DIY MK2 VW grille, core support and headlight swap

Ahh!! Changing core supports and swapping headlights – It seems like everyone does it at least once!

But, how do you actually do it? If you are fairly new to the MK2 world this is probably a question that you’ve been asking yourself. Is this something I that I can do? Well, YES!!! And, I am here to show you how.

Now, for many of us this may be old hat – but for those who wanted to know, I hope this thread will show you all that you need to know.
Now first a little bit of background about MK2 Headlights and grilles.

This particular guide illustrates swapping from a set of “Aero” (stock rectangular Jetta / Golf headlamps) headlamps over to a set of 7″ Single round “E-CODE” (european spec light pattern) headlamps in a badgeless grille; but the process is the same for almost ANY factory VW lighting setup.

So, to reiterate – this same information applies to swaps back and forth between ALL of the following setups:

-“Aero” Headlamps (rectangle, most common in the US)
-“Westy” Headlamps (Small squares, came on EARLY US made MK2 Golfs)
-“Rallye” Headlamps (Orig. Spec on the Rallye Golf – pretty difficult to obtain)
-Single Round Headlamps (base model european spec)
-Dual Round Headlamps (7″ outers and 5″ centers)

Note: The “Westy” grille uses a different size “VW” badge than all of the other grilles. Also, badged and badgless installations are identical; the only difference is the grille. And lastly, Single round and dual round installation is identical except for wiring – on the dual round setu pthe inside lights are attached directly to the grille.
This guide DOES NOT cover custom setups like the Ocari Hideaway grille, or custom setups such as mounting corrado lamps on a Golf / Jetta (though I may do a write up on this shortly).
All of the above mentioned grille / lamp setups consist of the following components:

-Grille (badged or badgeless)
-Actual set of headlamps with attached buckets and adjusters
-and, a radiator Core support specific to the type of headlamps being used

changing them out is a fairly straight forward process of swapping components over. This can be done with a very small set of hand tools. (screwdriver, metric socket set, pair of pliers)
If you have never even attempted any type of this work before, and you already have a premade wiring harness (Eurowires, WHERE ARE YOU!!) You should set aside about two hours start to finish. If you’ve done more than a few of these swaps – expect it to take a half hour or less.  
If you dont have a premade harness, figure in a few more hours for making and running a harness. (Might also be covered in another article, but there is plenty of information already out there about that.)

So lets jump in to it!!! 

The beginning – a stock Aero setup:


OK, Heres the stuff that we are going to be changing:


If your car is anything like mine, then your grille is already held in with a bunch of zip ties – if not, there are about 4 plastic clips in the middle of the grille on the top, and one on each corner – slowly release them by pushing down with a screwdriver and trying not to break the tabs, then tip the grille out towards you and remove it… Like I said though, Mine was ziptied:


Ok, Now your car should look somewhat like this:


Now we need to remove the headlights, each headlight bucket is held on to the core support with 4 bolts:
(this first image has a bad shadow, you can barely see the bolt – its there to the right of the headlight adjuster)


They Should be 8mm bolts:


After you’ve unbolted the headlamp buckets pull them toward you:


And, remove the bulb and put it back into the lamp for safe keeping:


Now, this may vary depending upon the specs of your particular vehicle – but on some cars the intake shroud is screwed to the core support behind the left headlight with three screws
You can only see two in this pic, but the third one is approximatley in the middle of the headlight area right at bumper level, behind the rubber strip. Go ahead and remove these screws:


OK, we’re really moving along now!!!

This is what we should be looking at now:


Now we’ve got to remove the actual core support.

The core support should be held in with (11x) 10mm bolts


(2x) on the right side of the car:


(2x) on the left side of the car:


(1x) On top of the radiator on the right side of the car:


(1x) Directly on the core support on the left side of the car, on the tab thats attached to the radiator and has a rubber grommet on it:


(NOTE: after removing the above illustrated bolt, use a pair of pliers and bend the tab up so that it is almost upright instead of at the angle its at {sorry, no pic} and then carefully twist out the rubber grommet without tearing it into two pieces)


(2x) Under the right headlight:


(2x) Under the left headlight:


And lastly, (1x) bolt at the bottom of the core support, in the middle of the car – accessible through the bumper on big bumper cars, or behind the lower grille on small bumper cars:


Now we can start to pull out the old core support. Lift it up and out towards the front of the car (it will be somewhat difficult sliding it up off of the tab that we straightened up, and not grinding against the fenders with the core support):


SWEET!! Its almost entirely out!!


Now, before we can just pull it right off wen need to unhook the hood latch cable and the horn.

Remove the hood latch by sliding out the ball end of the cable:


For right now, I just removed the horn by unplugging it from the harness behind the drivers side headlamp.

OK, now here is what we should be looking at – with the grille, lights and core support removed:



Well, now seems like a good time to re-blacked that small strip of my bumper that I could never get to with the grille in place:


OK, so now we need to transfer hardware over from the orig. core support to our new one.
Here you can see my old aero support and my new (also old, and saved from the ravages of rust) round core support, note the differences in the headlight area:


These bump stops just twist into and out of the core support like screws – should be able to do it with your bare hands:


This rubber strip gets transferred over as well, it goes on the back of the core support – the part that rests on the radiator:


transfer the horn over:


Don’t forget to clip the horn wire up with the little retaining clip that came off of the orig core support.

Also, I’d recomennd getting a new hod prop rod clip, they’re only about 33 cents, but you can transfer the old one over.

OK, now reattach the hood latch cable to your new core support:


and start to slot in the new core support – again, being careful to not scratch the fenders by rubbing the core support on them while you are trying to slide it over the tab coming off of the radiator.:


OK, slotted into place:


Bolt the core support back into place using the bolts you initially took out. I have found that it is easiest if you start the “anchor bolt” at the bottom (the one you get to through the bumper) first, and then put in the other ones, also – dont tighten them up until that are all in place.

Then, carefully re insert the rubber grommet into the “tab” coming off of your radiator and use a pair of pliers to bend it back down and bolt it into place:


Tighten everything up and this is what we should be looking at:


Now, before we install anything else, reconnect the horn, turn the key and check that the horn works.
Then, close the hood and look at the latch. Try it several times and make sure that the hood opens and closes without problem. Adjust as required.


Now, grab your wiring harness and run the cables – connect the harness – I won’t go into that here, as there is a great deal of information out there already, but I may make a post about wiring later.


Before you bolt anything in place, check your wiring and that all lamps work as they should:


If your lights work – AWESOME! Now we need to bolt them back to the core support using the bolts we removed from the orig. headlamps:


Note, that in this application there is no need to reattach the three screws we removed that were holding the intake shroud to the aero core support


These two shots will show you how I chose to run my light harness:


Ensure that everything is bolted in place (DO NOT over tighten these bolts at the top of the core support – they can easily be stripped, and then things become less fun)


Now, If you are lucky like me and your new grille has all of its tabs in tact go ahead and slot / clip it in. If not – time to get creative with the zip ties, just remember –BLACK ZIP TIES ONLY!!  


SWEET!! You did it!!

Of course, I wasn’t quite satisfied with it -so I broke out the pinstriping tape:


Oh yeah, wait for it to get dark and go align your headlights. Just about everything you need to know about that can be found on Daniel Stern’s website:!!!!


  1. Jose said:

    Would you happen to have a parts list for the parts you installed or links. I’m completely new to the VW world and I’m taking on a 1991 vw jetta headlight conversion.
    P.s. also from Connecticut!

    December 17, 2020
    • admin said:

      Hey Jose!! I did this 13 years ago, when FCP Euro ( ) was still “Foreign Car Parts Groton” in Groton, CT and I had seen an old, dusty NeoLite catalog sitting around their small stall, and I dug through it and asked Ben to call the rep and order a pair of NEOLITE NEO-945 VW MK2 headlights, E-Code, H4, Glass with city lights.
      They were CHEAP. and I had a real Bonrath grille that I had gotten at H20i, and a factory original Volkswagen round headlamp MK2 core support.

      Things are a little different now, 13 years later.

      December 29, 2020

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