If Bilstein had a trophy room, it might be bigger than their warehouse. Their legacy of motorsports victory stretches back to the ‘60s. But when they were founded, you never would have guessed they’d become the champions they are today, mostly because the car hadn’t been invented yet. I got a chance to grill Bilstein for some info last month at PRI. Here’s a little more about their impressive suspension elements.
But first, let’s get something straight. In the interview below, I seem rather happy to be at the “Bilsteen” booth. It’s not “Bilsteen,” people. I was wrong. Ze Germans pronounce it “Bil-stine,” with a long I sound. And they know what they’re talking about, because it’s their language and such.
Onward. Bilstein wasn’t founded in this century. That’s not uncommon. But they weren’t founded last century, either. Things began in 1873, 140 years ago, when August Bilstein founded a company he called AUBI, which produced window fittings. AUBI (short for AUgust BIlstein), became extremely successful, and the company found themselves in 1928 with just the right metal-pressing equipment to manufacture chrome-plated bumpers for Europe’s nascent car industry. The next year they began building car jacks, successfully marketing portable jacks to an entire market with early, unreliable cars.
Then in 1953, a professor named Christian Bourcier de Carbon developed a brand-new shock absorber, completely changing the market, and Bilstein was right there, ready to make waves, jumping into the shocks and struts business. Their first monotube gas-pressure shocks started production the next year (see graphic: Mono-tube shock absorber. The main components are: A – Bar; B – Piston and oil seal; C – Cylinder; D – Oil reservoir; E – Dividing piston; F – Compressed nitrogen gas). Just three years later, Mercedes-Benz began to include them as OE standard.
In 1961, Bilstein shock absorbers made their first foray into motorsports, where they remain to this day, winning in a metric crapton of different series and disciplines, including endurance racing and touring, but most prominently in DTM. If you’re unfamiliar with the German stock car series, it’s basically a bunch of purpose-built racecars tuned to oblivion and aero-modded into the Hall of Awesome, that cavernous space in your brain full of things too ridiculously cool to be real, the room you visited much more often when you were a kid.
It was for DTM that Bilstein first began to experiment with their MDS double-adjustable damper system. It was a huge success, and they immediately adapted it for use in their GT3 endurance racing Corvettes. Then they thought it might be nice to go ahead and win the Masters Championship and an eyeload of other major racing events with that system.
Now they’ve updated the MDS to fit the C7 Corvette. They didn’t have to, since Bilstein shocks are already standard OE on the C7, but they wanted to stay true to their base, which is has been the racing crowd since 1961, so they continued their hardcore MDS program. I got the scoop from Bilstein USA’s director of motorsports, Scott MacDonald.
Sure, they got their start hammering out window fittings, but these days you get the feeling that Bilstein makes most of their products, like the brilliant Bilstein 5100 series for lifted trucks, just so they can finance their awesome motorsports adventures. And isn’t that what we all want to do, anyway?
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.