Air Ride Suspension In Early Classic Cars

Air-Bags-VS-Spring-Suspension

Did they have Air Ride Suspension In Early American Built Cars, in short, the answer is yes they did?

In my early years, I knew I was destined for some kind of mechanical trade. I always spotted stuff that — just wasn’t right. But what did I know as a young kid, I never knew which way was up until my early teens.

Walking down this ally-way behind our house I come across a beautiful looking 2 door fully decked out something or other parked in a driveway. I didn’t really know what it was until later on in life or my chosen career. It was a fully loaded 1957 Cadillac Brougham!  Even though I didn’t know exactly what kind of car it was, I did notice it sitting too close to the ground, “that wasn’t right!”

The owner as memory serves me come over and said that his new car had an air ride system and that it had a leak someplace, “leak in what I said?”

Now as I’m much older and I do know which way is up, I remember that car. First and the last one I ever saw. I believe most people like me forgot that GM had such technology back then that they would have used it on one of their top-selling cars.

But doing research on air ride suspensions on early cars, they were using that style of engineering in military equipment during the war. So there you have, experimenting way back then.

In the years that followed my interest in anything that moved swayed me a little to the trucking industry where air ride suspension is the norm. Smooth, dependable, and less damage is done to sometimes sensitive cargo!

Now turned blogger I occasionally get a flashback from “not necessarily my childhood days” but that Caddy with air ride suspension.

And that brings me here, writing about it before I forget.

Air Ride Suspension In Early Cars

Did you know in 1957-1958 Cadillac Brougham was the first car and General Motors was the first manufacture to have Air Ride Suspension? (Air Springs) Although the owners were impressed with the ultra-smooth ride, the air would leak out the system and the car would drop to the ground. Slight inconvenience to the new car owner that just paid large for their new ride!

Possibly that’s one reason General Motors only produced a few cars with airbags in those early years, “poor owner reviews.”

Where do hotrodders find their projects?

Research shows that only 400 Cadillacs were built, along with a handful of Buicks and Oldsmobile’s.

Today with 60 years of improvement you can find that same type of setup in high-end cars such as Rolls-Royce, Lexus, Jeep, Ram, Cadillac (GM), Mercedes-Benz, to name a few. And it’s no wonder because if you insist on a smooth ride for your long dollar car you will expect good value and, an air ride is the best option. Although the system today is still somewhat along the same line of thinking as the original, they use better technology today and with fewer problems.

It’s like riding on a cloud one owner commented.

Here is an explanation of how airbags work.

We know that all vehicles have some sort of springs to give your car that reasonable smooth ride over bumpy terrain or roadways.  Instead of your car or light truck with springs made of steel, the manufacturers install airbags in place of steel-made spring.

Air ride suspension consists of an electric air pump or a compressor of sorts. The compressor pumps air into a reservoir tank; from there, it goes through a leveling valve that’s adjustable to inflate the airbags. The more air in the bag, the higher your car sits or less air lowers the car.

Like a car tire, the more air you put in the tire the harder the ride, same but different.

You can see the same setup when following a Big Truck or a highway trailer, except, they use much BIGGER airbags.

Today you can buy aftermarket air ride suspension kits for just about any car. Many car enthusiasts use this set-up in their hot rods, and they’re sometimes referred to as low ridders. The reason; you can adjust the height of their hot rods by the amount of air you put in the bags.

So now a 1957-1958 Cadillac Brougham with air ride is a forgotten topic by many car buffs. Mostly because people didn’t realize they had such a thing back then. But as truck mechanics specializing in air suspensions, it makes perfect sense for that ultimate “Smooth Ride!”

Remember the one owner comment; it’s like riding on a cloud.

Readers Comments

* I would want to ride in one of these as I think there will not be much different than the coil version.  The original system had air domes with w/diaphragms and that acted as a mini accumulator to help dampen the road inputs to the spring assembly.  The 57 and 58 Brougham units are not shared, but the standard 58 through 60 was pretty much the same parts, though a dome was still used.

All Female” Car Clubs of America

* My air ride Brougham does ride different than most cars and it is very smooth.  The trouble as always is keeping it working.

* The Brougham’s had no options, you chose the color and interior combination and the cars came with w/everything.  13k got you something.  They all started life w/air suspension and most ended with spring conversions.  David

* The 1960 Biarritz that I had that went to Sweden rode beautifully on the fully functional air ride system.

* It leaked down overnight but pumped up in like a minute or 2.

I think it’s worth the cost to keep it in bags.    Brian

Extra note

During World War II, the U.S. developed the air suspension for heavy aircraft in order to save weight with compact construction. Air systems were also used in heavy trucks and aircraft to attain self-leveling suspension. With adjustable air pressure, the axle height was independent of vehicle load.

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