Engine Stands & Support
by Richard Atwell
Disclaimer: lifting engines can be hazardous so wear steel toe boots, observe safety protocols, always have a friend helping and use common sense at all times.
There are two kinds of air-cooled VW owners: those that have pulled their engine and those that are going to have to.
If you've ever rebuilt or dressed an engine while it sat on the floor you'll immediately appreciate how inconvenient it is. The solution is to purchase an engine stand like a repair shop or rebuilder would use but dropping VW engines and mounting them on a stand isn't as easy as advertised because the average Made in USA/China engine stand was never tailored to the air-cooled VW engine...
The typical $150-300 engine stands come in several styles: "T", "I/H", "A/V" and "C/U" which describe the arrangement of the support legs:
|"T"||"I"||"A"||"C" (My preference)|
NOTE: the Type 4 engine is heavier and wider than the Type 1 engine and weighs 309 lbs when fully dressed (including the exhaust).
Whut's going on here? Above is the now obsolete Central Machinery 4420 from Harbor Freight and with the angle of the collar, the engine will be facing downward! Even the owner's manual depicts this weird configuration.
The "C" style is usually rated for 1250 lbs and can double as an engine dolly (if you remove the vertical post) by adding some wood for support and a floor jack. This is the style I think it best to own and it works equally as well for VW and Porsche engines. The ease of access between the legs makes it the clear winner IMHO.
The stand I bought is the Torin Big Red (#T25671). If you can find one locally, get it because shipping a heavy item like this can be expensive. Luckily I found one that was in the same UPS zone. I paid $50 (circa 2004) and with tax/discount/shipping the total came to $65. In 2022, expect to pat $160-180 USD.
What I like most about the stand besides its use an an engine dolly and price are the dimensions: 29" high, 33" long, 33.5" wide (29" between the legs).
Photos of a similar stand:
This allows you to insert an ATV jack or lift into the base area to help you lift the engine onto the stand. My first attempt at lifting an engine onto a stand was with the "I" style and you'll see below how difficult it was to use when you are lacking any kind of hoist (which is a large piece of equipment and something most people won't have).
|"I" stand||sturdier than "T"||no front access|
|"A" stand||super sturdy||legs interfere with engine cranes|
|"C" stand||All around best||most expensive|
Now that you've got a stand how do you mount the engine to it? With an air-cooled engine yoke:
The VW parts vendors sell a surprisingly expensive engine stand which is not made from box steel and is incredibly! bouncy when the engine is fitted.
My advice is to steer clear of this stand as it's just the cheapest version you can buy and to be fair it was only designed to lift a Type 1 engine and it is a poor reproduction of the factory tools.
One thing you'll notice about the design of the yoke is that it is a poor reproduction of the original yoke Matra-Werke GmbH made for the VW factory as well as VW dealerships.
The box frame engine stands come with a universal yoke but the way it bolts to the case puts stress on the transmission mounting holes so I would avoid it.
The factory VW yoke was originally a sturdy 2-arm design supporting the engine in an arc so the case is not stressed.
The factory VW yoke was updated to an even more sturdy 3-arm design.
Luckily the case mounting holes are universal between aircooled VW and Porsche engines and this allows us to use a 4 arm or 5 arm fixture normally used to support a fully dressed Porsche 911 engine. Some people think this item is overkill for a VW engine but it's well made and perpetually available due its build quality and popularity.
Unfortunately this yoke have been going up in price recently. The Porsche factory yoke costs $700 (cira 2004) and the reproduction from Sir Tools shown here that used to be $125 a few years ago, was just over $300 in 2004 and now costs almost $600 in 2022 dollars. Simply crazy! Keep a look out for one on eBay at a reasonable price (I looked for 6 months on eBay in order to save a hundred plus on the 5-arm reproduction).
Original 3-arm yoke with fully arc intended for use with the Porsche 356 engine.
Updated 5-arm version.
|Sir Tools P201||
Best quality reproduction of 5-arm version.
Aug '07 Update: a $258 yoke from QSC has recently appeared on the scene
|Engine stand yoke||"the free included with engine stand one"||bad for engine case|
|Aftermarket VW yoke||inexpensive||really meant for Type 1 engines|
|Factory 5-arm yoke||will last several lifetimes||way expensive|
|Mainley yoke||was strong and inexpensive||sadly out of production|
|QSC Yoke||strong and the best value||none|
The VW/Porsche style yokes are designed to fit into a companion clamp (VW313 or Sir Tools P313) that is bench mounted. The clamp can also be bolted to a heavy duty stand that was bolted to the floor.
Because this clamp hold the engine level instead of at a slight angle like the universal stands it was easy to rotate the engine by hand.
This clamp does not have a rotation handle attached to the back like the universal versions which makes engine rotation on the universal stands slightly more difficult. Due to the fact that this yoke is always longer than the receiver on the universal stands, this can make it challenging to align the hole and hitch pin that locks the yoke and keep the engine from rotating freely. Given the number of times you need to rotate the engine this isn't really an issue. Just be sure to grease the yoke before inserting it into the receiver.
Note: the receiver on the universal engine stands is about 2 1/2" ID (63mm) while the yoke is a slightly smaller metric size of 60mm. While the engine does rotate easily on the stand even with the slightly loose fit I decided to improve the fit.
I bought 2 ft. of 10" wide aluminum flashing from the hardware store and cut it to 21" long. This allowed me to wrap the inside about three times around. Use a clamp to compress the cylinder you form and insert it into the head. After you flare the front edge and trim the rear you can drill a hole through your shim so you can still fit the hitch pin. Secure it with a hose clamp and grease the insides.
This setup is less than ideal but it's a compromise made from locally sources parts. If you have the money to spare, I would modify the engine stand by:
|Engine stand||"free"||angled, wrong size for yoke|
|VW313 Clamp||a perfect fit||expensive and requires a bench or floor stand|
72-74 Type 4 engines with the mechanical fuel pump will NOT clear the engine yoke so you will have to remove the pump first.
The yokes are designed to bolt up using the starter mount hole and the engine case stud below it using one of the nuts from the bell housing and the engine mounting bolt opposite the starter D-bolt. You can bolt it the other way but then the yoke won't clear the engine tin. If you need to bolt a starter adapter then you don't have a choice. If you bolt it horizontally you won't be able to split the case on the stand.
Trivia: I believe the original screws holding the fuel pump on were 8mm triple square like the new style CV joint bolts.
The traditional tool for VW engine removal at home is the dolly. All the factory photos you'll see show a pair of technicians using a long transmission jack to pull and engine and transition from a beetle as one unit.
This commonly found dolly is made from metal (although I've seen a few home-made versions using 2x4's) and it lets you slide a jack between the legs so you can lower the engine onto it and remove the jack afterwards. Some models have 4 casters instead of 3 and most are most from angle iron although I've seen a couple made from stronger T-iron.
When choosing a dolly, all you need to know is whether or not it fits Type 4 engines because most are designed to fit the Type 1 crankcase only.
All of these stands are no fun to roll outside your garage because the casters are too small and do not move easily over rough ground. The small casters are a necessity to keep the stand as low to the ground as possible.
The dolly really needs a couple of eyelets to let you attach a rope to pull it back to the garage...
When pulling the engine, you'll need at least two jack stands and one floor jack. However two floor jacks are better than one for raising the back end of the bus without the risk of the bus falling off one jack stand because you have to raise the apron of bus about 22 inches off the ground for the engine to clear the body.
Here's a photo essay of my first engine pull using concrete bricks and a small piece of plywood. Note that supporting the engine by the heater boxes is not good for them.
Expensive items like shop equipment are becoming more affordable all the time. One such item is the ATV/motorcycle jack which can be had for about $150 now (was as little as $50 in 2004).
With a plank of wood, the ATV jack lets you lower and transport the engine back to your garage. I can't really fault anything about this method except that the jack doesn't lift up high enough (more on this later). I wish I knew who to give credit to for this idea because it's really a great solution especially when you consider its stability.
You might wonder how you can lift a modern motorcycle with the exhaust pipes running below? These jacks are really meant for the old style cruisers with cradle frames, not the twin span frames used by modern sport bikes.
There are basically three types of motorcycle stands (in order of subjective importance):
This is the most common variety which you can find almost anywhere that sells such a jack. There are almost no variations on the design and simply appear to be clones all coming from the same plant in China that only varies the color and the name on the box.
How much better are these compared to the Made in China clones?
When used as a tool to occasionally drop and install VW engines, it's questionable however I can tell you having stored the HF Jack outside for 14 years and my USA made jack in the exact same location, only the USA one still works while the HF jacks needs repair to its bottle jack.
The best of these USA made models was the Handy Industries Jak-Lift #10753 which went out of production after the company was restructured in 2012.
If you are curious check out J&S Jacks but be prepared to pay 5x as much as a cheap one from HF.
Beware these low profile scissor lifts as they tend to top out at 15-16" of lift height. I'm not saying this is a deal breaker but it something to consider when you have to fit the yoke on your engine stand. A workaround for this is to pad the top with a thick wooden support as long as you can still clear the apron during engine removal.
How stable are these? You tell me...
Some even have extended lift height at the expense of stability:
In my opinion, any of the Harbour Freight style clones are virtually identical and you should acquire one locally and shop for the lowest price.
|Steel Dolly||low profile||Type 1 engine only|
|ATV jack||mobility/convenience||most have limited lift height requiring a "hoist solution"|
Take a look at this photo depicting a typically shop crane used to lift a bus engine onto an engine stand. If you have a large shop this would probably be a useful tool to have around as they are very affordable but since I've had to perform most of my VW repairs based out a a tiny apartment garage, I have a hard time recommending them as a go to solution.
These cranes are intended for the installation and removal of engine mounted ahead of the driver.
Photo courtesy of benplace.com
Since I wrote this article almost 20 years ago, someone had the idea to combine an engine crane and engine stand from Summit Racing:
NOTE: that while there are two part numbers and two prices they are exactly the same item according to Summit Tech Support. Apparently, the manual is just one page containing the parts list only so YMMV.
The reviews aren't great but I thought I'd mention it here anyway as a possible option for you but I think it's a space hog.
If you thought choosing a stand and locating an affordable yoke was difficult try lifting 300 lbs worth of engine off the floor and mounting it onto the stand that's too high.
Several workarounds exist:
Even with the lift there is a risk of damaging the fan shroud if you don't remove it because it's made from Magnesium and brittle.
I think everyone probably comes to their own unique solution based on the equipment and manpower at hand. Planning the lift is harder than it looks. He's my own solution for an engine pull I did for a friend and it shows the awkwardness of the ATV jack and the stand I used:
|1. The first step was to remove the engine from the vehicle. I prefer to use an ATV jack because of its superior stability and mobility. During a previous engine drop to replace a leaking flywheel seal, I also undressed and cleaned the engine and while the engine was supported on the ATV jack and not fully accessible from below it was still better than working with the engine sitting directly on the floor.|
|2. The engine is supported by a plank of hard wood as it sits on the jack. This prevents the jack or engine case from getting damaged and helps to support the bottom of the engine keeping it level. I often take off the exhaust beforehand but since the bolts on this 72 engine have rusted so badly I decided to remove them after mounting on the stand.|
|3. The ATV jack cannot lift to the height that the yoke requires to mount the engine on the stand. I scratched my head for a few hours wondering how best to do this with the equipment on hand and I came to realize it would be possible with a second jack borrowed from my neighbour Jeff and some blocks of wood. I used eight 6x6x12 end cuts from some wooden posts and oriented the jack transversely to the engine stand. This would allow me to roll the engine over the jack while providing a secure base.|
|4. I raised the engine to transfer it from one jack to the other but found the engine didn't slide easily because of the irregular shape of the bottom. I discovered this during a prior engine pull trying to move the engine from the jack to a wooden pallet. My solution then was to rock the engine from side to jack but I found it unstable at this height so I decided to support the engine temporarily by the heater boxes using my floor jacks (another good reason to leave the muffler attached). Because of the arrangement of the eight blocks I was able to clear the support blocks, roll the engine over the other jack and lower it. The arrangement of blocks is very limited in order to allow the various jacks to move back and forth using the "I" style engine stand.|
|5. With a sturdy base and the engine stable I lifted the engine up into position. The yoke needs to go up about 2 feet to be at the same height as the receiver but because the receiver is angled you have to go higher in order to tip the stand to get the receiver level for the hand off.|
|6. At this point it was easy to slide the yoke into the receiver and slowly lower the ATV jack in order to support the full weight of the engine on the stand. No heavy lifting involved, just a silly number of jacks and a little "enginuity" :-) Too many jacks were required and I won't do it this way again but we were pressed for time.
If this procedure looks difficult just try doing the reverse. I must stress that at any time you are trying to remove the engine stand while you transfer the engine to the jacks and you discover that the stand is still supporting the engine, do not attempt to remove the stand fully. If you do, you might find that the engine is precariously balanced and the chances of it falling and damaging the engine or yourself are great.
So having struggled with the difficulty of mounting an air-cooled engine on an engine stand I had to search for a better way:
The stock photo shows a lift table in action. These tables can be had for $250 from HF and other vendors. Some only lift 300 lbs, some 1000 lbs. so you have to carefully look at the specs. The best deal I've seen was at Kragen Auto (now O-Reilly Auto Parts). They had a $100 table that could lift 500 lbs. from Champion Power Equipment (NLA).
The table surface only lowers to about 9 1/4 inches off the ground. This means you can't use it like an ATV jack without jacking up the bus first.
I haven't attempted this yet but you can remove the engine using a lift table if you park the bus on ramps (and remove the rear bumper of course) or jack up the bus in order to position the lift table underneath. I prefer the ramps idea myself.
These tables are also fairly heavy which limits their mobility on inclines. Having a table like this would be useful for a variety of other tasks. When not in use, for example just use it as a non-lifting table so it doesn't waste space in your garage.
I recently came across this photo showing the table in action, installing an air-cooled engine into a VW Beetle engine with the valance removed (something you can do on a 68-71 bus but not with a 72-79 bus). You can see they've jacked up the rear a little because of the issue with the minimum lift table height that I referenced. Yes, the front end looks lowered, but either the rear has massive tires of which one has been removed or its been jacked up compared to the blue Beetle in the background.
NOTE: there exist low profile lift tables in the marketplace that go as low as 3-4 inches but they tend to cost 3-6x as much, and there seems to be no upper limit on price depending on the lift height and weight limit.
All said, it's hard to beat the lift table for overall stability, portability and overall utility.
In order of preference:
|Scissor Lifting Table||$250||
11/16/04 - Created
04/28/05 - Updates with lifting table
12/01/05 - Added photo of beetle engine
06/11/07 - Added clamp, ATV jack and dolly photos
09/07/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated footer
07/15/19 - Google update: new adsense code, removed defunt translate button
12/23/22 - Minor tweaks, more photos of yokes and some price updates
04/01/23 - Updated background on "A" style stand