to a full synchro box. When switching from a full-synchro box to a synchro overdrive box, all you need to do is bolt it in and hook it up. On the 1968-and-up cars, the wiring is already in place. The OD button is located in the wiper switch on the steering column. It is activated by pulling it toward you or pushing it away. For some extra clutch action, a TR7 friction disc will drop right in if the flywheel is resurfaced to match.
The best stock carbs to use on a hopped-up engine are the 1963-‘71 HSS SUs. The 1971-‘74 HIF4 units flowed more air and were more precise in their metering, but are quite sensitive to cam changes and heat. Also, the early stock exhaust manifolds (on dual SU cars) produce more torque than many aftermarket headers.
Spridgets are also great junkyard candidates. Over the years, these cars came with 948cc, 1098cc, 1275cc and 1500cc engines. The first three are commonly referred to as A-series engines, while the last one is a Spitfire 1500 unit.
The best choice among these is the 1275, which can be coupled to any A-series gearbox. The 1500s were not very durable, due to half-circumference thrust washers that would work themselves loose and fall out into the oil pan.
The tranny of choice for any of the A-series engines is the ribcase (named for the strengthening ribs on the outside), which featured balk ring synchros and needle roller bearings.
Datsun 240Z drivers have quite a range of opportunities when it comes to boneyard hop ups. First off, the 2.6-liter blocks (produced August 1973 to November 1974) and 2.8 block (December 1974 on) are bolt-ins for the 240Z. This is a good way to immediately boost horsepower, especially when these blocks are coupled with the strong 240Z head.
Also, the SU induction system from the early cars can be easily fitted to the 1973 240Z and 1974 260Zs. Also, 240Z engines after serial number L24-003608 were assembled with eight-couterweight cranks versus the six counterweights used on the earlier models. Engines after serial number L24-096182 were assembled with connecting rods that use 9mm (vs. 8mm) rod bolts.
To save some parasitic drag on the engine, replace the early 240Z’s steel fan with a lighter plastic fan from the later models (after July 1971). The R180 differential that came with the automatic transmission has a 3.545:1 ratio vs. the 3.364:1 ratio of the manual cars. The five-speed transmission from the 280Z can be installed on any earlier model Z.
A 16mm front anti-roll bar was standard on the 240Z. Later Zs have an 18mm bar, and the 2+2 models have a 20mm bar. Beginning in 1973, a 20mm rear bar was added to the Z-car. This bar may be retrofitted to the earlier cars by using the installation kit (part number 99996-E4010) from Nissan Motorsports. The 280Z hood, with its integral cooling vents, is a bolt-on addition to the 240Z.
Datsun’s other early sporty car, the 510, has a wide range of budget options as well. One of the more common 510 hop-ups is the installation of an L18 (1.8 liter) or an L20 (2.0 liter) engine. These engines can be easily adapted if some minor modifications are made to the oil pan, pickup tube, motor mount brackets and alternator bracket. One preferred setup is to run the L20 block with an L16 head (castings W53 and A87 are best).
Even if you decide to keep your original 1.6-liter engine, just installing the L20B cam will yield some more power. An early L16 exhaust manifold (no smog fittings) is a low-buck alternative to a competition header, and the electronic ignition from a 720 truck will provide a bit more spark than the stock setup.
For an even larger powerplant, an L-series head can be bolted to an NAPZ22 truck block built from June 1979 through October 1982. This yields an engine with a 38-percent increase in displacement over the L16. All other required modifications as outlined above still apply.
Any L-series transmission will bolt to any L-series engine. The only modifications that need to be made are to the transmission crossmember. The best fitting five-speed transmission for the 510 comes from the 1977 200SX.
For more braking power, install the complete front strut assemblies and vented disc brakes from a 280ZX (cut the springs). The finned aluminum brake drums from the rear of the Z-car can be easily adapted to the 510. The only modification required is bending back the outer lip of the backing plate.
Like the Z, rod bolt size changed on the 510 as well. Engines after L16-369555 were assembled with 9mm (vs. 8mm) rod bolts. The early R180 differential from the Z can be installed into the 510. Due to the Z’s long gearing, though, it is recommended that lower gear ratios be obtained. Another alternative is to grab the guts from the front differential of a four-wheel-drive Datsun 720 pickup. It features 4.11 gears and a limited-slip, and it fits both the 510 and Z.
Finally, the 14-inch wheels from the Z will bolt right onto the 510 without any suspension clearance problems at all. If you’re looking for some more creature comforts, four-door 510 models came with map pockets. The 510’s spiritual successor, the Sentra SE-R, also responds to some boneyard tricks. For a low-buck big-brake kit, find a Nissan NX2000 and grab the front rotors, calipers and master cylinder. These rotors are 4mm wider and considerably thicker. Since new rotors are relatively inexpensive, however, you may not want to use the ones obtained from a wreck. If your Sentra has anti-lock brakes, the NX2000 master cylinder should work (since most NX2000s came with ABS). If your Sentra doesn’t have ABS, you’ll have to find Nissan master cylinder part number 46010-69Y20 or locate one from a non-ABS NX2000.
Even though all SE-R models are rated at 140 horsepower, the earlier cars came with more desirable engines. First, the 1991 and 1992 engines feature a slightly better intake cam; installing it in a late SE-R (even a 200SX SE-R) will yield a few more ponies. Next, the 1991 through 1993 “high-port” cylinder head produces a bit more power than the later “low-port” heads.
While most people consider Porsches expensive toys, there are those models (namely the 924 and 914) that can be hopped up on a budget.
One big advantage held by owners of the 924 is the fact that the 924 evolved into the 944, so many of these pieces are interchangeable. For more power, the 1980-up 924 engine had a far superior cylinder head to the earlier cars.
Since the engine was basically an Audi unit, many Audi parts can be adapted to it. For example, the throttle body from the early Audi 5000 will adapt to the 924 and improve power.
The 924 got a five-speed gearbox in 1979, but stay away from this first-year unit. It was manufactured by Porsche and can be quite expensive to repair. The 1980 five-speed was a Borg Warner unit and is superior to the Porsche tranny.
The rear disc brakes from the later 924 sport models can be installed easily on the earlier cars with rear drums. For improved front brakes, bolt on early 944 calipers. The entire 944 braking system can actually be fitted to the 924 with very little difficulty.
The same is true for the suspension. The anti-roll bars, torsion bars, springs, adjustable rear spring plates and shocks from the 944 can all be fitted to the 924. You will want to find the 924’s optional 18mm rear anti-roll bar, however, which was larger than any of the rear bars on 944s.
The 7x15-inch wheels from a 928 can be adapted to the 924, but they require a new hub that is not compatible with the 944 brake swap. The best bet for wheels is to go with four-bolt Ford Mustang wheels. Make sure to confirm the fit before purchasing, because both Ford and Porsche changed bolt patterns slightly. Owners of 914s don’t have as many options as their 924 friends, but a few devious speed tricks do exist.
First, the 5.5x15-inch steel wheels from a Super Beetle will bolt right on and yield an extra 10mm of positive offset. These are usually no more than $10 each at junkyards.
Porsche 911 front A-arms, torsion bars, and anti-roll bars will swap right onto the front of a 914. These are cheap and easy to find.
BMW 320i front brake calipers will fit the 914, but must be shimmed into position. Finally, drivers of early 914s that are shifting poorly can adapt the 1973-up transmission and smoother shift linkage to their cars with a minimum of hassles.
Of all the sporty Toyotas, the Corollas and Celicas manufactured from the early 1970s through the early ‘80s are the ones that will benefit most from a bit of junkyard engineering.
The Corollas most raced are the 1970 to 1982 TE models. The TE cars shared a body with the KE model Corollas, but the KE cars sported a rather anemic, non-crossflow 1166cc engine. The KE cars featured the 2TC 1588cc hemi until 1980, when it was replaced by the 1770cc 3TC. Engines are interchangeable from any rear-drive Corolla to another, although a transmission swap is necessary when putting a T-series motor in a K-series car.
The four- and five-speed transmissions both used the same case, so upgrading to a five-speed is a simple bolt-in deal. The only thing to watch for is the 22-tooth output spline (instead of the 20-tooth unit) that Toyota switched to in June of 1981.
Rear axle assemblies are freely interchangeable between the various non-coil-spring (pre-1980) Corollas. The SR5 model TE Corollas had a beefy 6.7-inch differential that was available in 3.91, 4.10 and 4.30:1 ratios. Making your Corolla handle better is easy as well. Although most major manufacturers have discontinued production of strut inserts for 1970-‘74 Corollas, the housings from the 1975-‘79 cars are a direct bolt-in and are easy to find inserts for. It is also possible to upgrade to the larger brakes (standard on the 1975-‘79 cars) while making this strut swap.
Corolla wheels had a 4x4.5-inch bolt pattern which was common to many Japanese cars of that era. This makes finding wheels a snap.
Celicas are also popular choices for motorsports. Many low-buck swap ideas exist for these cars as well. Celicas from 1972 to ‘75 featured the bulletproof, but somewhat anemic 18RC 1968cc engine. In 1975, the 2190cc 20R engine was introduced to the U.S. market. The 20R was replaced in 1981 by the 2366cc 22R. For home-market cars, Toyota produced a slew of under-two-liter powerplants to escape Japan’s tax on big displacement engines. The most prolific of these, the 21R, shows up in junkyards occasionally because it was offered by some engine importers as a replacement for the 20R or 22R. None of the Japan-specific engines are very desirable, however, due to their strict emissions requirements. All of the Celica engines used the same mounts, clutch and bellhousing, making engine swaps effortless.
The crossflow 20R head flows much better than the emissions-choked 22R head and will bolt right onto the bigger-bore 22R block. The 20R combustion chamber is also smaller than the 22R’s, resulting in a compression ratio increase. The 20R head will mandate the use of its original intake manifold (unless sidedraft carbs are being used), but exhaust manifolds and headers are interchangeable between the 20R and 22R.
All Celicas made do with a points-type ignition until 1977, when California cars got an electronic setup. The rest of the country got the electronic ignition the next year.
The same W50 transmission was used from 1971 until 1982, when it was replaced by the lighter, aluminum-cased W55. The gear ratios stayed the same in all these transmissions, but check the location of the shift lever as different models had different shifter placements.
Rear-drive Celicas had three different rear axle assemblies. The most common was the live axle with the 10-bolt carrier used for the same 6.7-inch diff that was in the 1975-‘79 Corolla SR5.
Celicas used 3.58, 3.73 or 3.90:1 diffs, while Corollas had 4.10s and 4.30s. The complete center section can be swapped from a Corolla to a Celica in about half an hour. For 1983-‘85 IRS Celicas, the entire center section from the rear axle of the same generation Supra, which was a limited slip unit, can be swapped in. Toyota has kept the front seat mounts basically the same on Celicas and Corollas throughout the years. Many of the later model seats will drop right into an earlier car.
Early MR2 owners have fewer choices when it comes to junkyard hop-ups. The 1987-up early cars, as well as the supercharged cars, have a front strut tower brace which will bolt onto any earlier car. The 1985 model was the only early car to feature a rear anti-roll bar that can be adapted easily to any later model.
The whole junkyard scene gets easy when you’re dealing with a car that was produced for as long as the Spitfire. Nearly 300,000 were produced from late 1962 to early ‘80.
The biggest changes were a body style change in 1971 and engine changes in 1967 (1296cc) and then ‘73 (1500cc). The engines are real easy to swap around. Most racers like the 1296cc, while we really like the 1500cc engine for autocrossing because of its greater torque. The 1976 1500 was the only one to have 9.0:1 compression in 49 states. That’s the one to have. The 1296 engine came with dual SU carbs. We like Webers, but the SUs work real well when properly set up.
The next things to look for in a junkyard are transmissions and bellhousings. The 1962-‘64 cars had a “thin edge” alloy bellhousing which will save about 20 pounds over the later steel bellhousings. The 1965 model had the thick-edge alloy bellhousing, which is no heavier but even stronger then the thin-edge piece. The best transmissions are the 1975-up single rail close-ratio boxes. Unfortunately, they don’t fit the early bellhousing, so the best setup is probably a close-ratio box from any Triumph GT6, combined with the 1965 alloy bellhousing.
In an effort to get back some performance, a 4.10:1 rear end ratio was installed in 1972. While great for racing, this ratio will kill you on the street (and in top speed contests) unless you use the overdrive transmission.
Racers make the old-style (pre-1971) rear transverse spring work by de-arching and stiffening the piece. This is great for autocrossing, but lousy on the street. The first thing to do in any street-driven Spitfire is to use the 1971-up revised rear spring. This spring pretty much solved the rear end tuck-in problem so common to Spitfires. GT6 front springs with one coil cut off work well on a Spitfire. GT6 brakes are considerably bigger than those found on a Spitfire and are an easy, bolt-in swap.
The 1973-up cars have a larger front anti-roll bar (approximately 15/16 inch instead of 11/16 inch) which, while not as good as a one-inch aftermarket bar, is a cheap junkyard upgrade.
The later 1977-up cars have a smaller 13.5-inch steering wheel which makes the car easier to steer. The last of the Spitfires also had five-inch-wide wheels instead of 4.5-inch units. A better alternative is the 5.5-inch wheels from the Triumph TR7. They bolt right on and are cheap.
The Spitfire weighed less than 1500 pounds when it was first introduced, but the weight went up to over 1800 pounds by 1980. The biggest difference was the addition of big, heavy bumper guards and later rubber bumpers.
The 1971-‘73 style is the lightest, best-looking setup. The rear is bolt on, the front takes a little massaging, but it’s not that hard.
The biggest problem with the TR4 through 6 is just finding one in a junkyard. If you do find a car, there are some things you should look for. Obviously, it’s very easy to put a six-cylinder TR6 motor into a TR4; it’s a bolt-in swap. The early six-cylinder engines (1968- 1970) offered the best performance. The easiest way to find these engines, other than checking serial numbers, is to look for a B stamped into the head.
The early A-type overdrive is the best transmission. Many dare not use these units for competition, but the Triumph guys are making them work. The better, large-piston O.D. has a freeze plug in the bottom. The later, small-piston unit has a “bb” embedded in its case.
The later J-type tranny is better than nothing, but remember, you must modify the rear tranny mount -and it’s a big frame-altering job to put this unit into an early, pre-1973 car. The TR4 and TR5 equipped with overdrive came with a 4.11:1 rear end ratio.
The stock TR6 rear end ratio is 3.70:1. European fuel injection-equipped cars had a 3.45:1 ratio. TR4s came with optional competition front springs; try to find a set of these. Datsun 240Z rear drums are lightweight, finned aluminum and fit perfectly if you bore the centers. Datsun SRL 311 rear wheel cylinders will move more of the braking to the rear of a TR6, which will help the car on course. The 1974-up front calipers are of a better design and can be substituted for the earlier units.
A lot of hard-to-find TR6 parts have common counterparts. A Dayco radiator hose (#76431) will supply the lower and elbow hoses. A small-block Chevy thermostat fits a TR6. A clutch from a Farmall tractor is essentially the same as a TR6 unit. A Delco rear transmission bushing (# 299506) and seal (# 946940BX) are easier to find and cheaper than TR6 units. The differential side seal is the same as an APAX #S5311.
Caterpillar sells X-rayed main and rod bolts at a fraction of the cost of TR6 prices.
Boneyard shopping for water-cooled VWs is made easy by the fact that so many components can be swapped from model to model. In some cases, putting VW’s latest engine technology into an early, light-weight shell is a bolt-on job.
It’s important to realize that VW uses a chassis numbering system to differentiate between the various generations of their cars: the A1 chassis includes the original Rabbit, Scirocco and Jetta; the A2 chassis was used for the Golf, second-generation Scirocco and second-gen Jetta; the A3 cars include the third-generation Golf and Jetta; while the A4 chassis just started production with the new Golf, Jetta and New Beetle.
For the most part, if something major like a rear axle assembly fits an A1 Rabbit, it will probably also fit an A1 Scirocco. In many cases, major assemblies like engines and axles from a later series can be adapted to an earlier ones. A lot of times, it’s even a bolt-in swap
When looking for an engine for an A1 or A2 car, several good candidates are out there. The fact that nearly all water-cooled VWs use the same engine mounting locations only makes swapping easier.
First, the 1.8-liter engine from 1983 and 1984 A1 GTI models is a direct bolt-in to any other A1 car and will easily replace the earlier 1.5-, 1.6- and 1.7-liter engines. The eight-valve, 1.8-liter block from the A2 Golf GTI is an even better bet because it features a higher compression ratio (8.5:1 vs. 10:1); the fact it’s newer doesn’t hurt, either.
The 1986-‘87 GTI features the same Bosch CIS injection system that came on the Rabbits, so it’s an easy swap. The 19871/2 -up GTIs came with the Digifant injection system, but the blocks and heads are compatible with CIS.
Swapping the 16-valve A2 engines (in either 1.8- or 2.0-liter guise) into an A1 car can be done if you don’t mind playing with injection systems. A pedestrian A2 car can be easily beefed up with a 16-valve engine as well.
Another cheap, torquey engine is the 2.0-liter cross-flow from the 1993-‘98 A3 Golfs. It will physically bolt into any early chassis, but you’ll need to figure out the wiring on your own. A VR6 engine will even fit in a Rabbit or A2 Golf if you’re the creative type. (The engine physically bolts in, but the wiring is another story.)
When playing with VW swaps, note that all 1990-up cars came with Central Electrics, making the installation of most any 1990-up engine (VR6, 2.0-liter, and probably 1.8-liter turbo) into a 1990-up car pretty easy.
After 1993, engine swapping became even easier because all VW cars came with one large electrical connector for the entire engine (vs. a bunch of little two-pin connectors).
Clutch sizes for these cars ranged from 190mm to 210mm. The GTI’s clutch is the lightest and the strongest. Nearly all A1 VW front rotors are 9.4 inches in diameter, but A1 and A2 GTIs and some late-model Sciroccos have vented front rotors (other cars came with solid rotors). On 1980 and later A1 cars, large Kelsey-Hayes front calipers were included that increased pad surface area by nearly 75 percent; plus, these calipers will readily accept the vented GTI rotors. The 1979-up A1 cars have self-adjusting rear brake shoes. A better choice for racing are the pre-1979 manually adjusting rear brakes from earlier cars.
The 16-valve A2 Jetta and all A3 cars came with 10-inch front rotors, and the entire front brake assembly can be swapped into any early A1 car if you grab the calipers, rotors, caliper mounting brackets and hub/bearing assembly. This swap does require at least 14-inch rims, though. For even bigger front brakes, the VR6 Corrado came with 11-inch front brakes; 15-inch wheels or larger are required, though.
If you’re looking to install disc brakes on the rear of your drum-brake-equipped car, the entire A2 or A3 rear axle beam will fit. If you do swap to rear discs, you’ll have to either adjust the factory-installed weight-sensitive brake proportioning valve or buy an aftermarket unit and tune it yourself.
Wheels are interchangeable throughout the series, as long as you put four-lug wheels on four-lug cars and keep the five-lug wheels on five-lug cars. Over the last 20 years, VWs have come with a wide variety of wheels, ranging from factory 13-inch steelies to real, live BBS rims.
There was quite a variety of transmissions offered, and the only way to properly identify a transmission is to check the code on the bellhousing. The hot setup for an earlier car is a 1983-‘84 GTI tranny (code 4K or 2H), as this unit featured VW Motorsport close-ratio gears and a 3.94:1 final drive. The ultimate for low-end acceleration is the 1981 Rabbit pickup truck tranny with a 4.17:1 final drive (GY code). A transmission from a diesel Rabbit is a good, low-buck alternative as they feature low final drives and people are often willing to get rid of them.
Sport model Sciroccos from 1978-up have Recaro seats which will fit any Rabbit. These have become a bit rare and pricey, but are still cheaper than a full race seat. The 1990-‘92 16-valve A2 cars also came with real Recaro seats, but A2 and A3 seats won’t fit into an A1 car without some mods. (The slider adjuster is on the wrong side of the seat.) Obviously, seats are fully interchangeable within the A2 and A3 series.
The aluminum bumpers that came on the 1981 Rabbits are much lighter than the earlier units. While more of a cosmetic upgrade, the fuller, more integrated-looking bumpers from the 1991-‘92 Golfs can be retrofitted to an earlier A2 car with only a slight weight gain. While a bit of a rare find, the sport steering wheel from the special edition Scirocco (1976 and up) bolts onto any A1 chassis car.
If you’re looking for cooling system upgrades, in general the newer the car-or the more options it carries-the larger the radiator.
Another trick for yielding more power on a 1985-‘87 eight-valve car is to grab the larger, dual downpipe off a Digifant-equipped car. (The 1991-‘92 California cars and some Jetta GLI models didn’t come with the dual pipe, however.)
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