Beam-in a Karmann Ghia

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A look at what it takes to remove the stock front beam and replace it with CB Performance’s 2-inch-narrowed unit (and more), thanks to Greg Melikyan at German Motor Works

By Robert K. Smith

   Since we haven’t done any recent how-to articles about installing a narrowed beam (quite a popular addition among owners of custom VWs), we decided to share what it takes to R&R a front beam in a ’70 Karmann Ghia, which features the same ball-joint on ’66 and later Bugs (not Super Beetle though). Luckily for us, when we dropped by to see Greg and Arda Melikyan at their shop, German Motor Works in nearby Garden Grove,

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CB Performance supplied not only their 2-inch-narrowed beam, but new ball-joints, seals, shorter tie rods/ends, steering damper, rotors, calipers, stainless brake hose, wheel bearings, trailing arm set screws/nuts, sway bar, and four beam securing bolts.

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Before removing this ’70 Ghia’s stock beam assembly, German Motor Works’ Bo Artin took front ride height measurement, which was 26-1/8 inches, from the ground to the fender lip.

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For easy access to steering coupler and beam’s top hardware, fuel hoses, vent hose and four hold-down tabs were first removed so that the gas tank could also be taken out of the car.

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Bo used a special wheel bearing race installation tool, making sure inner and out races went in straight, bottomed.

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Steering coupler must be removed, with 14mm socket wrench; damper, two top beam bolts, & tie rods are taken out too.

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After unbolting the factory disc brake calipers, beam is ready to come out; four main front bolts (19mm wrench) next.

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With help from Vatche, Bo used a pry bar at beam’s bottom to “pop” it out. Some can be difficult, if heavy rust is present.

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Beam removed w/ control arms, rotors, steering box, and sway bar. New beam below, shows 1-inch per side difference.

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Replacement TRW steering box was removed with 17mm socket wrench, and found leak-free, no play, reuseable..

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Since torsion control arms, spindles, and brake backing plates transfer to new beam, sway bar’s clamps come off first; after slide locks are out, screwdriver is used to spread clamps apart.

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After removing shocks and rotors, ball-joint nuts are next, requiring 19mm wrench to loosen, then using “chatter gun” or pickle-fork to undo taper fit of ball-joint shafts in spindle holes.

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With the spindles out of the way, it’s now time to remove the torsion control arms, held in place with a “grub screw” and nut, which require 19mm socket (nut) first then 8mm Allen wrench.

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Once each set screw is gone from an arm, it can easily slide out of beam, grease wiped off, arm thoroughly cleaned in solvent, then inspected for any wear. Here, all arms were good to go.

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Ball-joints are next to be pressed-out of control arms, but top arm eccentric nut (for camber adjustment), comes off first.

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After Greg slid-in CB’s new shorter leaves in torsion tubes, Bo carefully tapped-in four new rubber seals in place.

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Cleaned steering box, w/ Pitman arm, then bolted to beam, using 17mm wrench, torqued (18-20ft. lbs.), no more.

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With the control arms cleaned, bead blasted, then painted, Greg proceeded to press-in four new ball-joints from CB.

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Close-up of notch in arm is alignment mark to reference ball-joint location; not aligned — incorrect pivoting, & damage.

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Before rotating beam into position, Greg made sure two top rubber blocks were in place, then beam top end in first.

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With the new two-inch-narrowed CB beam located properly, Bo installed four new main bolts, then torqued them, 36ft. lbs..

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Refurbished control arm shafts were greased liberally, then slid in place, and secured w/set screw/nut (8mm/19mm)..

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Spindle install next, starting with lower ball-joint, then eccentric nut in spindle top hole, prybar, slide-in upper ball-joint.

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Rotors were thoroughly cleaned, and after inner and outer wheel bearing races installed, inner bearings were liberally packed with grease, and then the seal was carefully tapped-in.

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With backing plated mounted, and outer bearing grease-packed, on went rotor and thrust washer, followed by spindle lock-nut, adjusting proper play, then tightening nut with 6mm Allen.

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New CB Performance calipers were next in line, and easily mounted with two bolts (17mm wrench), torqued 43ft. lbs..

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After stainless braided brake line was installed, Bo moved to connect all tie rods and ends, using 19mm wrench.

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Back to the top end, Bo installed the beam’s two body-to-beam bolts, and used a 17mm wrench to tighten them.

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Since this car’s steering coupler was pretty worn-out, Greg replaced it with a new one, and also hooked-up horn wire.

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A shorter, heavy duty CB sway bar was also included, so it was installed with provided clamps, & urethane bushings.

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This job is almost done, just needing the shocks, wheels, adjusting ride height, and taking it to the alignment shop.

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For a softer ride, stock oil shocks were selected and bolted in, using 17mm wrench on bottom, 14mm for top nuts.

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Close look at top ball-joint reveals thick washer (do no forget to use it), and also note eccentric nut under ball-joint boot.

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Built-in adjuster with steps (commonly called notches) utilizes two nuts; upper and lower notch setting must be same.

ghia 36they were just getting ready to replace a Ghia beam (disc to disc) with CB Performance’s two-inch-narrowed adjustable beam, plus all new ball-joints, shortened tie rods with new ends, shorter sway bar, disc brake calipers, rotors, bearings, seals, new front beam mounting bolts too, all for CB Performance. This was more than just the beam replacement, so we grabbed the digital camera, and followed along, as Greg’s ace mechanic, Bo Artin, made it happen.

   With the Ghia on the hydraulic floor lift, making things easier to get to necessitated removing the gas tank and front wheels, unbolting the steering coupler (and horn wire), taking out the beam-to-body top bolts, unbolting the steering damper,

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Bo “eyeballed” the toe-in and camber at German Motor Works, and set the adjusters at one notch (which brought down the car only 1-3/8 inches, perfect for car’s owner); the lower the drop with adjusters, the harsher the ride, which is why some prefer CB’s drop spindles, and others like the “slammed” look, utilizing both lowering methods. After a test drive, everything seemed good, so the Ghia was driven over to Lee & Son Alignment in nearby Fullerton, where Jeff DIeleman discovered right wheel had 3/4° positive camber, left had 0° camber, built-in caster was 1/2°, and the toe was out. For best tire life, Jeff set left and right camber at 0° and toe at 0°. However, for high speed performance, Jeff suggests using shims to increase caster, and toe-in can be set-in a maximum of 3/32-inch. All this stock looking convertible needs to wake it up is a set of polished and painted early Porsche alloys with “big and little” tires, and more drop.

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eliminating the tie rods, removing the calipers, and then the four main bolts holding in the beam assembly. Once it was out of the car, and on the ground, more disassembly took place, primarily because some original parts, like all four tailing arms, were to be reused, but first the old ball-joints had to come out, then the arms inspected for wear (these were not worn-out), cleaned, painted, and fitted with new ball-joints. The new CB beam also comes with new 2-inch-shorter torsion leaves, which were already installed by Greg when we came into the picture. Also to be reused were the two OEM brake backing plates.

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   Fortunately, the car’s previous owner replaced the steer boxing, and it did not leak, so it was cleaned and saved for the new two-inch-narrowed beam. After all the new components were in place, the fresh beam and brake assembly went back in, along with stock style shocks, everything tightened, and “eyeball” aligned (toe-in). The adjusters on upper and lower torsion tubes were both moved one notch, which lowered the car 1-3/8 inches. Happy with the car’s right height, since the Ghia was rolling on stock chromies, the owner drove it a few miles to Fullerton, where it was aligned by Jeff Dieleman, at Lee and Son Alignment. As you can see, this KG convertible now sports tucked-in-a-tad front wheels, and the front can be dropped way more if needed, thanks to built-in adjusters (plus another instant two-inch drop if CB’s drop spindles are in your plan-to-slam).