Fast Car vis­its sus­pen­sion in­no­va­tors Bilstein at their UK Tech­ni­cal Cen­tre

Fast Car - - Contents -

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…

Bilstein B16

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.

Bilstein Clubsport

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.

Bilstein Dam­pTronic®

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.

The Nür­bur­gring

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

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

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