If you have followed our FR-S buildup, you know we collaborated with our brethren at Super Street as well as Modified for the entire project. Peter Tarach, editor-in-chief of Modified, had the crazy idea of driving an FR-S on the Nürburgring in Germany. Instead of shipping a Scion FR-S over there, KW supplied him with the European equivalent, the Toyota GT-86. And, of course, when Pete asked for volunteers to help him with this project, I jumped at the chance to go to the green hell. While in Germany, I visited KW's corporate headquarters and really saw what this brand is all about.
There are about four huge buildings at the KW headquarters. The funny thing is, Klaus Wohlfarth (the owner) had his house built in the back area of the KW grounds just to stay close to his work. This is a good indication of how much Wohlfarth and the staff here is dedicated to their work and motorsports. In fact, I've been told over and over that KW doesn't want to be a huge OEM supplier like most strut companies. They don't want to lose site of quality and performance. Rather than going mainstream, KW wants to remain niche for the highly performance-minded enthusiast. Keeping the company in a scalable shape allows them to do much more small volume production batches, and their business model is working just as planned. Walking through the production plant we noticed that KW actually makes suspension for many elite OEM and aftermarket applications-many of which we can't name. One of which though is BMW tuner Alpina. This tells you the level of quality that can be found in KW products. We'd love to mention the many other high-end tuners and OEM car manufacturers that contract KW for their coilovers, but it's just not worth having angry Germans coming to our doorstep.
Going through the production factory, I couldn't help but notice everything was colored purple and yellow. It was just nuts to see that much attention to detail. Staircases, windows, shelving, dyno machines, and huge storage machines were all taken apart and painted or anodized to match the company's colors. It's not something major nor does it help with the product quality; it simply says KW does things because it's the right thing to do, not just for cost-effectiveness. Being there, you can tell this motto goes into everything they do.
In the second building KW houses their motorsports division. In this building a couple things stood out to me. First off they were building custom one-off coilovers for customers who owned cars that weren't that popular. Like if you had an older BMW or something, you would fill out their survey telling them what you want from your suspension, height, spring rates, type of racing, and more. Then, you would send them your stock suspension. Here they would modify it and restore it to new with a built-in coilover. Keeping the company scalable and small (and I use small as loosely as possible) allows them to do things like this for their customers. I don't really know of many aftermarket suspension companies that are willing to build one-off suspension kits for end users without charging a ton of money.
The other thing in the motorsports division that I saw was a strut lined with ball bearings. Typically a strut is designed with valves, which causes much more friction. Ball bearings reduce friction and allow the struts to move completely free. After one use of them in a race, this type of strut was deemed an unfair advantage and banned in racing. It may just a be a simple feature but this along with their HLS, DDC, and iPhone-controlled suspensions show off how innovative and high tech they are compared to many other suspension companies.
In the very back building there was a small room sealed off from the rest of the building. This is where their seven-post shaker machine is located. When a car is put on the shaker the machine simulates actual driving conditions and sends back the information measured on the suspension and chassis. Everything from shocks to aero can be calculated on the shaker. To illustrate how important this machine is, just about every F1 car is tested on one of these for final adjustments. No other aftermarket shock company has a seven-post machine. Most OEMs have one but usually only the four- or five-post shaker. The staff at KW tells me various OEMs and F1 teams come in and rent out their shaker for testing. Sometimes clients come in the middle of the night and do all their testing behind closed doors to keep things undercover. We happened to run into a guy from a car manufacturer who was using the seven-post, and he told us that it used to take him months to gain the info that the machine would give him in a few hours.
Prior to this trip, I had always been a bit curious about KW coilovers. I have owned all sorts of coilovers on my cars but I've never gotten to KW. So many top-tier suspension companies come out of Germany already-Bilstein, Sachs, H&R, and more. After visiting them and seeing that the company is run by passionate motorsports enthusiasts who are trying to develop the best products without sacrifice I plan to buy KW the next time I am looking for coilovers.