Main British Car:
1979 MGB Buick 215
3-Link Suspesion Tuning
Posted by: MGBV8
Date: April 30, 2020 10:51AM
Posted by Ron Sutton on pro-touring.com
The most tunable & best suspensions for many applications are the 3-link & 4-link.
The 3-link has two lower links … often called lower trailing arms or lower control arms … and one upper link … often called the top link, 3rd link or upper control arm. The top link can be centered, offset or angled. The reason to offset or angle the top link is to counteract the torque transmitting through the rear end housing.
The 4-link has two upper & two lower links. For racing & track applications the triangulated 4-link is not optimum, as you don’t want any forces pushing or pulling in a direction other than parallel. So we’re only discussing parallel 4-links here.
The design, set-up & tuning concepts are the same for both 3 & 4 link rear suspensions. The 3-link allows for more rear end housing articulation within the chassis. Both 3 & 4 link rear suspensions will bind at some angle different than the chassis … but the 4-link will bind at a lower angle.
For drag racing … high power, high rpm, side step the clutch launches … the 4-link is better suited to deal with the launch forces. While the bottom links “push” on launch … the top link(s) “pull.” Pulling the rod ends is more susceptible to failure than pushing. Two links with four rod ends are obviously twice as capable of handling this “shock” that can be so powerful, the 4-link suspension is lifting the front of the car off the ground.
So, either 3 & 4 link rear suspensions can be used for corner handling & drag racing, but the 3-link has a slight edge for cornering & the 4-link a slight edge for drag racing.
I’ll outline a step-by-step method for the average car guy to build & install either system. This will be an adjustable system that can be tuned for optimum performance.
Start with the lower links when laying out either system. You want to position them as wide in the chassis as you can (top view), while still providing adequate clearance for tires, frame, etc. Wider placement gives the 3 or 4-link more control over the rear end housing … narrower is less. You can mount the front of the lower links under the frame rails, provided you can achieve the correct height for the front rod ends & enough “length” in the overall lower link to minimize angle changes as the suspension travels.
There is no magic number, but I like to see the center-to-center distance on the lower links be 24” to 36” long. If you can’t fit the bracket you want under the frame rail, then you’ll typically mount the front brackets inside the frame rails. You need to space the brackets far enough away from the frame rail to put a nut on the bolt.
Let’s talk height of the front & rear mounting points for the lower links. Again, no magic number here. But you’ll want to understand the concept of “roll steer” or “rear steer” … which have the same meaning. The lower links control rear steer. If the lower links are perfectly horizontal … level with the ground … when the car is at ride height … the car will not have any rear steer effect … as long as the rear of the car rolls evenly.
If you adjust either end of the lower links … and end up with the pivot points higher in the front (towards the cockpit) … the car will now have a rear steering effect as the chassis/body rolls. The link on the outside of the corner pushes the rear end housing back … while the link on the inside of the corner pulls the rear end housing forward, making the rear of the car provide a steering effect, helping the car’s ability to turn. This frees up the car throughout the corner, as long as chassis/body roll exists, including while trying to power out of the corner, which can make the car loose on corner exit.
If you adjust either end of the lower links … and end up with the pivot points lower in the front (towards the cockpit) … the car will now have a counter rear steering effect as the chassis/body rolls. The link on the outside of the corner pulls the rear end housing forward … while the link on the inside of the corner pushes the rear end housing back, making the rear of the car provide a counter steering effect, hurting the car’s ability to turn. This tightens up the car throughout the corner, as long as chassis/body roll exists, including while trying to power out of the corner, which can make the car exit better with more grip … unless it is too much, then it can push on corner exit.
I strongly suggest you design yours for level lower links … and have holes or slots for adjustment each direction for tuning. Rear steer can be a good tuning tool once you learn how to use it.
It’s easiest starting at the housing. You’re either going to buy or make brackets that weld on the rear axle housing tubes. Most tubes are 3” OD … but measure yours to be sure. There is no magic height number everyone should run. But remember, if your lower links are level … as you extend the imaginary line forward to intersect with the top link(s) … the height of the lower links is going to be the height of your intersect point known as the Instant Center or IC.
If you’re buying brackets, most are going to have holes or slots ranging from 4” to 7” below axle Centerline (CL). In my experience that is a pretty good range. My only rule of thumb here is … higher points help me get the IC we need for lower powered cars & lower points help me get the IC we need for higher powered cars.
To get an idea of where your lower link rear pivot point will end up … or points if you have multiple holes … requires doing simple math. Tire height divided by two … minus expected tire sag from load … tells us “about” where the axle CL should be. Example: 26-1/2” tall tire divided by two = 13-1/4” … minus ¼” expected tire sag for stiff sidewall, low profile tires on wide rims with 35+psi … puts the rear axle CL at “about” 13”.
If you bought axle brackets with 3 holes, one inch apart, at 4-1/2”, 5-1/2” & 6-1/2” from axle CL … that would put your lower link mounting holes at:
Top: 8-1/2” above ground
Middle: 7-1/2” above ground
Bottom: 6-1/2” above ground
* For PT cars with 500+hp, I’d start in the bottom hole.
Now, you need to place the front mounts (for the lower links) so you can achieve level links … and holes slightly up & slightly down. You need to find brackets to fit your application … with modification of course … that will allow you the mounting points you want. Don’t get lazy here. Cut, trim or modify them as needed to get the proper mounting points.
Tip: On one end of the lower links … either at the housing or frame … I like to have a slotted mount to fine tune the lower link angle. Because sure as the sun rises, when you have your car finally done and sitting on the ground at ride height, with driver weight in it …
a. It is easy for one side to be different than the other, if the car is not weight balanced side-to-side.
b. They will probably end up close … but not spot on zero.
If you have only holes for adjustment … a single hole change can be 1.5 to 2.5 degrees. But if you have slots, you can adjust the driver side that sagged to 0.6 down with your fat butt in it … back up to 0.0. And adjust the other side, that ended up 0.3 up … back down to 0.0. Now the rear end of the car will NOT be contributing to different handling effects on LH & RH corners.
P.S. The lower links are compressed under launch & acceleration on corner exits … so the slot is not at risk of being ripped out. Do NOT put slots on the upper links, as they pull and over time will cause failure if slotted.
P.P.S. If I have a bracket I like, that fits the application … and it only comes with holes (no slots) … I simply connect two holes & make a slot. I do this in a mill. If you do this by hand, sneak up on it, as you don’t want that rod end bolt loose in the bracket.
When you go to place the front brackets for the lower links, be sure:
a. The links are going to be level at ride height when viewed from the side.
b. The links are truly parallel with the car/chassis when viewed from the top.
c. And the rear end is absolutely centered in the car/chassis, level with the chassis & square to the chassis.
Now is a good time to pre-set your pinion angle … before you weld on the housing brackets.
d. Make sure the pinion of the rear end truly lines up with your driveshaft & transmission (top view) so the driveshaft is not running at a side angle.
e. Find a flat surface on the rear end that you believe to equal to the pinion … or 90 degrees to the pinion … where you can place a digital angle gauge (inclimeter).
f. Measure the driveshaft angle.
g. Roll the housing to place the pinion at a 2-3° downward ANGLE DIFFERENCE from the driveshaft.
* This is NOT a 2-3° angle from the ground, unless the driveshaft runs level with the ground. If the driveshaft runs uphill (uphill going from the rear end to the transmission from a side view) at 4° … the you want the pinion going uphill at 1-2° ... to achieve 2-3° downward angle difference.
The purpose of the angle difference is to have the pinion aligned with the driveshaft under hard acceleration loads ... when the pinion rotates up & all the slack or clearances are taken up ... then have a small angle difference when cruising. This 2-3 downward angle difference number is with rod ends. If you run rubber or poly bushings that will allow the housing to rotate more, you will need to start with more angle difference. I suggest a 4° difference and then go test.
We test two ways. One is with a GoPro camera mounted to watch the pinion & driveshaft relationship under different driving conditions. The second is on a chassis dyno, tuning the angle difference for optimum power.
Do not buy into the old school strategy of using pinion angle to increase traction. This binds the pinion bearings.
When determining your needed lengths for all 3 or 4 links … make sure the rod ends have AT LEAST as much threads in the link as the thickness of the rod ends … at the links’ longest possible length. In other words, if you’re using ¾” rod ends … make sure you have a MINIMUM of ¾” of rod end thread in the links at all times. If not, buy or make new longer links that get more thread inside … or put me in your will … I’m OK either way.
Spell my name R O N … just kiddin’ … sorta.
You need to shop for, or make, your front & rear brackets for the top links at the same time … because angles need to be worked out. If you’re building a 4-link, you may buy one-piece 4-link brackets that slide over the axle tubes … or cut them & weld on in halves … and therefore your upper housing brackets are already worked out. If you’re doing them separately, you’ll need to work out how high you want the pivot point holes to be & find or make appropriate brackets.
Note for 4-links: You do not “have to” place the upper links in line with the lower links (top view). They can be placed wider or narrower to some degree if that helps with packaging. Wider upper links provide more control & less articulation. Narrower upper links provide less control & more articulation.
For 3-links, the upper link can be centered or offset to the passenger side to help counteract torque on acceleration. No one can tell you accurately how far to offset it. The formulas I’ve seen involve rear steer, which makes no sense for handling cars. My rule of thumb is 8-12% of track width. Sometimes in the real world packaging challenges play a role.
Upper link angles … act the same regardless if the car is a 3 or 4 link. Obviously, you want both upper links of a 4-link to be on the same angles. A quick “car guy guideline” is you’ll end up with the upper link(s) anywhere from level … to pointing downward in the front 15 degrees. That’s about the max range you’ll ever use. If you can build your rear housing mount(s) & front mount(s) with enough holes to achieve those two angle extremes … you’ll be good. If you have to have less range … I suggest a window of 3 to 8 degrees.
The upper link angles are the final determining factor of your rear suspension’s Instant Center location. Remember … you’re lower links are level. So if you have any downward angle in your upper link(s) … the imaginary projection lines of each set of links will intersect at the height of the lower links … somewhere forward of the axle. How far is dependent on the height & angle of your upper link(s).
Let’s talk Anti-Squat. If you run the upper links exactly level & perfectly parallel with the lower links … there is no intersect point … no instant center … and is considered zero Anti-squat. This will provide the most secure corner entry under braking … because the rear suspension of the car is not contributing to the pitch angle under braking. But it will provide the least grip to the rear tires on corner exit … because the rear suspension of the car is not contributing any leverage helping to load the rear tires.
If you adjust the upper link(s) … at either end … placing the upper link(s) angling downward in the front … there will be an intersect point with the lower links imaginary line … creating an instant center somewhere forward of the rear axle … and the rear suspension is considered to now have some percentage of Anti-Squat. The steeper the angle downward in front … the more Anti-squat the suspension has … and will mechanically contribute to the pitch angle of the car under braking … making the rear of the car lift more. But it will provide more grip to the rear tires on corner exit … because the rear suspension of the car will now contribute leverage helping to load the rear tires.
If you go too far … with the goal of gaining more grip for corner exit or hard drag style launches … and end up with too high of an Anti-squat percentage … you will make the car loose on corner entry under braking. The key is finding the right balance for your car & goals … and tuning it to achieve optimum set-ups for different types of driving if you become a serious competitor.
If you want to play around with different combinations, you should buy Performance Trends 4-link plus software. It works just as well with 3 links. See it HERE.
Only as a guideline, a good starting point for many performance cars is starting with the upper link(s) pointing downward in the front with a 7 degree angle. This “should” put you “around” 40% Anti-squat … which is a good balance for corner exit grip without making the car too loose on entry. There are tricks to run more angle, but I can’t outline them here.
If you start here, and the car is a little too loose on corner entry & you have everything else in the car’s suspension “good” … you can just take some angle out of the upper link(s). If it is not affecting your corner entry under braking, you may put more angle in the upper link(s) and watch your corner exit grip increase. When you get too greedy … the car will tell you on corner entry … buy getting loose.
Upper link lengths:
Some think the upper link(s) is/are supposed to be shorter than the lower links. That’s not accurate. They often end up shorter, due to space challenges underneath many cars. But that’s not the goal. The biggest effect the length of the upper link(s) has/have … is on pinion angle change during rear suspension travel. If the upper links are shorter than the lower links … the pinion angle changes more during suspension travel. The bigger the difference in lengths … the bigger the pinion angle change.
I prefer to make the upper link(s) the same length as the lower links … space permitting. I have even used upper mounts on the housing that have the holes significantly (1-3”) behind the axle centerline to achieve this. If I can’t make the upper links the same length, I get them as close to the lower link length (say that 3 times real fast) as I can … simply to minimize pinion angle change during suspension travel.
Upper link mounting hole heights:
Again, no magic number. But the farther apart … think distance not angle … I have the top links from lower links … the more control the suspension has & the finer the tuning adjustments. Mounting them closer together makes the tuning adjustments coarser. I have mounted upper links 3” above the axle tubes (so 4-1/2” above axle CL) at the lowest … to 5” above the top of the housing with centered 3-links (about 13” above axle CL). If I’m running regular tube upper links, I prefer to be somewhere in the middle of that … 6-10” above axle CL. But space considerations often play a role.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/01/2022 09:15AM by MGBV8.
Main British Car:
1979 MGB Buick 215
Re: 3-Link Suspesion Tuning
Posted by: MGBV8
Date: April 30, 2020 07:10PM
More Ron Sutton.
To have this conversation properly … we need to first discuss & understand anti-squat, resultant thrust angle, leverage lift point & lift/push torque distribution from the housing.
Most veterans know you can achieve the same ant-squat percentage yet end up with different swing arm lengths based on where the IC ends up relative to the wheelbase and also different thrust angles. Because these are so key, I learned a long time ago to treat anti-squat percentage as small player in the 12 factors in how a rear suspension works. So a target anti-squat percentage is never my primary goal. That throws most people off, as they have been taught forever to focus on anti-squat exclusively. But “resultant thrust angle” & lift point (like Luke mentioned) are way more important.
The lift point of the swing arm is critical (position of IC relative to wheelbase & CG) ... because this determines how much of the cars weight is actually available to the lever (swing arm) ... and whether or not it's lifting the rear end of the body/chassis.
Resultant thrust angle is the direction the rear suspension is pushing the chassis. It is always some percentage up (lift) and some percentage forward. The anti-squat percentage matters … but it’s just a byproduct of getting the desired resultant thrust angle … not the priority.
All rear end linkage tuning is based around 3 simple strategies:
1. Where am I lifting
2. How much housing torque is distributed to lifting the car?
3. How much housing torque is distributed to pushing the car forward?
1. Where you’re lifting is normally the IC in most suspensions, except in a torque arm, where it is the attachment point.
• The shorter you make the swing arm, the quicker & harder it will load the tires, but with less weight & for a shorter period.
• The longer the swing arm, the slower & softer it will load the tires, but with more weight & for a longer period.
2 & 3. The location & angle of the links … and location of the pivots … define how much of the housing torque is distributed to lifting the car & how much is distributed to pushing the car forward. You can not change one without affecting the other.
• More torque distributed to lift … plants the tires quicker & harder … leaving less torque to push the car forward.
• Less torque distributed to lift … plants the tires slower & softer … leaving more torque to push the car forward.
These sound similar, but 1 is different from 2 & 3. Where you lift does not necessarily define torque distribution. It does define how much weight of the car can be used to load the tires. This can be a little cloudy, but I think it will be clear & simple when you see how to tune it with a 3 or 4 link. With high powered cars, I usually set the IC under the CG as a starting point … so I have the full weight of the car to load the tires … then I work out the torque optimum distribution from the housing for chassis lift & forward push. Here is how to tune it …
More lift/less forward push:
A. Increase distance of top link housing mount pivot above the axle CL
B. Increase distance of top link housing mount pivot behind the axle housing CL
C. Decrease distance of lower link housing mount pivot below the axle CL
D. Increase distance of lower link pivot in front of the axle housing CL
E. Increase the distance of the lower link chassis mount pivot in front of the axle housing CL compared to top link chassis mount pivot in front of the axle housing CL
F. Increase downward angle of top links
G. Increase upward angle of lower links
A, B, D & E: Can be achieved without affecting the IC arm lift point, if built into the design.
C: Has a minor shortening effect on the IC arm lift point & raising the IC.
F: Shortens the IC arm lift point significantly … and has no impact on rear steer.
G: Shortens the IC arm lift point significantly … BUT adds positive rear steer. Only do this if positive rear steer effect is desired too.
Less lift/more forward push:
H. Decrease distance of top link housing mount pivot above the axle CL
I. Increase distance of top link housing mount pivot in front of the axle housing CL
J. Increase distance of lower link housing mount pivot below the axle CL
K. Increase distance of lower links behind the axle housing CL
L. Decrease the distance of the lower link chassis mount pivot in front of the axle housing CL compared to top link chassis mount pivot in front of the axle housing CL
M. Decrease downward angle of top links
N. Increase downward angle of lower links
H, I, K & L: Can be achieved without affecting the IC arm lift point, if built into the design.
J: Has a minor lengthening effect on the IC arm lift point & lowering the IC.
M: Lengthens the IC arm lift point significantly … and has no impact on rear steer.
N: Lengthens the IC arm lift point significantly … BUT adds positive rear steer. Only do this if positive rear steer effect is desired too.
I tune on this lift/forward push balance … with the IC arm pick up point starting under the CG.
• If I run out off lift adjustment range … and still need more lift for this application … that’s telling me I need a shorter IC arm pick up point.
• If I run out off forward push adjustment range … and still need more forward push for this application … that’s telling me I need a longer IC arm pick up point.
• Like all tuning, we’re looking for the best compromise for each individual application.
Guidelines for torque distribution:
• When you have more engine torque to rotate the housing, you need less torque directed to lifting & more going to push/drive the car forward.
• When you have less engine torque to rotate the housing, you need more of that torque directed to lifting & less pushing the car forward.
• When you have softer sidewall tires … like drag slicks … you need less torque directed to lifting & more going to push/drive the car forward.
• When you have stiffer sidewall tires, you need more of that torque directed to lifting & less pushing the car forward.
Engine power output, curve, tire design, track conditions, etc … all play a role in defining the optimum setup any given day at the track.
• The key is finding the optimum balance for each individual application.
In high powered Track Cars on road courses, with wide slicks, you need more push & less lift. In AutoX & Track Cars on TW200 street tires, with harder sidewalls, I find we need to plant the tires a little harder.
Let's discuss the effects of roll/rear steer on traction. First the basics for our readers following along:
• Lower links at an angle running uphill going forward creates a rear steer effect as the body & chassis roll during cornering. Larger uphill link angles produce higher degrees of rear steer.
• As the car achieves roll angle, the rear steer effect helps the car to turn while cornering, by pushing the outside tire rearward, the inside tire forward and both tires pointing to the outside of the corner. This is rear steer. This also adds a slight loosening effect.
• Lower links at an angle running downhill going forward creates a counter rear steer effect, by pushing the outside tire forward, the inside tire rearward and both tires pointing to the inside of the corner. This is counter rear steer. Larger downhill angles produce higher degrees of counter rear steer.
• As the car achieves roll angle, counter rear steer effect reduces the car’s turning ability. This adds a slight tightening effect.
* This next explanation does not apply to drag cars if they have controlled their body rotation with preload, springs and/or sway bars. This applies to all other cars that run on Road Courses, AutoX. Street, etc … where you are trying to accelerate out of corners under power.
Even though running the lower links at an uphill angle … applies more force applied to lifting & planting the tires harder … there is also the different action of rear steer happening simultaneously … providing a counter effect. The small gain in traction from increased lifting force (for a shorter duration) is over powered by the larger rear steer effect loosening the car up. The typical result is more grip at throttle pick up, but loss of traction at some point trying to exit the corner under power.
When the loss of traction occurs … is defined by how much rear steer is in the car and how long the corner exit is (therefore how long cornering grip must be maintained). On tight corners it possible to achieve a setup that provides rear steer & good exit grip. I find small amounts of rear steer on short, small corners, can work good, as long as everything else is optimized.
We run into problems is when we:
• Get greedy with the amount of rear steer utilized.
• Run any rear steer on high speed, long sweeping corners.
For these reasons, I suggest:
• Rear steer can be good tuning tool for short tracks with small tight corners.
• Avoid any rear steer on big tracks or road courses with long, fast sweepers.
• In fact, counter or negative rear steer can be used effectively on tracks with primarily long, fast sweeping corners.
• Avoid any rear steer when drag racing too.
• In fact, counter or negative rear steer ... or one or both sides ... can be used effectively to control torque steer on launches.
Assuming the 3-link is designed with the proper range of adjustment holes …. we can make any of the adjustments … A through N … with a 3-link (4-link too) to achieve the optimum pick up point combined with the optimum lift/push torque distribution.
• We can achieve 50/50 lift/push torque distribution … while maintaining a longer swing arm under the CG.
• We can achieve greater than 50% lift distribution with a 3 or 4-link for moderate & lower powered cars.
Now, finally … Offset 3-links:
As we all know, the rear end housing wants to rotate the same direction the driveshaft is turning & applying the engine torque … counter clockwise from the rear view, clockwise from a front view. So with ALMOST all rear suspension designs … 3-link, 4-link, torque arm, etc … as torque is applied … the left rear tire is loaded more & the right rear tire is loaded less.
This makes the car want to “drive” to the right, a degree, under hard acceleration. As you make left hand turns the car has more “forward bite” during corner exit … than right hand turns, which have less “forward bite” during corner exit. If it isn’t counteracted … the effect amplifies with increased power output.
When designing a 3-link suspension … the upper link can be offset (still parallel to the chassis centerline) to the passenger side to counteract the torque transmitting through the rear end housing on acceleration. My rule of thumb is 7-12% of track width. I can provide much more detailed information on the what, why & how ... if you'd like.
I covered the pros, cons & tunability of Watt’s links & panhard bars in much greater detail in other posts. But here is the summary …
With a centered 3-link, 4-link or Torque Arm & a adjustable panhard bar: You can use the panhard bar angle to effectively counteract "torque steer" … to a degree. The keys to doing this are simple:
• Keep the center height where you want the roll center.
• Lower the side you want to load the tire more on & raise the other side the same amount.
This strategy is always a compromise. But the suspension already had a compromise. You’re just shifting where the compromise is. Think of it this way:
• If you eliminate 100% of the torque steer, you will have 100% of the effects provided by an unbalanced panhard bar set-up.
• If you balanced panhard bar set-up 100%, you will have 100% of the of the torque steer.
• Most racers shoot for a 50/50 balance and then tune for track conditions.
• You can always shift the balance to gain here & give up there.
With a centered 3-link, 4-link or Torque Arm & a Watt’s link:
• You will have even loading on entry & middle for both left & right hand corners.
• You are stuck with torque steer on corner exits.
With an offset 3-link & a Watt’s link:
• You have zero torque steer
• You have even loading throughout both left & right hand corners.
With an offset 3-link & an adjustable panhard bar:
• You have zero torque steer
• You can achieve a “Balanced Panhard Bar” for even loading throughout both left & right hand corners.
• Plus, you can tune tire load balance with panhard bar split if the situation calls for it.
All of these are really good rear suspension set-ups for street, road course track days & AutoX.
• For optimum track performance the offset 3-link is the best, offering the most benefits & least compromises.
• Adjustable Watt’s links are the best centering device for most.
• Adjustable panhard bars are only better for extreme tuners.