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History Suspension 1



It was quite early that the wheel no longer consisted of only wood, but for better durability it was fitted with an iron band (tyre). Although they were made up from a wooden axle and a wooden wheel, they were still lubricated with a grease-like substance. As soon As the vehicle was given two axles, the road to a steering was not far. This was based of course, on the rotating bolster steering. The first separation of the suspension from the structure can be seen in the Roman chariots.

However, when braking on a downhill, the Romans still had to put a stick between the spokes, while the friction based brake would only come into fashion 500 years after their downfall. Thus the speed remained that of carriages for the next approx. 900 years. Of course the leather belts between the rigid axles and the structure would be replaced by iron leaf-springs.

The kingpin steering has been around since the carriage and coach era, presumably to reduce the risk of tipping over in the curves. The roads were still unpaved and very bad, in England they were distinctly improved in the 19th century, the rest of Europe and in the USA, only in the 20th century. The only 'speed-thrill', before the invention of the combustion engine, was offered by the steam driven railway, which would maintain the average travel-time record until almost the middle of the century.

This goes to show, that the main attention of the first automobile constructors was not on the suspension. Only Wilhelm Maybach attempted, after a terrible racing accident, to lower the suspension and thus the center of gravity. Apart from this attempt, we remained in the era of carriages. In general, around 1900, the engine was being moved to the front, for the next 30 years there would be no talk of the, already invented, front-wheel drive. As far as braking was concerned at the time, we were also pretty backward.

Thus, the first, really mass-produced car, the Model-T Ford, ran at a speed of up to 60 kmh on wooden rims, with leaf-sprung rigid axles front and rear and only the rear wheels had any form of brakes. At least the wheels became smaller and the leather-clad block-brakes had made way for the drum-brake with inside-lying shoes. There would still be cars with cable operated foot-brakes right up to after 1950.

Even though the rack and pinion steering had been invented in the previous century, it's use was only widespread in the second half of the 20th century. Earlier, there was nearly always a compact steering-gear, where the rotary movement of the steering column transferred the pivotal movement to the tie-rods. The only progress made in the early days, was that the sliding friction was replaced by roller friction. Around 1950, in the USA, the power-steering was introduced. The triumphal march of the rack and pinion steering was probably based, on the one hand, on it's simplicity and on ther other hand, on the improvements in the production.

The leaf-spring held itself long and successfully against replacement. Round about 1930 the enthusiasm for the torsion bars began, they saved space and allowed a variable height adjustment. Once they were wound into a spiral, the coil-spring was created, which, only after 1950, was able to start on it's way. It's disadvantage was, that when using it, the suspension of the rigid axle became more complicated. To a certain extent, a progression can also be achieved with leaf-springs. By the way, the torsion bar will remain with us for a while as a stabilizer.

For a long time, also for the shock-absorbing, one relied on the leaf-springing. If there was more than one leaf, a friction took place, which was sufficient for the constructors in the first decades. In addition, one helped oneself with a type of multiplate clutch installed between the sprung- and unsprung mass, this was called a lever-damper. They may have been efficient when they were fresh from the factory, indeed, with increasing wear and tear …

Already at the beginning of the century, someone had the good idea, to dampen hydraulically, despite the lever (see above picture), however, even the super-expensive Bugatti racing cars of the 1930's were repeatedly found with the (dry) friction dampers. It was at this time that the first telescopic shock absorbers were developed in the USA, in the beginning exclusively with the twin-tube principle. It took right into the 1950's before the build-up of an internal pressure was introduced and even then, in the beginning, it was reserved for the top of the range cars. Almost 20 years went by before our tuning-freaks were able to (legally) buy adjustable shock absorbers. 03/17


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