You do not have to remove the engine or trans. I had the same problem with the Pink MG (now Angelica). She too was based on a Super Beetle and had a a bulk head welded to the front of the center tunnel where the shift rod was originally removed.
After putting her safely up on a lift or jack stands, I used a Greenly Hole Punch (2″ diameter) to punch a hole in the center tunnel under the shift coupler area. The floor pan/tunnel starts to angel up slightly there and I found a spot that was just right and made the hole. I removed the cover over the shift coupler and removed the coupler to decide where to find that “sweet spot”. Then drilled a pilot hole for the punch. You can also use a hole saw.
The shift shaft is really short and will easily pass through this hole when it is correctly punched. In fact, if you wanted to, you could make the hole an oval instead by using two one inch punches and then connect the holes into an oval by trimming them. This will give you the needed clearance to get the shaft out easily.
I replaced the nylon sleeve (use a lot of grease), and the bracket that holds it. I had to re-align the hole where the shifter was mounted. Here’s why:
The guy that had cut the shaft originally cut it too short. This caused the shifter to lean slightly towards the front of the car. THIS IS A BIG NO-NO FOR VW’S. If the stick doesn’t point EXACTLY PERENDICULAR to the tunnel (straight up) in neutral, first and second gears will be nearly impossible to find. Likewise, if the shifter leans toward the rear of the car, third and fourth are impossible to find.
In my case I had to “move” the hole toward the rear of the car about 3/8″ to get the shifter to stand perpendicular in neutral. Of course I could have acquired a new shaft and cut it, but I felt this was easier and cheaper. In addition to anchoring the plate that holds the shifter and shaft, I tack welded it to the tunnel.
This job is a breeze once the hole is made. You can patch it by making a cover for it after the job is done. If you need more help send me a private e-mail.
I can dig around here and may be able to find some extra new nylon sleeves (w/spring ring). Most any VW supplier will have the shifter plate that bolts to the tunnel.
Bill Collins can take a pic of the hole on Angelica and post it…I never patched it. It may just be worth a thousand cuss words!
Let us know how you make out.