Rambling down a gravel road in the foothills of Crazy Mountains, I watched a pronghorn racing across Montana’s wide, green-grass prairie and didn’t see the pothole. When I hit it, I thought the steering wheel would rip from my hands. It felt like I was riding in a 1915 Ford Model T buckboard as the right rear tire boomed its disapproval. I nearly bounced out of my seat.
My 2011 Ford E-350 van odometer registered just over 105,000 miles. I thought perhaps it was time to look for new shocks. Shocks aren’t typically something you pay attention to—they just do their job without fuss or fanfare. I mean, what do shocks even do? In modern vehicles, shock absorbers reduce the impact of traveling over rough roads and terrain, improving ride quality and handling. Shocks use combinations of oil and gases to absorb excess energy from the springs. Today, most vehicle shocks are either twin-tube or mono-tube types.
Mercedes became the first auto manufacturer to feature shocks as standard equipment in 1958. Bilstein designed and produced these shocks, and no other manufacturer could use their design until 1971, when their patent expired. I first remember seeing Bilstein shocks when I photographed road-racing at the famed courses in Daytona and Sebring in the 1970s. Seemingly, all of the winning cars used Bilsteins.
Fast forward to 2021, and I decided to replace the original-equipment shocks on my van. Ford E-350s are famous for less-than-precision steering and rollover wrecks. The Bilstein B-6 suspension package delivers a more predictable and communicative ride with less understeer and more traction. Bilstein’s design allows the shock absorbers to instantly react to changing surface conditions, using a patented digressive piston. The benefit is much better handling on-road, with less body roll and brake dive, and more precise steering, without sacrificing off-road ride quality.
My driving speeds aren’t usually higher than 70mph. After four months and 10,000 miles of driving on my new Bilsteins, I appreciate the confidence and the smoother handling. Next, I’ll install a Bilstein steering stabilizer for enhanced handling.
Available online at bilstein.com; $147.