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A torque tube system is a driveshaft technology, often used in automobiles with a front engine and rear drive. It is not as widespread as the Hotchkiss drive, but is still occasionally used to this day. Driveshafts are sometimes also used for other vehicles and machinery.
The "torque" that is referred to in the name is not that of the driveshaft, along the axis of the car, but that applied by the wheels. The design problem that the torque tube solves is how to get the traction forces generated by the wheels to the car frame. The "torque tube" transmits this force by directly coupling the axle differential to the transmission and therefore propels the car forward by pushing on the engine/transmission and then through the engine mounts to the car frame.
In contrast, the Hotchkiss drive has the traction forces transmitted to the car frame by using other suspension components such as leaf springs or trailing arms. A ball and socket type of joint called a "torque ball" is used at one end of the torque tube to allow relative motion between the axle and transmission due to suspension travel. Since the torque tube does not constrain the axle in the lateral (side-to-side) direction a panhard rod is often used for this purpose. The combination of the panhard rod and the torque tube allows the easy implementation of soft coil springs in the rear to give good ride quality.
In addition to transmitting the traction forces, the torque tube is hollow and contains the rotating driveshaft. Inside the hollow torque ball is the universal joint of the driveshaft that allows relative motion between the two ends of the driveshaft. In most applications the drive shaft uses a single universal joint which has the disadvantage that it causes speed fluctuations in the driveshaft when the shaft is not straight. The Hotchkiss drive uses two universal joints which has the effect of canceling the speed fluctuations and gives a constant speed even when the shaft is no longer straight.
Examples of the torque tube were the American cars of the Ford brand up through 1948, which used the less expensive transverse springs that could not take the thrust.
Buick started using coil springs in the 1930s, as did Nash's 1941 '600' model; these also necessitated using a torque tube. American Motors (AMC) also continued to use a coil spring rear suspension design with a torque tube on their large-sized cars (Rambler Classic and Ambassador) through the 1966 model year. The Peugeot 504, Peugeot 505 estate/station wagons also used a torque tube, while the sedan had a transaxle and individual rear suspension.
The Chevrolet Chevette (1976-1988) used a torque tube, to allow the very light vehicle a reasonably soft rear suspension for a smooth ride.