|Lincoln, in particular, was very proud of the ride and handling characteristics
they'd developed. In one 1972 Lincoln Continental advertisement, Lincoln
said: "1972. A new Lincoln Continental.
How it looks in your driveway is important. How it acts on a wet pavement at 60 mph is more important.
Lincoln Continental has one of the widest tracks in the world. And all the stability that goes with it.
The suspension system combines coil springs, double-acting shock absorbers, rubber insulators, and stabilizer bar in meticulous balance. Disquieting sway and swerve are virtually gone from the ride."
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Above: The Sausalito Handicap - October 14, 1975: 68 out of 100 Cadillac owners agree. A 1976 Lincoln Continental with 30,000 miles has a better ride than a new 1976 Cadillac.
Both Lincoln and Cadillac spent a great deal of time and effort to ensure their automobiles offered occupants a great riding experience. The result didn't come about over night, it took years of research and testing and improvements to attain the characteristics of smoothness and control that both makes wanted. And during this time of research, both Lincoln and Cadillac learned a few things along the way. We're going to discuss one of Lincoln's lessons here.
One of the biggest selling points of classic luxury cars was their smooth ride. Some today call it wallowy, others refer to it as sway or bounce, but back in the day that was what was expected of a luxury car. Naturally, a car that wallows or bounces can be difficult to keep on the road, especially when turning a corner or rounding a bend in the road at high speed. Many just naturally assume this is the way these cars were designed to ride and drive, and you just have to put up with it, since it's a part of the car's "character."
Compared to today's luxury cars, the classic cars don't exactly have a firm ride. But, they were luxury cars and were designed to pamper occupants and driver, and the characteristics many notice today that could cause handling problems likely were not as evident when the cars were new. And there may be a reason for that.
During the early to mid-seventies, Lincoln in particular spent a great deal of time refining the Lincoln ride. Comparison tests were given asking owners of "the other luxury car" to compare their cars to a new Lincoln. According to the ads, at the conclusion of the test, 60% said the Lincoln had a more comfortable ride. Lincoln had worked hard to achieve this honor, which was rooted in the design philosophy that existed at Lincoln at the time.
The components that created Lincoln's fine ride were comprised of the tires, (which were almost exclusively Michelin Steel-Belted Radials at the time), shock absorbers, springs, suspension members and components like rubber bushings. Lincoln's designers created a suspension system that would provide the ride characteristics they desired, then calibrated the original equipment shock absorbers to ensure everything worked together in perfect harmony.
This worked great when the cars were new, but once the rubber components that insulated suspension members from each other and isolated vibration from the passenger compartment began to wear and deteriorate, the ride and handling qualities of the vehicle began to suffer. This was due to the fact that the shock absorbers weren't designed to maintain the necessary stability under these conditions. The result? Wallow and sway and bounce. This process could happen quite quickly, showing up in some cases before the cars were out of warranty. Naturally, this created a great deal of concern and after eliminating tire defects and improper tire inflation from the list of possible causes, dealers soon discovered that installing new heavy duty shock absorbers seemed to fix the problem. This meant a lot of shock absorbers were being replaced under warranty to restore the original ride and handling qualities.
The quality control folks at Ford were interested in this situation as well, and the OEM shock absorbers that were returned as defective for inspection had a high rate of compliance when tested, which means they were functioning as designed. The original shocks had a 1" piston, and the heavy duty replacement shocks had 1-3/8" pistons, which made just enough difference to compensate for the worn suspension parts and restore like new ride and handling characteristics.
Of interest to note is the fact that GM's Cadillac Division had a different philosophy than Ford and Lincoln. GM felt that the shock absorbers needed to be in the equation from the very beginning, and suspension components should be calibrated to then minimize their influence on ride and handling. The result? As the suspension components began to wear and deteriorate on GM cars, it wasn't as evident to owners since the shocks were already designed from the beginning to compensate for the wear.
Naturally, there isn't universal agreement on which classic luxury car of the time has the best ride and handling, but according to independent testing at the time, Lincoln did seem to have the upper hand over Cadillac. Many contemporary magazine tests agree as well. So, regardless of make or model, if your classic car wallows, sways, and bounces, it may very well need new heavy duty shock absorbers.
Remember that old cars may have had very different ride and handling characteristics from today's cars, but that does not mean they were unstable or difficult to keep on the road.
Copyright © 2009 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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