Over the years we’ve been fortunate to visit a large number of businesses in the automotive industry across the globe. Going somewhere new for the first time is almost always interesting and heading to Bilstein, our thoughts were no different.
From a German perspective, Bilstein is one of the most recognised suspension innovators in the world. So what are we doing visiting a Bilstein outpost in the UK?
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 we arrive at said ‘warehouse’ and meet Aaron Quilter.
Quilter is Bilstein UK’s Aftermarket Manager, and having been at the UK company from its early beginnings in 2000, it is clear that he’s very proud to be what is known at the company internally as a ‘Bilsteiner’.
You only need take a swift glance at the place and you can see why he has every right to be more than satisfied with his chosen working environment. Bilstein UK is a 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. We jest not.
August Bilstein laid the foundations for Bilstein in 1873 in Altenvoerde, part of Germany’s Westphalia region, and nobody at the time had any idea of the influence the company’s products would one day have on the driving comfort and safety of Porsche cars.
Of course, at that time, the company was not known for suspension at all. Instead, it was made famous by its metal window fittings, sold under the catchy name of AUBI (an abbreviation of August Bilstein), and this fame soon spread overseas.
There are a lot of surprising facts about Bilstein, which are made all the 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 certainly much larger than it appears from the outside.
Anyway, before we talk you through Bilstein UK and their capabilities, back to the facts (and a short history lesson).
Bilstein began manufacturing suspension in the same decade that Butzi Porsche sketched out the 911. Over 60 years ago, in 1954, Bilstein was the first to realise the potential of an idea put forward by Professor Bourcier de Carbon, a French researcher in the field of vibrations.
The aim was to make the dampers lighter and able to be fitted in any position, while eliminating the physical disadvantages of conventional telescopic shock absorbers. Thus, the monotube gas-pressure shock absorber was born.
Much like Porsche and the 911, Bilstein put enormous effort into development, along with substantial investment in the necessary production facilities, in order to achieve this ambitious target. And it most certainly paid off.
Gas pressure technology is now used in all types of telescopic shock absorbers developed for use on powerful, premium cars and you’ll find Bilstein suspension on every car that leaves the Porsche factory. A truly incredible achievement.
The next natural question is how has Bilstein built one of the most recognisable brands in motorsports and performance motoring? Back in 1961 Bilstein entered into motorsport and this has played an important part in the driving dynamics of today’s road-going Porsche models. Why? We’ll allow Steffen Zacharias, Bilstein’s Director of Motorsport, to explain.
“For almost 50 years now, the Nürburgring and its Nordschleife in particular has been one of the most important racetracks for Bilstein’s shock absorber development,” reveals Zacharias.
“The level of varied demands a suspension system has to cope with can, quite simply, be found at no other racing 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 the company does. We ask Quilter 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 per cent of our catalogue available for next-day delivery.”
So if a customer requires a replacement damper for a Porsche 997 Turbo, for example, they can have this the following day? “Absolutely!” Quilter smiles. It gets better when we ask if the same customer could have a coilover kit for their 997 Turbo.
“With or without PASM?” Is Quilter’s reply. Prepare to be enlightened… “Being involved in OE development allows Bilstein to get a deep understanding of how the cars’ suspension performs. So with Porsche in particular, Bilstein develops suspension on all of the brand’s models,” says Quilter.
“For example, PASM was a project that Porsche and Bilstein collaborated on, a system that the two companies developed in harmony.”
From a tuning point of view, this means that Bilstein offers a plug and play solution for Porsche cars that were equipped with PASM from the factory.
If you are looking to upgrade your dampers to Bilstein’s B6 product or for B16 full coilover suspension, then the company’s products will plug into your original equipment PASM connectors and integrate seamlessly, allowing you to still use the factory PASM button.
For Quilter, this is the perfect solution because, “When you are tuning a car, you should be making it more focused without losing any of its functionality.”
Perhaps, then, this enviable heritage and technology explains why the legendary Walter Röhrl is a Bilstein brand ambassador. And like 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. Simply put, 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 Nordschleife in an astounding seven minutes and 28 seconds, then that’s more than good enough of an appraisal for us.