Fast Car visits suspension innovators Bilstein at their UK Technical Centre
We catch up with the German suspension giants and their awesome product range.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to visit many businesses in the automotive industry across the globe. En route to companies I’ve not previously visited, I tend to paint a picture in my mind and ponder the important things, such as, how long will it take for the kettle to boil? Admittedly, the thought of testing suspension on the road or at the track sounds much more exciting than going for a walk around a warehouse facility on the outskirts of Leicester.
That is until I arrive at said ‘warehouse’ and meet Aaron Quilter, who indecently offers tea immediately. Aaron is Bilstein UK’s Aftermarket Manager. Having been at the UK company from its early beginnings in 2000, Aaron is very proud to be what is known internally, as a ‘Bilsteiner’. You only need take a swift glance at the place to see why he has every right to be more than satisfied with his chosen working environment. Bilstein UK is like a military operation.
So, where did it all begin for one of the most famous names in suspension? Oddly enough, it started with windows. I jest not. When August Bilstein laid the foundations for Bilstein in Altenvoerde, part of Germany’s Westphalia region in 1873, nobody had any idea of the influence the company’s products would one day have on the driving comfort, safety and performance of the motor vehicle. At that time, the company was not known for suspension at all. Instead it was metal window fittings – sold under the catchy name of AUBI, an abbreviation of August Bilstein – that soon made the company famous far beyond the boundaries of Bilstein’s local region and even abroad. Well I never.
There are a lot of surprising facts about Bilstein, which is made more delightful thanks to the understated nature of the UK operation. The building itself is rather like a Tardis. Once you’re through the front door, the facility is much larger than it appears from the outside. So, how has Bilstein built one of the most recognisable brands in motorsports and performance motoring? Back in 1961 Bilstein entered motorsport and this has played an important part in the driving dynamics of today’s road going cars. Why? We’ll allow Steffen Zacharias, Bilstein’s Director of Motorsport, to explain. “For nearly 50 years, the Nürburgring and its Nordschleife in particular have been one of the most important tracks for Bilstein’s shock absorber development.” Reveals Steffen. “The level of varied demands a suspension system has to cope with can, quite simply, be found at no other circuit. The Nürburgring Nordschleife represents the optimum racetrack for Bilstein to demonstrate our competence in the shock-absorber development area.”
It’s this pursuit of absolute excellence that filters down through everything that the company does. I ask Aaron about stock levels and he’s very open. “Usually we carry over 6,000 part numbers but we’re a little light here in the UK right now with maybe 80 percent of our catalogue available for next-day delivery.”
Let’s get the lowdown on Bilstein’s most popular product lines…
B16 is the second tier of the Bilstein coilover range, sitting just above the non-adjustable B14 units, B16 features an effective single point damping adjustment. This easy-to-use wheel allows a parallel adjustment of bump and rebound. Simply put, you can never confuse the settings, each click delivers a perfectly matched rebound and bump setting, each one softer or harder than the last and allows you to adjust the performance to your individual taste.
With TüV approved lowering ranges and a host of corrosion resistant features in the body, Bilstein coilovers are some of the most robust on the market, outlasting competitor’s offerings in the famous German salt spray test. This means, with a little love, your Bilstein coilovers will remain free spinning and adjustable for years to come.
Bilstein B12 Sportline
The B12 sport kit is built for road lovers. It’s the perfect solution for those wanting maximum OE comfort but also want to be able to lean on the loud pedal down a B road. Lowering the car up to 50mm, this sophisticated shock and spring kit is perfectly matched to work in harmony with your car. Unlike the shock and spring kits we might be used to, this TüV approved kit has been Nürburgring tested for maximum performance and reliability. Unheard of at this price bracket.
Clubsport sounds fast, doesn’t it? Well that’s because it is. Bilstein Clubsport is geared towards the real trackday enthusiast and translates years of motorsport experience and race winning technology into a coilover for you to enjoy. With over 100 different damper setting variations possible, individual bump and rebound adjustment and camber adjustable top mounts Bilstein Clubsport should have any real driver drooling.
Despite all the adjustments on offer Bilstein hasn’t made Clubsport hard to use, with an ingenious colour coding system – blue for bump, red for rebound. This makes on the fly adjustments at the circuit a breeze and when coupled with a lightweight aluminium construction makes the Clubsport a sure fire winner in our eyes.
So you’ve bought a car with electronically adjustable dampers. You’re stuck with just a spring kit to lower it, right? Wrong. People after a lower ride height and more driving involvement can also keep electronically switchable suspension with Bilstein’s height adjustable DampTronic® Range.
Just like the original system it replaces, Bilstein DampTronic® features constantly variable damping, by using wheel speed sensors, suspension force sensors and engine control sensors, to adjust the damping to suit the road surface just like the OE damper. At the touch of a button, damping rate can be altered between the Bilstein comfort and Bilstein sport settings. This is a really popular option for people who visit trackdays, like Nürburgring and Spa, where a dual damping characteristic keeps a comfortable road ride and a performance circuit experience, too.
If you have even a passing interest in cars, you’ll have heard of the Nürburgring. No other racetrack is steeped in as much history and mystique, people who visit speak as though they have made a spiritual pilgrimage and racers who succeed here become legends in the car game.
Bilstein use the Nürburgring to test the performance of all of their aftermarket suspension kits. Legends such as Walter Röhrl are deeply involved with the Nürburgring test programme and have direct input in how Bilstein products perform. Mr Röhrl says, “What’s important is not the speed at which I do something, but the degree of perfection with which I do it. When I do something, I want to do it perfectly.” If Bilstein is the suspension of choice for a gentleman who can pilot the Carrera GT around the Nürburgring in seven minutes and 28 seconds, then that’s good enough for us!
Adjustable damping is a secret weapon in tuning your suspension. When moving away from the manufacturers original suspension design with harder, shorter springs you will understandably require different damping forces. But what happens when you then remove weight from the car or require a dual-purpose machine, say for the occasional trackday or hill-climb and also that commute?
This is where adjustable damping comes in. The road surface and speed carried on track requires a different damping force to control the suspension movement. In very basic terms, by twisting the adjustment wheel you are opening or closing a valve. This makes it easier or harder for the damper rod to move through the shock absorber fluid, damping the forces with a greater or lesser effect.
Modern cars can adapt damping electronically, at the push of a button too. Bilstein are instrumental in the design of a number of these systems for the big manufacturers. This puts Bilstein at a significant advantage when developing new adaptive damping solutions for their cars too.
As found on the fastest cars in the world
Bilstein are big hitters in the suspension world. Not only are they able to offer Bilstein slaying coilover kits, Bilstein also provide the original suspension for some of the fastest cars in the world. Ever wondered who supplies Bugatti with the dampers for the Veyron? That’s right, Bilstein.
Along with the fastest production car in the world, Bilstein provide the original suspension for 1000s of our favourite handling cars. That puts Bilstein ahead of the curve when it comes to developing aftermarket suspension kits. Using the original suspension blueprint as a baseline, Bilstein can manipulate the characteristics of their performance offerings like no one else. As suspension systems get more and more complex, Bilstein’s aftermarket programme will also benefit from the same technology.
Company Info Founder: August Bilstein Date opened: Established 1873 in Ennepetal, Germany (UK Technical Centre opened in 2000) UK location: Leicester Contact 0116 289 8345 www.bilstein.de