Sus­pen­sion tech

Many of us won­der if in­vest­ing in af­ter­mar­ket sus­pen­sion is a good idea, so we’re visit­ing world-lead­ing ex­perts KW Au­to­mo­tive to find out

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Chris ran­dall Pho­tog­ra­phy by daniel pullen

How man­u­fac­tur­ers and af­ter­mar­ket com­pa­nies are im­prov­ing the sus­pen­sion on your 911

It’s fair to say that Porsche has had many years – decades in fact – to re­fine and hone the 911’s sus­pen­sion. A land­mark de­vel­op­ment came with the ad­vent of PASM (Porsche Ac­tive Sus­pen­sion Man­age­ment) for the 997.1, which of­fered man­u­ally ad­justable damp­ing set­tings at the press of a but­ton. Op­tional on the Car­rera S, where a mul­ti­tude of sen­sors fed back in­for­ma­tion so the sys­tem could make ad­just­ments to best suit the driv­ing sce­nario, these early PASM set­ups tended to of­fer too large a gulf be­tween ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ modes, the lat­ter be­ing ex­tremely stiff and there­fore only suitable for a smooth race track. How­ever, PASM has been re­fined many times since (in­cor­po­rat­ing ac­tive en­gine mounts to com­pli­ment), with the most so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem now stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion on even the en­try-level 991.2 Car­rera.

With Porsche seem­ingly hav­ing all bases cov­ered, this has raised ques­tions as to whether en­thu­si­asts still need to rely on af­ter­mar­ket sus­pen­sion com­pa­nies to im­prove the han­dling of their Porsche 911. It’s a ques­tion we put to Richard Good, MD of KW Au­to­mo­tive UK, dur­ing a re­cent visit to its Rochester premises.

“The 991-gen­er­a­tion sys­tem is very clever,” Richard be­gins. “What the cus­tomer de­mands is that in­stant feel – to know that some­thing is work­ing, that some­thing is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing when they press that PASM but­ton. So, switch­ing on the car’s ac­tive sus­pen­sion sys­tem firms things up by 80 per cent straight away. From there, the sys­tem works back­wards to a softer, more ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting for the sce­nario. It does this part with­out the cus­tomer barely notic­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

So how does a prod­uct from KW dif­fer? “Our prod­ucts have a much greater ad­justa­bil­ity to cover a wider range of driv­ing styles and sce­nar­ios,” comes Richard’s re­ply. “Our prod­uct gives the car an even bet­ter fo­cus, right down to the minute de­tails. You have to re­mem­ber, the prod­ucts that em­anate from Zuf­fen­hausen need to main­tain a broad appeal, work­ing as well on smooth Euro­pean Tar­mac as they do on a bumpy Bri­tish B-road, and so there will al­ways be an el­e­ment of com­pro­mise. Af­ter­mar­ket sus­pen­sion spe­cial­ists, on the other hand, can con­cen­trate on more fo­cused prod­ucts, ca­ter­ing for in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences rather than the mass mar­ket.”

The the­ory cer­tainly makes sense, and it’s hard not to be swept up by Richard’s af­fa­ble na­ture when talk­ing about im­prov­ing the 911 breed. This isn’t a sales pitch ei­ther: for Richard it’s per­sonal, his knowl­edge and clear pas­sion for the 911 rooted in both air-cooled and wa­ter-cooled ex­am­ples of the Ne­unelfer cur­rently grac­ing his own garage.

That pas­sion has led to break­through prod­ucts from KW to im­prove the han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics of clas­sic 911 mod­els in re­cent years. A case in point is KW’S V3 damper kit, de­vel­oped for the G-series 911s. Richard says it’s one of the com­pany’s most pop­u­lar prod­ucts over the last year, with more and more en­thu­si­asts crav­ing more mod­ern-day han­dling fi­nesse from their G-series 911 while not com­pro­mis­ing its orig­i­nal fac­tory looks. Con­structed from gal­vanised steel, it’s built to last, and it’s de­signed to work per­fectly with the stan­dard tor­sion bar springs. But more im­por­tant when it comes to fine-tun­ing the per­fect set up is the ad­justa­bil­ity on of­fer, each damper of­fer­ing 16 ‘clicks’ of ad­just­ment for re­bound and 12 for com­pres­sion, and it seems the real se­cret to its op­er­a­tion is the clever de­sign of the bot­tom ‘re­bound valve’ within the damper it­self.

Whereas other ad­justable dampers might fea­ture valves that are ei­ther open or closed – pro­vid­ing an in­stant change in feel but lack­ing nu­ance – the V3 al­lows much more pre­cise con­trol of the oil flow through each click of ad­just­ment (adopt­ing a twin-tube de­sign also brings ben­e­fits, such as re­duced in­ter­nal fric­tion, though many other af­ter­mar­ket brands are mono­tube).

Rang­ing from a firm con­trol of re­bound that helps min­imise roll and pitch to a more pro­gres­sive, com­fort-

ori­ented feel, there’s no doubt their fit­ment can mean an im­pact-bumper 911 can look like a clas­sic, but it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to drive like one.

Pas­sion to get a prod­uct onto the mar­ket is one thing, but in or­der for that prod­uct to be com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful, stren­u­ous test­ing needs to take place. We soon learn this is all done in-house at KW HQ’S Ficht­en­berg base in Ger­many, with se­ri­ous in­vest­ment cul­mi­nat­ing in mod­els be­ing tested on KW’S seven-post track re­play rig bought from a For­mula 1 team (Porsche used the same sys­tem for op­ti­mi­sa­tion of its LMP1 pro­gramme 919 e-hy­brids).

“We also spend a lot of time de­vel­op­ing and test­ing the prod­ucts for each in­di­vid­ual 911 model, so al­though they might look the same on the out­side, if you’re choos­ing a damper and spring pack­age for a 997 C2, C4, or Turbo, for ex­am­ple, spring rates and other set­tings could be very dif­fer­ent,” Richard tells us. Prob­ing fur­ther we also dis­cover that KW boasts a se­cret weapon in their head of R&D Thomas Wurst (his nick­name within the com­pany is ‘the bot­tom­me­ter’). Best de­scribed as the KW equiv­a­lent of Wal­ter Rörhl, ev­ery sin­gle prod­uct the com­pany de­vel­ops has re­ceived his expert in­put.

A key area of R&D re­source has been in en­sur­ing KW’S prod­ucts work with ex­ist­ing fac­tory com­puter sys­tems in mod­ern cars, says Richard, walk­ing over to an Aerokit­ted Basalt back 997 Turbo S. “For ex­am­ple, this Turbo S here has 21 dif­fer­ent sen­sors, which feeds in­for­ma­tion back to the fac­tory ECU. Our sys­tem needs to fit in and work har­mo­niously with that.” The re­sult here is KW’S ‘Dy­namic Damp­ing Con­trol’ sys­tem, which pro­vides an ex­ten­sive range of ad­just­ment through Com­fort, Sport, and Sport+ modes, along with the po­ten­tial to per­son­alise set­tings still fur­ther via a smart­phone app.

We can’t help but ad­mire the front axle lift kit on of­fer too. It’s not cheap, as you’d expect, but it does al­low the nose of a 911 to be raised by up to 40mm: that’s around the same as Porsche’s own op­tion, but the KW kit op­er­ates at up to 50mph rather than the 21mph of the fac­tory sys­tem, and it can be ac­ti­vated from in­side the car or via a re­mote con­trol and re­acts im­pres­sively quickly in just four to five sec­onds.

In­ter­est­ingly, it also neatly il­lus­trates how a smaller com­pany can in­no­vate when it comes to tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions, Richard ex­plain­ing that the pump for their front lift sys­tem was orig­i­nally lo­cated in the front com­part­ment, which re­sulted in feed­back from cus­tomers say­ing it com­pro­mised space for those with of­fi­cial Porsche lug­gage. The sys­tem was then moved to fit snugly next to the battery, tucked away from sight un­der the car’s battery cover.

It is re­fresh­ing to see such breadth and depth of qual­ity prod­ucts con­stantly be­ing de­vel­oped at KW – it is their hard work and ded­i­ca­tion to the very sci­ence of car han­dling that will en­sure en­thu­si­asts al­ways have a more fo­cused op­tion to get even more from their 911 driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Im­prov­ing the breed? Ab­so­lutely, and then some.

“Our prod­ucts have a much greater ad­justa­bil­ity to cover a wider range of driv­ing styles and sce­nar­ios”

be­low KW makes ev­ery coilover kit to or­der, with de­tailed date stamps show­ing ex­actly where and when the prod­uct was made. Richard and his team also re­furb ex­ist­ing cus­tomer kits in-house

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