Written by David S. Wallens
From the June 2003 issue
Posted in Restoration & Renovation
Most people see salvage yards as the final resting place for used-up automobiles. These folks pass blithely by the dirt and gravel lots that are scattered across the country, imagining that they house only the useless remains of cars left to wither away once they’ve passed their prime, been smacked into a pole or had the good parts stripped off by thieves.
True enthusiasts, on the the other hand, see a gold mine in the salvage yard.
Sure, that Acura Integra GS-R may have hit a Jersey barrier at 70 mph, but the driveline could yield a serious boost in power for a once-pedestrian Honda Civic CX. And it’s practically a bolt-in swap, too.
Or what about that Plymouth Neon? If it’s an ACR model, it might provide all kinds of goodies for the “regular” Neon, including Koni struts, a quick-ratio steering rack, upgraded ECU and more—and all of these parts can usually be picked up for a song.
Whether they’re called salvage yards, wrecking yards, boneyards, or—heaven forbid—“junkyards,” these automotive resting places are just ripe for the picking. Where else can you score speed parts at a fraction of their retail prices?
Boneyard shopping can also provide an extra dose of originality for your hop-up projects. Thanks to the platform concept of automotive design and manufacturing, many different models within a single manufacturer (or family of manufacturers) may be built on similar or identical chassis; this means they share a number of interchangeable parts and subassemblies. Mixing and matching these parts can create high-performance option packages that the manufacturers never offered.
And if you’d rather shop without getting your hands dirty, hop online. Between auction mega-house eBay as well as the zillions of marque-specific automotive Web sites, finding used parts can be only a few keystrokes away. In fact, it took us about 1 minute to locate a Camaro 1LE aluminum drive shaft on eBay—$35, no minimum and no bids so far. Okay, so it had a broken snap-ring groove, but we didn’t lose any time driving across town to look at it.
The secret to boneyard shopping is knowing what to look for, so we have assembled a guide to some of the more popular salvage yard hop-ups. The listings are organized according to marque, so you can browse the section on your car’s manufacturer to find likely hop-up and swap items. 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 that some ideas work even better than anyone had ever hoped.) Also, don’t forget that aftermarket parts can show up in salvage yards. We once bought some Tokico shock absorbers for a Civic for $2.99 each.
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 research. (Here’s a hint: Start at www.google.com.) Third, since parts in the salvage yards are generally far from new, use some common sense when installing them. For example, brake parts are vital to the safe operation of your car, so you should rebuild and replace consumable parts (rotors and pads) whenever possible. Don’t stake your personal safety on the reliability of an unrebuilt salvaged part.
Fourth, this is far from everything that is known about boneyard shopping. (And if anyone has any tips they’d like to share, forward them to us.) We’ve stuck mainly to newer models (last 20 years) here, since that’s what you’re likely to find in most salvage yards. Sadly, the advent of computerization and more sophisticated inventory controls has meant that the yards of today don’t usually have loads of older and oddball gems tucked in the corners, as was once the case. Now it’s move it or crush it.
Fifth, even if we missed your car, this little exercise should get you thinking. Was there a GT or high-output version of your car that could yield some go-fast goodies? A sibling model that was always just a bit faster or more nimble?
Finally, since many of these swaps are not legal in all racing classes, check your rulebook before proceeding. (Don’t forget the flip side of this rule: Since some of these hop-ups could be easily hidden, you might want to give your competition a better look-over next time you’re sitting on the false grid.)
Once you get hooked on boneyard shopping, we think you’ll find it to be a rewarding, and even fun, experience. Going faster is always good, but going faster by dint of your own knowledge, imagination and sweat is even better.
Like any mass-market manufacturer, BMW cut the cost of making new cars by using the same basic platform for many different models. For example, the latest E46-chassis 3 Series is available in more than a dozen different configurations, from the small-engined station wagons to the fire-breathing M3. The early cars were likewise available in several different configurations per chassis. What this means is that junkyard hunting can yield some serious high-performance parts to bolt into a pedestrian sedan or coupe.
Wheels for BMWs manufactured since 1970 can be divided into different categories. Early four-lug cars use a 4x100mm pattern and a low offset wheel, while later E30-chassis cars used a similar four-lug wheel that will bolt on to a BMW 2002. There was also an early five-lug/low-offset wheel that was used on the Bavarias, early 5 and 6 Series cars and even the CS Coupes. The last wheel type is the late-model/higher-offset five-lug wheel that fits the E36 and E46 models. The E30-chassis M3 has the same five-lug bolt pattern, but a different offset than the newer cars.
Moving into the E30-series cars, it’s possible to easily mix and match parts, as very little changed from the model’s introduction in 1984 to its demise in 1991. The “is” versions typically have the best performance options, from the sportier spring rates and anti-roll bars to wider wheels (a 14x6.5-inch BBS aluminum model). The differentials also interchange (the 1991 318is features a 4.10:1 ratio), while the seats from the 325is and 318is feature large side bolsters and are quite comfortable.
The fuel-efficient 2.7-liter 325e can be perked up using the cylinder head and differential from the 2.5-liter 325i or 325is models, while the diesel 524TD provides a forged crank for the six-cylinder engines.
The E30 convertible models feature a rear shock mount that is stronger than the mounts on the coupe and sedan, although this part can be purchased through mail order shops at a reasonable price as well.
The first M3 is also a treasure trove for other E30 cars, with everything from a quicker steering rack to aluminum front control arms fitted by the factory. The E30 M3’s front anti-roll bar is linked to the MacPherson struts instead of the control arms for a better motion ratio, but you’ll need to grab the struts, front bar and links to perform this effective upgrade.
The Z3-based M coupe and roadster feature a finned aluminum differential cover that bolts onto the E30’s diff, helping the gear oil to stay cool and allowing the limited-slip differential to last longer.
Major engine swaps become much more difficult on models starting with the E36 chassis, and especially on the post-1996 cars, which are OBD-II compliant. A good understanding of modern electronics is essential here.
Swaps involving suspensions, interior parts and body panels, however, are still as easy as ever. One popular and easy upgrade is a lower chassis reinforcement that was used on the E36 convertible; this X-brace can be retrofitted into coupes and sedans to tighten up the chassis. The E36 M3 is the candy store for this series, offering hotter cams (which bolt into the 325is), larger brakes, and stiffer springs and anti-roll bars. Limited-slip differentials (marked by an “S” on the diff case) are good upgrades for cars that came from the factory without them.
Like the E36 models, the E46 cars came with several different levels of performance parts, with the M3 at the top of the heap. There were also sport suspension options for all of the different models; these have better spring rates and wheel sizes.
The BMW-built MINI Cooper and Cooper S are starting to appear in junkyards now, and can yield some good parts. Some of the most effective upgrades for a base-model Cooper can be found on the S, from road wheels with slightly less offset (for a wider track) to sport seats and leather-wrapped steering wheels.
Likewise, the Cooper S can go on a diet by swapping in pieces from the Cooper. We used a base Cooper steering wheel on our road racing S to get a better gripping surface for our Nomex driving gloves than the slippery leather wheel provided.
Thanks to this manufacturer’s longstanding tradition of sharing platforms between model lines, many cars from the Dodge side of the DaimlerChrysler family can easily swap parts. While A- and B-body swaps involving Darts and Dusters are nothing new, mixing and matching pieces among the later, front-wheel-drive models can be a piece of cake—and a creative way to build a fire-breathing monster.
Thanks to Chrysler’s widespread use of the K-car chassis during the ’80s and into the ’90s, enthusiasts can shop to their heart’s content. To add some zing to these cars, 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.
Several different versions of Chrysler’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine were also used during the production runs of these cars. Fortunately, it’s possible to swap around a lot of the better pieces. If you’re looking for a complete bottom end, the pre-1989 Turbo II units are stronger than the ones in the Turbo I cars. Starting in 1989, the Turbo I and intercooled 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 (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 lowers the static compression ratio, allowing higher amounts of turbo boost (21 to 30 psi) to be safely run.
To identify a cylinder head, look for a casting number near the No. 4 spark plug: 445 is the 1983-’84 bathtub head, 287 indicates a 1985 bathtub head, and 782 reveals a later, swirl head.
Three different intake manifolds were used on the Turbo I and Turbo II engines over the years: The original 1984-’87 “log-type” draw-through manifold is restrictive and not so great; the 1986 Shelby GLH-S and all 1987 Turbo II cars came with a two-piece blow-through intake; and the 1988-and-up cars all featured 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 pretty decent Garrett turbos; the guts are the same on both, but to facilitate the intercooler install, the Turbo II’s outlet faces toward the radiator instead of heading straight 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.
If you are upgrading the intake system, note that the early hoses were ribbed, which caused turbulence and a slight loss of power. Later hoses are smooth inside and thus more desirable.
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-and-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, though, as it’s not for beginners. For more info on these swaps, check out Dempsey Bowling’s very informative Web page. It’s fully devoted to front-drive Dodge performance.
And don’t forget the Neon. Dodge and Plymouth dealers sold more than 6000 copies of the original performance-tuned Neon ACR, so the boneyards should be ripe for the picking. A crunched Neon ACR could be the ultimate source for performance parts for a standard-issue car; even the ECU alone will help. The 1994-’95 ACR engine controllers don’t have any speed governor, while the 1996-and-up part will at least allow top speeds of 118 mph. Unfortunately, the ECU boxes are specific to each year, meaning a 1997 controller won’t work in a 1995 car.
If you’re looking for an improved intake, grab the 1995 air horn. It offers the best performance along with a nice honk. The heavy-duty radiator found in the ACR can help lower coolant temperatures, but it’s not always a bolt-in affair on cars with air conditioning.
The first-generation Neon came in both single- and twin-cam guises, and running the twin-cam muffler on a single-cam car can increase performance a bit while offering a more rumbly exhaust note. Additionally, the factory 1994-’95 SOHC camshaft offers a couple more horsepower and a few more lb.-ft. torque than the later cams due to some additional overlap.
The ACR also received a different transaxle, one featuring a sporty 3.94:1 final drive along with a .81:1 fifth gear. The Neon Sport also received a 3.94:1 final drive, but features a steeper .72:1 fifth gear. (This could be a better alternative for highway cruising.)
The 1994-’96 ACRs came with performance-valved Arvin struts, but the Konis found on the 1997-’99 cars are more desirable and can be purchased used for very fair prices. While you’re grabbing the ACR struts, take the heavy-duty hubs and knuckles as well (10.2mm hub flange vs. 8.2mm). These hubs also require longer wheel studs.
The ACR was designed for autocross and road racing use, so the anti-roll bars—22mm front and 16mm rear—would be a nice score. They’re also compatible with the Arvin and Koni struts. The first-generation ACR and Sport models came with a quick 16:1 steering rack.
The ACR also came with beefier, non-ABS brakes featuring four-wheel discs and an appropriately sized 22.2mm master cylinder and master cylinder booster. (A “BRD” decal on the booster is a good way to tell that you have found the right parts.) Speaking of brakes, the 1998-and-up four-wheel-disc-equipped cars—ACR or not—feature beefier calipers and rotors.
If a 2.0-liter Neon doesn’t offer enough get up and go, the twin-cam, 2.4-liter engine from a Stratus ES or PT Cruiser can be installed. Yes, it’s a possible—and fairly common—swap, but it’s not a straight drop in and go. First of all, you’ll want to lower the engine crank centerline about 1 inch in the bay, chiefly by modifying the front and driver’s side engine mounts, passenger-side adapter plate (the mount itself may not need to be modified), and the rear bobble strut. Lowering the engine will allow a “power bulge” hood to clear.
You’ll need to use 2.0 DOHC intake and exhaust manifolds, since the PT, Stratus and minivan manifolds generally won’t fit. Additionally, the accessory pulleys may need to be spaced slightly differently since the 2.4 is a balance-shaft engine, and the oil pump, crank snout and other things are in slightly different arrangements from the 2.0. An aftermarket crank pulley could help things there.
The wiring and ignition for the 2.4 are different from the 2.0, so there would need to be some changes to these systems as well. Also expect to notch, grind, and generally adapt brackets, fittings and sensors to clear here and there throughout the process.
Ford Motor Company is pretty good at keeping a basic chassis design around for a long time, and this fact can only help those who want to do some swapping.
The Fox-chassis cars, typified by the 1979-’93 Mustang as well as the Fairmont, stayed in production for nearly 15 years. As a result, there are plenty of junkyard pieces that can improve performance on a budget.
Since the Mustang steadily evolved through the years, a general rule is to install hardware from a later car on an earlier car to make things go better. Even a humble Fairmont station wagon can benefit from Ford’s improvements, including all of the V8 and suspension goodies.
The basic structure of the Fox didn’t change much in its lifespan, so engine swaps are easy. The engines got better as the series progressed, with the 1987-and-up cars featuring the best blocks and heads. The 1989-and-up cars came with the preferred (by most) mass-air fuel injection system.
If you have an early, carbureted car, and don’t want to deal with hooking up the injector hardware, most any small-block Ford V8 is a bolt-in project, but you might as well go with an engine built after 1987 for the most benefit. If you’re itching for more displacement, you can also bolt in a 351 Windsor from the LTD and truck applications.
The Borg Warner T-5 transmission fitted to 1990-and-up cars is easy to find and a good swap for the four-speed box fitted to 1979-’82 V8 cars as well as the the 1983-’84 T-5 close-ratio boxes, which have reliability problems; the 1985-’89 T-5s are a little better, but are still a little weak. The T-5 fitted in the limited-edition Cobra and 1993 high-output Mustangs features even stronger internals, and the Saleen Mustangs came with the very desirable close-ratio five-speed.
Clutches also improved through the years, with the 1986-and-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 very small 7.5-inch assembly to the superior 8.8-inch axle. Rear end ratios of 2.73:1, 3.08:1, 3.27:1, 3.42:1, 3.55:1 and 3.73:1 are out there, but the last two were special-order items.
Some other tips and tricks: The 1992-and-up gear-drive starter is lighter and more efficient than earlier models; 1990-’93 tie rods offer better bump steer control; the 1990-and-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 increase track and negative camber.
As we explained in the May 2003 installment of our Mustang project car series, these cars aren’t blessed with very good brakes. There are some junkyard swaps available, but prepackaged aftermarket kits are often more cost effective and safer bets. If you’ve got a a pre-’85 Mustang or Fairmont, replace the stock front 10-inch rotors with the 1986-and-up 11-inch pieces. If you’re lucky enough to find a 1993 Mustang Cobra in a salvage yard, it featured 13-inch front brake rotors, aluminum calipers, and the later SN95 hubs and spindles (five-lug wheels required).
Whether you go with the Cobra brake upgrade or use one of the popular aftermarket kits, once a Fox-body Mustang has been converted to five-lug hubs, a wide range of SN95-chassis Mustang wheels can be installed. Most are larger (and more attractive) than the original Fox pieces.
For rear disc brake parts, check out the following donors: 1982-’83 Lincoln Continental, Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, 1987-’88 Lincoln Mark VII LSC or SVO Mustang.
When searching for various anti-roll bars, remember that bars fitted to the Ford Fairmont and 1983-’86 LTD will also fit. Check out junked four-cylinder and V6-powered Mustangs for more anti-roll bars as well.
If you have a Fox-body 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.
On the boosted side of things, the Thunderbird SC offered an Eaton supercharger that can be made to work on many cars, like the $2002 Challenge-winning BMW 2002.
Merkur owners have a few options at the junkyard as well. A popular swap is installing a Turbo Thunderbird/Mustang SVO-style intercooler, which requires some source of fresh cool air to work. A Saab APC computer from the 9000 Turbo is designed for knock sensing on a turbocharged engine, so instead of retarding the timing, it will bleed off some boost, using its own boost-control solenoid, until the knocking stops. The turbocharger’s intake housing can be swapped with one from a Buick Grand National, which mates up with the stock exhaust housing.
Another junkyard Merkur swap is installing a larger vane-style airflow meter from the Turbo Thunderbird/Mustang SVO for more airflow over the stock unit. If you change the VAM, you need to swap in a new computer or chip. The best factory computer comes from a 1986 Mustang SVO (PE code). As an alternative, 1984 and 1985 SVO computers will also work and mate perfectly with the XR’s wiring harness. You could also use a Turbo Thunderbird computer from a 1987 or 1988 model, which requires some rewiring.
You can upgrade the Merkur’s weak T-9 tranny with a much sturdier late T-5 by changing the bell housing to one from either a Turbo Mustang, an early Turbo Thunderbird or a late-model, 2.3-liter Mustang. The front of the drive shaft will also need to be modified to accept the new transmission. Ford Focus wheels are a popular upgrade for the Merkur, offering a different look and a low price in addition to their 16x6.5-inch size.
The Focus was released for 2000 and has quickly become Ford’s answer for the import crowd. The performance-tuned SVT Focus offers the most parts for the junkyard savvy, including deeply bolstered seats, stiffer springs, larger brake rotors and calipers plus a pretty darned nice six-speed transmission. (The MINI Cooper S uses the same Getrag unit.)
Ford Contour parts (especially the SVT version) are also somewhat interchangeable with the Focus pieces, although we’ve yet to see a V6-powered Focus.
Ford introduced the Mazda-based front-wheel-drive Escort and Tracer in 1991; see the Mazda section for tips on shopping for these cars at the boneyard.
Listing every possible GM swap for every one of their chassis could easily fill several volumes, but there are a few standouts among the sporty car models.
Late-model, third-generation F-body cars (1982-’92 Camaros and Firebirds) came in a wide range of packages, from the super-sedate to the super-sporty. And we’re talking huge production numbers, too. This is of great benefit to owners looking to hop up their cars with budget-friendly 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 or being parted out on eBay, 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 drive shaft is aluminum and offers considerable savings in unsprung weight over the stock shaft. This piece only adapts to the 700R4 automatic and T-5 five-speed transmissions, however.
When engine shopping, a 350 is the way to go, as it fits just right and makes good torque, plus the displacement can be easily stretched. The 1988 and ’89 Camaro 350s have the best cams, with 1989 being the hotter setup between those two. The 1990 and ’91 model 350s have the best heads, while the 1987 pistons are considered to be superior. The best Camaro manual transmissions are the 1988-and-up T-5 units. The 1991-’92 is even better because the guts have been hardened.
If you’re shopping the salvage yards for a Camaro or Firebird tub for a project, the 1991 and 1992 chassis make better starting points. As the tolerances in GM’s dies became larger over the years, the company started to use structural adhesive to put the cars together in the later years; this 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.
The fourth-generation 1983-’96 Corvettes are now turning up in the boneyards, and can provide some neat bits. The later ZF six-speeds are preferred over the early Doug Nash 4+3 boxes for a number of reasons, while the Z07 suspension package from the early ’90s model is a good find. It features stiff anti-roll bars, springs and lower A-arm bushings. It also came with big brakes. Different rear end ratios are out there; the 3.45:1 and 3.54:1 ratios are preferred.
If you’re looking for the latest and greatest mass-produced Chevy V8, keep your eyes peeled for the all-aluminum LS1-spec engine. This third-generation small-block Chevy V8 first appeared in the 1997 Corvette before becoming available in F-body cars the following year. Both versions feature 5.7 liters of displacement, while 4.8-, 5.3- and 6.0-liter sizes became available for the 1999 model year.
If you have a small-block Chevy V8 that could use a new home—or know of a Fiero in need of a heart transplant—V-8 Archie offers kits designed to mate the two components.
Owners of late-model, front-drive GM cars (Chevy Beretta, Cavalier, etc.), should look to the sportier and later models for junkyard jewels. Sport models like the Olds Calais 442 and Chevy Cavalier Z24 tend to feature heavy-duty suspension and brake packages, while convertible models commonly have factory-installed strut bars and other braces that can be used to stiffen a sedan or coupe.
The 60-degree GM V6 has shown up in a wide range of mid-sized offerings; it can benefit from some mix-and-match action as well. The Generation 3 3100 and 3400 pushrod engines represent GM’s latest design efforts, so swapping these heads onto earlier blocks can yield increased breathing. This isn’t always a simple installation, although some tips can be found at 60DegreeV6.com.
GM is banking on their new Ecotec engine as the wave of the future, and has placed the 2.2-liter four in several of their smaller cars, including the Chevy Cavalier, Pontiac Sunfire, Oldsmobile Alero and Saturn Ion. It’s interesting to note that a turbocharged version of the Ecotec powers the latest Saab 9-3. We’ll let you guys finish that thought.
In today’s hot-compact scene, Honda products are huge, and an entire automotive subculture has popped up around the mixing and matching of parts. The old rule of stuffing a high-output engine into a lightweight chassis is still the guiding precept behind these swaps, and in many of the recipes, the Acura Integra becomes the donor vehicle.
Owners of 1984-’87 Civics and CRXs can look to the Integra for sourcing many junkyard hop-up parts, as the cars are very similar underneath their skins. 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 or 1985-’87 CRX Si, replacing the original 92-horsepower, single-cam engine. (We did this swap on one of our project cars, back before hybrid Hondas were cool; the job is detailed in the May/June 1996 issue.) Swapping in the Integra’s close-ratio gearbox also makes the Civic more fun.
If 118 horsepower isn’t enough, the more potent B-series engines can also be installed into the 1984-’87 Civic/CRX chassis thanks to Hasport’s line of mounts. The twin-cam B-series came packaged in a wide range of Honda and Acura models, sharing many dimensions and parts, making these engines the small-block Chevy of today.
Several different versions of the B-series exist; the popular ones include the 140-horsepower “LS” (1990-2001 Integra; no VTEC but cheap and easy to find), the 160-horsepower B16A (del Sol VTEC and 1999-2000 Civic Si; has VTEC, pretty easy to find), and the 170-horsepower B18C1 (1994-2001 Integra GS-R; more torque plus VTEC, but can be pricey). The ultimate find would have to be the 195-horsepower engine found in the Integra Type R, but that’s not exactly a common score.
As if swapping engines isn’t enough, a lot of guys are swapping blocks and heads to create hybrids like the CRVTEC (Honda 2.0-liter CRV engine mated to a B16A head) or the popular “mini-me” swap (single-cam Z6 VTEC head on the 1988-’91 Civic Si/CRX Si block).
Don’t forget the opportunities to improve braking performance. Larger rotors can absorb heat, so tossing the 1984-’87 Civic and CRX’s original 9.2-inch solid front rotors and 7-inch rear drums for the 9.4-inch vented front rotors and 7.5-inch solid rear rotors off a 1986-’89 Integra is a bolt-on deal. We also performed this swap back in the day; check out our Nov./Dec. 1995 issue for the details.
The 1988-2000 Civic chassis is practically a blank canvas when it comes to swaps. These cars are ripe for a wide range of upgrades, all courtesy of other Honda and Acura models.
The B-series engine swap would have to be a prerequisite here, and once again Hasport offers the mounts, axles and wiring harnesses required for the job—it’s becoming almost a plug-and-play installation. The Hybrid Garage (www.hybridgarage.com) and Hasport (www.hasport.com) Web sites contain the details necessary for these projects. A good place to discuss Honda swaps—or find some parts for sale—is Honda-Tech.com.
In the past, a lot of people discarded their 125-horsepower, single-cam VTEC, D-series engines for the more potent B-series powerplants. Lately, however, these D-series engines have been receiving more attention. Enthusiasts have been slipping them under the hoods of the lightweight 1988-’91 and 1992-’95 Civic hatches to create low-buck hotrods of their own.
The Integra and del Sol have more to offer than just their drivelines; they’ve also become popular donors for seats, gauge clusters, rear anti-roll bars, wheels and other hardware for the Civic and CRX models. Except for the five-lug Integra Type R, wheels also swap freely between most Civic, CRX, Integra and del Sol models thanks to their popular 4x100mm bolt pattern.
The larger Hondas can also serve as donor cars. The Prelude Si (H23) and Prelude VTEC (H22) engines can now be bolted into the 1992-2000 Civic, del Sol as well as 1994-2001 Integra, yielding stump-pulling performance. Once again, Hasport has the mounts required for the swap.
The current Civic and Acura RSX models use a totally new chassis and driveline, but that doesn’t mean the swapping must stop. Hasport has shown that the 200-horsepower K20A2 engine from the RSX Type-S can be installed into the new EP3-chassis Civic Si, replacing the 160-horsepower K20A3 engine. The car is just hitting the showrooms, but the new Acura TSX may prove to be an interesting donor in the future, as it’s powered by a 2.4-liter version of the RSX Type-S engine. Horsepower remains set at 200, although torque is up from 142 lb.-ft. to 166 lb.-ft.
There are several Mazda chassis that benefit from a little cross-pollination, including three generations of the RX-7 as well as the popular Miata. The Protegé—as well as near-twins Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer—is also ripe for some salvage yards swaps, while the MX-3 isn’t immune, either.
If your goal is to upgrade a first-generation 1979-’85 RX-7, the GSL and GSL-SE models tend to make the better donor vehicles thanks to their disc-brake-equipped rear axles fitted with limited-slip differentials. Some consider the GSL-SE piece a bit too beefy, however, opting instead for the lighter GSL rear.
The 1984-’85 GSL-SE’s 13B-spec rotary engine can quickly boost power in a car originally equipped with a 12A, but most of these engines will need a rebuild by now. The second-generation RX-7 could also be considered as an engine source, although those powerplants are also likely to need some attention these days.
Early first-generation RX-7s can score some neat bolt-on upgrades from the later cars, including nicer seats and steering wheels. The 1983-’85 models also have a bigger radiator than the earlier cars, and it will bolt right in. For the ultimate in cooling, look for the oil cooler from the 1979-’82 RX-7.
We don’t know of any documented cases of this swap being performed, but in theory the front and rear subframes from the Miata could be installed into the early RX-7, yielding fully independent, A-arm suspensions at both ends of the car. The rear suspension should be a bolt-in affair, while some minor drilling would be needed to make the front subframe work. A little work with a tape measure shows that this swap holds promise.
And since the Miata’s suspension, unlike many other independent suspensions, uses a very compact design devoid of trailing arms that link to the body, it could be installed in other cars as well. If the halfshafts and differential were removed, could it fit into the rear end of an early Honda CRX? The measurements say it’s a close fit.
Thanks to the availability of both pedestrian and high-performance models, the 1986-’91 second-generation RX-7 can also benefit from some swapping. Those with base-model cars should look to the GXL and turbo models for lots of neat bits, including 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 saw relatively few major changes during nearly a decade and a half of production, so owners of these Mazdas have a plethora of salvage yard swaps at their disposal. Right off the bat, wheels are interchangeable thanks to the popular 4x100mm bolt pattern.
As production continued through the years, the Miata tended to gain more powerful engines along with beefier components. The original, 1.6-liter 1990-’93 cars feature the lightest chassis, thanks to doors that carry less side-impact protection. This makes them excellent candidates for some of the upgrades found on later cars, as many components can be shuffled about.
Even though the stock brakes seem fine for Showroom Stock and Spec Miata use, the larger front brake rotors found on the 1994-and-up cars can be retrofitted as long as the later caliper brackets are used. (The early calipers themselves can be retained.)
To cure a warm-running early Miata, grab the radiator cover found on 1.8-liter cars. It’s a simple stamping that helps direct more air through the radiator, and 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 help increase the engine’s clamping power—something to think about if it’s running a lot of boost—the 1994-and-up 1.8-liter flywheel and clutch assembly is a perfect fit in an earlier 1.6-liter car and creates a mere one-pound penalty (19 pounds vs. 18).
Despite few outward similarities, the 1986-’88 RX-7 makes a good donor for the 1.6-liter Miata. The RX-7’s larger airflow meter is an easy (and popular) swap that can increase the amount of air ingested.
The early Mazda Protegé, which uses the same engine family as the Miata, features a resonance box in its intake plumbing between the air cleaner and throttle body. Thanks to the principles described in Hemholtz’s resonance theory, this box increases torque in the midrange; check 1990-’94 Protegés for one.
Some mixing and matching of factory parts can also yield nice gains in the Miata’s power. Generally speaking, the most desirable parts power-wise include the 1.8-liter Miata block and crankshaft (all years are very similar and also interchange with the ones found in the 1991-’95 Ford Escort GT and LXE, 1990-’99 Mazda Protegé LX, 1991-’95 Mercury Tracer LTS and Kia Sephia GS), 2001-and-up pistons (10:1 compression ratio), and the camshafts, cylinder head and intake manifold from the 1999 and 2000 cars.
These parts all bolt together, and Miata enthusiast/swap-master Randy Stocker of SoloMiata.com has seen the combo produce 160 horsepower and 125 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels. (He admits that “tons of headwork” by Andresen Engine Development as well as a MazdaSpeed exhaust camshaft helped the engine in question reach that figure.)
Once the new Mazda6 and Ford Ranger pickups start showing up in salvage yards, Miatas will have a new source for powerplants. This all-aluminum, 2.3-liter engine could open a new door on performance. “For the engine swappers in the crowd, 2004 is going to be a monumental year,” Stocker says.
Different gears will fit into the Miata rear end, and the right gear can help performance. The 1.6-liter cars came with a sporty 4.30:1 ratio, which is good, since few alternatives exist for these lightweight units. The 1.8-liter Miatas have a stronger differential featuring a 7-inch ring gear, and alternate ratios are out there. The 1994-’97 cars were sold with a 4.10:1 ratio, and going to a lower ratio (one that is higher numerically) will improve acceleration. Check out the front axle of 1987-’88 four-wheel-drive Mazda trucks for the 4.44:1 gears, while the front axle of the Kia Sportage can donate the 4.778:1 ratio. The 1999-and-up Miatas again feature the 4.30:1 ratio.
The factory-installed Torsen differentials are desirable, but can be expensive. Expect to pay $450 to $900 for the unit, assuming the seller knows what they have. As a budget alternative, the clutch-type limited-slip unit from a 1986-’88 RX-7 (a $50 piece) can be installed into an open 4.30:1 differential. Swapping the final drive could be one of the easiest ways to improve performance on the 1994-’97 Miata.
The five-speed 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, bell housing 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. You’ll need the assistance of a transmission shop to change individual gears, though, since bearings need to be changed and gears need to be pressed on and off the layshafts. The 1983-and-up trannies are reputed 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), 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), 0.711 (1985 GSL-SE), 0.858 (truck). RWD 626: (1) 3.214; (2) 1.818; (3) 1.296; (4) 1.000; (5) 0.858.
Even though the Protegé, Escort, Tracer and Sephia mentioned above share engine internals with the 1.8-liter Miata, they came with mild camshafts. Adding the Miata-spec bumpsticks can be a quick way to increase performance. The MX-3 sport coupe was available with a 1.8-liter V6, and as such will accept the 2.5-liter V6 originally found in the MX-6.
Also, while it’s more of a parts counter swap, the Tokico struts used on the Escort ZX2 S/R can be bolted onto the early Protegé.
If you’re going to swap parts between four-cylinder Mazdas (including RX-7 transmissions and differentials), SoloMiata.com has become one of the strongest resources on the Internet. For Miata-specific stuff, head over to Miata.net.
The idea of putting big power into a small car works with Mitsubishi models as well, and some swaps here involve the added bonus of working with turbochargers.
The chassis may be a little rare, but for a real pocket rocket start with the 1989 Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo or same-year Dodge Colt GT, which can easily accept the 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine from the Diamond Star family members like the Eagle Talon, Mitsubishi Eclipse or Plymouth Laser. A front- or all-wheel-drive turbocharged car can serve as the engine donor, but sticking with a five-speed 1990 model should make the swap a little easier regarding electrical connections and whatnot.
The engine install itself is a bolt-in affair, and the stock Colt/Mirage transaxle should be able to handle the added horsepower. Some fabrication will be needed to fit the intercooler, however, and the ECU and fuel pump from the Diamond Star car should also be installed. (Check www.turbomirage.com/swap.html for more details.)
As far as the Diamond Star cars themselves go, while converting a non-turbo car to turbocharged power may be a tempting salvage yard swap, the general consensus says it’s easier and cheaper to just purchase a turbo car. The same rule seems to apply to converting a front-wheel-drive car to all-wheel-drive status.
Owners of first-generation Diamond Stars with the automatic transmission can pretty easily substitute the larger TD05 turbocharger from a five-speed car, provided they grab the exhaust manifold as well.
Swaps involving the Datsun 510 and original Z-cars have been popular for a generation or two, but only recently have the Sentra and 240ZX models received comparable attention.
For a 1991-’94 Sentra SE-R 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, you probably won’t want to use the boneyard pieces here. 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 No. 46010-69Y20 or locate one from a non-ABS NX2000.
Even though all “classic” SE-R models are rated at 140 horsepower, the earlier Sentras came with more desirable engines. For example, the 1991-’92 engines feature a slightly better intake cam, so installing one of these in a late Sentra SE-R (even a 200SX SE-R) will yield a few more ponies. Also, the 1991-’93 “high-port” cylinder head produces a bit more power than the later, “low-port” heads.
And for a cool appearance upgrade, the 200SX SE-R received a sleeker headlight, grille and front and rear fascia package for the 1998 model year.
There is a measure of false economy in hopping up the cheaper water-cooled Porsches like the 924, since you’re essentially creating a 944, which can be purchased quite cheaply already. If you’re attached to the 924’s shape and relish the idea of the 944’s power, why not just buy a 1987-’88 924S? It features the 944 engine, transaxle and suspension inside the narrow body.
Still, the early 924 can get a little more power by swapping in the 1980-and-up 924 engine, which has a far superior cylinder head. Since the engine is basically an Audi unit, many Audi parts can be adapted to it. For example, the throttle body from the early Audi 5000 or A2 Volkswagen can be fitted to the 924 and will improve power.
The 924 got a five-speed gearbox for 1979, but it’s best to avoid this first-year unit. The 1979 non-turbo and the 1980 turbo got a Porsche design transaxle with Porsche synchronizers. In 1980, the non-turbos got an Audi-designed transaxle with Borg-Warner synchronizers, which were superior.
The rear disc brakes from the later 924 sport models and 944s can be installed easily on the earlier cars with rear drums, but will require switching to five-lug wheels. For improved front brakes, bolt on early 944 calipers. Basically, the entire 944 braking system can 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 be bolted onto the 924 with little trouble. You will want to find the 924’s optional 18mm rear anti-roll bar, which was larger than any of the rear bars on the 944. Four-bolt Ford Mustang wheels will fit the early 924, but will require spacers due to their increased offset.
Although the 944 is the parts bin for a 924, there are a few things that can be done to a 944 to make it even better. The early cars are much lighter but less powerful than the later cars, so dropping a 944 S2 or 968 engine into the early car’s engine bay provides a nice combination of power in a lightweight shell.
Dropping a 944 Turbo engine into a normally aspirated car is not cost effective (figure $10,000 for the parts), while swapping in the 3.0-liter 968 engine can be done reasonably.
The 944 Turbo front bumper fits on the NA 944 for a clean, updated look, while a rare find that can yield some trick parts is the M030-spec sport suspension package, which has stiffer springs and anti-roll bars. The brake bias valve from the 944 S2 and 968 will bolt onto the earlier 944 to improve braking. Since the chassis were virtually identical, most of these brake components can be fitted to an earlier 944.
A majority of the suspension parts from the 944/968 series cars are interchangeable, too. The later cars feature better, more rugged pieces, and buying items such as A-arms used can be much cheaper than factory prices.
The neat thing about junkyard swapping is that the normally aspirated 900 models can benefit from the 900 Turbos and vice versa. Want cool wheels for your plain Jane Saab? Find a Turbo and grab its wheels. Want to lower it a little bit and firm up the handling? Find a set of springs from the Turbo SPG model, which has gold or bronze markings.
The Turbos came in two flavors, eight-valve and 16-valve, with the 16-valve version cranking out the most power. Both units are fairly simple swaps into even the early 99s.
The later turbos (1991-’93) have mandrel bent intercooler pipes, instead of the earlier cast pieces. The Turbos are also the source of the famous Saab APC, a boost control/knock sensing system that is adaptable to many other turbo cars.
Turbo owners can get a higher rate fuel pressure regulator by pulling one off of a non-turbo (3.0 bar vs 2.5 bar stock). If you’ve modded your Turbo car, the taller-geared transmission from a non-turbo can be helpful, since it will allow more time in gear to take advantage of the turbo’s boost. A normally aspirated 900 would benefit from losing its tall, fuel efficient gears, while transmissions out of the 16-valve turbo cars have the shortest gears of all.
Speaking of transmissions, if you own a pre-1985 900 and plan on buying a new transmission, you should definitely consider purchasing a transmission from a newer car. The newer transmissions have bigger pinion bearings, as well as upgraded first, second and reverse gears. The 1990-’93 version is the strongest.
Subaru’s “scene” in the U.S. took off with the introduction of the Impreza in 1993; in just a few short years, the brand has picked up quite a following.
The early Impreza was pretty lackluster, however, with a 1.8-liter engine that produced just 110 horsepower. The later 2.2-liter cars certainly got more interesting, but it’s the 2.5-liter, 2.5 RS model that has the most goodies for swapping into earlier cars.
The racy Impreza 2.5 RS body panels are straightforward bolt-ons for the base Impreza’s front end, as are the 16x7-inch alloys. You’ll also need the headlamps if you plan to make this sheetmetal swap on a 1996-or-earlier Impreza. The RS alloys are also a popular upgrade for those seeking an additional half-inch of rim width on their late-model Impreza WRXs.
The Impreza 2.5 RS also has two-piston front brake calipers instead of the base model’s single-piston pieces. You can grab the 2.5 RS’s larger rotors, calipers and caliper mounting brackets pretty cheaply, but we’d recommend buying new brake pads for this swap. Legacy Outbacks can also supply the rear disk brakes if you want to switch out your base Impreza’s drum rears.
In the power department, the 2.5-liter engine is a fairly simple upgrade for the earlier cars, but so is the turbocharged 2.0-liter WRX engine for even more power.
If you have an Outback Sport or a Forester, you can lose up to 2.5 inches of ground clearance and improve handling by swapping in the stock springs and struts from the Impreza 2.5 RS. The stock 2.5 RS springs could actually raise the base and Impreza L models due to their lighter weight, but they would offer a stouter spring rate. This is actually a popular Rust Belt modification, since it provides better handling without sacrificing the Subaru’s awesome suspension travel. The Impreza 2.5 RS rear anti-roll bar is another great swap for the base cars, helping the 2.2- and 1.8-liters lose a little understeer.
While Toyotas might not be the first thing an enthusiast thinks of when considering junkyard hop-ups, there are quite a few modifications that can be sourced at your local u-pull-it.
Owners of the first-generation MR2 have some choices when it comes to junkyard hop-ups, since the 1987-and-up early cars, as well as the supercharged models, have a front strut tower brace that 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 4A-FE 1.6-liter powered cars (Corollas and the first front-wheel-drive Celicas) can get a 200cc boost in displacement and a healthy improvement in torque from the 7A-FE engine found in the 1993-’97 Corolla and the 1994-’98 Celica ST.
The 7A-FE engine can be further fortified by bolting on the head from a 4A-GE. For this application, the crank cam pulley from a 4A-GE has to be used to properly time the two cams; the timing belt from a Porsche 944 must also be used, as the 4A-GE belt is too short to work with the taller 7A-FE block. (Check www.club4ag.com for more info on this conversion.)
The second-generation MR2 was available in both turbocharged 2.0- liter form as well as normally aspirated with the Camry-sourced 2.2-liter 5S-FE. You can convert the base car to the turbocharged version with junkyard parts, but it’s almost easier to install the quad-cam V6 from the deluxe Camry rather than swapping in the turbo; you’ll end up with a quasi-Japanese Dino in the process.
If you’re completely nuts, you could take the drivetrain and rear suspension from a five-speed, all-wheel-drive Rav 4, mate it to the MR2 Turbo’s 3S-GTE engine, and create a rally-ready Celica GT-4, a car that is available nearly everywhere except North America. The 1994-’99 sixth-generation Celica actually has all of the mounting bosses on its unibody and even a “transmission” tunnel to accommodate the all-wheel-drive parts.
Celicas were available with a sport suspension option on the GT models, meaning some mixing and matching may be in order. These GT models have stiffer springs, stouter front struts and even stiffer rear control arm bushings. This option was usually packaged with a leather interior and a sunroof and was only available on the liftback. However, the rear shocks from the convertible are the stiffest and work well on track. The GT model has a larger front anti-roll bar than the ST, while the 1994 cars (both GT and ST models) have the largest rear anti-roll bar of the bunch.
Quite a few people have investigated the concept of upgrading a 2000-and-up, seventh-generation Celica from GT to GT-S specs, but it’s not just the VVTLi head that is different; there are quite a few electronic gizmos and computers, not to mention the engine’s bottom end, that are different as well. Our advice: Stick with the base engine, which has more torque, and swap in the better GT-S seats and 16-inch wheels. The GT-S seats are also adaptable to the sixth-generation Celica, as is the cool three-spoke steering wheel.
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, lightweight shell is a bolt-on job—somewhat, at least.
Like most other manufacturers, VW uses a chassis numbering system to differentiate between the various generations of their cars, all of which tend to contain common parts: the A1 chassis includes the Rabbit, Scirocco (all of them) and original Jetta; the A2 chassis was used for the Golf and second-gen Jetta; the A3 cars include the third-generation Golf and Jetta; and the A4 chassis just started production with the new Golf, Jetta and New Beetle.
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).
The 1.8-liter engine from 1983 and 1984 Rabbit 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.
There was quite a variety of transmissions offered on the A1, and the only way to properly identify a transmission is to check the code on the bell housing. The hot setup for an earlier car is a 1983-’84 GTI tranny (code 4K or 2H); this unit features 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 because it features low final drives and people are often willing to get rid of these trannies for pennies.
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-and-up GTIs came with the Digifant injection system, but the blocks and heads are compatible with CIS.
Some miscellaneous A1 tips: Swapping the 16-valve engines (in either 1.8- or 2.0-liter guise) into an A1 car can be done, although a Scirocco 16v makes the best donor; the aluminum bumpers that came on the 1981 Rabbits are much lighter than the earlier, chromed steel units; and if you’re looking for cooling system upgrades, in general the newer the car—or the more options it carries—the larger the radiator.
Sport model Sciroccos from 1978-and-up have Recaro seats that 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, as the slider adjuster is on the wrong side.
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 the wiring is not a plug-and-play setup. A VR6 engine will even fit in a Rabbit or A2 Golf if you’re the creative type. (The engine bolts in, but the wiring is another story.)
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 to accommodate them.
If you’re looking to install disc brakes at the rear of your drum-brake-equipped A2, 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. Another trick for yielding more power on a 1985-’87 eight-valve car is to grab the larger, dual downpipe off a 49-state Digifant-equipped car.
While it is 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. On the inside, seats are fully interchangeable within the A2 and A3 series. On A4 cars, the Golf’s ovoid headlamps are a bolt-on conversion for Jettas, although the Golf grille and hood are required to complete the look.
When playing with VW swaps, note that all 1990-and-up cars came with something called Central Electrics, which makes the installation of most any 1990-and-up engine (VR6, 2.0-liter, and probably 1.8-liter turbo) into a 1990-and-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).
Wheels are pretty interchangeable among water-cooled VW products, as long as you put four-lug wheels on four-lug cars and keep the five-lug wheels on five-lug cars. (Pretty obvious, huh?) Over the last 30 years, VWs have come with a wide variety of wheels, ranging from factory 13-inch steels to 18-inch alloys on the latest GTIs.
For late-model Volkswagens, the GTI 337 is the pinnacle of the line, with Recaro seats, a six-speed transmission, sport suspension and 18-inch wheels. Assuming you can find one that’s being parted out, nearly all of its go-fast goodies will bolt onto a more pedestrian A4-chassis car.
VW has put their 1.8T turbo engine into a lot of their cars lately, with the later ones conservatively rated at 180 horsepower from the factory. The only difference between the 180-horsepower models and earlier 150-horsepower cars is ECU mapping, although it’s probably cheaper to buy an aftermarket chip than a complete ECU from a salvage yard.
Since the ubiquitous brick was built from 1975 until 1993, there was quite a bit of evolution of the species. Base-model 240s can find some cheap upgrades in the salvage yard, from wheels to anti-roll bars.
A quick history lesson: The pushrod B20 2.0-liter engine gave way to the overhead-cam B21 for 1976; the B21 engine was replaced by the 2.3-liter B23 in the second half of 1982; and the B23 evolved into the B230. The main difference between the B21 and the B23 was the stroke, as the piston diameter remained the same.
What does this mean? You can swap a later short block under the B21’s head. Or you can use the B23’s higher-compression pistons to pick up some more power (10.3:1 in automatic-equipped cars vs. the B21’s 8.5:1). The B230 was significantly different from the B23 that preceeded it and thus isn’t really a good source of internal parts, but it can bolt into the early cars as a whole unit.
Most 240s came with 14x5.5-inch steel wheels and hubcaps; 15x6-inch aluminum wheels were available on turbocharged models as well as 740 and 760 models, and make a nice upgrade. The 1978-’79 242 GT came with super-neat 14-inch alloys, but they only measure 5.5 inches wide.
The base 240s came with pretty thin 19-21mm front anti-roll bars and 14mm rear bars. (Early wagons came with no rear bars at all.) The turbocharged 240 sedans came with larger, 23mm front and 21mm rear anti-roll bars, while the 242 GT has 23mm bars front and rear. The GT even has strut tower and lower subframe reinforcements that bolt into any 240-series car.
If your 240 wasn’t equipped with vented rotors, upgrading is as easy as swapping in the rotors and calipers from any 240 that came with vented pieces.
The B230FT turbo powerplant can be swapped into a normally aspirated car, although dropping in a junkyard-sourced Ford 5.0 has become much more popular in the last few years.
We have a few people to thank for their contributions to this piece:
• BMW: Rennie Bryant of Redline BMW.
• Chevy Camaro: Jay Morris of Ground Control.
• Dodge Neon: Bill Cuttitta, multi-time GRM Challenge participant.
• Mazda: Cameron Worth of Pettit Racing.
• Miata: Randy Stocker, the poster boy for Miata interchangeability.
• Brake tech: James Walker, Jr. of scR Motorsports.
• Photo location: County Auto Recycling Services (800-254-7911).
• Additional research: Travis Geny.
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