Bilstein Boingers For An Old YJ
Just because your YJ Wrangler is anywhere from 13 to 26 years old doesn’t mean it has to ride like it. Take our ’89 Wrangler “Project Why-J” for example. It’s set up with a nice Rubicon Express 2.5-inch Standard Duty suspension and upgraded monotube shocks that (when we got the suspension four years ago) were private-labeled for Rubicon Express by Edelbrock. The thing rode pretty good on the street, and we never had any complaints off-road. But this past Easter Jeep Safari we were standing next to it when our buddy Shane Casad from Bilstein sauntered up.
Shane: “You know, Bilstein has a set of 5100s that’ll make this thing ride like a TJ.”
Us: “Really? It’s got the Edelbrock monotubes under it and rides pretty good already. What’s so special about the 5100s?”
Shane: “One of our shock tuners owned a lifted YJ back in the day, so he really dialed them in.”
At this point we should mention that Edelbrock is no longer in the shock business. And after years of severely abusive use, we were in the market for some new shocks anyway. Foregone conclusions being what they are, a couple of days later we were opening Bilstein boxes. Because the new rear shocks were just a tad longer than the ones that came with our suspension, we ordered some Daystar 1-inch-dropped polyurethane bumpstops to prevent the shocks from bottoming upon full compression.
So does it ride like a TJ? Well, not really. It’s still a tad firm and big off-road hits will send you off the bumpstops, but that’s a function of our spring rate and wheel travel. Not to say we didn’t notice any difference. Compared with our old monotubes, the Bilstein 5100s seem to offer similar compression characteristics, but the 5100s employ more rebound valving. Compression is comfort, but rebound (in the right proportions) is control. A YJ’s worst problem in the handling department is its shackle-forward front suspension. With our old shocks the nose would porpoise and bounce over bumps, resulting in mild on- or off-road instability at speed. The Bilsteins just suck up the bumps with no bouncing or ill handling quirks so you mow through rough terrain rather than bounce over it. We also noticed the Wrangler handled washboard and uneven surfaces much better, with more positive steering control and less propensity for the rear to come loose. Both are an indication that the witchcraft inside the shock’s valving is doing what it’s supposed to. So bottom line, a set of Bilstein 5100s won’t give your YJ the pillowy ride of a stock TJ or JK, but they will vastly improve your vehicle’s stability and control while still offering up a nice, sporty-comfortable ride.