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Old 03-16-2009, 10:50 AM   #1
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Torsion vs. Leaf Spring Axles

Hi all,

I just towed my '68 Airstream Ambassador into a welding/trailer shop to have them give me a quote on axle replacement. Their initial take was to install leaf spring axles instead of new torsions. Their arguments were:
  • Easier maintenance/replacement
  • Smoother ride over rough roads
My criteria for axles are:
  • Safety
  • Reliability/Maintenance
  • Smooth ride
  • Cost (upfront and maint.)
I'm not concerned with preserving the original look of the axles.

What is everyone's opinion on what axle type better? Are there negatives to switching to leaf spring axles?

Thanks,

Steve
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:04 AM   #2
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:10 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by air-austin View Post
Hi all,

I just towed my '68 Airstream Ambassador into a welding/trailer shop to have them give me a quote on axle replacement. Their initial take was to install leaf spring axles instead of new torsions. Their arguments were:
  • Easier maintenance/replacement
  • Smoother ride over rough roads
My criteria for axles are:
  • Safety
  • Reliability/Maintenance
  • Smooth ride
  • Cost (upfront and maint.)
I'm not concerned with preserving the original look of the axles.

What is everyone's opinion on what axle type better? Are there negatives to switching to leaf spring axles?

Thanks,

Steve
Steve.

Airstream switched to "torsion axles" for four reasons, back in 1961.

1. Torsion axles provide a much softer ride than any spring setup, leaf or coil, could every provide.

2. Each wheel is independent from the others. What may happen to one wheel on one side of the trailer, has no effect on the other wheel or wheels on the same side.

3. You can easily remove a tire and wheel from one side, and continue on, without the need to "tie up a spring".

4. "ZERO" maintenance.

Your shops three arguments are invalid.

1. There is nothing to maintain, with a torsion axle. Not so with spring suspension.

2. Four "U-bolts" hold up a single spring type axle. Those four U-bolts use 8 nuts, 4 U-bolts, 8 washers and 8 lock washers. A torsion axle is held in place with less than "half" that hardware.

3. Hundreds of Airstream owners would quickly attest to the smooth ride that torsion axles provide, over all types of surfaces.

Sorry, but your guy obviously does not have much "torsion axle" experience or knowledge.

Andy
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:18 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by air-austin View Post
I just towed my '68 Airstream Ambassador into a welding/trailer shop to have them give me a quote on axle replacement. Their initial take was to install leaf spring axles instead of new torsions. Their arguments were:
  • Easier maintenance/replacement
  • Smoother ride over rough roads
I'll bet that welding shop was not a torsion axle dealer of any kind.

Usually the torsion axles are touted as having the softer ride.

I would stay with the torsion axles, and by all means, get a quote from several shops.

Replacing the original axle with a new torsion axle is not that hard of a job, you should really consider doing it yourself.

There are several shops in your area that are capable of working on Airstreams - you can bet a hole punched in your belly pan that most tire/welding/camping type of stores ARE NOT to be trusted with an AS product - too many horror stories.

Bottom line, if you have to "pay" someone to come up to speed on the learning curve, you are either better off doing it yourself or paying a few extra bucks to a shop which is already Airstream Friendly.

It may be a bit far for you, but Bob Jones RV Repair (Bob Jones RV) has been repairing Airstreams for the last two decades. Their shop is located in SE Houston, close to Hobby Airport.
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:22 AM   #5
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pre-1961 Airstreams on OEM leaf springs rode at a nice height. I've seen photos posted of somebody who replaced springs on his '56 with leaf springs of unknown origin. You can see how ungainly high it rides. Destroys the whole look IMO. Here's a link - http://www.airforums.com/forums/atta...7&d=1148014858
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:33 AM   #6
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I agree...find another shop. Torsion axles are far better than spring axles. I have both (Airstream torsion, boat spring). Night and day difference.
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:46 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by air-austin View Post
Hi all,

I just towed my '68 Airstream Ambassador into a welding/trailer shop to have them give me a quote on axle replacement. Their initial take was to install leaf spring axles instead of new torsions. Their arguments were:
  • Easier maintenance/replacement
  • Smoother ride over rough roads
My criteria for axles are:
  • Safety
  • Reliability/Maintenance
  • Smooth ride
  • Cost (upfront and maint.)
I'm not concerned with preserving the original look of the axles.

What is everyone's opinion on what axle type better? Are there negatives to switching to leaf spring axles?

Thanks,

Steve
Hi Steve, Take a look HERE and keep a open mind. Axle threads provoke allot of passion in some members. I don't agree with changing from torsion to leaf spring just for the fact that your frame is designed for a torsion axle. Your axle shop will have to do allot of extra fabrication and welding that you will be paying for. This work if not done right will cause you allot of grief in the long run. You can replace a torsion with some ease. I've done it and many others have too. You will get lots of help on this if you ask.
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Old 03-16-2009, 01:47 PM   #8
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IMHO, torsion rubber axles have always been seen as superior to the old fashioned leaf springs.
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Old 03-16-2009, 03:32 PM   #9
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My opinion is a little different than those above. I believe that properly designed leaf springs CAN give a smooth and gracious ride. They are less expensive, and can be easily serviced anywhere.

I am very pleased with the leaf springs in my single axle '59 Tradewind.

On the other hand, switching to leaf springs from a torsion axle is probably not a good idea. You need to beef up the frame where the spring hangers mount. You'll need to get 4" drop axles. Most of all, you need to have the axles designed and fabricated by a reputable spring shop that can give you the correct spring rate and length. I wouldn't use the stock utility trailer springs like you find at TSC or Northern Tool.
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Old 03-16-2009, 03:46 PM   #10
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How about longevity? Seems the torsion axles have a shorter lifespan?? But I'm with Markdoane, if it came stock with torsion I would go with torsion.
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Old 03-16-2009, 03:47 PM   #11
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I'm familiar with the shop where Air-Austin has his trailer, and they are a Dexter axle dealer so they certainly have access to torsion axles. They have been fair and reputable in my dealings with them, but I suppose it's possible they are trying to persuade their customer toward the sprung axles in order to sell their welding/fabrication services.

They work on a LOT of trailers there, though mostly flat-bed cargo trailers rather than RV trailers, so perhaps that experience is why they might tend toward the sprung axles, I really couldn't say.

Anyway, they've done good work for me in the past, and in a timely manner, at fair prices, so I don't have any reason to doubt them.

I'll be interested to see what they come back with as quotes.

-Marcus
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Old 03-16-2009, 04:47 PM   #12
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New torsion axles are so cheap and easy to install it has to be cheaper to replace them than to change to leaf springs.

I wouldn't put in leaf springs. They are OK but you have nothing to gain by doing so.
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Old 03-16-2009, 05:11 PM   #13
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Thanks for all of the great feedback so far. It's great to get everyone's opinion. I'm certainly more educated about axle differences since this morning.

I'm awaiting some pricing from the shop. I'll post again when I get their assessment and let all of the local Austinites know if I need a hand replacing these axles...
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Old 03-16-2009, 06:35 PM   #14
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The only kick I can think of against the torsion axles is that the rubber gets hard and takes a set, then you have to replace the whole axle. Leaf springs are immune to this.

However it seems to take at least 20 years for this to happen and new axles are only around $300 bucks apiece. So it doesn't seem so unreasonable.
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Old 03-16-2009, 06:43 PM   #15
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Just going by the posts on this board.... so called "professionals" can make more nonsense of an Airstream in 1 hour than a sensible amateur could in 10 years.

New Dexter axles of the correct weight rating and width for your trailer should bolt on in a couple of hours ( remove and replace).
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Old 03-16-2009, 06:52 PM   #16
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I would think (as mentioned above) the biggest obsticle to making that change is mounting the shackles to the trailer. Airstreams don't have a traditional frame set up. The frame is lighter because the body is intergral to the whole assembly. There for mounting a spring shackle to attach the leaf springs is going to be an issue given the make up of the frame.

I am personally of the opinion that a leaf spring set up would be better mix for me. The ride may be not as smooth, however the design is cheaper. Just don't think it's gonna work on an Airstream.

>>>>>>>>>Action
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Old 03-17-2009, 07:34 AM   #17
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Don't be so sure about the cheaper part. The leaf spring axles may be cheaper by a few hundred $$$$ bucks but the labor cost of having them installed will eat that up and more.

I would put in new Dexters and console myself with the thought that they will need no attention for the next 20 or 30 years. The axles I mean, not the bearings brakes or tires.
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Old 03-17-2009, 09:34 AM   #18
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From a design aspect and manufacturing I am sure leaf springs would be cheaper. From a point of adding them to a unit not built for it ...... that is for the most part always more expensive.

From restoring cars, it is far far cheaper to use the original design and parts replacement if they are available. The designing and engineering have already been done.

BTW the maintence for torsion axles is usage. Stop using the trailer and the axles will have a shortened service life.

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Old 03-17-2009, 11:40 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CanoeStream View Post
pre-1961 Airstreams on OEM leaf springs rode at a nice height. I've seen photos posted of somebody who replaced springs on his '56 with leaf springs of unknown origin. You can see how ungainly high it rides. Destroys the whole look IMO. Here's a link - http://www.airforums.com/forums/atta...7&d=1148014858
I replaced the drop axels on my 59 with straight axles to give it mor ground clearance. It's the axle not the leaves. In any case on the 68 I replaced with a new torsion. Find a trailer builder to do the job, someone that builds car or horse trailers or at least services them.
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Old 03-17-2009, 01:04 PM   #20
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My preference is torsion. We're going to put thousands and thousands of dollars into a renovation. Then we're going to tow the Overlander thousands and thousands of miles. I want to ensure the ride is as soft and gentle as possible. It just make any sense to put more strain on the old girl than absolutely necessary.
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