How to Improve the Shock Absorbers in Your Car to Make It Safer

As a passionate driver, I place a high emphasis on my car’s handling, braking, and road-holding characteristics being crisp and responsive. Since I was a youngster, I’ve had a ” love affair” with shock absorbers, springs, rack and pinion steering, improved bushes, and brakes because I appreciate good handling. Due to the lack of reaction, a soggy sloppy suspension is a significant turnoff. This passion for improved performance began when I was a teenager, during the days of the iconic Australian car built by General Motors, the 48/215 or FJ model, from 1948 to 1953, and culminated when I met the magnificent Bilstein Monotube Gas Pressure Shock Absorbers in the mid 1970’s while setting up a Peugot 504 Injection model for car club events. When you find an excellent product, I suppose the expression goes “Hooked For Life.” So far, it’s been around 35 years!

My FJ Holden or 48/215 story

It was one of Australia’s first large-scale mass-production automobiles, and everyone appeared to want one. Despite the fact that they are now considered iconic and a rapidly appreciating asset, they were only just OK in their original form, complete with a 132.5 cubic inch / 2.17 litre engine producing 60 brake horsepower, skinny crossply tyres, drum brakes, soft ride, and horrible lever arm dampers that faded away to become useless after a few miles of enthusiastic driving. The Holden was similar to a miniature version of a late 1940s Chevrolet, which “handled like a bucket of soup” in our parlance. Because I lived in the country, there was little local help available to fix my car’s handling. dilemna until I came across a local spring shop operated by an ex-racing technician named Keith who had some tricks up his sleeve whereby he changed the settings / strength of the springs using black magic known as tempering, which included adding an additional leaf to the rear springs. This stiffened the suspension significantly and improved load carrying ability, but only a minor difference in handling – it still didn’t behave in an acceptable manner because of the aforementioned lever arm dampers, which allowed it to roll around and not respond to my commands, and it failed a bounce test. Keith rescued the day by telling me about a firm named Armstrong that was changing and improving people’s dampers, had conversion kits to add heavy duty telescopic shock absorbers to the rear of early models like mine, and highly enhanced / modified front lever arm units. [The Armstrong 500 mile endurance competition on Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia, was sponsored by Armstrong. After a few years, the race moved to the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales, and eventually became Australia’s most renowned race, the Bathurst 1000.] I was finally getting someplace, and tearing about in the good old 48/215 was a blast! Most of my “revhead” friends had switched from the original narrow crossply tyres to the “New from Europe” Pirelli and Michelin radial ply tyres, so I did the same and discovered that the combination of all those changes paid off in finally having a predictable and responsive car in my hands. Was the investment worthwhile? You can bet your bottom money that it was.

What are the advantages of updating your shock absorbers?

First and foremost, let me clarify what they do for your vehicle. By maintaining your tyres in good touch with the road, they help with steering control, ride, handling, braking, and overall vehicle safety. The wheels bounce around erratically without shock absorbers or with worn out ones, and the hapless driver has only little control over the car and no communication with it. Most cars can be converted into outstanding handling cars by just installing a high brand of shocks, such as my beloved Bilsteins. A large increase in the life of your tyres is a strong side effect of such a tweak – unless you decide that the enhanced handling is grounds for some ” revhead ” fun behind the wheel!

Shock Absorber Categories

The lever arm dampers were already mentioned in my Holden narrative. They were standard equipment in most automobiles until the 1950s, but they had poor performance and a tendency to fade when driven hard, so it was a relief to see tubular versions replace them. The traditional hydraulic twin tube shock absorber, also known as a McPherson strut insert, is designed to protrude above the assembly and attach to the car’s sprung mass, where it must deal with both rebound and compression loads, as well as severe side loads – to say it has a difficult life is an understatement!