DIY coilovers


1981 X1/9
Hi folks. As the title suggests, the following posts will document my Fiat X1/9 coilover build.

For more background info, please read all the threads in my post titled "strut info needed", but in essence I will be using any VW Rabbit strut insert in a modified VW strut housing and your choice of any 2 1/2" racing spring.

I have done this without a lathe or milling machine. A bit of welding is required, but nothing too difficult.

If you wish to perform this yourself, please be careful. If you are uncomfortable with any of the steps or consider anything unsafe, then please do not attempt.

Sparks will be be flying and it will be a bit noisy so PLEASE:

1) For sure wear safety goggles and hearing protection. Wear long
sleeves, long pants, decent footwear, and thick leather gloves.
Things will be getting hot.

2) Clear the area of all flammables. Yes, move that container of
lawnmower gas !

3) Do not (like I did) dump most of the contents of an old strut
all over your pants. Old Fiat shock oil really stinks !

I actually found the whole exersize rather enjoyable and challenging. I did it because none of the other available options out there met my abilities, needs, and budget. It is very satisfying to create something with your own hands. I'm sure that most of you out there with limited skills - like myself - can do this.

So let's get started....

First of all, you will need some type of power mitre saw - you know the type for cutting wood 2 x 4s. Like the one pictured below. I'm sure most of you have one. If not, buy one (they are cheap - less than $100), borrow one, or rent one. Mine is an old Delta 10". Buy a 10" (or whatever size you saw is) metal cut-off disc. Like $5 at Home Depot. Remember when changing blades the centre bolt is usually left-hand thread. I know, you have probably never changed the blade in it !

Start by hacking off the protuding bits on the VW strut housing. The brake line holders can be removed first by knocking back and forth with a hammer. Then with a series of cuts on the saw cut off as much of the spring perch as possible as shown:

Then slice off one side of the mounting bracket with a lengthwise cut as shown:

Then cut off the other side of the bracket. From the inside as shown. Cut as close to the strut tube as possible:

An action shot:

Now set the VW strut housing aside and grab the old Fiat housing or strut. If using a sealed strut, first drill a hole in it and drain the fluid. Extend the shock fully so you won't be cutting through the main shaft.

First put some bolts, nuts, and washers into the mounting holes as shown and tighten till you just start to spread it. This will stabilize that part of the bracket during the whole proccess. I initially didn't do this and the bracket spacing changed during later prying. Don't make my mistake.

Now slice through the whole tube about 1/8" above the weld as shown at the bottom part of the sleeve as shown:

Then make a slice lengthwise through the back of the sleeve as shown:

With a bit of tapping and prying the sleeve will now come off:

Now for the really clever bit. We now have to remove the sleeve from the VW strut housing without damaging the housing. Hmmm...

Take a scrap of plywood or MDF and position the wheels as shown. Make sure the one edge is straight and screw on 2 of the wheels up to the edge. Draw 2 lines as shown. The 1 line should be exactly parallel to the edge 2 3/8" from the edge. The other 2 lines should be about 4 1/4" apart. Screw all the wheels on.

Now look at your mitre saw. Somewhere near the pivot point you should find a bolt that adjusts and limits the downwards travel of the blade. Screw it all the way in and see how far your blade now comes down. Now you will probably need to install a smaller blade. In my case I had to use a 4" blade for this to work. Blades are available in lots of sizes. Hint: buy the thickest blade you can find. In fact, installing 2 blades together will form a thick blade and make the next part go faster.

Now place the board with wheels up under the saw with the VW tube on the rollers. Play with the adjustment screw and blade sizes until you reach a combination where the blade CANNOT touch the main part of the tube. You should be starting to get the idea by now.

Adjust the screw so that the blade will just start to touch the sleeve.

Now you will see that you have just turned your mitre saw into a backwards lathe. Well sort-of. Okay not really. But hey, it works !

Now start by making 2 shallow cuts on the sleeve about 1/4" inwards of the welds. Bring down the blade and then simply rotate the tube on the rollers to cut all the way around. Then adjust the screw to make the cut deeper. Use the main part of the tube as a reference and adjust so that the blade is just touching the tube. Make your final pass on the 2 cuts and the sleeve should then be able to be pried open and removed fron the tube.

Now go back and in a series of cuts, rotations, and sliding back and forth, remove the remnants of welds until the tube is smooth and clean. But for now, do NOT touch the remnants of the spring perch.

Pretty cool, eh !

If you make any boo-boos and cut into the tube in error, just fill in with weld and re-grind.

Now you can trial fit the Fiat bracket/sleeve onto the now clean VW housing. Unfortunately the Fiat strut tube is about 45mm O.D., while the VW strut tube is about 48mm O.D. at that point. This is why we slit the back of the Fiat sleeve. Pry open the Fiat sleeve (make sure those bolts are still there - they prevent that part of the bracket from bending while you are prying) until it slides over the the VW tube. This is just a trial fit for fun, remove the sleeve for now.

Next we will work on fitting the coilover sleeeve. Unfortunately the VW sleeve is expanded at the top couple of inches to 50mm (the rest of the tube is 48mm). Thus we have to use a coilover sleeve with an I.D. of at least 50mm. The closest one I could find was 50.5mm I.D.. But in fact the inside of the sleeve was not constantly 50.5mm throughout its length. This is because of its intended use on a shock that requires circlips to hold it on.

Put the VW tube back in the " X lathe" and "turn down" the remnants of the spring perch so that the sleeve (use the 5" sleeve in front 7" sleeve in rear) is a snug fit over it. This will locate the sleeve and keep it from rattling around. Now I know the sleeve just locates the spring and not the suspension and it really doesn't matter if the sleeve is loose. Just a matter of pride mostly. Yes, duct tape would serve the same purpose, but really...

Then lay down 4 lengthwise beads of weld near the top of the tube. To support and locate the top of the sleeve. "Turn down" the welds so that the sleeve is again a snug fit. This will keep the top of the sleeve from rattling about.

Now slide the Fiat bracket/sleeve back onto the tube and weld into place. A couple of notes here:

The sleeve will be a little distorted from all the prying so clamp it down in a vise to get full contact before welding.

Now in what position you weld the bracket back on is a big decision. I think you want to weld it on HIGHER UP than original. Two reasons here. First, the VW tube is about 1/2" longer than than the Fiat tube, so welding the bracket higher up will correct this. Secondly, and this is hard to explain, if you wish to lower the car, welding the bracket higher still will lower the car without eating into suspension travel. So all things considered, you are probably best to RAISE the bracket as much as possible. Luckily, you can raise the bracket about 1" before the bottom of the strut housing interferes with the lower ball joint. Now I hesitate to give you an exact measurement (I'm sure there is some variation between years of X1/9s and various VW and Fiat struts) here, BUT in my case I found a distance of 6 & 7/8" from the bottom of the VW tube to the top of the ring of the Fiat sleeve to be perfect. Maybe tack it on at this distance and trial fit it on your car to be sure.

Now this weld is fairly critical to the structural integrity of the unit, so - unless you are are a skilled welder - please take it to someone who is !! I must admit this is the only part of the project I had someone else do. Thanks to Rick for the ace welding. If you blow through when welding or cause big bumps on the inside of the tube, you will be fairly screwed. Most 42mm inserts are a tight fit and if you cause protusions on the inside of the tube the insert will no longer slide in !! You would then have to get inside there with a grinding stone to correct.

Weld the sleeve everywhere - top, bottom, and up both sides of the back slit.

Luckily for us the Fiat sleeve has a large lip on the top. More than enough to support the coilover sleeve. You may want to lay down a little blob of weld at the top of the Fiat sleeve somewhere and file a corresponding notch in the coilover sleeve. This will prevent the coilover sleeve from rotating when you later go to adjust the bottom perch to change the ride height. Look carefully at some of the later pictures and you can see it.

So after welding the bracket, clean it up and apply your favourite primer and paint.

When dry, slide the coilover sleeve on - there is no need to secure it, spring tension will keep it in place. Spin on the jamb nut and the lower spring perch/nut. Run a neat bead of silicone seal around the top of the coilover sleeve to prevent water from entering though the small gap there. Slide the shock insert with its spacers and secure with the top nut.

Congratulations, you are now done for now. Grab a beer and stand back and admire your handiwork !!!

Up to now, of course, we have been talking about the front struts. The rears are pretty much the same, with a couple of differences. We will be using VW front strut housings again, but will be using Fiat REAR sleeve/brackets. And, very important, after removing the centre portion of the VW sleeve, DO NOT remove the upper portion of the remaining weld. We will just be "turning it down" a bit to the I.D. of the coilover sleeve. Luckily the VW sleeve is longer than the Fiat sleeve and thus the remaining weld is in the perfect location to locate the lower portion of the coilover sleeve. We will again be "turning down" the remnants of the spring perch to locate the upper end of the coilover sleeve.

I think in the rear we can raise the bracket/sleeve about 1/4" before the shock interferes with the driveshaft. My X currently has no driveshafts in it so I am not sure. Please check for yourself before welding.

So I guess we are done for now. I am still working on the upper spring perches and mounts. I have some nifty ideas for there too. But that is for another day. Stay tuned !!

My next post will be a list of parts and supplies needed to do today's thread.

If you have any comments or questions, please post. If you find a better way, please let us know.

Please note I have nothing to sell here. In my next post I will tell you where to get all needed parts and supplies. Where I live, all purchases or imports are subject to a 13 % tax, so I'm sure most of you can buy everything cheaper than I could.

If you need any advise, just ask. If anyone local wants to borrow my " X lathe" , no problem.

Good luck, work safely, and have fun.

Cheers, Doug
Last edited:

Robert Mose

True Classic
This is great!

I am certainly going to give this a try this winter. I knew I kept those old struts for a reason.

Great write up. :headbang:


Early Euro Spec 1500
Awesome, thanks for sharing! :thumbsup:

Look forward to the final installed result!

How soon do you plan on fitting them?

Please keep us posted!


1981 X1/9
DIY coilovers - part 2

Hi folks. Thanks for all the kind remarks. Hope you enjoyed.

As promised, following is a list of parts and supplies required.

4 X used VW FRONT strut housings. From VW Rabbit 75-84, Jetta 80-84, Scirocco 75-88, Cabriolet 75-93. For those of you outside North America, the Rabbit was called a Golf. I think in some places the Jetta was called a Vento ?
Now there seems to be 2 different types of housings, one with internal threads for the top nut, and one with external threads. You want the housings with EXTERNAL threads. I have seen the internal thread type, and they are expanded to about 53.3mm at the top. I suppose they might work but you would need much bigger sleeves and they would not be supported as well. So if you want to follow all my instructions, get the EXTERNAL threaded type. It is a bit unclear to me which type came on which cars, but I have been told that most German built cars had the external type, and most U.S. built cars had the internal type.
You can obtain from wreckers, Kijiji, Craigslist, or probably best from one of the many VW forums. is a very active one. $15-$20 seems to be the going price for a good one. Try to get the top nut with it - some inserts require you to re-use it. You only need the bare strut housing, no need to get spring, upper mount, insert, etc.

4 x Front strut inserts from the above VW. Be careful, some insert manufacturers have different part #s for internal and external threaded housings. Some just have one part # and give you the hardware for use on either. What brand you choose is up to your needs and budget. One of the benefits to my method is that ANY insert for a Rabbit will fit without mods. After all, it is going into a stock (as far as the insert is is concerned) VW housing.
There are lots of cheap stock-type inserts available starting at about $30, but these would probably be no better than the X1/9 KYB units so why bother. There are lots of performance choices - Bilstein, Koni, Tokico, Sachs G, etc. Take your pick.
I chose Tokico Illuminas. They are gas filled and 5 way external adjustable. About $115 each. But watch out - Tokico also make a stock-type insert - blue coloured. You don't want those. The Illuminas are white and have a part # of BZ1073.
Koni seems to have at least HD (red) and fancy Sports (yellow and externally adjustable). Bilstein have 3 or 4 varieties. Ideally you would want an insert with reduced extension travel (listed for lowered cars). This would allow you to run a stiffer spring without the need for helpers.
There are lots of inserts available on the internet. Or maybe try the VW forums for good used inserts, or new inserts from abandoned projects. These usually have the bonus of coming with housings. I got a pair of brand new Tokico Illuminas in a pair of good used housings for $120, so if you look around there are some good deals out there.

4 X used Fiat X1/9 strut housings (2 front and 2 rear). You will only be using the bracket off these so anything will do - sealed struts or rebuildable housings. You wont even need the top nut so any leaking or dead strut will do. If you don't have any lying about, place a wanted ad here or get some from the wreckers. I suspect even 128 or Yugo struts would work. Matt sells early X housings for like $20 each. Maybe he will now start to sell dead sealed struts for this purpose - I cant think of any other use for them !

Coilover hardware. I got mine from Bicknell Racing (

2 X 5" sleeve - part # BRP600B $15 each
2 X 7" sleeve - part # BRP601B $17 each
4 X bottom perch/nut - part # BRP602 $13 each
4 X jamb nut - part # BRP598 $12 each

These are all anodized red. For the stealth look, they are also available in anodized black on special order - just add BK to the end of the part #s. Bicknell tells me you really dont need the jamb nut and that the bottom perch really wont go anywhere by itself, but I felt more secure locking it in place - and besides it will double the strength of the bottom perch.
You can get these sleeves and perches from a wide variety of places - and probably save a bit of money - but these are of good quality and have the perfect dimensions for this project. If you got sleeves that were much bigger you could no longer use the Fiat sleeve/bracket as the bottom support for it. There are lots of super cheap coilover kits (from other cars) on Ebay that could probably be adapted for use here, but none of them seem to give dimensions.
The Bicknell parts are aluminum, made in Canada, amd are actually intended for use on sprint cars and dirt modifides. Big V8 2500 lb racing cars that run on rutted dirt high speed ovals. So I'm confident in their quality and strength. Much more so than those cheap off shore Ebay kits.
Bicknell have outlets in Canada and U.S., and dealers throughout the world, and at only about $40 per strut I think they are well worth it. The VW strut housings have an O.D. of about 50mm (1.97"). The above Bicknell sleeves have an I.D. of about 1.99" so they are as close a fit as I could find.

Supplies from Home Depot or Princess Auto or Harbour Freight or ?

1 X 10" cut-off disc for metal with a 5/8" centre hole (or whatever size your saw is). Make sure you get the reinforced type (you should be able to see the fibreglass mesh reinforcement). Cheaper ones could come apart. And make sure its RPM rating is higher than your saw's. Should be about $5

2 X 4"-6" cut-off discs - as thick as possible - as above. Size to suit your particular saw. With no blade in you saw, adjust your limit screw to the max to figure out what size you need. You could get away with one of these, but the job will go much quicker with two mounted together on your saw. About $3 each.

4 X small castors as shown - the nonswiveling type - as small as you can find. Mine are 1" wheels, 1 1/2" overall. About $1-$2 each.

1 X scrap piece of 1/2" or so plwood or MDF or ? . About 8" x 12" - with at least one straight long edge.

8 X #6 x 5/8" wood screws to mount wheels to plywood.

4 X 10mm or 3/8" bolts - 1 1/2" to 2" long.
8 X nuts for above
8 x washers for above
These are needed to stabilze the Fiat brackets during the process. Get fully threaded bolts if possible. if not, use the washers (like I did) to allow the nuts to tighten on both sides.

Your favourite primer and paint.

You will, of course, be also needing 4 X 2 1/2" racing springs of your choice and some bits to finish the upper mounts. I have not yet finalized that part of the project. Current plan is to use mostly modified stock X1/9 parts so hopefully we wont have to buy much there. I'll keep you posted.

Cheers, Doug
Last edited:


True Classic
What I'm most interested to know is what do you use at the upper spring seat? And what length coils do you need?


True Classic

What is the outside diameter of the stock X strut compared to the VW it 2.5..Thanks. Figuring out what size of sleeves.


Old enough to know better
Thanks for sharing this, its always good to see folks being creative to get some quality work done.

Looking forward to the install.


1981 X1/9

Stop the presses. Houston, we have a problem.

When doing final assembly on the rears tonight, I finally noticed something was not quite right. The rear camber was a wee bit off. Turns out although the front Fiat bracket bolts onto the rear upright just fine, it appears the lower hole on the original rear Fiat bracket is spaced just a little bit further out than the top hole. Not apparant visually, only after careful measuring does this appear. Hmmm.

So I guess it is time for a little re-think of this aspect. I may end up modifying the bracket or may end up using the original Fiat rear bracket, or ???

I will report back in a few days when I figure it out. No worries, I'm still convinced everything will work out great. Just a little bump in the road. I will make any needed changes to the previous posts.

Sorry about this.

Cheers, Doug


True Classic
Would adjustable camber bolts allow you to set the strut to correct camber with the current setup?


1981 X1/9

Well it appears the bottom mounting holes on the stock X1/9 rear bracket are almost 0.10" further out than the top holes. The mounting holes on the stock X1/9 front bracket are both the same distance out from the housing. If my math is correct, this translates to about a 3 degree positive camber difference.

Although this could possibly be corrected by using camber bolts, IMO this difference is too much to be acceptable.

Thus I have decided to use the stock X1/9 REAR brackets on the rear. No big deal really, just a couple of complications. Firstly, the rear brackets are somewhat more difficult to remove from the X1/9 housings than the fronts. And this means we will have to cut the bottom of the threaded sleeve at an angle.

On a positive note, this means however, that anyone out there wishing to do this project now needs 2 old front X1/9 struts and 2 old X1/9 rear struts. Which you are more likely to have than 4 fronts !!!

I will now go back and correct my prevoius posts to reflect this change. I am sorry if this has caused anyone out there any grief.

Everything else is working out just fine. I have fitted a front to my car and checked for clearances, proper travel, etc. I have figured out the top mounts and am happy to report it is super easy.

However, the one thing I dont have now is some old dead X1/9 rear struts to swipe the brackets off. I do have some almost new KYB struts but it would be a shame to destroy them just for the brackets.

So if anyone out there has some old dead X1/9 rear struts, I am desperate for them. Any year, sealed or rebuildable type, leaking or bent shaft, I don't care. I just need to cut the brackets off them.

Please let me know if you can help out. Just post or PM me with a price. I will also be posting a wanted ad here in the FSW section.

Thanks, Doug

Mark Plaia

True Classic
Yes, the mounting angle is slightly different....

Front to rear. I remember being surprised that FIAT made such a subtle change when I was measuring strut tubes to develop my design.



1981 X1/9

Hi folks. I realize it has been quite some time since my last update. I must apologize to anyone who has been waiting. Strangely enough, I had some difficulty in obtaining some dead rear struts to swipe the brackets off of. And then work, home repairs, Xmas, unheated garage, etc....

I have managed to fully complete 1 front and 1 rear and install on car. Everything went well and as expected. BUT.... the final result - with my chosen spring rates and inserts was about a maximum drop in ride height of about 1" front, 1/2" rear (difficult to say exactly because my X currently has no engine, interior, etc.) . Which is probably okay but I really would like to have the option to lower it just a wee bit more. so I went back to the drawing board and started all over again. Not really needed but I guess I'm pretty fussy.

On the VW strut housings, you will notice on the very bottom that there is a recess formed where they welded the bottom plug in. By cutting away this recess and and re-welding the bottom of the tube you are able to raise the mounting bracket a wee bit (3/8-1/2") and thus lower the car by that additional amount. I know it is not much but I felt in the end it was worth the extra work. It will allow me that little bit of extra lowering should I decide I ever want it.

So I started over, and was able, after cutting away the recess AND pushing the clearance between the strut and the lower control arm (front) and to driveshaft (rear) to as tight as I dared, was able to lower the car another 1/2" front and rear.

Now depending on YOUR chosen spring rates and ride height, this last step may not be neccessary for you, and should be considered optional.

Now I know you are saying, well why bother with this extra step when you could just lower the car by simply winding down the lower spring perch ? Well of course you are right, and this is really difficult to explain, BUT you will soon reach a point in lowering the bottom spring seat where the spring will then become loose at full stock extension. I will explain this in greater detail later.

But if like me, you want spring rates about 20% stiffer than stock AND want to lower the car more than 1", and want to use unmodified VW strut inserts, and want to accomplish all this without using helper springs, then you should probably go to the extra trouble of completing this optional step. Not a big deal really, just a little more grinding and welding.

To be continued....


1981 X1/9

In a previous post, we had completed the front strut tubes. The rear were much the same.

Because the top of the Fiat sleeve/bracket is angled, I had to cut the bottom of the Bicknell sleeve to match. Remember to use the 7" sleeve in the rear (the fronts used a 5" sleeve). Again I put a blob of weld and notched the sleeve to keep it from rotating when adjusting.

Now because the rear Fiat bracket is located so much lower than the fronts, ideally I would have liked to have welded on a collar higher up and used a 5" sleeve and a shorter spring. But I was unable to find a weldable collar the proper size off the shelf. I supposed I could have had one machined up (like Bernice did in an earlier thread) but I promised you folks we could do this project without a lathe or mill. All this really means is that the range of adjustment is a little more restricted than I would have liked, and we must choose our springs free length very carefully - too short a spring and you will not be able to raise the lower perch high enough. Too long a spring and the spring will hit the tire if using really wide tires or wheels with too much inset.

Remember when stripping the VW housings, that after removing the main centre portion of the VW sleeve, DO NOT remove entirely the upper weld remnant of the sleeve. Only "turn it down" to the I.D. of the Bicknell sleeve. You will have to lay down some beads of weld near the top of the VW sleeve and "turn it down" to support the upper part of the Bicknell sleeve.

Weld the Fiat sleeve/bracket as high as possible onto the VW housing. The limit here will be the clearance needed to avoid the strut housing interfering with the driveshaft. Tack weld first and try on car before final welding.

Next we will move on to the upper perches and mounts. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, any comments, questions, or concerns, are welcome.

Cheers, Doug


1981 X1/9

Welcome back. We will now move on to the upper perches and mounts.

I have given this part of the project a great deal of thought and many re-designs. In the end, I have decided to go with the simplest solution.

Firstly, the front upper spring perch. We will simply be modifying the stock X1/9 upper perches. After careful analysis, I have determined they are strong enough and can be modified for use. Simply cut the main tube about 3/4" from the top. Now this tube is about 2 3/8" O.D. and our racing spring is 2 1/2" I.D. (in actual fact 2 1/2" racing springs have an I.D. a little bigger than 2.50"). The fit will be a little too sloppy so just cut a piece of 2 1/2" O.D. tubing (exhaust pipe will work fine) about 5/8" long, slip it over the stub and weld into place. Depending on the gauge of tubing you use, the I.D. may be a little too small to slip over the stub. If this is the case, simply slit the tubing and weld into place. Don't worry about a perfect fit or perfect welds here, its just to keep the spring from moving around too much. Remember it is the shock that locates the suspension, so a bit of slop here really doesn't matter. But you MUST shorten the stock tube to avoid it hitting the strut housing on full compression.

Now since we have successfully used the original front upper spring perch, we can now simply - well almost - use the rest of the stock X1/9 upper bits.

On top of the original front upper spring perch is what Fiat calls a "bearing". Some form of bearing is needed here because the upper perch must rotate - while the upper mount remains stationary - as the steering pivots. Fiat simply used a greased plastic disc and seal. Over time this arrangement dries up/cracks/disintigrates. If yours in still in decent shape then you could simply clean, re-grease, and re-use. If not, I think Obert and Midwest can supply new or good used bits.

Now I guess that even Fiat eventually figured this arrangement was unsatifactory. I have read (but not personally confirmed) that later models - like Scorpion and Strada - used some type of real bearing here. Some manufacturers, like Mazda, used a needle roller bearing with a seal. Some, like Nissan, used dry delrin-type discs. Some, like VW, used a thrust ball bearing usually bonded into the upper rubber mount. All seemed to have their problems, in my opinion probably due to using a bearing not totally sealed in a harsh environment. Indeed, my attempts to find a reasonably priced totally sealed thin thrust bearing that I could use were unsuccessful.

Anyway, if I have my story straight, many years ago a member here (Mark Plaia) decided to re-design the X1/9 "bearing" arrangement. He used a standard Torrington type needle bearing in a custom built race/holder that duplicated the dimensions of the original Fiat plastic bits. He called them "Plaia Pivots". It also has a lip to provide lateral location of the upper spring perch. And uses the original Fiat seal to help prevent entry of water and road debris to the bearing. Apparantly this design has been updated/copied/?/ over the years and a version is now sold by Obert, Midwest, and others.

From all accounts I have read (I have not personally driven on them yet), they are great. They fit without mods, improve steering smoothness and response, reduce steering effort, seem quite durable, and are reasonably priced. Personally I would prefer that the bearing be totally sealed and lubricated for life, but in reality this doesn't seem to be an issue.

I would recommend that you buy a pair. You only need them on the front - the rears don't need to pivot.

To be continued.....