GTI Shifter Conversion
I finally got tired of the stock GTI shifter after nearly 20 years with the car.  The conversion was a good winter project that turned out to be a lot easier to do that I'd originally thought.

It started with that tired old big plastic pivot at the base of the shift lever.  It looked funky and there was a lot of free play.  There was about three quarters of an inch or more of play just in that one part of the shift mechanism!  So I searched the net and found that a high-misalignment spherical bearing would be just the ticket.  Raising the pivot point by three quarters of an inch reduces the shift throw by 20-25% in all directions (unlike most conversions that use replacement crank levers.)  This was a lot more reasonable than some of the short shift kits that reduce the throw by 30 to 50% but increase the effort far too much.  And besides, it's a cool project. 

The basic conversion parts are in the photo.  The bearing holder is made from a 2 1/4" washer and a section of galvanized water pipe.  This is pretty basic engineering.  The pipe is welded to the washer, and the washer is welded to the stock pivot bearing holder.  It fits perfectly by slipping it inside the holder and welding it to the top lip.  This raises the pivot point by the necessary three quarters inch.  Four set screws are used to retain the bearing in the holder.  It's critical to only set them finger tight--any more than that distorts the bearing race and it really increases the bearing friction.  Blue Loc-Tite holds the screws in place.  The next step was to modify the shift lever so that it matched the I.D. of the bearing.  This was done by building a base for the bearing using another washer.  The actual sleeve for the shift lever is a piece of five eighths tubing machined down a bit to fit inside the bearing with about 2-3 thousandths of clearance.  The stock reverse lock-out spring and retainer can be used.  All that's needed is to expand the base of the spring a bit to clear the sleeve. 
These are the only modifications to the shift mechanism.  Of course, if the rest of the linkage is worn it's wise to at least replace the plastic bushings.  You may also need to replace any worn rods and metal parts too. 

The shifter works great.  It's noticeably more precise, though I wouldn't call it miraculous (you wouldn't mistake it for a Miata shifter.)  And the throws are reduced significantly.  Although the effort is up a little it's not a bad trade-off.  The cost of the project was about $50 for the bearing and about $5 for the washers, pipe and set screws.  Of course you'll need access to a lathe and a welder.  Tom's South Bend lathe did the job just fine.  This was the first time I'd ever used a lathe but it was pretty simple.  The only thing I'd do different next time would be to use sharp lathe bits!

If anybody's interested in learning more about the conversion just click on "contact us" and I'll get in touch.