Apr 1, 2020 update to the Volkswagen Fox project car

Project Fox: Replacing the Transmission

We’d accomplished our mission: Buy a used race car for $500, prep it for its return to the track, then go racing. We got the car on track, everyone got to drive, the car was fun, etc.

One problem: Accomplished is a spectrum, and after fighting a bad transmission during every lap, we watched our Volkswagen Fox lose a wheel halfway through the race. We reassembled the car for its return to the trailer, but now that we were back home we needed to fix it for real.

Setting Priorities

Before we could get to work, we needed to make a plan that was a little more nuanced than “Fix the car!” Our goal was a clear checklist in chronological order.

Why? Because projects like this are complicated, and it would be a shame if we didn’t make it back to the track in time due to a part being backordered. By prioritizing a difficult or lengthy project, we’d make sure that we were ready for the next race. 

We’ve found that the best way to make this checklist is by setting a goal and working backwards, so we did just that: We decided that our next event would be the 24 Hours of Lemons Southern Discomfort, a full 24-hour race at Carolina Motorsports Park. It was originally scheduled for April 25-26 but has since been pushed back to June 6-7. Despite the reschedule, we still needed plenty of time to test and shake-down the car. The clock was officially ticking. 

So we looked at our notes from our outing at Barber and started rearranging. 

Mount driving lights, since we’d be racing at night? That could wait until as late as the week before the race, since we already had the lights and it would be an easy wiring job. 

Reinforce rear wing mounts? Okay, that requires some fabrication and is a little more urgent, but still nothing to be too worried about. After all, we’re pretty handy with a drill and a grinder. 

Rebuild or replace transmission? Whelp, we’re screwed. While at the track, we hoped that our Fox's tendency to jump out of fourth gear was simply a linkage problem, but a quick inspection confirmed it was something internal. This item was so urgent that it rocketed to the top of our list, and would need to be addressed before we did anything else on the car.

Transmission Tales

Why the urgency? Because our Fox uses a diesel Volkswagen Quantum five-speed, which is both fragile and unobtainium. The chance of finding a replacement on short notice was nearly zero, and a quick search of junkyards and internet sites turned up nothing. A few spare transmissions did come with the car, but they’d all been destroyed by the previous owners. 

Then we called our friendly local transmission shop, Precision Transmission Center. They’re experts and are used to weird projects, so we asked them if they’d go through our Fox’s transmission. They offered to take a look, but made it clear that the chance of success would be low, parts would be hard to find, and there'd be no longevity guarantees afterward. Even if they could fix it, we'd still need to bring a spare to the track with us just in case.

So, like so many other Lemons racers, we lowered our standards. The Fox’s previous owners threw out the car’s weak factory four-speed when they swapped in the bigger engine, but now that we’d swapped our Fox back to a 1.8-liter, we figured that we’d be able to get away with running the weaker-but-easier-to-find factory box while we attempted to repair our stronger five-speed. 

We Found One!

We fired up eBay Motors and started shopping, and managed to find a Fox transmission. One. In the entire country.

For about $250, there was one from a running, driving Fox listed in Oregon. Oregon is a little far from our Florida base, but we didn’t have many options, and the price was right. Better yet, we noticed that the seller also had a bunch of other Fox parts, and we were still in need of more spares for the car. 

So, we picked up the phone: “Hey, uh, how much would transmission shipping be to Florida?” The seller quoted us $300 in freight shipping, making the total cost of the transmission more than $500. 

How much extra would it cost if you strapped both front corners–uprights, hubs, brakes, control arms, struts, etc.–as well as the steering rack and brake master cylinder and booster to that pallet as well?”

The seller offered to include everything with shipping to Florida for a grand total of $620. That’s a lot of money for a $500 race car, yes, but theoretically it would fill our transmission need and give us spares that we hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. Heck, we’ve been running our Fox with the very rusty brake booster that came with the car as a new replacement cost $357.79. We could finally stop ignoring that potential failure point. In our book, that good used booster alone was worth the additional $100 we paid for those spares.

Then, a few weeks later, a pallet of nasty VW parts arrived. We were officially back in business, so we rolled the car into the shop, tore out the old transmission, and went to work.

Rub a Dub Dub There’s a Transmission in Our Tub

Even though this is a Lemons car, it’s still no fun working on filthy, greasy parts. We needed to clean the new transmission before installation, both for our own sanity and in order to better spot any leaks or issues down the road. 

So, we fired up our CRC SmartWasher BenchtopPRO® bioremediating bench-top parts washer and dropped in our new transmission. After 15 minutes of scrubbing, we had something that didn’t look new, but did have far less gunk on it than before. 

While We’re in There

Before we could start reassembly, we had some housekeeping to address. First, we needed to address our clutch, which we’d swiped from the Fox’s first engine during our swap. It still had life left in it, but since a brand-new Luk clutch kit only cost $81.79 from RockAuto, we figured that it made sense to replace the clutch and throwout bearing while we had the transmission out. We’ll keep the original pieces as spares. We also replaced the car’s rear main seal while the transmission was out. 

Next, we needed to swap our shift linkage over to the new transmission, which was nearly easy, but then required 15 minutes of testing, fighting, bending and then more testing because this is a Volkswagen and it hates us.

While the car’s exhaust was out, we also smacked it liberally with a hammer to make more room for our shift linkage. Was this completely necessary? No, but it should fix that annoying rattle on track. 

Transmission Time

Finally, we were ready to install our new transmission… and it was easy! After a few minutes of lifting, pushing, bolting and grinning, we’d successfully swapped our Fox’s transmission to the supposedly good four-speed that we bought on eBay. Had we fixed the problem? We’ll find out at our next test day. In the meantime, though, we still have a list of fixes from our last race, which we’ll handle in our next update.

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Comments
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Honsch
Honsch New Reader
4/3/20 12:43 p.m.

Uh oh.

You guys are going to HATE the stock transmission.  The gear ratios are AWFUL for racing.  It's also just as fragile as the 2P/9Q.

It's worth the effort to modify the car for a 012 from a B5 Passat if you have the ability to make custom axles.

 

aw614
aw614 Reader
4/3/20 12:56 p.m.
Honsch said:

Uh oh.

You guys are going to HATE the stock transmission.  The gear ratios are AWFUL for racing.  It's also just as fragile as the 2P/9Q.

It's worth the effort to modify the car for a 012 from a B5 Passat if you have the ability to make custom axles.

 

How much modification is needed to get a B5 transmission to fit? I can see it  bolting up to the motor. I kept thinking could a more common 1.8t a4/b5 passat trans open up the available pool in parts.

Sonic
Sonic UltraDork
4/3/20 1:05 p.m.

Apparently the Passat trans is theoretically possible, but a huge amount of work.   
 

Didn't later Foxes come standard with a 5 speed?  I thought the 4 speed was only in the early cars.  

Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/3/20 1:11 p.m.
Sonic said:

Apparently the Passat trans is theoretically possible, but a huge amount of work.   
 

Didn't later Foxes come standard with a 5 speed?  I thought the 4 speed was only in the early cars.  

Yes, yes, they did. I know because I had one. it was a 1993. Ratios were not awful but I never had it on track.

Honsch
Honsch New Reader
4/3/20 1:35 p.m.
Sonic said:

Apparently the Passat trans is theoretically possible, but a huge amount of work.   
 

It is a lot of work, but none of it is terribly difficult, except for making the custom axles.

I've got a '88 Fox wagon race car in the garage that I did the swap on because we couldn't get any more 2P transmissions.

Things you need:

1. An 012 transmission.
2. A clutch/flywheel/starter for the car the 012 transmission is from.
3. A hydraulic clutch setup.  I used a Wilwood 3/4 cylinder and added a clevis/pushrod to the stock pedal.  I made an 3-AN to VW quick disconnect adapter for the slave cylinder.
4. A custom shifter and linkage.  It's a funky shaped rod with a universal joint in it.
5. A new rear transmission mount made from a piece of angle iron.
6. A new dust shield for the 012 transmission.
7. Big hammers, a port-a-power, and lots of swearing to enlarge the trans tunnel so the significantly larger 012 fits under the car.
8. Perhaps a modified exhaust to go around the larger trans?  Ours was already modified for a custom 4-2-1 long tube header I made,
9. Custom axles with a Fox CV on the outside and Passat CV that mates to the transmission on the inside.

Piece of cake!

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
4/3/20 1:39 p.m.

Our current plan is to rebuild the 5-speed we took out of the car, then keep this 4-speed as a spare. And yes, later Foxes came with 5-speeds. Who knows, maybe the junkyard was wrong and we really have a 5-speed. 

bluetoes591
bluetoes591 New Reader
4/4/20 1:50 p.m.

In reply to Sonic :

5-speeds were available for the entirety of 1987-1993, but started on just the Sport model and slowly spread until most Foxes had them. 4-speed was still standard on the 2-door till the end.

bluetoes591
bluetoes591 New Reader
4/4/20 1:55 p.m.
Honsch said:

Uh oh.

You guys are going to HATE the stock transmission.  The gear ratios are AWFUL for racing.  It's also just as fragile as the 2P/9Q.

This. The 4-speed is the worst possible thing you can do. You lose 51% of your revs between first and second. And the gearing is such that you'll likely be using first on the regular at some tracks. I kinda like the PW 4-speed for in town use, put it in second and leave it there. It has no sporty application.

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