The Editor asks is it a Science or an Art?
Motoring history has a select group of people who can be seen as the creators of outstanding suspension systems, among them are Jean Baudin at Peugeot, Richard Parry-Jones at Ford, Colin Chapman at Lotus, André Lefèbvre at Citroen, Bob Knight at Jaguar and Alex Moulton for BMC. But there were far more who didn’t care for, or understand, the subtleties of suspension, notably Enzo Ferrari who seemed to think that its only reason for existence was to prevent the sumps of his beloved engines from scraping along the road.
Obviously the people named above were assisted by a host of other talented people, but there seems to be an art, as much as a science, to suspension design, an understanding of how it should feel on the road that can’t be reproduced by charts and gauges, that needs to be guided by a single, sensitive individual. Today’s engineers have stood on the shoulders of these giants, and they have a far better grounding in the science of suspension design than ever before, yet there seems to be something missing. Like architects designing social housing that they will never live in, they seem able to produce systems that function very well, but seldom thrill or even, in some cases, satisfy.
It is often said on these pages that there is no longer such a thing as a truly bad car and, broadly, I’d concur. But there has been an unfortunate leaning towards a universal standard of ride combined with roadholding that could loosely be described as ‘Germanic’, and this, one suspects, is sometimes due to the excessive influence of marketing departments. This seems a pity.
Once upon a time, and disregarding engine sound, a blindfold ride in a Mercedes, an Alfa Romeo, a Jaguar and a Peugeot would have left no doubt as to which was which. That doesn’t mean that one was better than another, though you’d be entitled to have a preference. They were all different and, without wanting to enter too far into the realm of the fanciful, I might suggest that each reflected a part of its nation’s character. But today, when I can buy the same McDonalds Hamburger in Stuttgart, Milan, Coventry or Sochaux, these differences are no more.
But there is much to be written on the subject and I cannot help but comment that, in the Northern Hemisphere, meteorologically speaking, today is the first day of Spring.