Suspension Designs

Initially, car suspensions were borrowed from the
horse and buggy, which used flexible metal bars or
leaf springs to buffer the jarring between the
wheels/axles and the carriage.  When the car
crosses a bump, the spring bends by the rise of
the bump and the body stays fairly flat.  However
before the spring bent back to its original shape it
shook a few more times.  Boing, boing, boing,
boing...and so on.  So leaf springs replaced a sharp
jarring bump with a soft bounce and motion

A thicker leaf spring would stop bouncing sooner,
but it wouldn't absorb all of the bump, it was
stiffer.  A thinner spring would absorb more of the
bump, but it would continue to bounce after the
bump...boing boing boing-well you get the point.  
So you could chose how soft or firm your
suspension would be, based on how thick the leaf
spring was.  But, there was always a trade-off, you
could have both soft ride and but not keep your
lunch down...until the shock absorber.

The shock absorber is designed to minimize or
'absorb' the bouncing following a bump.  Modern
shock absorbers use a sealed tube filled with oil in
which a rod with a piston is immersed.  The tube is
attached to the body, and the rod is attached to
the wheels (or the reverse-you pick).  When the
car goes over a bump the piston moves with the
suspension, but in the oil.  The oil slows the
movement of the piston, the same way water
slows someone trying to run through it. It slows
the movement so much that the bouncing is barely
noticeable.  With a shock absorber, you can have a
soft spring and not have lots of
more trade-off, no more nausea.

As cars became faster and heavier, engineers
looked to improve the ride comfort and handling.  
The leaf spring design was improved somewhat
although eventually other types of suspensions
were developed.
Basic suspension solid mount vs. leaf springs
Gas Charged Shock
Absorber Diagram
Gas Shock absorbers compressed
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