As 4x4 enthusiasts we are constantly discussing suspensions. Better designs for more tire clearance, off-road performance, and vehicle control. How can we keep our center of gravity low but stay up high out of the rocks or mud, while letting big rubber twist and flex over obstacles yet still propel us down the trail and road safely? And don’t even start to talk about speed. When we want speed out of our 4x4s it multiplies everything and we start talking about shocks: emulsion, air, coilover, nitrogen-charged, remote-reservoir, bypass … So many fun shocks to play with! And all designed to help control those springs: coil, leaf, air, and so on.
Suspensions are fun to talk and bench-wheel about, and sure as rain on a wedding day I get the same question all the time: “What is the best suspension for my [fill in the blank]?” I wish I had dollar for every time I heard that questions. (Hmm, I am now charging a dollar for that question!) But the problem is I have not lifted every single make and model 4x4, nor have I used every single brand of suspension component for every single make and model 4x4, so sadly my answer is often pretty boring.
I can tell you that I am a huge fan of a pretty basic suspension design, where the back of the vehicle uses leaf springs (spring over or spring under) and the front uses some sort of link suspension with coils (three-link or four-link with or without a Panhard/track bar). I have found this setup to work pretty well most of the time over a variety of terrain and with a variety of payloads. In fact, it’s about perfect for the all-around 4x4s that we usually build for the Ultimate Adventure, and thus has been under at least three that I can think of (Rubiwagon, CJ-17, Tug-Truck). That’s probably why I like it, and it’s been proven to work well with solid axles under everything from early Broncos to late-model Ford and Ram heavy-duty trucks. No, it’s not a perfect race suspension for ultimate performance or for an ultra-twisty rockcrawler, but if you’re building something that you want to drive daily and wheel on the weekends, I’d say at least consider the front link, rear leaf recipe. But what do I know?
What also might be amazing to you reader is that most auto owners have no idea about any of the stuff under their vehicle. We the 4x4 fanatics love to dive under a vehicle and see how it works. Noncar people probably have no idea what a coil spring is versus a leaf spring, a shock, or a suspension link. I wonder what those strange beings talk about when they are sitting around the campfire out in the middle of nowhere?