July 8, 2020

Shock Absorbers

• By John Chisholm •

My Daimler is a quixotic mixture of advancements and regressions.  Even in 1959, when the car was new, this was true.  The resulting alloy lends the car much of its character.  As a result, I struggle for period understanding and leave the basic arrangement as is.  That’s not always easy.  There are times when some of its more backwards design traits are extremely frustrating.

The pertinent example here is the suspension system.  The front end has independent suspension with unequal A-arms and Koni, adjustable tube, shock absorbers.  There’s nothing the matter with any of that.

But ― Alas! ― the rear wheels are on an over-slung, solid rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and Armstrong double cylinder, lever-type shock absorbers.

In retrospect, my view of this later arrangement as woefully backward ― Stone Age ― might not be entirely the car’s fault.

My illumination arrived yesterday.  Let me explain:

I had the Daimler out for a drive.  It was a beautiful sunny morning.  I stopped for lunch in Newport.  Forty minutes later when I came out of the restaurant, an ominous line of thundershowers ― complete with flickering lightning bolts ― had boiled out of the blue in the western sky.  Wow.  That got my attention.  The convertible top was down on the Daimler.

Please understand, putting it up is not a difficult procedure.  I just hate doing it.  I much prefer my Daimler with the top-down, driving in the breezes and sunshine.

I mulled it over.  Starting the car, I listened to its V-8 rumble back at the thunder.  That certainly sounded like a challenge to me.  What the hell.  I raced for home.

The Daimler performed well.  The engine was in fabulous tune.  We made good time.  Never mind.  Those dark clouds were piling it up and piling it on, too.  Every glance in the review mirror confirmed that.  I did fine on Route 2, heading east, away from that storm front.  But then I turned north on the Horseback Road, leaving the sun behind and aiming directly into that line of storms.

I had to.

The race was on in earnest now.

Thunder grumbled.  Lightning flashed.  The engine growled.  I focused on the road.

The sky turned black but the pavement remained dry.  I screeched around the corners, making the best time possible.  I curved up the Horseback before turning east on Route 222, north again onto Brann Road and finally ― last leg ― east on Tay.  I pulled up to the garage leaving the engine idling with the emergency brake on.  Jumping out, I ran to open the overhead door and drive the car inside.  While doing that, the heavens opened.  Rain arrived as a wall of water.  Those remaining few moments were exceptionally damp.  Yes.  Yes, they were.

I tried consoling myself.  At least I didn’t have to put up the convertible top.  Still, I did have to dry the car.  As I did that, I thought back on the race.

What prevented me from winning outright was the rear suspension.  Those Armstrong lever shocks gave very poor ride control, slowing me significantly on the corners and over bumpy sections.

On the plus side, their dismal performance gave me the incentive to remove and examine them.  Why not?  I certainly couldn’t mow.  It was pouring out.

An hour later, with both rear shock absorbers sitting atop the workbench, I drained the existing hydraulic fluid.  Whoa!  That was illuminating.  Immediately a deep sense of guilt overwhelmed me.  No wonder those shock absorbers weren’t working!  Why ― Oh, why? ― hadn’t I done this previously?  What drained was a black substance straight out of a Cretaceous tar pit.  That’s right.  That hydraulic fluid was at least sixty years old.  In truth, I’m not sure that it was ever refined.  Really.  It certainly didn’t look it.

I had to hasten its departure with penetrating oil ― a great deal of penetrating oil ― before reinstalling both drain plugs and refitting the shock absorbers.  Then I added clean, new, ten weight hydraulic fluid, carefully topping off both units.

By that time the clouds had departed and the sun returned.  I took the car for another drive.

I cannot overstate my chagrin at not having changed the fluid in those shock absorbers earlier.  Much earlier.  The improvement in ride control was far more than merely noticeable.  It was a seismic shift.

There’s one obvious lesson:  If I’m going to criticize my car’s components, I certainly should ― at the very least ― make sure that they’re working, first.

Second and rather unfortunately, there weren’t any additional thundershowers hanging around to race home.

Had there been, hands down, I’d have won.