March 20, 2010. Spring Equinox. Spring has sprung. How could Thetruthaboutcars.com celebrate the first day of spring 2010 better than with a concise pictorial history of springs?
Apart from tires and seats (which typically have their own springs, the seats, not the tires) the car’s suspension is what protects your (personal) rear end and spine from the rigors of the road. Apart from shock absorbers (which we’ll celebrate the minute we’ll find an appropriate season for shock absorbers), springs are an essential ingredient of your suspension. Springs come in three basic flavors.
The common leaf spring has been in use in cars and trucks into the mid eighties. From then on, they became an object of derision, except on heavy duty trucks, which use them to this day. The leaf spring was also called “carriage spring,” because it is as old as the horse-drawn carriage. Hence its humorous effect.
To the untrained, a coil spring seems to be the most logical choice. It’s inbred: Most of us have been created with some type of coil spring involved. (See picture left.) To remove or to install a coil spring, you need to be able to operate a coil spring compressor tool. If you don’t know how to operate it, this can have similar effects as a coiled snake. The coil spring is sometimes used in combination with the leaf spring. Or with a shock absorber inside. We’ll get to that later. There are many other coil springs in your car, from valve springs to the spring that pulls your accelerator back – or not.
Then there’s the torsion spring, that strange contraption I learned to hate when I was a young copywriter and they threw me on the Volkswagen account. Die Drehstabfeder or Der Torsionsstab is (so it has been drummed into me) basically a rod that twists along its length. It was popular in the VW Beetle, in the Porsche 356, in the early Barockengel BMW 501/502, in early Porsche 911s, and several Chrysler and GM cars. To this day, I don’t understand why one would twist a poor old rod if there are springs. To this day, they use torsion bars.
From here on, we get into more complex matters, such as coil-over-oil, (or possibly coil-over-gas, but it doesn’t rhyme). It is a combination of a shock absorber and a spring, also known as a McPherson strut. When I was a young copywriter in 1973, this was a big deal. Later, they confused me completely by combining a McPherson strut with a double wishbone suspension. At that point, I turned into a Creative Director and was above such minutiae.
This concludes our TTACesque celebration of the Spring Equinox. May the sun shine bright on you, don’t forget to change the winter tires, and give your car a good rinse to get the salt out.