I see articles in the magazines that are pathetic. Many of the people furnishing the information must be people that have been selling heads they purchased specifically as pre 1967 leaded heads, which are far cheaper. They must now convince the public to buy more or different parts to replace the substandard parts they previously sold them. I have seen statements that you must run stainless steel valves and chrome moly valve seats. My question is, "If you have to use a stainless steel valve and nothing else works, what will all the car makers do?" I, personally, do not know of one single car manufacturer that uses stainless steel valves. All of the stainless valves I have tested are slightly softer and wear faster than the factory stock steel unleaded valve. Some of the inferior stainless valves were so bad that the valve adjustment tightened up every 500 miles or so.
First, "ALL" factory VW air cooled heads from 1967 and later with the hard chromed stem valves can run unleaded fuels just the way they come from the factory. "ALL" VW heads have steel intake seats, hardened steel alloy exhaust seats, brass guides and tri-metal exhaust valves which have hard chromed stems. I, and a few other concerned companies, have used nothing but that quality of factory parts in all the heads supplied from the time VW made the changes. Where the problem seems to emerge is that many suppliers buy and supply the much cheaper non chromed stem, nontri-metal valves and/or cheap cast iron replacement seats or guides. You should also be aware that many of the "new" aftermarket heads I checked were supplied with "cast iron" seats. Cast iron is the item that is most affected by the lack of lead and should not be used in the VW engine. If you have a water cooled head on some other type of engine that is cast iron and has no seats or guides with the valve running directly on the cast iron, you need to be concerned about making some changes.
People that purchased the genuine VW quality parts and heads have no worries, others "may" see reduction of life in their engine. The main thing now is to be sure that what you purchase are the proper parts for today and the future. I have been told that some companies are offering to specially convert heads for unleaded gas at an additional $70 per head charge. Sounds to me like an extra charge for something they should have already been giving you at no extra charge. If confronted with this, I would strongly suggest considering a different supplier that has always offered the proper parts just to be sure.
Older VW engines, prior to 1967, do not have the hard chromed stem exhaust valves. However, they do have the same basic seats and guides. A good top lube (lead substitute) should provide adequate lubrication until the heads need to come off.