Suspension Solutions – Proving There’s More Than One Way To Do Everything
It’s been said that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and despite never having cause to test that theory, we have found more than one way to deal with the front suspension of a hot rod as well. For the most part what we’re dealing with here are Ford-based front axles and independent suspension options and while some of what we’re showing are tried-and-true arrangements, others are a little more creative. The intent for showing them all is to provide a little food for thought.
In part thanks to stubbornness and also because it was relatively cheap, Henry Ford used the same basic front suspension design under his cars from 1908 to 1948. Simple and effective, it consisted of a solid beam axle, transverse spring, and a wishbone-shaped locating device that was anchored to the chassis in line with the spring’s attachment point. The design worked reasonably well in stock form, but hot rodders found that engine swaps and chassis modifications often required the wishbone to be split and the ends anchored to the frame rails. This necessary evil still located the front axle and provided the room necessary for modern engines and transmissions, but splitting the wishbone causes the suspension to bind in many circumstances. As examples, when the car leans in a corner, or one wheel encounters a bump, the individual radius rods move in different arcs—one moves closer to the frame and the other moves away. That means that the radius rods will try and twist the axle. Oddly enough that isn’t as big a problem as it would seem to be with an I-beam axle, as they will twist to a certain degree. Although some will debate this, the fact is tube axles won’t twist, which creates the bind described. As a result, I-beams tend to be better suited to split wishbones and hairpins while tube axles are better suited to four-bars. Of course, I-beams are compatible with any locating device.
Another interesting issue crops up when using an aftermarket axle with an original Ford wishbone, split or intact. Reproduction axles are either 2 or 2-1/4 inches wide at the perch boss. However, Ford wishbones (depending on the year) measure 2 or 2.300 inches (2-1/4 plus .030 inch). As a result, if a wide wishbone is used with a 2-1/4 inch axle there will be a gap. Rather than trying to overtighten the spring perch bolts (which doesn’t work), the solution is a spacer set from Pete & Jakes.
Being the resourceful types they are, hot rodders have tried countless suspension variations over the years. Different means of locating the front axle, types and location of springs and shock absorbers, and different design theories have all been tried with varying degrees of success.
And thanks to the introduction of reproduction suspension parts, including new dropped axles, assembling a safe, traditional-style front suspension is easier than ever. But arguably the most impactful development for hot rods was the introduction of easy-to-install independent front suspension systems based on Pinto/Mustang II architecture. Best suited for fat-fendered vehicles due to their design and non-traditional appearance, these IFS kits had much to do with the growth in popularity of cars from that era and later because they worked well, were affordable and easy to install. Of course, it didn’t take long for high tech, custom IFS systems to become available for non-traditionally styled earlier cars.
When it comes to choosing front end components and arrangements, there are a wide variety to choose from. To paraphrase the saying concerning cats, there’s more than one way to suspend a hot rod, too.