Front Brake Pad Replacement

APPLICATION: 1974 (and possibly other) Karmann Ghias with replacement 2-pin Varga front brake calipers.

TOOLS NEEDED: Jack; jackstands; lug wrench (19mm); wheel chocks; needle-nose pliers; small thin drift or screwdriver; small hammer or other banging instrument; small thin wooden stick; large screwdriver or other prying instrument; can of brake cleaner; new brake pads; torque wrench if you've got one.

This procedure is for those who find they need new front brake pads but also find they don't have the original ATE or Girling calipers that the Haynes manual says they should have. Instead, they find they have replacement Varga (Brazilian, I believe) calipers.

I found this to be the case on my '74 Karmann Ghia. The Varga calipers are 2-pin and new pads were readily available at my local VW parts store. They had the pads and they also had some replacement Varga calipers on the shelf so I could see that these pads actually fit those calipers. They came in a no-brand-name box labeled "Import Car Brake Pads" and cost only about $15. And man they are small. I had just helped my father do a front brake job on his '89 Toyota 4Runner, which has front brake pads that are somewhat larger than Karmann Ghia brake pads. Just goes to show the difference a little weight can make.

Anyway, chock the rear wheels, then remove the hubcaps and crack the lug bolts loose on both front wheels. Then jack each side up and put it on jackstands so you have a stable workplace. When you get the front end properly supported, remove the lug bolts and wheels, and survey the scene before you. You will find very small rotors with very small calipers containing very small and very worn out brake pads. I found that doing the front brakes on this car with these calipers was by far the easiest front brake job I've ever done.

If you've neglected that horrible squealing sound when you push on the brakes and now find that your rotors are scored or grooved, you will have to remove them and take them somewhere to be turned, assuming they will still meet the Volkswagen minimum specification for rotor thickness after being turned. See the service manual for the spec. If turning the rotors would result in them being thinner than minimum spec, you will have to replace them. Removing the rotors is covered in the manual. I didn't do it so I don't have instructions for you.

Well, first you want to remove the old pads from the calipers. Pick a side to start from and do that side first. Always do only one side at a time so you can refer to the other one if you become confused as to how the parts go back together. It's easier to see what you're doing also if you turn the steering wheel so the back of the caliper is pointing at you instead of at the inside of the wheel well.

Look at the caliper. You will see two pins hold the pads in place. Holding these pins in place are two small spring clips. Get your needle-nose pliers and grip a spring clip and pull it out. Do the same with the other. Now before you remove the pins, look at the retaining springs. There are two little springs, one for each pad, that help to hold the pads in place. You will see that each spring hooks over its pad and then braces up against both pins. PAY ATTENTION to how they fit over the pads, you'll need to know that for later.

Now use your small drift or skinny screwdriver & hammer or other banging instrument to tap the pins out. It shouldn't take too much work, mine tapped right out. They tap from the outside toward the inside, unless someone put them in wrong the last time. Once they tap out and you have them on the ground, then remove the retaining springs. They just slide off the pads. Now simply remove the pads by pulling them out. If they are stuck, use something in the holes to lever them against the caliper and alternate holes, walking them out.

Take this time to inspect your caliper. Pay attention to the seals around the pistons, because if they are leaking, it's new or rebuilt caliper time. Caliper removal and installation is another procedure and one I can't help you with since I haven't done it on a Karmann Ghia. Refer to the manual, Bentley or Haynes.

Now's a good time to spray brake cleaner over everything and get it all nice and clean. Don't neglect the rotor. You can wipe the stuff off with a clean cloth, but make sure it's CLEAN. Do NOT use an oily or greasy rag to wipe the rotors. Or you can let the stuff evaporate, it doesn't take long.

OK then, now you're ready to put the new pads in. First remove the brake fluid reservoir cap and if possible, use a dropper to siphon out some fluid or you might get an overflow when you push the pistons back into the caliper. Just in case, put a few rags around the reservoir in the luggage compartment.

OK, now you need your small stick. A paint stick works really well for this. Put that stick in the caliper against the piston. Then use the large screwdriver or other prying instrument to gently lever the piston back into the caliper (lever off the rotor, it's convenient). I say gently because you don't want to gouge or scratch the rotor. In fact, if you can get two paint sticks in there, one against the piston and one against the rotor, and stick the screwdriver in between, then you'd probably be doing even better. You want the piston as far back in as it will go, which is flush with the seal.

Now insert that pad. There are no anti-rattle shims or anything to deal with in this caliper. Then repeat that operation with the other piston in that caliper. OK, so now you've got the two pads in. Now install the two retaining springs over the pads. Then insert the two pad retaining pins, through the holes in the pads. Check the other side to make sure you've assembled it correctly. You're almost done now. All you've got to do now is insert the spring clips to hold the pins in place. Use your pliers to rotate the pins so the holes are easier to get to if you need to. Then insert the pins and if necessary, rotate the pins again so the spring clips don't interfere with the operation of the pistons.

OK, you're half done. Now just repeat the exact same thing with the other side.

Once you're done that, put the wheels back on and hand-tighten the lug bolts. Lower the car off the jackstands and then torque the lug bolts to 90ft-lbs. (1974 models, anyway check your manual for specs). Remove the wheel chocks, and check the brake fluid level. Put all your tools and other stuff away, then step on the brake pedal a couple times to push the pistons against the pads. The first time you step on the brakes the pedal will likely go really far down, but once the pistons contact the pads the pedal will feel normal again.

Go out for a test drive and check operation of the brakes. You should go easy on the new brake pads until they're broken in, I believe Haynes said 150-200 miles or so. They may squeal at first but that went away on my Ghia after a few brake applications. As long as they're working and the car's not pulling to either side upon application of the brakes, you're done.

Sean Bartnik
January 15, 1998

Back to the tech page.