How Car Suspensions Work

Specialized Suspensions: The Baja Bug

Baja Bug
Baja Bug
Photo courtesy Car Domain

­For the most part, this article has focused on the suspensions of mainstream fron­t- and rear-wheel-drive cars — cars that drive on normal roads in normal driving conditions. But what about the suspensions of specialty cars, such as hot rods, racers or extreme off-road vehicles? Although the suspensions of specialty autos obey the same basic principles, they do provide additional benefits unique to the driving conditions they must navigate. What follows is a brief overview of how suspensions are designed for three types of specialty cars — Baja Bugs, Formula One racers and American-style hot rods.

Baja Bugs

The Volkswagen Beetle, or Bug, was destined to become a favorite among off-road enthusiasts. With a low center of gravity and engine placement over the rear axle, the two-wheel-drive Bug handles off-road conditions as well as some four-wheel-drive vehicles. Of course, the VW Bug isn't ready for off-road conditions with its factory equipment. Most Bugs require some modifications, or conversions, to get them ready for racing in harsh conditions like the deserts of Baja California.

One of the most important modifications takes place in the suspension. The torsion-bar suspension, standard equipment on the front and back of most Bugs between 1936 and 1977, can be raised to make room for heavy-duty, off-road wheels and tires. Longer shock absorbers replace the standard shocks to lift the body higher and to provide for maximum wheel travel. In some cases, Baja Bug converters remove the torsion bars entirely and replace them with multiple coil-over systems, an aftermarket item that combines both the spring and shock absorber in one adjustable unit. The result of these modifications is a vehicle that allows the wheels to travel vertically 20 inches (50 cm) or more at each end. Such a car can easily navigate rough terrain and often appears to "skip" over desert washboard like a stone over water.