Chrysler Torsion Bar Car Suspensions, 1957-1992: Torsion-Aire, Torsion-Quiet

torsion bar suspension

When Chrysler started using torsion bars for their front suspensions, they were not new, but they were a first for a major American manufacturer, and possibly a first in the low-price and medium-price fields. Packard had started using a complex four-wheel torsion bar setup in 1955 and 1956, and some expensive European cars had used them. Domestically, they would be used on General Motors’ Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado starting in 1966.

Originally devised by Bob Batchelor, Chrysler’s torsion bar suspensions were used across the entire lineup, from Plaza and Valiant to Imperial, for decades. Chrysler’s implementation was unusual for its universal use and for the use of relatively-inexpensive rear leaf springs, instead of rear coil springs. The rear leaf springs, with the axle mounted forward of center (asymmetrical design), kept the car level during sudden starts and stops, providing better heavy-load control than most existing rear-spring setups.

torsion-aire suspension

The torsion-bar front suspension debuted in 1957 across the corporation’s models, and were used on all Chrysler Corporation cars until the front wheel drive cars arrived. The suspension was sold for some years under the trademark Torsion-Aire.

Jim Benjaminson wrote:

Called “Torsion-Aire Ride” (there was no air to the system at all, unlike GM’s experiments with air suspensions), the suspension would garner Plymouth the title of best-handling car by Motor Trend magazine. Eventually, the entire Chrysler Corporation would receive Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year Award based on “superior handling and roadability qualities.”

Torsion-Aire was more than just torsion bars; everything had been re-engineered, including the frame, wheels, tires, suspension, and steering linkage. The center of gravity had been lowered and the car sat on a wider stance.

Torsion-Aire used two chrome steel bars mounted parallel to the inner-front frame rails, the front portion of the bar mounted to the lower control arm with the opposite end anchored to the frame. Twisting motion of the bars, rather than compression of springs, provided the cars with soft but stable suspension. Even the rear springs had been redesigned to work in context with the torsion bars up front. Plymouth brakes, always a high spot, were increased in size.

Retired police officer Curtis Redgap wrote:

I have to shake my head when I read that the current group of automotive rags panning the torsion bar equipped MoPar cars as “not being able to turn at high speeds.” Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth! They were, in fact, the very cars that would, could and did handle routine high speeds, especially in fleet police service. Try then to imagine how much more poorly the GM and Ford products handled! I was there, and believe me, I will attest to the MoPar cars being the single best units. That is one of the biggest reasons that Dodge held the California Highway Patrol “E” class enforcement unit of choice for so many years, as well as being adopted by the Michigan State Police.

torsion barsThe front end of the torsion bar connected to the front wheel’s lower control arm; the rear end of the torsion bar was anchored in the sub frame so the bar could not turn. When the front wheel rose over a bump, the lower control arm pivoted around the points where the torsion bar was mounted, twisting the bar. The chrome steel in the bar resisted the twist, holding the wheel on the road.

In the company’s words, “When you twist a length of rubber hose, you can feel the spring action, as the hose tries to retain its normal position. Torsion springs act in the same manner. Bumps are absorbed by the twisting action of the torsion bars.”

The torsion bar front springs used a high proportion of chromium in their steel (though they have been known to snap). The anti-sway bar resisted lean in turns, with various degrees of success depending on its thickness and the suspension tuning. Shock absorbers limited suspension oscillations. Diagonally mounted steel struts reinforced and positioned the front-wheel lower control arms. Widely spaced, off-center mounted rear springs cut acceleration squat and also resisted brake dive.

1957 plymouth chassis

body roll

The angled upper control arms resisted brake dive; and in newer versions of the torsion-bar suspension (used in the 1970s and later) the upper control arm had a front pivot higher than its rear pivot instead of at equal height so that weight would shift forward when the brakes were applied, counteracting the extra weight caused by braking and helping to keep the car level. Likewise, the rear leaf springs were off center, with the rear axle mounted on the thick forward sections of the springs instead of on the centers, so that the stiffer forward sections of the springs would support the body during acceleration and braking shifts. The long, flexible portions behind the axle benefited the ride.

axle

One advantage of the system used by Mopar tuners through the years has been the ability to easily raise or lower the front end of the car by adjusting the torsion bars; with coil springs, the springs must be replaced. Likewise, if the car sagged with age, the torsion bar on that end could be replaced while a spring would be shimmed or replaced.

torsion bar suspension

In 1960, Dodge wrote: “Dodge torsion bars smooth out bumps with more positive control than coil springs. Rubber-cushioned diagonal struts help pull the front wheels over bumps.”

Widely spaced upper and lower ball joints provided a wide base of support for the front wheels to improve stability and reduce undesirable wheel motion. Rubber-isolated nylon bearings allowed easier action than metal-to-metal, spring-loaded joints.

suspension diagram

ball jointRubber bushings eliminated the need for lubrication in many spots, reduced friction, and absorbed road shocks. There were only eight lubrication points on the 1960 Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth cars’ running gear; most other cars of the time had at least 16.

Torsion bars absorbed road shocks with less bounciness than coil springs. They needed only minor adjustment to compensate for any change in resilience, and allowed a lower engine mounting than with coil springs ... a safer, lower center of gravity. The extra space provided a better location for steering linkage which resulted in easier steering.

Rubber-cushioned struts ran diagonally from each lower control arm to the front crossmember of the underbody structure. They braced the front suspension against backward push, when the front wheels hit a bump.

The system worked very well compared with GM and Ford products of the time, but time eventually caught up with it, as newer designs and the better materials to support them were developed. One insider said, “The engineer who came up with the system spent the rest of his career trying to get rid of it, because you could improve ride only at the expense of handling, and you could make it handle better only at the expense of the ride.” 

The MacPherson strut and double-wishbone suspension designs associated with front wheel drive cars would eventually replace torsion bars on Chrysler products, as they reached the point where their strengths outweighed their issues (and costs). However, torsion bars remained with Chrysler Corporation cars through to 1989.

Torsion-Quiet System

torsion-quiet

The Torsion-Quiet system launched in 1971 described rubber cushions which isolated the subframe and leaf springs, reducing vibration and noise the same way that rubber engine mounts do. The problem, though, is that as isolation was added, stiffness was necessarily and by definition reduced, so that cornering was degraded — though it was still better than Ford and GM. However, expert such as Rick Ehrenberg recommend retrofitting late-1970s cars with earlier suspension parts in many cases, to get rid of the extra isolation which seemed to have a greater impact on cornering than ride.

1975 Chrysler drawing

Rick Ehrenberg of Mopar Action magazine suggested numerous modifications for cars equipped with Torsion-Quiet. First, he recommended a complete suspension check to make sure all components were in good shape, and adjusting the steering box to be as tight as possible; and aligning the front end. The specifications Rick provided for general street use were 1.5 degrees caster; -0.5 degrees camber; 0.1 inch total toe; and wheels and tires consisting of 15 x 7 inch wheels with 235R75 at minimum. A full description of how to set alignment without a shop is in the October 2009 Mopar Action.

1958 chassis

Following this alignment, Rick recommend replacing the front sway bar with a stiffer one to take advantage of the better tires now available; in his project car, he went from the OEM 0.938 or 1 inch bar to a 1.25 inch bar, saying it made a tremendous impact. Further actions are in the same October 2009 issue, but in short, he then replaced the rear sway bar, rear springs, shocks, torsion bars (from Firm Feel, moving from 1.06 inches to 1.18 inches), and steering box (Firm Feel Stage 1).

One suspension engineer said, “The best thing to do is to lift the front end up to the maximum recommended ride height, which puts more pressure on the torsion bar; go too high, and you get too much pressure, so stay within the recommended range, but at the highest level. From there, raise the rear suspension so that the car is level or slightly higher in the rear. You can use a level in the door sill to judge your progress.”

Second generation torsion-bar suspension: 1978-1992

Ed Hennessy wrote: “The Aspen-Volare chassis design was typical Mopar, incorporating a unitized body and chassis, with torsion bar front suspensions and leaf spring rear suspensions. [But] instead of the longitudinal torsion bars found on every Chrysler product since 1957, the F bodies used a transverse torsion bar, which placed the bar anchor near the control arm on the opposite side. The bar on each side was roughly L-shaped, and ran across the front of the car just ahead of the K-frame. This was supposedly to give the compact cars a ‘big car’ ride. The rest of the front suspension was similar to that of the A body, with upper A-arms and lower control arms and a standard front sway bar.”

Lanny Knutson wrote about the transverse torsion bar system:

Chrysler's traditional longitudinal torsion bars would have occupied space needed for exhaust emissions control systems. Not wanting to abandon Chrysler's trademark torsion bars for coil springs, engineers devised a transverse torsion bar system incorporating L-shaped bars. The shorter arm of the L acted as a lever to the lower suspension arm. No strut bars were necessary; the torsion bar located the longer arm longitudinally.

Each bar, made in multiple diameters to equalize stresses, was adjustable as Chrysler's torsion bars had been since 1957. All components were mounted in a self-contained bolt-on unit that would find its way into street rods in years to follow.

Most reviewers considered the new system to be novel but of no real advantage over the common coil spring suspensions. However, Motor Trend enthused:

...the wagon is no race car, but thanks to the new transverse torsion bar front suspension, it almost handles like one. We found ourselves batting around curves and turns that would have normal wagons cornering on the door handles...The Volare stuck to the road like the painted centerline and with no rear end hop or tendency to plow. Most pleasant. The steering is pleasantly quick, and the wagon was able to dart in and out of holes in traffic like a car half its size.

Bob Sheaves added: “Chrysler developed longitudinal torsion bars into a high science, but the transverse bars of the M-body (when used in police service) had an annoying tendency to allow the front suspension to lose alignment whenever a curb was hit.”

In 1978, Chrysler gushed over the LeBaron’s suspension, shared with Volare, Aspen, and Diplomat: “Isolated transverse torsion-bar front springs, mounted ahead of the front wheels and iso-clamp multi-leaf rear springs-all rubber-isolated from the car structure. The transverse front torsion bars and multi-leaf rear springs contribute to ride stability, smoothness and handling responsiveness; the rubber isolation quiets the ride and increases the degree of smoothness. Mounting the transverse torsion bars to the isolated front structural crossmember is particularly effective in isolating noise and ride roughness from the car body.

“Torsion bars can be adjusted easily to keep the front end of the car at the proper height, regardless of the car's age or its mileage. Turning an adjusting bolt raises or lowers the front of the car.

“To keep level during braking, Chrysler engineers raised the front pivot of the upper control arm higher than the rear. This design causes the control arm to impart a lifting force to the front of the car as the weight shifts forward during braking. The lifting force resists brake dive to help keep the car nearly level when the brakes are applied.”

When Chrysler went to front wheel drive, it also went to the MacPherson struts which were, by then, a de facto standard on front wheel drive cars. Torsion bars remained in rear wheel drive cars through to 1989 — but they also made a surprise appearance in one front wheel drive car.

From 1988-1992, the Eagle Premier (also sold as the Dodge Monaco) carried the torsion-bar banner, but in a different way: it had an independent torsion bar rear suspension. Trucks also used torsion bars; the four wheel drive Dodge Dakota had them into the 1990s, and the cornering was excellent.

K-car suspension

We make no guarantees regarding validity, accuracy, or applicability of information, predictions, or advice. Please read the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2016, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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