The earliest form of shock absorber came into existence during the era of the horse-drawn carriage. Back then, simple leaf springs were mounted beneath the seats causing them to bounce as the carriage moved. This crude attempt to ease the constant bumping and shuddering, characteristic of this form of transport, had one very unfortunate "side effect" once the seats started bouncing, they didn't stop until the carriage did!
Were it not for modern-day shock absorbers, we too would find ourselves in a very similar situation, bouncing and rocking in our vehicles from one bump to the next. Just imagine the feeling at 100km/h! Fortunately, today's shock absorbers convert the unwanted energy generated by bouncing into harmless heat energy, which is then dissipated into the atmosphere. This action makes safe, controlled motoring possible.
While we may have come a long way from the earliest leaf springs, the transition to modern shock absorbers was neither a seamless nor a speedy one. The advent of the first cars did not bring with it immediate breakthroughs in the field of shock absorption. These vehicles sported unsophisticated suspension designs, without shock absorbers, where axle movement was controlled by leaf springs. This resulted in poor handling and road holding. However, as the speed and sophistication of cars increased, suspension design, and the need for a comfortable ride and easy handling, became paramount to engineers. The dawn of racing also hastened the development of more powerful, faster cars, and heralded the introduction of the first primitive shock absorbers.
By 1902 Mors had pot-type fluid dampers and in 1906 Renault raced at the French Grand Prix with double-acting hydraulic units. These had lever-actuated cams, which bore upon dual opposed pistons in refillable cylinders. Despite these advancements in the shock absorber arena, most cars (including racing cars) still didn't have shock absorbers as such. They relied instead on primitive methods such as wrapping springs, designed solely to dampen impact. Around 1915, suspension-damping devices were being incorporated into the designs of large passenger cars. The Hartford Swivel type, a common choice, was used into the 1950s, particularly in stiffly sprung sporting cars.
In the early 1900s, Gabriel entered the market with its then revolutionary Gabriel Snubber. While this rebound device was initially fitted as an optional extra to reduce spring and axle breakage, it eventually became standard equipment.
Many of these early devices were single-acting units, effective only on rebound. The next major step towards better shock absorbers came in the late 1920s when the first double-acting lever arm shock absorbers were introduced on road vehicles/passenger cars.
These were designed to dampen motion in both directions, providing previously unattainable characteristics. Despite its innovative design, this type of shock absorber failed to keep pace with the increasing demands of the motor Vehicles of the 1930s, and engineers were forced back to the drawing board to design a more efficient direct-acting shock absorber. The result: the double-acting telescopic shock absorber.
The first telescopic shock absorbers were marketed in about 1932 (the same time that the cam-and-lever design reached its zenith). Gabriel's first telescopic shock absorber was designed in the early 30s.
In the 1940s, Earle MacPherson designed the first MacPherson strut, a much heavier and more robust version of the telescopic shock absorber, for a General Motors prototype. Since the early 70s, the strut has shown a growing trend worldwide and is still the most popular design today. The late 70s also saw the development of the self-levelling shock absorber, a height-sensitive version of a conventional shock absorber.
"Smart suspension" was the design pinnacle of the 1980s. A "smart" Of "active" suspension is a suspension controlled by a computer, which takes factors like height, speed, weight and roll from sensors, and decides the optimum setting for the suspension. In 1987 a Lotus with a "smart" suspension won its first Grand Prix.
Gabriel shock absorbers were first sold in South Africa in 1935. In 1962, as a result of local content requirement for motor vehicles, a factory was established in Cape Town. In 1982, Gabriel moved to its present plant.
At Gabriel we're proud of the firsts we've achieved in South Africa. Among them:
Gabriel USA patented the first shock absorber called the “Snubber”.
Development of the first hydraulic shocks
Gabriel comes to South Africa Importing all products from USA
Development of the first adjustable shocks
Gabriel Production in South Africa starts
Development of position and velocity sensitive shocks
Development of gas-charged twin tube shocks
Gabriel SA designs and manufactures the “gas spring” adopted by Gabriel plants worldwide.
Development of velocity sensitive technology for shocks and struts
Torre Industries Acquires Gabriel from Control Instruments Group
Gabriel SA returns development and focus to OE
Gabriel SA is acquired by Apex Partners and becomes an independant manufacturer