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A SHORT HISTORY OF SUSPENSION  

Part One


This piece prepared for our fellow Citroen friends by Bruce Kennett and Julian Marsh, using an original book owned by Dick May.


Safety first, comfort next. This is the answer given, in a recent public opinion poll, by the majority of drivers to the question: "What is the first quality you expect of your car?"

This means that these drivers, though they may not have realized it themselves, want first and foremost a well-sprung car. From a safety viewpoint, the suspension of a car is the essential item. Progress was impossible in the field of overland speed without an equivalent progress in the field of suspension. The history of speed and the history of the motor car are largely the history of suspension.
 

It is said that History dates back to the Sumerians. 

Unfortunately, this does not apply to the history of suspension. Some five thousand years before the Flood, the Sumerians migrated from the Caucasus and settled between the Tigris and the Euphrates. In those faraway times, they used chariots drawn by donkeys or oxen. But these fragile and primitive vehicles were at the mercy of the least jolt and their weight prevented speeding.
 


Below Egyptian chariot. Karnak Temple bas-relief, Luxor.


Above Earthenware ox cart. India. 1000-2000 B.C.

Three thousand years later, the Egyptians, after discovering the horse from the Hyksos -- and then from the Hittites, the Scythians and the Assyrians -- started using chariots. In the first staged battle in history -- Fiadesh in 1296 B.C. -- the light chariots of Ramses II confronted those of the Hittite king, Muwatali. 

But these war chariots were so unstable that driving them was a feat of bravery in itself.
 


Though the Greeks discovered many principles of physics, they were unable to solve the problem of suspension.  As a result, the Romans were unable to copy them. This is also why the legions of the Caesars were an army of foot soldiers. This is why the chariot races in the arenas of ancient Rome were responsible for more casualties than the fights of the gladiators.  While the chariot drivers did not produce a Spartacus, they nevertheless did have their Ben Hur. Drawn by four almost wild stallions in line, the chariot, or quadriga in Latin, was no doubt fast, but it could hardly be called safe, and comfortable even less. It had no stability and could not keep to a straight track. In other words, it did not hold the road. Often, the vehicles overturned and the drivers tossed high into the air. This spectacular sight afforded great joy to the children who were taken to see these races on Jupiter's feast day, if they had learned their lessons properly at school. It was a fine sight and a sport, but it was not a life for a man !

Above Chinese carving. 2nd century A.D.

Greek warriors on their chariots. Close-up of an archaic cup. 7th century B.C.

© 2000 Julian Marsh