KW Suspension Factory Tour

Industry Insider: KW Suspension Factory Tour, Part 1

By Mike Kojima, photos by Jeff Naeyaert

We were stoked when we got a call from KW Suspension asking if we would like to visit their facilities in Germany a few months ago.  We felt like how Charlie in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory must have felt when he found that golden ticket for a tour of a wonderful place.  If you don't know who or what KW is, they are the makers of some of the best suspensions available for both the tuner and the professional racing market.

 KW Suspension Factory Tour Klaus Wohlfarth
KW Founder Klaus Wohlfarth is quite a visionary.  He is the creator of the world's only, as far as we know, performance suspension company that is OEM quality capable.

The Willie Wonka of the suspension world is Klaus Wohlfarth, the KW in KW.  KW's humble beginnings started when Klaus was not satisfied with the off the shelf suspension offerings for his Opel Kadett race car on the market at the time.  Klaus started making threaded strut tubes to use standard racing springs with adjustable ride height that fit Koni racing dampers, at first for Opels, then onto various popular tuner cars all in his home garage. 

 Klaus Wohlfarth KW Suspension Factory Tour
 Klaus built KW from an operation in his garage to a multimillion dollar state of the art suspension R&D and production facility producing world class street and racing suspension to high ISO and TUV standards.

Soon the business became too big for the garage.  Klaus joined forces with a local racer who had a reputation for being extremely smart, Klaus Frank (who is now KW's chief engineer) and the two moved into a much larger facility located in an old barn.  With Klaus Frank's expertise the new KW Company expanded their product line and started to work on there own calibrations using Koni internals, becoming Koni's largest distributor in the process.

 Klaus Frank KW Suspension Factory Tour
Engineering Genius Klaus Frank has been with KW since the garage days.  He is responsible for R&D and Motorsports damper development.

Soon Koni realized that KW was a strong competitor to their own product line and made the decision to cut KW off from their supply of damper internal components in an effort to eliminate KW.  Faced with this crisis Klaus made the decision to further expand the company to engineer and produce their own dampers from the ground up internally.  In the meantime they had outgrown the barn and moved into a new from the ground up facility. The company continued to grow and with the flexibility involved with total control of the dampers internals, KW continued to increase their product line and market share, adding hardcore racing dampers to the product line up.

 KW Suspension Factory Tour
 Klaus preps the best minds in automotive journalism for their tour of the KW facilities.


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Sunday, October 31, 2010 8:21 AM
Coming from an ISO9001 background (admittedly in a slightly different manufacturing field)... seeing what KW does is very impressive. Doing EVERYTHING in house.. nice... very nice. I wonder how much CAD work goes on there...
Sunday, October 31, 2010 10:39 AM
Someday I'll own a set of V3's....
Sunday, October 31, 2010 12:06 PM
I'm curious about which other aftermarket companies have such high levels of quality like you mentioned in the article. Very impressive stuff from KW, although its hard to believe they can resist corrosion during winter. If they can, they're worth their weight in gold.
Sunday, October 31, 2010 12:23 PM
I'd like to see inside Moton's factory next. They seem to be just as good if not better than KW. How do some of the Japanese companies compare with the Germans/Dutch?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, October 31, 2010 12:32 PM
After using both KW and Moton, I prefer KW. KW is better at high frequency bumps. My personal opinion is that the high end euro dampers like KW, Moton and Ohlins are much better than Japanese stuff. I have seen problems with JRZ and AST stuff although a lot of people like these a lot as well. Bilstien doesn't even bother with the American market and does not import there high end Motorsports stuff here.

Japan has smooth roads and for the most part smooth tracks. Maybe thats why they have never been quite as good as the euros for car and motorcycle stuff. The Japanese do have a good product for the price.

Just forget about the fake Chinese stuff. Weird damping, fake adjusters, shoddy materials, I have seen it all. The Taiwanese suppliers who have ripped off Tein and Apexi because they are suppliers might be somewhat good but the knock offs of the knock offs are just plain crap.
Sunday, October 31, 2010 1:23 PM
although its hard to believe they can resist corrosion during winter. << they can... i drove 2 differend KW varII 3 years ervery day... no prob... some water and a brush and they look like new: http://s1.directupload.net/file/d/2330/frr9d5mg_jpg.htm << kw Var 2 Strut after 3 years with salty winters here in germany near the "Nürburgring"...(its bend because i crashed the car on a icy road...crap!!)

too the german autobahn: http://s1.directupload.net/file/d/2330/9xmdxg3d_jpg.htm << drive home from lateshift... 2xxkm/h average over 20km or so...many older us cars/us tuningparts have very big problems with these high loads over long time... the stress on the engine/drivetrain is very high and you need a good cooling system for the engine oil. Many "rocksoild us turbomainfolds" break/crack after few weeks of daily "normal" autobahn driving(friend of mine killed 4 apr VW 1.8t@garrett mainfolds and 3 gt28rs in 2months onyl daily driving too work and back home... )

but i see no "special hyper" engeniering in the KW factory... quite normal here for a Iso9000 produktion for a car manufacturer... Bilstein or H&R are the same quality and in my opinion the H&R coilover´s are much better in daily street use than a KW var2 coilover...
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, October 31, 2010 1:56 PM
Aftermarket parts are hardly ever produced to ISO standards, at least in the US.

Bilstien and H&R are not as good quality in my experience, mild steel tubing vs stainless, conventional twin tube and deflected disk monotuibe. KW's valving works better for the versions I have used it on (which has mostly been Japanese cars).

Bilstien and H&R are still very good but the applications are much fewer, at least in our market.

Interesting to hear that many US produced parts fall apart under German conditions, actually it doesn't surprise me at all.
Sunday, October 31, 2010 3:41 PM
Great article can't wait for the rest of the tour. Ohlins has been ISO 9001 certified since 1998 and ISO 14001 since 2006.
Sunday, October 31, 2010 5:28 PM
There are LOT of great companies out there that make outstanding suspensions.
I've never had the pleasure to use any KW stuff, so I can't comment in regard, but; companies like Koni, Sachs, Nitron, Dynamic Suspensions (seen on the SSE Evo), Quantum, Penske, Moton, and JRZ are also excellent choices.
The thing is, u can have the most "ballin" coilovers out there, but if they're not setup right for the track, they're worth shit.
Japanese' suspensions are not as "versatile" compare to many European ones, however like Mike said, they're intended for the regular-track-tuner and not for the full-blown race team.
Few months ago Cusco released their new line of Zero 3X which I think lessen the gap between the high end European and the average Japanese.
Again, if the suspensions are not setup right, they're worth shit.
Having 3-4-5 way adjustable sounds cool and all, but they also require more attention. I think for a lot of us (me included), 2 way are more than enough.
Anyway, that's my opinion.
Monday, November 01, 2010 12:38 AM

Bilstein and H&R are not as good quality in my experience, mild steel tubing vs stainless not a real problem... i drove a h+r coilover too years and there was no prob at all...

my first KW sized after 1/2year (it had no plastik spring collar only Aluminum..) but KW send my cost free some of the new plastik rings and everything was fine... until i crashed the car.. :)

I find the H&R coilovers much better on very small "bumps" (maybe 5mm high+low car speeds...0-60km/h..). the kw dampers are a little "slow" imho... if you hit a small bump you can feel the bump in the whole car. The bilstein shocks in the H&R coilovers eat these litte bumps almost completely... on bigger bumps and higher speed you don´t notice any difference. On a trackcar this makes no big difference but on a dialy driver its a big difference if you hit a bad road...

big plus for the bilstein shock ist the much bigger shock shaft. With high sideloads (mc pherson whishbone..) it´s much more solid and glides much better into the strut housing...

KW/bilstein/H&R coilovers are all very good and long lasting... wich is the best depends a litte on the car and the driver... on some cars the KW works better and on the other the bilstein...

btw... be aware of some fake KW systems... every few months there are some cheap and strange looking Kw coilovers on the german ebay...
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Monday, November 01, 2010 5:12 AM
Damn chinese copy stuff....
Monday, November 01, 2010 9:40 AM
every time a I read a story having anything to do about Germany I hear about how fast they all drive on the autobahn. Yet when I was average speed was about 80 mph and I was the one doing most of the passing (in a merc c180 no less). the only thing that passed me was a toyota rav4 diesel. I feel cheated... either that or everyone else is lying about how fast people drive there...

and yes, I am talking about the unristricted parts of the autobahn
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Monday, November 01, 2010 9:55 AM
Maybe its when you are close to the big cities it slows down? During rush hour you could not go super fast, we noticed.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Monday, November 01, 2010 10:55 AM
Another one of the reasons, IMO, that KW is able to nail down their suspension is the cobblestone roads. The number of cycles that the suspension goes through over such a small distance, and still provides high ride quality is a testament to the German engineers.

I have to say that my time on the Autobahn was also about 115mph average with the only slowing around construction zones. I still remember riding in a Maxima going about 110 and just starting on a long 10-15% downhill when a bike past us going around 170-180ish, down the hill and up and over the next, before we were even halfway down our hill. I still remember the driver telling me how crazy bikers were AND how they don't survive crashes!

Mike, I wish I had been communicating with you guys pre-trip. I miss German bakeries and would've suggested some delectible treats! Also the Doener, a Turkish delight, which I can't ever seem to find Stateside. I lived in the former East for a couple of years.

In case anyone hadn't caught this, my screen name, Der Bruce, is in fact German for "the Bruce".
Monday, November 01, 2010 12:41 PM
I remember reading back in 2004 when SCC first got KW V3s on Project Miata. Coleman commented that it sounded like a monkey was throwing walnuts in the trunk. Do KWs still sound like that or have they figured out the noises?
Tuesday, November 02, 2010 9:36 AM
I drove from Frankfurt halfway to Nurnburg (opposite way of Nurburg, I wasn't working the navi) and then to Nurburg, and back to Frankfurt at night. So I had plenty of out of city driving there. Maybe it was just national slow day when I was there...
Shifter Kart
Shifter Kartlink
Wednesday, November 03, 2010 2:59 PM
Screwing around at 140mph on the Autobahn.....with a KW banner in the rear window. lol
The Blue
The Bluelink
Thursday, November 04, 2010 4:18 AM
"I remember reading back in 2004 when SCC first got KW V3s on Project Miata. Coleman commented that it sounded like a monkey was throwing walnuts in the trunk. Do KWs still sound like that or have they figured out the noises?"

i'm just going off memory, but i think that kw told them they were going to make a ton of noise and wanted to sell them v1's instead, for just that reason. the v3's for the miata were listed as a motorsports part because they couldn't make them quiet for that car. i also think the aluminum flyin' miata tophat they used exacerbated the problem.
Thursday, November 04, 2010 8:47 AM
At my shop in Canada KW is more or less the only coilover we will sell. Especially for anyone who winter drives their cars! So far nothing but excellent results, and no complaints! Street-ability is fantastic, and on the track they really shine.

One very important fact that is often overlooked with KW is their Warranty. KW offers a Limited lifetime warranty against all defects. How many Hi-end, or even cheap china junk offer that?
Thursday, November 04, 2010 10:04 PM
I have the KW v3's on my Solstice GXP. They are the worst set up kit I have ever had. The spring rates make the car handle worse than stock (gobs and gobs of under steer). The rear ride height was maxed out and the car still sat over an inch lower than what KW said the lowest setting was. The rear shock rods are not long enough.

I am sure that on cars that have more demand they take the time to develop a quality kit. But on the Solstice they seemed to just guess on the setup, and got it very wrong.

The build quality is great. I will give them that.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Saturday, November 06, 2010 1:36 PM
I have a feeling that perhaps your car is not set up correctly. I find it hard to believe that it could handle worse than stock. Most cars that have quality parts whose owners complain of handling problems have done it themselves.

Without actually seeing your car, I cannot say for sure, but I typically see cars with improperly set alignment (#1 problem, most pros unless they have motorsport experience can't set alignment correctly), improperly adjusted shocks, improper ride hight or improper adjustment.

I am not saying your car is messed up like that but i bet there is a good chance it is.

I will ask my contacts at KW if they have heard of any problems with this kit.
Sunday, November 07, 2010 3:05 AM
Hi Mike - Nice article and very informative. I've installed a few sets of KW V3's on WRX/STi's and despite the good handling and material quality there is one detail that bugs me to no end. The passenger front strut leg uses the exact same clevis as on the driver's side. This means that where you normally insert the mounting bolts from the rear on the driver's side, you have to insert the bolts from the front on the passenger side. When I first saw this I was like, whaaaaat?! Ok, it does not affect the performance or alignment. though it does make aligning a bit annoying as you are adjusting from a different side. IMO, its obviously a cost cutting/laziness factor because they only have to weld up one type of strut leg. But I expected more from KW not to mention any company asking $2500 for their product. Heck, even the cheapo Chinese stuff gets this basic detail correct. Perhaps you can use your KW contacts to tell them to get off their lazy butts and get that detail right.

Also, what's up with the progressive rear spring philiosophy? Its one thing on, say a V1 which is more geared toward the general public but with a V2/3 you'd think they would go for a full linear spring/helper spring setup. Any thoughts on that decision (that you can publicly post!)?

Keep up the great work.

PS I'm living back in Germany and was at the Ring last weekend for a bit of the VLN and a lapping day. Fun stuff as usual and good tips from Coleman on doing the Ring on the cheap.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, November 07, 2010 7:44 AM
Hi Arine,

The Whiteline guys told me you were on board full time now last week. We should be in Germany next year sometime and perhaps in the UK at the Autosports show.

You are pretty picky! On race apps, I prefer to set the camber on the bottom and use the camber plate to control KPI. I don't do this using camber bolts on street cars because they tend to slip although Whitelines bolts don't seem to. I don't think having the captive nut on opposite sides would bother me or slow me down that much. Do many people complain about this?
Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:36 AM
Hi Mike,

Yup, on board full time from the continent. I'll definitely make plans to hook up with you when you are out here again.

Yes, I'm picky! lol This is using OEM camber bolt up top and standard bolt on bottom of clevis on a WRX/STi, no aftermarket camber bolt. Adjustment is fine, no issues with slippage with the OEM bolt. I agree with how you set up top and bottom. I don't know if anyone else complains about this. Most shade tree mechanics install one or two sets of struts on their car for the life of their car so they might not even notice the difference. I've installed hundreds as a shade tree guy and the KWs are the only one's I've ever installed that have let this detail "slide". No, it won't slow anyone down and an alignment guy wouldn't bat an eye because how often does he work on a Subaru much less KW's. Its just a grating detail on an otherwise great system. The funny thing is, the clevis is welded on, its not a "wraparound" system like on an OEM strut. So "all" have to do is have a different set of clevis plates machined for the passenger side. Respectively, I think all they would have to do is take the same plates and switch the to opposite sides. Super easy. Anyway, I AM probably the only nerd out there who's noticed and it bugs. lol

Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:50 AM
Oh, one other question. Why does KW use twin-tube rather than monotube for their dampers?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, November 07, 2010 11:11 AM
The twin tube is easier to make the compression externally adjustable. Plus KW has innovative valving that works well at low gas pressures. Some of this is good because it makes KW's really easy to service and revalve in the field.

The KW motorsports shocks are Monotube but they run at low pressures too.
Monday, November 08, 2010 12:17 AM
Have you noticed if their dampers suffer from fade or cavitation sooner than a typical high pressure monotube?
Monday, November 08, 2010 6:52 AM
V3's are my #1 candidate for replacement on my OEM G Coupe. If I had to go low end I can get Koni sports, but really don't want to go there. OEM dampers lasted 7 years/65k miles but they're about done.
Monday, November 08, 2010 7:10 AM
First, thanks for responding Mike. Thats why I love this site.

A stock Solstice has higher spring rates in the rear than the front and still understeers. The v3's almost doubled the front rates and left the rears alone. Leading to more understeer. I will be the first to admit that I need to get a LOT better as a driver, but there was more understeer. I also had the rear ride height issue. With the rear spring perch all the way up, the rear of the car was over an inch lower than KW said was the minimum recommended setting. Everything was installed with an eye on their instructions the whole time. I even described how I installed it over the phone to KW and sent them pictures. So I ordered 6k springs (to replace the 3k/4k stock), with longer rears. The car handled better and the rear could be adjusted to the correct height. The only issue is that the rear shocks topped out to early. I had to compress the rear springs(when the car was lifted) over an inch(it took a lot of force to do) to get the rear to the correct height(when the car was on the ground). But the car handles a lot better now. My set up advice comes from Solstice and Sky owners that did good at the solo nationals.

Please don't think that I am trying to bash KW. I am just trying to show how important it is to research suspension before you buy, no matter the brand name. I wish I did. But I do plan on sticking with the v3's. I just have to get them rebuilt and revalved. But I still need to do more research and get more advice.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Monday, November 08, 2010 6:58 PM
Hi Arnie, we have not noticed fade from V3's or clubsports on the track or on the dyno, however the 2 way motorsports shocks have a galvanized steel body as it has better thermal transference than stainless. The 3 way use alloy for the body. The 3-way are also monotubes.

GM, I talked to the guys at KW and they seem a bit puzzled about why you are experiencing bad handling on your car. They told me they shipped one to Germany for R&D and that they put some effort into it because the suspension was going to be used for that Setups TV show.

It would be interesting to see what your car is doing.
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