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Working on the Fox

Here I hope to share some of my experiences fixing things on the Fox so that others may benefit. I assume that you have a Bently.

Tail light problems

My fox's reverse-light and turn signal, at the rear and both on the right side, ceased working. The turn signal had been intermittent for years, sometimes turning on or off in the middle of a turn. Sometimes smacking the general area around the right tail assembly fixed the problem. However, the problem kept coming back.

After much investigating, I decided that the problem was the assembly of metal strips that connect the bulbs to the wiring. The strips are badly rusted and not properly connecting the bulb. After a search at the wreckers did not turn up a replacement, I soldered wires over top of the metal strips. Note: The metal strips do not solder nicely and require sanding and further coercion.

The result is a signal that not only seems to work reliably, but is brighter than it ever was! It is brighter than the left turn signal, so I may perform a pre-emptive solder attack before the left becomes non-functional.

Update: The fix didn't last, the solder refuses to stay stuck to the strips. So I just bought a new set of tail light assemblies from VW. $40 each.

Door handle

During the cold winter of Prince George, my Fox's passenger side door handle broke off. This seems to be a very common Fox problem.

I considered buying a new handle assembly (roughly $40) however at the urging of another netizen, I scoured a local wreckers. I found a Jetta with a door handle resembling my Fox's (none of the Foxes at the wreckers had handles anymore). Price for the handle was $20. (Note: handles are not worth that much! Bargain it down lower. Initial asking price was $25.. my bargaining skills are getting rusty.)

Removal and assembly is simple, requiring at most three screwdrivers. A small flathead (for prying off the trim), a heavy duty Phillips (for removing the screw in the doorjamb, above the actual door mechanism) and a small Phillips for the other screw holding the handle on (under the trim) and the screw holding the lock mechanism in.

We found that the lock from the Fox and the lock from the Jetta are very close.. but the Fox lock wouldn't turn in the Jetta handle. Luckily, the Jetta lock was close to my Fox lock, and we had to remove only two tumblers (they practically fall out anyway) to get the Fox key to work in the Jetta lock. From there, the lock was greased and placed back in the Fox. I was impressed with the simplicity of this operation, it was much easier than I thought it would be.

Exhaust Doughnut

Many Fox pages have suggested the simple performance enhancement of removing the 'metal gasket' between the front pipe and the first resonator/catyllitic converter and replace it with a larger version. I ordered the same part from the dealer ship, but for an '87 Audi 4000.

The process of swapping the two was possibly the easiest repair I've ever done on this car. The bolts were still good from my previous work on the clutch, so it was a simple matter of loosening the bolts while hot, letting them cool, removing them, swapping the part, and reinstalling the bolts.

The difference was not huge, no seat-of-the-pants power, but the car it definitely torques more in 1st gear off the starting line. More performance may be available, because I believe that my engine may have timing issues.

Conclusion: It was worth every penny and the whole 30 minutes the operation took. In retrospect, I wish I had done it sooner.

Update: I've been informed that this part is available at a lower cost (around $5) from Canadian Tire or UAP/Napa.

Transfer Pump

With my car dead on the side of the road, a fuel system diagnosis showed that the transfer pump was not running. In the end, the pump was not at fault, but I replaced it anyway.

The new pump is only $100, and worth the money just for some peace of mind that the main pump isn't doing all the work. Removal was straight forward. Removing the gasoline hoses at the top of the tank was simple. The clamps were in good condition, but I replaced them anyway. The book recommends using a special tool to remove the assembly from the tank, but a hammer and screwdriver worked. First I loosened the assembly with the hammer and screwdriver (hammering the top to rotate counterclockwise) and then inserted the screwdriver between the two hose connectors and slowly rotating.

Installation was straight forward as well, but care need to be used with the o-ring. To install I again used the screwdriver between the pipes, but with a second screwdriver to provide support for the first.

Conclusion: A simple repair I wish I had done sooner.

Timing Belt

Removal and installation of the timing belt was far simpler than I ever expected it to be. Armed with a full set of high-quality Allen keys and all the proper wrench sizes, the entire job is straight forward.

The removal of the engine cover on the front is simple if you've done it before. I found removing the cardboard shroud around the radiator and the grille was very helpful. The two 10mm bolts on top and the shouldered nut (6mm Allen key) shouldn't be a lot of trouble if you have high quality Allen keys. The pulley nuts on the water pump gave me a bit of trouble, they required:

  1. The car is in gear
  2. The v-belt is tight
  3. A wrench to jam the belt into the pulley
  4. A large torque extender (I stuck the Allen key onto the end of a very large monkey wrench) such as a pipe.
Without one of these, the bolts either wouldn't turn (not enough torque) or the entire system turned (the wrench jammed into the bully was just enough to get the bolts off.)

Re-aligning the engine was simple, the marks are exactly what the Bentley has. I was also re-installing the distributor at the same time, so following the direction in the book (which assumes you didn't remove the distributor and timing belt at the same time) doesn't work. I realized that the intermediate shaft's timing mark doesn't matter a damn, what really matters is the mark in the distributor and how that lines up to the flywheel. I installed the distributor, then rotated the intermediate shaft until the distributor lined up, then installed the belt.

Conclusion: A simple repair (or hopefully, preventive maintenance) I wish I had done sooner.

Heater Core Hose

About 20 minutes into a 9 hour highway trip, the heater core hose popped. The immediate problem was that I had to be in another city, so I dumped the car at the closest Canadian Tire and took a plane, hence the big bill (labour). The heater core hose popping was a secondary failure to the head gasket, see below.

Conclusion: A wholly unnecessary repair that could have been avoided if I had spent more time investigating the coolant system overpressurizing.

Head Gasket

The car was exhibiting the following symptoms before replacing the head gasket:

  1. Excessive pressure build-up in the cooling system, causing a burst heater core hose and leaks from every gasket and hose connection in the car.
  2. Non-constant coolant flow into the coolant tank. Coolant came in gasps and bursts.
  3. Excessive steam coming from the tail pipe. So much that I was concerned I would be blinding a driver behind me. Slight blue tinge to the smoke.
  4. Smell of anti-freeze in the passenger compartment. (As a result of 1)
  5. Water mixing in with the oil.

These problems all became worse after the heater core hose burst. All these problems went away when I replaced the head gasket. The non-constant flow into the tank was an indication of compression escaping from the combustion chamber and into the coolant. The coolant also smelled slightly of gas.

Initially I was concerned that the head would be warped or cracked, since the car overheated quite badly when the heater core hose burst. A trusted mechanic checked the head (once out of the car) and found it to have no problems.

Actually removing and installing the head went smoother than I expected. The injectors refused to come out, so I simply unbolted them from the fuel distributor. The intake and exhaust manifolds came out more easily than I expected as well. Since the exhaust comes off after you remove the head from the engine compartment, the greater leverage made removal quite simple. Some nuts needed to have the socket hammered onto them.

Exhaust nuts and bolts were all replaced. Anti-seize placed on all nuts and bolts except the head bolts. According to VW, the head bolts can be re-used. The head bolts required a 12-point, 12 mm allen-key type tool, similar to the drive shaft tool but larger.

Of course all surfaces were scrubbed down with a solvent and scotch-brite pads before new gaskets were put down. We placed a thick piece of cardboard between the head and new gasket temporarily while installing, so the many hoses and electrical connectors could be connected conveniently.

Conclusion: Not as hard as I expected it to be, but I'd still rather not have to do it if not required.


Finally sick of the pathetic headlights on the stock Fox, I decided to go all the way and buy the best headlights I could find. The Euro H4 headlights from FastForward.

Since the headlights are wired through the headlight switch, relays are required to move the current out of the switch so that more power can be delivered. FastForward also sells a wiring kit, so I bought that as well.

The FastForward product is excellent. The wiring kit went in with no problems, as everything was measured perfectly for a Fox. A drill is required to mount the relays, which are mounted just behind the grill, next to the passenger side headlight. The headlights are spectacular. They bathe the road in light, even at dusk. The low beams are fantastic, providing maximum light on the road, but minimizing the glare into other driver's eyes. The lights have a razor sharp horizontal cutoff, and a superior light pattern to stock lights.

Even though the headlights I got are more powerful than the stock ones (80/100W vs 55/65W) they don't put much more stress on the alternator. (You can do the math yourself.) This product is highly recommended, as it makes night driving not only doable, but fun!

Tail Lights

I prefer the style of the newer tail lights (90-93) over the older tail lights (87-90). Thus, when I heard that the newer lights fit onto the older Fox, I bought the first newer tail lights that I came across.

The newer tail lights do fit onto the older Fox, but the wiring harness needs to be modified and a very small amount of body work needs to be done. The only tools required are a pair of wire clippers, some pliers, and a screwdriver. The connector that holds the wires to the light assembly is the same, but the wires aren't in the same order on the plug. To rearrange the wires, I simply clipped each wire and reconnected them in a different configuration, using butt connectors. I would have preferred to simply move the clips that the wires connect to, but they would not come out of the harness, and the dealer doesn't carry new harnesses.

The old style lights mount to the body using four screw holes, which protrude into the rectangular cutout of the rear body that the tail lights go into. The newer lights have larger bulb areas, so they require more space of the same rectangle. Thus, the outer two screwholes must be removed. This is simply a matter of clipping them off an bending the metal back, which is easy because the metal back there is amazingly soft.

The result is what I was looking for. The newer look is sportier, and that's all I wanted. Worth it!

New Car!

I bought this car:

Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2001 20:07:25 -0000
Subject: [VWFOX] 87 Fox For Sale - Toronto

I'm going to try this again as I orginally posted this the evening
before the terrible attacks on Sept 11 and therefore it may not
have been viewed by many.  I am open to offers and am motivated to 
sell so let me know if you are interested.  If it doesn't sell I will 
post again and part it out.
There is a picture in the "Files" section, it's titled Fox2.jpg
Thanks.  Here are the details:

'87 Fox 2Dr, dark blue, 312,000 km, as is.

-2 Litre bubble block with GTI 8v big valve head. - Religiously fed 
Syntec 5W-50 (Engine has about 150,000km on it)
-Schrick cam (not sure of the degrees, but it's the next one above 
268, so 272? or 276?
-GTI Throttle body
-Converted to CIS-E from CIS
-Neuspeed Springs
-Techtonics downpipe, and full exhaust system (Stainless steel) and 
Audi Fox manifold
-Audi 10.1 Vented brakes up front
-Corrado Disc brakes in back
-ROH 5 Star aluminum rims -16 inch
-Alpine alarm
-Alpine deck, Sony amp, Infinity rear 6x9, Sony speakers up front
-Interior absolutely mint.  Really! :-) It's gray.
-New Fuel pump
-New fuel filter
-Changed transfer pump last year
-New battery and alternator last winter
-Fuba whip antenna
-Single wiper from Scriocco
-Passenger side mirror
-4 Spoke steering wheel from MkI GTI
-Tach conversion
-Rear seatbelts
-Door handle armour plates
-Oil cooler with Neuspeed oil cooler sandwich adapter
-Nokia Hakkepelita 10's snow tires 175/65-14 on 14 inch steel wheels
with Vw wheel covers
Of course, Bentley Service Manual

I'm selling "as is" because a) the windshield is cracked
b) the tranny is missing 3rd gear and c) when I put on
the discs in the back I never got around to attaching the
parking brake!  There is some rust on lower side driver's door
A-pillar and rear fender.  The paint is in great shape though, as I 
did keep her regularly waxed.

$2500 or b.o.