With the death of Dr Alex Moulton just before Christmas, the UK lost one of its leading engineers. In car loving circles he will always be remembered for his innovative rubber, hydralastic and hydragas suspension systems that gave small cars big car ride quality.

Without his compact rubber suspension system the Mini would not have been possible. The rubber system gave way to the hydralastic system that relied on elastic displacers pushing an anti freeze compound in the dampers. This system, interconnected front and rear, was used in, amongst other cars, the best selling Austin / Morris 1100/ 1300 range. I remember many happy afternoons being lulled gently to sleep in the back of my grandfather’s super smooth Austin 1100.

Cost and technical constraints resulted in the more advanced hydragas system (where the elastic was replaced with a sphere filled with nitrogen gas) being fitted to the Metro range connected only at the rear. Whilst the ride was still superior to most similar sized coil sprung cars it was inferior to the old 1100 range.

Customers had to wait till the introduction of the MGF in 1995 before they could experience hydragas suspension as Moulton intended it with both sides fully interconnected front and rear. Indeed reports of early test drives of the MGF all mentioned the excellent ride. I was so impressed with the whole package I bought one of the first MGF VVCs in 1996.

With the suspension carefully lowered for racing I found the handling of my F to be excellent. The only problem was that in very hot weather the nitrogen in the hydragas spheres would over expand and the car would rise up a good couple of inches. As you would expect this somewhat spoiled the handling. However, given the UKs terrible weather, this was rarely a problem.

When the MGF became the TF hydragas was replaced with cheaper coil springs. This made the TF’s ride noticeably harsh and skittish. Anthony Reid, the ex MG Works driver, once drove my F and was very complimentary about its handling. He was also damning of the “lethal” handling of the TF that MG Rover had given him for driving at Le Mans.

Moulton’s design has been widely applied elsewhere. Indeed the DNA of the sophisticated suspension of the McLaren MP4 could be said to contain traces of the same suspension design used by Moulton all those years ago for the humble Mini.

Below: the front suspension on the McLaren MP4 and the properly set up hydragas on my race MGF.