Rummage Box

A publication of the AACA Regions Committee

Winter 2005


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The Smooth Ride

Ever since the invention of the wheel, man has searched for a smoother ride. In the 8th century, iron chains suspended a riding platform from the wheels. The swaying and rocking motion was so unstable and it must have caused sea sickness! The clanking chains only made the riding experience worse.

Superior technology wins wars. Mike Loades, a British expert in ancient armor, has uncovered bits and pieces of an ancient British chariot with an innovative suspension system. The platform rode on a wooden arch suspended by “Y” leather straps. It was so stable a warrior could launch arrows or javelins with deadly accuracy. This gave a decided edge over the unstable and rough Roman and Greek chariots with rigid axles.

A suspension system is nothing more than a means to keep the wheels in firm contact with the road and give the passengers a smooth ride. All types of springs, torsion bars, bushings, kingpins, and dampers have been tried. Automobiles have swayed and bounced through many designs on the road to today’s computer controlled ride.

Automobile inventions frequently arise from tragedy. Henry Leland demanded an electric starter for his Cadillac after a back firing hand crank killed a friend. Safety glass became standard after many maiming lacerations. As cars gained weight and went faster, the early steering and control systems proved inadequate.

William Brush took a curve too fast in his brother’s 1904 Crestmobile. The right front wheel hit a rut and began a nasty shimmy. The elliptic leaf spring and solid axle transmitted the force across the entire car and he overturned in a cow pasture. Shaking off the grass, and who knows what else, he muttered a desire for a more stable vehicle. Two years later, his 1906 Brush Two-Seat Runabout sported a novel suspension system with front coil springs AND a rudimentary shock absorber bolted to a flexible hickory axle.

Brush used oil impregnated wooden axles on four coil springs to achieve a smoother ride. The 10 hp car also had a brake pedal that released the clutch when depressed and engaged it when it was released! That created a “Whole lota’ of shakin’ going on!”

The coil spring had been patented in Britain fifty years earlier, but was rarely used in automobiles. The leaf spring was a proven carry-over from the wagon, and the metals of the 1900s were difficult to forge into a consistent coil. A leaf spring attached easily and could be “beefed up” by simply stacking more curved slats. While reliable, this “sandwich” was bulky and squeaked incessantly. Some had rubber blocks – early shock absorbers – on top to prevent it from striking the frame. Since leaf springs were so common, the Leaf Spring Institute was formed to maintain quality automotive standards. Henry Ford – always trying something different – turned the leaf springs transversely in the 1908 Model T.

As cars became more sophisticated, owners demanded a smooth and safe ride. Auto builders quickly scrapped the rigid front axle for an independent front wheel suspension. Major changes swept the auto industry during the mid-1930s. Cars now rode on front coil springs, hydraulic shock absorbers, and improved bushings. The 1938 Buick floated on rear coils as well. The 1935 Hudson touted “Axleflex” – a system of “up and over” independent springing for each front wheel. Two years earlier the Hudson had contracted with the now legendary Monroe company to build the first original equipment tubular shock system.

Earlier in 1933, Czecho-Slovakian engineer Dr. Ferdinand Porsche invented a torsion bar type spring that twisted a transverse steel rod inside a tubular cross member. Each rod had a bell crank and steering knuckle on the end. Another bell crank and shock absorber was above the axle. That same year a German engineer offered a tubular frame with truly independent suspension. The power axle flexed, similar to the later VW swing axle. An obscure automobile, the 1907 Pilian, tried a similar system using two universal joints at each end of the rear wheel shafts. This system became very unstable over a bumpy road. When one wheel momentarily left the road, the wheel camber changed abruptly.

Some type of shock absorber has been around since the infancy of the motor car. One early designer simply crammed an inner tube in the leaf springs! M. Houdaille, a French engineer, developed a hydraulic shock absorber in 1908. His lever-action design cushioned many of the early automobiles. The 1932 Packard had a unique Delco-Remy driver adjusted system. A cable device on the dash changed the shock fluid level and varied the ride firmness. Gradually, the piston shock absorber became the industry standard. Jim O’Clair’s January 2005 article in Hemmings Motor News is an excellent reference source for restoration of these obsolete parts.

The control arm, so common in our AACA cars, has largely been replaced by MacPherson struts and rack-and-pinion steering. MacPherson, a General Motors engineer developed this compact system in the 1960s. Now shocks hiss instead of drip as computer controlled airbags stabilize most cars. Polyurethane and polygraphite bushings have replaced the rubber. Everything is sealed – no more “grease jobs” with the oil change! What will be next? Maybe we will be floating on magnets!

See you next month!

Click on thumbnail to see larger picture!

The 1933 Porsche spring suspension.

The 1906 Marmon advertised their Flexible Running Gear. With all that lateral torque the leaf spring attachment to the frame looks fragile!

The 1935 Hudson used a unique spring system marketed as Axleflex.

  I have just returned from Philadelphia and the 69th Annual AACA Meet. It is always great to see friends that you have made over the years in AACA and to meet new ones. At the Regions Committee meeting headed by Joe Gagliano, V-P Regions, the Rummage Box publication was discussed and since this publication is designed with the intent to keep Regions and Chapters informed of National activities, and more importantly, to provide material for your newsletters, I want to ask that you editors send some of your very best articles that would be desirable for publication in the Rummage Box and for other editors to use in their newsletters.

Such articles would be published, as space permits, here and could be downloaded from the aaca.org link for others to use. Obviously, the material should be short (use Bob Blake’s article as a good example) and should have a broad interest to AACA members. Material based on a member in your Region or Chapter or of a local nature would not be what I have in mind. Send me your best and we will see what response there is from editors and how we can best provide this material to you.

Not knowing what response there may be precludes predictions of this being a good idea, but let’s give it a go. Material should be e-mailed to me along with pictures to bdavis20@carolina.rr.com. Sorry, but I can’t handle hand written material.

On another matter of mutual interest, the Publications seminar was very good, as usual. There was a question from the floor after the presentation by one editor who was somewhat frustrated that she had not received the Master Editor Award for 2004 since he had worked very hard to produce an outstanding newsletter. I made a commented to her that from my seven years of experience as an editor that I had truly seen the quality of newsletters and the competition for the Master Editor Award become very intense over those seven years. I also told her that the first thing I did as a new editor was to request a copy of each newsletter from those who were Master Editors so that I could see what they were doing.

As evidence as to how good the newsletters are, there were 20 Master Editor Awards presented this year as compared to just 15 last year. And there were 159 newsletters entered in the competition and there were 45 Award of Merits, 5 Awards of Distinction, and 39 Awards of Excellence.

Competiton makes all of us better at what we do as editors. Please be sure to enter the newsletter competition for this year. You will enjoy the experience.