Six Speeds are better than Five Speeds

[note: this was a posting to by me, soon after I got the VL Option-6 transmission installed...approximately one year later it died and was replaced with an ACN wide-ratio box which is still plugging along today nearly six years later]

At least six times better, if you ask me.

I finally got my VL Option-6 tranny in my car and on the road, and I love it.

Here are the gory details. Driving to bike races every weekend at several hours each way during the summer had made me want something to change the high-revving top gear of my 88 GTI. Why waste all those nice revs on a boring straight interstate?

The cheapest solution would probably be to change out the 5th from .91 to .80 or .75, but that would leave a big jump from 4th to 5th. My dad's old '80 924T had a gearbox like this, where you only used 5th above 55 mph. With more power, you can get away with such wide spacing. But my car does not (yet) have even the 150 horses of the 924T. I decided against this.

Modify the existing transmission somehow? Maybe a different final drive? Bob from Shine Racing recommended against changing to a 3.42 from my 3.67, saying it might work with a 2.0 but my 1.8 wouldn't have enough torque to pull it off. So that was out.

How about a new six-speed gearbox? I got an Autotech catalog, which did have a six-speed box, but it appeared to be intended for racing. And was about $3500 - no thanks, I only paid $4000 for the car.

Time passed. I read the _european car_ article about the Eurospec six-speed, but it was still $2300. Bob put me on the trail of VL Enterprises, and the proprietor Vince Locicero's Option-6. An ad in the back of _ec_ led me to a web page with a few pictures and facts. I began corresponding with Vince, and settled on the middle of his three basic options: 1) you buy the kit, which has a new end cap with sixth gear and some other pieces, and are on your own for installation - ~$1000; 2) Vince puts the kit on your tranny for you, inspecting it in the process - ~$1350; 3) just buy a whole 6-speed box from Vince - ~$1700. He recommended a lower 3.94 final and 0.71 6th, but I settled on my existing 3.67 final and a 0.75 6th, the same gear as a wide-ratio box's 5th.

It was already February, and I was concerned about time remaining until I wanted to start driving all around, but went with the middle choice because it would use a known pretty-good tranny (154k, no problems yet) of mine and save me some money over a whole box which would be someone else's rebuilt box anyway. The tradeoff was time. Vince said the operation in his shop would take 1 to 2 days. Great, but his shop is in Oregon and the car is here in Idaho.

At last the day (Thursday) arrived when I dropped off the car at my friendly local VW dealer. They removed the tranny (Friday) and shipped it off (Monday) to Oregon along with the Velocity stage 2 limited-mini-slip kit which Vince had said he would install for free and the two quarts of MTL90 I got with it.

Then I was nervously package-tracking and watching the calendar. It was UPS package 1Z8461080810013759, see for yourself how it bounced around the Portland area before being delivered on Thursday. Friday evening I got email from Vince confirming my tranny's safe arrival, saying he would start on it Monday.

But then Vince got sick. And was unable to work on it until the end of the week, resulting in it not leaving Oregon until the next Monday. He did spring for overnight service though, and UPS package 1Z945X460102456239 was at the dealer Tuesday morning.

Unfortunately the speed of its transit had damaged a drive flange, and the dealer had to order one. But they also very nicely used overnight service, and the car was back together with a new clutch on Wednesday evening and into my hot little hands, just one day short of three whole weeks of painful GTI withdrawal. Just over $400 to the dealer for labor and clutch parts.

Of course the very next day some little delinquent swiped the chromed plastic VW emblem from the middle of the back panel. Which leaves a hole, by the way.

I didn't have a chance to play with it much before the weekend, as I went to a bike race down in St George, Utah in someone's dad's van. But apart from a little notchiness, it seemed to work pretty boringly. 1st, pull back to 2nd, forward and over to 3rd, pull back to 4th, forward and over to 5th, then just pull back to 6th. Ho hum.

But here's what a 0.75 does in contrast with a 0.91: at 3k, 70 mph vs. 55 mph. At 4k, 92 mph vs. 76 mph. So instead of cruising at 4k in 5th to make the 75 mph speed limit on the interstate, now I go 3250 (60 mph in 5th). Feels much, much better.

Continued notchiness and sometimes outright refusal to enter any forward gear led to a replacement of the shifter linkage bushings the next week, and it's now shifting very nicely indeed.

Performance. Really nice on the interstate. Acceleration of course isn't as good as 5th, but you know what? I've still got 5th right there, a slick synthetic shift away, if I want it. 5th is still great for putting around town, but 6th is useable above 45 mph although not really "necessary" until 60 or so. Mileage is dramatically better at around 50 mph (from the MFA), less so but still improved at 75 (from MFA and miles/gallons). Noise drops considerably as well, not that I ever minded my TT after I put in the carpet felt under the spare tire, but certain passengers complained about "loud VWs."

Justification/Applicability. This will very likely never ever pay for itself with its small fuel savings. In fact, it will probably encourage me to drive faster. Does anyone else's GTI whisper "drive me *faster*"? But I'm going to keep this car forever, since it is perfect for my needs. So I want to be happy with my car, and here I am just so pleased with myself about this it's disgusting. Your mileage may vary. Don't blame me if you get a speeding ticket trying to check your rpm for 75 mph - I have a nice little Excel spreadsheet for that that I will drop in the mail for anyone that wants it and is too lazy to slap it together themselves.

About the Velocity limited-mini-slip. I hadn't thought I noticed it yet, but perhaps Monday night in the snow on my P600s as I was trying to prevent a pickup from getting to the road-narrows-to-one-lane ahead of me there was no open-diff-type slippage at WOT up through 3rd. If I take my car skiing this weekend instead of the Suburban I'll put the Blizzaks back on and play around a bit up in the ski area parking lot.

Henry Harper

1988 GTI 16v 1.8, 155k, VL Option-6 0.75 6th, TT 2.25" cat and stainless cat-back, Bilstein Sports, Velocity stage 2 limited-mini-slip, euro-aero H4s, k&n, ticket-me red, now I want big bumper[cover]s and a euro intake cam