BMW Wood Steering Wheel Upgrade

Pros: Looks good
Cons: Expensive, not really wood
Cost: $71 / $500

BMW Z3 Wood Steering Wheel Upgrade

Part Number 82-21-9-405-289

After shockingly noticing that the leather at the very top of the steering wheel was wearing through and my car was not even a year old yet, I went to the local dealer to ask about a replacement under warranty. I asked my service advisor if I could upgrade to the wood steering wheel since they were going to have to replace it anyway (and I would pay the difference in price). Also, since I had recently heard that the NHTSA was allowing manufacturers (and after-market places) to 1) disable airbags, and 2) depower airbags, and that the Euro airbags are already de-powered (the difference between US and Euro spec airbags are the fact that in Europe, they assume that a person WILL be using their seat belt, and consequently require less force to slow them down in the event of a crash as opposed to the US assuming that people will NOT be using the seat belt and will require airbags coming at you in excess of 200mph!) I asked the dealer to see if I could get an Euro spec wood steering wheel. The difference between the US and Euro wood steering wheel is the Euro wheel has 3 spokes (at 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00) and wood on the entire circumference of the wheel, the US has 4 spokes (at 2:30, 3:30, 8:30 and 9:30) with the sides (2:30 to 3:30 and 8:30 to 9:30) being leather. I also called the 800 customer service line to see what I could do. Admitting defeat I settled for the US spec wood steering wheel. I had to wait a week or 2 for them to put in the new wheel (would have been about the same for the leather steering wheel). First of all, the wood steering wheel is darker than the beige interior on my car, but it does look pretty good in combo with the beige color (IMHO I’m not sure if it would look good in the black interior of not). I think the interior would look even better if I had a wood dash kit (including the shift know and the handle on the hand brake). Secondly I think the leather on the sides of the wheel is of a much better quality. Lastly, the wood steering wheel is NOT wood (we can argue this point till the cows come home, but you will not change my opinion), it is PLASTIC (feels like plastic, sounds like plastic….hmmm, must be plastic), but it looks kind of like wood. If you tap on the “wood” it doesn’t sound like wood, and if you try to press you fingernail into the “wood” it doesn’t leave an impression. All in all I like the “wood”, but I wouldn’t spend $500 (plus installation) for it, the $71.01 I paid was just about as much as I would spend on it.

I think now I might have been able to get the Euro spec wheel. If you go to the Edmund’s Web Site and look at the specs on the 1998 2.8L Z3 you will noticed that depowered airbags (at least the driver’s airbag) are standard, so I would think that you might be able to get the smaller airbag. But, having seen a 1998 Z3, I didn’t notice if the airbag was smaller (I don’t think it was), but there is hope because the specs on the M Roadster list a 3 spoke steering wheel (so hopefully it has the smaller Euro airbag).

BMW Roll Hoops

Pros: Rollover protection, looks great
Cons: Hard to install
Cost: $570 / $602

If your BMW Z3 does not have rollhoops it may be possible to retrofit them into your vehicle. BMW has an upgrade kit that contains the hoops themselves however the hoops can only be retrofitted from into Z3s built on or after 1/97. Specifically 1.9 VIN LB83105 and later; 2.8 VIN LC01377 and later. No earlier production will work.

In addition to the kit you also need to order a replacement set of plastic covers for the rear storage/subwoofer area The cost of the main roll hoop kit is roughly $430 from competitive BMW parts departments that sell over the internet (BMW list price is $640.00). The part number for the main kit is 54-61-9-408-817. The cost of the replacement set of plastic covers varies depending on whether your interior is beige or black, and whether you have the storage compartment or Harmon Kardon subwoofer. See the table below for the additional parts you need and their price. These are the tower covers, side covers for towers, lid for box, small covers where bars go through the lid. With the subwoofer, you will have is the tower covers, side covers for towers, a new lid, and also two brackets and a new subwoofer box.

Please note that the kit for the subwoofer will only work on Z3s with the Harmon Kardon subwoofer. There is not a kit available for Z3s with the “regular” Nokia subwoofer.

Harmon Kardon Subwoofer Storage compartment

Beige interior

51-16-8-407-986 $59.41

51-43-8-407-167 $28.09

51-43-8-407-168 $28.09

51-43-8-407-173 $4.45

51-43-8-407-174 $4.45

65-10-8-407-995 $8.57

65-10-8-407-996 $8.57

Total: $141.63

51-16-8-407-179 $10.01

51-16-8-407-180 $10.01

51-16-8-407-239 $88.72

51-43-8-407-167 $28.09

51-43-8-407-168 $28.09

51-43-8-407-173 $4.45

51-43-8-407-174 $4.45

Total: $173.82

Black interior

51-16-8-407-985 $59.41

51-43-8-407-165 $28.09

51-43-8-407-166 $28.09

51-43-8-407-171 $4.45

51-43-8-407-172 $4.45

65-10-8-407-995 $8.57

65-10-8-407-996 $8.57

Total: $141.63

51-16-8-407-177 $10.01

51-16-8-407-178 $10.01

51-16-8-407-238 $88.72

51-43-8-407-165 $28.09

51-43-8-407-166 $28.09

51-43-8-407-171 $4.45

51-43-8-407-172 $4.45

Total: $173.82

Power for your Radar Detector

I was looking to find a way to hard wire a power connection for my Valentine One radar detector. I had already read through Richard Carlson’s “cutting the cord” article so I felt familiar with the task at hand. This was a great resource, and I recommend you read it first because he has excellent instructions at how to get the plastic panels off, as well as some good warnings. However I wanted the power source to drop from top of the A-Frame rather than up through the dash. The MZ3 has enough room above the rear view for the V1 to slide into (click on the picture for a larger view).

First, a quick lesson about BMW wiring. Turns out that everything is color coded, which makes finding a power source a little easier. Red wires are unswitched power sources (on all the time). Purple (with white stripe) wires are switched power sources (on when the car is on). Brown wires are ground. Depending on which type of power source you want you can choose which wiring harness to use.

The information below is specific for the M roadster’s, it has come to my attention that the wiring on the 1.9 and 2.8 roadsters is different. The color coding is the same but wiring harness locations are different. If you own a 1.9 or 2.8 you’ll want to focus on the area behind your stereo, tapping into its switched (purple and white wire) power source.

A couple M owners spoke with me after using the information below. The first spent about 45 minutes to an hour and commented that everything was straight forward. Thought he could do the job again in less time. The second M owner that spoke to me said the wiring was straight forward but the black plastic trim pieces (under the dash) gave him a lot of trouble. I think he summed it up best by saying “I did it!, but you couldn’t pay me $100 to do it again”.

If you want an unswitched power source there is an unused power connector down by the drivers feet (click on the picture for a larger view). This connector has a positive and a negative unswitched power source. It is in a convenient location just below the speaker. To gain access to this area you will need to remove the lower kick panel and the panels covering the underside of the dash.

Problem was, I was in a picky mood and wanted a switched power source. Under the dash you can locate this connector (BMW calls it X223 – the connector is next to the 40amp fuse strapped to the MAIN wiring harness), it had 5 wires in the connector (click on the picture for a larger view). I know it’s hard to distinguish colors in this picture because of the flash but the left most wire is ground (brown) and the one next to it is switched power (purple with white stripe). In this picture the middle wire is pulled out of the connector (speed sensitive volume connection – another project).

The Valentine One radar detector came with a wiring kit. The black box in this picture is part of that wiring kit. Since this box wasn’t a BMW part the color scheme doesn’t quite match but the red wire out of the box was connected to the purple power source. The black wire was connected to a good grounding point (see the bolt and brown wires next to the speaker)

Once the connection was made all that was left was getting the wire to the radar detector. There was just enough of a gap on the side of the dash to slide a wire back to the corner (like using dental floss). Now the wire had made it to the top of the dash the A-Frame cover just pulls off and you can run the wire under the plastic cover. Along the top you don’t even need to pull off the plastic cover. There is enough of a gap to push the wire in where the plastic piece meets the window.

You should actually work backwards so you have just enough wire sticking out where the radar detector mounts, and bundle up any slack down below where it is easier to hide it.

If you are anywhere near Dallas and would like a trained BMW expert to do work like this for you, I can highly recommend Larry Nissen. Larry did the work on my car and took the time to explain everything for me.

Beating the Buzz

After taking delivery and listening to the “upgraded” HK stereo I was very let down. The rear subwoofer rattled and buzzed whenever it got loud enough to actually be heard. To me it almost sounded like the speaker was blown. When I finally got to compare my stereo to Alan’s HK I knew something was not right.

Turns out a rubber, snorkel-tube that is designed to port the sound to a lower position had come loose and was vibrating. The vibrating rubber tube sounded just like what a blown speaker sounds like.

The good news is it was really easy to fix. The speaker grill just pops off, start with the lower corners then the upper corners. With the grill removed you can see this silly little rubber tube thing. The tube just sticks into the open hole in the subwoofer, a couple raised rings try and hold it in there. To me it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before it worked its way loose again. I was considering putting a couple drops of glue on it to help hold the tube in place.

On a whim I tried listening to the stereo with out the tube in at all. Honestly I could not tell a difference with and without the tube so I decided just to leave it off. It’s a piece of cake to reinstall it later if someone convinces me to do so, but for now the rubber tube is tossed onto the pile of other BMW parts in the corner of my garage.

UPDATE 5/10: The subwoofer sounded good at low volume with the tube removed, but with the top down and the stereo at high volume the subwoofer started to sound muddy. After a little experimentation (this time with the volume turned up high) I found that the rubber tube does make the subwoofer sound tighter at high volume. So the rubber tube came back off the pile of parts in the corner of my garage and is now back with the sub woofer. I was tempted to put a couple drops of super glue on it so it would stay, but decided to give it a try without glue first. If the tube works its way loose then I’ll glue it back in.

Cutting the Cord

If you’ve got a Z3, chances are you’ve also got a RADAR detector. I’ve got an old BEL detector (no V1 flames please, I know Valentine makes the best detector, but the BEL does just fine for me). I’ve had two problems with the detector placement:

Trying to find a secure place where the detector doesn’t rattle

Trying to find a source of power for the detector

I solved the first problem by simply velcroing the detector to the dash. The problem then becomes the power source. I’ve had the car about four months now and I was getting tired of using the cord to the cigarette lighter. In addition to being unsightly and somewhat rattle-prone, the cigarette lighter is hooked up to unswitched power. This means you need to remember to shut the detector off and turn it on every time you leave and re-enter the car.

Not fun.

I originally thought I could tap into power easily, but it turns out to be quite an ordeal. I tried to get power from the main bank of fuses in the engine compartment, but could not figure out an easy way to run a wire through the firewall. Eventually, I decided to use the power from the head-unit of the stereo and a ground from the cigarette lighter. The job takes about three hours. You need to be somewhat handy, need a working knowledge of automotive electrical connections and must be small enough to crawl into the driver’s footwell. Here’s how you can do it too:

Before you begin.

Get a box or container which you can put the screws in. Figure out some way of labeling the screws, they are all different shapes and sizes. Also make sure you have the 5 digit radio code you will need to reactivate the radio. Expect the job to take 2 to 3 hours. READ ALL DIRECTIONS FIRST!

You’ll need:

a phillips head screwdriver

a wirecutter

two tap-in connectors (Radio Shack 64-3052A)

several miniwire clips (Radio Shack 278-1668)

several connectors (optional – Radio Shack 64-3049A)

a 2mm allen or the BMW tool (a 5/64″ hex key)

at least 2 replacement BMW screw head covers

a seven foot wire to run from your detector to the power source

a white, dry-cleaners type coat hanger

electrical tape

a multimeter (optional,

lots of patience

First prepare the car by taking it apart.

Take the top down.

Look in the driver’s footwell and find two small rubber heads securing the front of the console.

Remove the rubber heads by hooking them with a stout paperclip-end from the bottom (the part that faces down). You should be able to hook them then pull out to remove them. They will resist. Be persistent. This will expose the screw head.

Remove the upper screw first, label it “upper”. Then remove the lower, label it “lower”. (Yes, they are different sizes)

Remove the radio:

Be sure you have the 5 digit reset code to reactivate the radio before you disconnect it.

Flip open the two small doors on either side of the radio to expose a small allen nut (It’s actually not an Allen nut, BMW sells a $16 tool to unscrew it, but a 2mm Allen wrench worked for me).

Screw the nut counterclockwise until it stops.

Repeat with the other allen nut

gently pull the radio towards you.

At the back of the radio, remove the antenna plug

Use a screwdriver to gently push up the “locking collar” for the other connections. It goes up about 1/2 inch, but does not come off. If you do this successfully, the entire back plug unit will come off. Otherwise, gently rock the entire connector back and forth, pulling backwards to remove it.

The radio is now disconnected.

Remove the shift knob by pulling straight up – be careful! You can hit yourself in the nose when it comes loose!

Remove the shifter boot – same process as the hand brake (except the “clips” are on the sides).

Remove the foam collar which surrounds the shift knob (Take a minute to note how it goes back in)

Push from below to pop the lighter out

Crawl under the driver’s dash – you will what looks like two large, black screw heads.

Rotate them 90 degrees and they should fall out.

Now remove the large plastic piece which goes around the pedals. You’ll need to pull it “backwards” (towards the back of the car), then push forwards again to get it loose. I ended up fighting with it for quite a while, but it eventually comes out.

Next, run the wires from the detector to the power source.

Cut the dry-cleaner’s hanger into a bent piece about a foot long. You’ll be using it to snake the wires through the defroster vents

Sitting in the Driver’s seat, start at the right most of the driver’s vents and manipulate the hanger till it comes out of the left most vent.

Tape your detector power plug (connected to the cord) to the hanger and snake it back through the holes.

Use one of the mini-clips to secure it to the dash. This prevents the cord from falling into the vents when not in use.

Run the rest of the wire to the A-pillar.

You can just push the wire into the crack which leads to the door.

Just below the console, pull the trim from the door-sill to allow you to run the wire into the console.

Put the trim back into place

Run the wire along the bottom of the dash, securing it with the mini-wire ties.

Feed the wire up around the side of the center console.

Feed the positive lead to the opening for the head-unit.

Feed the negative (ground) lead to the opening for the lighter.

Now Connect the Wires

If you have plugged in your detector to see how it will fit with the wire you ran, please disconnect it now.

Disclaimer – I used a multi-meter to identify the source of switches positive power for the radio. It was the purple/white wire which leads to the plug. If you have a multi-meter, I would advise double checking on your car. BMW may change the wiring harness from year-to-year.

Use the Tap-in connector to connect the positive line to the purple/white lead of the radio harness. You should immediately hear a little voice telling you that you have just voided your electrical warranty.

Disconnect the lighter from the two wires.

Use the tap-in to connect to the brown (unshielded) lead which runs to the lighter.

If you have a multi-meter, turn the car to Accessory and check for proper power at the detector plug. If you don’t have a meter, you should plug in your detector (risking frying it if you have made the wrong connection).

Now put everything back together

Assuming everything went well with the detector test, you are now ready to close up the patient.

The cigarette lighter is tricky to get back in. Before reconnecting it and reinserting it, you must first move the orange collar from the top to the bottom of the unit.

You do this by pushing out (from the inside of the unit) on both the little “wings” at the same time. This requires a little manual dexterity or a lovely assistant.

Once you do this, you can move the orange ring down to the bottom of the unit:

Reconnect the wires to the lighter unit.

Insert the unit into the dash, aligning the small cutout on the left with the tab of the orange collar.

Press in on the collar, it will seat itself, then press the lighter in which will also seat itself.

Before putting the shifter back together, turn on the lights and make sure the small bulb which illuminates the lighter is still in place. If not, re-seat it (it goes to the right of the lighter when looking at it from above, it just fits into a small hole next to the lighter.)

Reinstall the foam collar, shift boot and knob.

Reconnect the head-unit and put it back into the dash, securing with the allen wrench.

Re-screw the console screws and put the new screw heads on.

Reinstall the foot-pedal guards.

That’s it! You can now connect your detector, it will turn on when the ignition is turned on. Now go find your cigarette lighter (or lighter plug) and put it back in! You’ve cut the cord!

Clear Rear Turn Signals, Side Markers and Front Bumper Lamps

Pros: Neat looking upgrade without much cost or effort
Cons: Not sure if this is officially street legal
Cost: $135.73 (each)

BMW Part#: 63-21-2-493-616 (left), 63-21-2-493-615 (right)

This lamp replacement is more difficult than the side markers or front bumper lamps. If you do not feel handy, or if you do not own a Dremel-type tool or feel comfortable using it to cut through plastic in a small hole, you should ask your dealer to replace the tail lights for you. I’m not terribly handy, and I had never used a Dremel tool before (bought one just for this), and it took me about 2 hours to do this upgrade. If I had to do it again, I think it would take less than an hour.

The way the tail lights work on a Z3 is that there is a pod with all the bulbs in it. You must remove this pod by unscrewing the plastic knob in the center of it. Just open your trunk and you will find the pod for each tail light right inside your trunk.

Once you have unscrewed the knob, the pod will feel loose in your hands but will not immediately come out. You may need to bend back the carpet in the general area of the pod at this point. You must pull the pod straight towards the front of the car. Don’t use too much force as the pod has all the bulbs attached to it, and you don’t want to break one against the metal holes they are being pulled through.

After you have the pod loose, just lay it on the floor of the trunk. If you now lean over and look at where the pod was, you will see there are two nuts which must be undone. Use a 5/16″ wrench and they should come off easily.

You can now remove the old tail lamp lens from the rear of the car. It may feel like it won’t budge–this is because part of it that is towards the center of your trunk is trapped under the rubber seal there. Don’t worry about it– it will come loose with some force and you won’t hurt anything. I suggest banging on the bolts that you just took those nuts off of with a hammer–light to medium hits–and the cluster will start to come out. Once it has started to move, you should be able to grab the whole thing with both hands and pull straight back.

Congratulations–you are halfway done. Note the tiny bulb in this picture–and note the tiny hole in the next picture. This little bulb goes in this hole in the tail lights that came with your Z3. Apparently whatever Z3s that come with clear lenses do not use this bulb, because the little hole it goes in is sealed. What you do here is up to you–you could remove the bulb and not worry about it, or you can drill out the hole. Since I didn’t know what the bulb was for, I drilled out the hole (see next picture).

If you want to drill out the hole, use a Dremel-type tool with a drill bit and very carefully drill out the floor of the hole. Then, put on a cone-shaped sanding bit and widen the drill hole you made until it is the same diameter as the opening for the bulb. You will now have tiny plastic shavings everywhere, including inside the tail lens! Use a vacuum cleaner with a small attachment to suck out the plastic shavings. Try to seal the attachment as best as possible against the hole, and you will suck out most of the shavings. You may need to bang on the lens to loosen some of the shavings. Before vacuuming, you may wish to take the lens to the car to make sure you widened the hole enough for the bulb.

Now, you just have to put everything back together. Slide the lens into place on the back of your car. You will notice that the black plastic part of the lens towards the center of your trunk is on top of the rubber seal on your trunk. You will need to bend this seal back and work it on top of the black plastic part of the lens. When you have done this correctly, the lens will seat properly in the car.

Then, screw back on the nuts–don’t use extreme force–you don’t want to crack any plastic. Just use the wrench to screw them on until it feels like they really want to stop. You’ll have half to three quarters of an inch of the bolt sticking out past the nut.

Now, insert the tiny bulb into the hole you drilled out with the Dremel tool. Then, guide the pod with the bulbs back into place–note the holes the bulbs go into and push straight into place. You will need to adjust the carpet around the area at this point because it probably got moved out of place when you first removed the bulb pod.

Finally, screw the pod into place with the black knob, and you are done!

Replacing the side markers with clear lenses

BMW part numbers: 63-13-2-493-613 (left), 63-13-2-493-614 (right)

Push the side marker lamp towards the rear of the car. Pull out on the front of the lamp after you slide it towards the rear. It should come out without too much effort.

Once the side marker lamp is off of the car, it is easy to disconnect the wire to it. You will need to pull up slightly with your fingernail on a little clip on the connector for it to come apart easily. Be careful at this point not to drop the wire through the hole in the side of your car.

Attach the wire to the new clear side marker lamp and install the lamp in the hole in the side of your car. Start by placing the rear of the lamp in the hole first, pushing towards the rear of the car. Then, push the front of the lamp into the hole and push the whole lamp towards the front of the car to secure it. Check the rubber seal around the lamp at this point to make sure it isn’t folded or crimped under the lamp.

Replacing the front bumper marker lenses

BMW part numbers: 63-14-8-400-409 (left), 63-14-8-400-410 (right)

Push the front bumper lamp towards the front of the car. Pull out on the back of the lamp after you slide it towards the rear. You may need to exert a bit of force–I broke the plastic of one of my yellow lamps as I tried to get it out. Don’t worry–the clear ones go back in much easier.

Once the front bumper lamp is off of the car, it is easy to disconnect the wire to it. You will need to pull up slightly with your fingernail on a little clip on the connector for it to come apart easily (just like the side marker). Be careful at this point not to drop the wire through the hole in the side of your car–on my car, on the left side the wire barely made it to the hole.

Attach the wire to the new clear front bumper lamp and install the lamp in the hole in your bumper. Start by placing the front of the lamp in the hole first, pushing towards the front of the car. Then, push the rear of the lamp into the hole and push the whole lamp towards the rear of the car to secure it.

Aluminum Gauges

Pros: Dramatic change in the dash appearance for not much money
Cons: Semi-hard to install, light color dials and white needles make reading the dials more difficult
Cost: $179

Available Colors: White, Yellow, Parchment, Aluminum*

Replaces: Speedometer, Tachometer, Fuel Gauge, Temperature Gauge

Sold By:

NR Automobile Accessories

(800) 225-3498


During the day, the gauge face will have the specified color (white, aluminum, yellow, etc.) with black numerals. At night, the gauge face will be black and the numerals reverse to be the color of the face during the day. For example, when a white face gauge inverts at night, the face becomes black and the numbers become white.


If faces are front lit, needles can be colored with a very light coat of spray paint or magic marker. Backlit gauge faces will require needles to be painted with a translucent or clear paint. However, because needles are 3 dimensional, you should not have problem seeing them against the face.

Cluster Removal

Removal will require some mechanical aptitude. You can refer to a shop repair manual for your car to determine the best method. The clear cover usually attaches to the cluster with clips which can be depressed with a flat bladed screw driver. Removal of the needles and faces can be done at this time.


This is accomplished by using tool provided to remove needles and then replacing in the same position after new face is installed as per instructions provided.


Can be done with a little mechanical inclination. If you are comfortable working with your hands and have a certain amount of patience, installation is relatively simple. We provide basic installation instructions and a tool to help you remove the gauge needles; however, you need to know how to take your cluster out of the dash. Most of our customers do their own installations but we recommend professional installation if you are not comfortable doing this kind of work. Mechanics, speedometer shops and stereo shops also do installation of these gauge faces.

A Tale of Three Roadsters

For the 1998 model year, the BMW roadster comes in three distinct configurations.

The Seriously Fun 1.9

The Seriously Quick 2.8

The Seriously Serious 3.2

I had the pleasure of driving a ’97 1.9 Z3 for 18 months, a ’98 2.8 Z3 for just over a week and my new ’98 3.2 MZ3 for four months now. All three of these cars are a ton-of-fun to drive and I would classify each configuration in the roadster/sports car class. I’m not going to get in a debate over the true definition of a roadster or a sports car. Some people hold a very firm definition on those categories, but the vast majority of the population would agree with my general classification.

Each Z3 configuration has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, owners can debate those individual issues for days and never come to agreement as to which configuration is the best. While debates like that can be a lot of fun in the end it is rare that anyone changed their mind. What I am offering is my own personal observations in comparing and contrasting the three different BMW roadster configurations, from an owners point of view.

The “Seriously Fun” 1.9

In October of 1996 I took delivery of a 1.9 liter BMW roadster. At that time car magazines were flocking to review BMW’s newest addition and most of the reviews were similar, “Great handling, very comfortable, but needs more power”. After spending 18 months with the 1.9 my review is slightly different. I think most of the “needs more power” comments came from the expectations people had of the car. To just look at it, it would appear to be a monsterly quick, five second zero to sixty rocket.

The first thing I had to do was learn how to drive it. The BMW 1.9 has power and torque but most of it is in the high RPM range. With the 1.9 you’re not going to squeal the tires at a stoplight, but once you get to 3,500 RPMs in 1st gear the fun really starts. Working the smooth shifting five speed was the trick to unlock the potential of the 1.9. Keeping the RPMs between 3500 and 5500 the 1.9 liter engine really responds. Once I learned this, it was really fun darting around Dallas, working the shifter up and down the gears.

Acceleration is just a small part of this car’s ability. Testing the roadster’s handling capabilities around corners a little faster each time, I started to build an almost invincible attitude. I found that speeding away from a traffic light was boring in comparison to making right hand turns at 30mph without touching the brakes. In fact I got so addicted to the roadsters ability to stick to the ground I started upgrading to 17″ wheels, fatter tires, thicker sway bars, anything I could find to further increase the mind sloshing turning ability.

The car’s design and setup are nothing short of amazing, driving it around town always left a smile across my face. But there were two distinct weak points that started to bug me after a month or two of ownership.

Exhaust: The stock exhaust is tinny and annoying, it was getting better as more miles were being put on it but it was just bugging me too much and I couldn’t put up with it. I visited the dealership to listen to other 1.9 Z3s to see if something was wrong. While mine seemed to have a little extra buzz, I accepted the dealerships point that nothing was wrong with mine. Three months after taking ownership I found myself researching solutions and purchasing an aftermarket exhaust that greatly improved the exhaust note, and gave a slight performance boost.

Stereo: When you buy a $30,000 dollar car you just assume the stereo is good. Well let me tell you that assumption is false. The stock stereo was seriously under powered for a convertible, and the speakers sounded like something you would find at a swap meet. The stock head unit had some neat features like weather band radio and speed sensitive volume (which was very useful in a convertible). But it was confusing to have such a nice feature packaged matched up to such a cheap amp and speakers. Eventually I upgraded the amplifier and speakers to the level of quality you would expect from BMW. But it’s a shame I had to sink another $500 into the roadster to be able to hear CDs with the top down.

Even considering those two weak points the 1.9 liter BMW roadster is simply an amazing car. Before it’s popularity started to increase and the general public learned more about the car, people were asking me “how much”. Most were expecting $40,000 to $50,000 range a few thought it would be over $50,000. It was fun to see their reactions when I told them I paid under $30,000.

BMW will stop producing the 1.9 Z3 at the end of the 1998 model year. A 2.5 liter version will replace it at roughly the same entry price, but the 2.5 will not have as many standard features. The new 2.5 version will undoubtedly have more power than the 1.9, but I wonder if it will handle as well?

The “Seriously Quick” 2.8

Visual inspection of the 2.8 roadster doesn’t give you much indication that it is any different than its smaller brother other than the different wheel style. If you put the 1.9 and 2.8 side by side you will notice the 2.8 has a wider rear end, and a slightly different front spoiler. Really close observation will also reveal two smaller exhaust pipes rather than the 1.9’s single pipe. Inside the cockpit the interior has wood trim and leather seats standard (they were optional on the 1.9). Except for these small visual differences the two models seem nearly identical, well that is until you turn the key.

After starting the 2.8 liter straight six I was pleased to hear a nice “proper” sounding exhaust, a big improvement over the 1.9 exhaust note. Some owners might want a little more sound behind them but at least the current exhaust was not annoying like the 1.9. So BMW had addressed my first complaint with the 1.9, it was time to turn on the stereo and see if they had also addressed the second.

Salesmen are quick to point out that the 2.8 comes with an “HK” stereo. BMW markets that name like I should recognize and respect it but honestly I had never heard of it before. I hear it is made by Harmon Karmon, but for some reason I never see that full name in any BMW literature. This “upgraded” stereo claimed to offer better up front speakers, additional speakers behind each seat and a subwoofer. The subwoofer cost you a couple of storage spaces, one of which I had grown rather fond of. Turning on the stereo I noticed a more pleasant deeper sound. With the top up I could also make out a fuller sound stage with the rear speakers, but as soon as I dropped the top the rear speakers became inaudible.

The real test of the stereo was if I could hear it with the top down at hi-way speeds. After a week of listening to the HK stereo I will say that it is an improvement over the previous stereo, but still not as good as most factory stereos. For me it just crosses the line into the “good enough” range. I was initially let down when I discovered that the speed sensitive volume feature was somehow lost in the move to this HK stereo. However a service bulletin later came out revealing that BMW forgot to hook up the wire to activate that feature. After hearing a fixed HK stereo I remembered how much I truly enjoy the speed sensitive volume feature. Bottom line, if you really enjoy listening to music with the top down it’s probably only a matter of time before you visit an after market stereo shop to ask “how much to fix it”. I’ll let you hear the estimate and make your own decisions.

Despite the visual similarities, the 2.8 is a totally different creature to drive. Pressing the accelerator immediately pushes you back in your seat. It’s off the line acceleration is impressive. However after the first day of driving the 2.8, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I thought I would be. It took me a couple days before I discovered I was driving the 2.8 wrong.

I had grown accustomed to driving the 1.9, where the priority was to get the roadster RPM’s up as soon as possible and keep it between 3500 and 5500 RPM. The torque curve is very different in the 2.8, it favors the lower RPM range. Once I learned this lesson the 2.8 actually became much easier to drive and I discovered how really quick you can get this thing up to 100mph (ah I meant to say 55mph). To some degree this took a little fun out of driving but the increased acceleration more than made up for it. What this lesson taught me is that just like the 1.9, the 2.8 has torque and power but not across the entire RPM range. The 2.8 initially throws you back in your seat pretty hard, but instead of steadily gaining power it seems to go flat after 3500 RPM. I’ve heard reports from 2.8 owners that adding aftermarket exhausts and air intakes increases the power in the higher RPM’s go I guess the stock 2.8 just needed more air. But don’t get me wrong, in either the stock or aftermarket configuration this car is very quick.

In the 1.9 I had become more addicted to handling than acceleration so I was interested to see if BMW had made improvements in this area as well. Strangely enough I don’t think so, the 2.8 does seem a little more solid but I couldn’t feel the road as much. Now don’t get me wrong you can still hopelessly pin your best friend to the passenger door on a hard left but I don’t think the 2.8 sticks as good as the 1.9.

Starting with the 1999 models the 2.8 gets double VANOS, which increases the horse power and moves the peak torque to a lower point on the RPM range. Not sure what kind of results this will transfer to the 0-60 and quarter mile times, but in theory the new 2.8 could be quicker. It will be interesting to see if there is a “seat of the pants” difference, but I doubt there will be. The 2.8 will also get a little more competition from its smaller brother, the 1.9 model is being replaced with a 2.5 double VANOS model that should be much closer to the performance numbers of the 2.8 model. It will be interesting to see which of these configurations sells better in 1999.

But despite what might happen in the future, the bottom line today is that the 2.8 is just a different car than the 1.9, and for different cars there are different drivers. Some will probably prefer the 1.9 with its lower price tag and around town tossability. In some aspects the 1.9 is more fun to drive. Personally, I like the extra kick in the pants the 2.8 offers and I think the price increase is worth it. But if you’re like me and favor the 2.8 over the 1.9, then you might be interested in BMW’s M roadster addition to the Z3 model line.

The “Seriously Serious” 3.2

BMW’s M addition to the Z3 roadster lineup is officially called the ///M roadster, although the name MZ3 seems more appropriate, and oddly enough M Roadster is a name Miata already uses to describe a version of their two seater. Well whatever you want to call it, at the very start of this article I said that when looking at the 1.9 BMW Z3 roadster it would appear it was a “monsterly quick, five second zero to sixty rocket”. Well that is exactly what BMW has delivered with the 3.2 liter Z3.

Visually the M roadster has several differences from its 1.9 and 2.8 siblings. The interior sports a retro two-tone look with lots of chrome. The seats are mega-comfortable wrap around two-color design. The steering wheel is a different design. The center dash/console area houses six chrome-ringed gauges with a chrome-ringed shifter. The instrument cluster also has chrome rings around all the gauges. (If you don’t like chrome this interior is not for you).

The exterior has a few visual clues to indicate it’s the 3.2 version. The front spoiler is slightly different and does not have fog lights. The signature Z3 side gills have been replaced with a different design that is more similar to the original BMW roadster from the 50s (I guess more of that retro look). I don’t mind the loss of fog lights too much, but I think I prefer the original Z3 side gill design, especially after close inspection of the new MZ3 design.

Most of the external visual differences are in the trunk area of the M roadster. Four large exhaust pipes stick out from a slightly shorter rear apron. The license plate is relocated from the bumper to the trunk and the trunk itself had its BMW logo moved from the back to on top of the trunk. The Z3 logo on the trunk has been replaced by a single ///M logo, and the trunk lock was moved from the right to the left side. From this perspective any respectable motor head is going to recognize that this is the M roadster.

Visual difference aside the other way to differentiate the 3.2 from its 1.9 and 2.8 siblings is to slip into the drivers seat and turn the key. The exhaust sound has a lower pitch with a little more “serious” tone to it. It’s still the “quieter than you would expect” BMW exhaust. Initially I was hoping for a little more sound but I knew exhausts notes change after a thousand miles or so. I was expecting a little improvement over time and sure enough I got it (but still want more).

Putting the car into gear the astute roadster owner will notice the shorter throw on the smooth shifting 5 speed shifter. The clutch is not really any heavier than the 2.8 but appears to be a little more sensitive. The brakes have a much different feel to them, and are much more powerful. First couple days I was snapping my head forward every time I touched them (yes they are that sensitive). After I got use to them they were just fine, but then I had a problem driving my wife’s 318i. Switching back and forth between cars is still a problem for me.

But now for the real fun, pressing the throttle down we find out that the 3.2 is quite a bit different than the 2.8. The 2.8 has plenty of torque in the low-end range that can really snap your neck back if you try. To be honest I’m not sure if the 3.2 is any faster than the 2.8 for that first 30/40 yards. But about the time the 2.8 torque starts to peak, the 3.2 torque curve really kicks in and pulls like a freight train. In many ways the appropriate driving style for the 3.2 will more closely resemble the high rev style of the 1.9 then the low rev grunt acceleration of the 2.8. I think for a few seconds several 2.8 owners would feel a little let down in the initial “off the line” performance of the 3.2. But then they would realize they are sinking even deeper in their seat as the 3.2 continues through the RPM range. When my M roadster was new I did my best to follow the break-in procedure, during that break in time I didn’t realize how much more pull the 3.2 engine had over the 2.8 because I didn’t want to rev the engine. But from the few times I cheated I could tell that there was a surprise waiting for me after I had completed the 1,200 mile break in procedure. Now that I’ve got 5000+ miles on the M I get to enjoy that surprise every day.

The suspension setup on the M roadster is quite a bit different than the 1.9 or 2.8 models. They say that an M roadster takes twice as long to build because of all the extra framework and welds they’ve built into the chassis design. This seems to transfer into a very tight and responsive handling convertible. The M roadster doesn’t necessarily handle substantially better than the 2.8 model. I think all the extra framework is to combat the extra power the 3.2 motor can deliver. While tossing the M roadster around a few corners I started to notice it required more precise throttle control. With the extra power you can spin the tires and drift out the rear end without very much effort. So it would appear that the M roadster has better handling potential, but in the hands of an average driver such as myself I can’t make the handling work any better than the 2.8 or 1.9. I think the handling on the M roadster is slightly handicapped by the standard Dunlop SP8080E tires which don’t seem to stick as good as the Michelin tires that come standard on the 1.9 and 2.8 model.

False Advertising: When BMW loans the M roadster to any big car magazine for an official test, it always has the Michelin pilot tires. Yet to my knowledge every M roadster delivered has come with lessor Dunlop tires (something fishy is going on here). There are a couple other areas that the delivered M roadster differed from the advertised, displayed and promised one. BMW proudly displayed an airbag cutoff switch in all the brochures and car shows. Even down to the day I bought mine, my salesman told me it had an airbag cutoff switch in it as standard equipment. But once the car was delivered all that was there was an ugly solid blank plastic disk and the promise “you’ll get it later, I promise”. Latest rumor says all the M owners will be receiving a letter in August updating us on the airbag switch we were all promised and sold, so we’ll just have to wait and see. The other difference involves the “M mobility system”, which apparently is German for “air compressor with fix a flat”. The M roadster does not have a spare tire, to make up for this and to help reassure potential buyers that they wouldn’t get stranded on the side of the road BMW showed us pictures of this mobility system and told us it was standard equipment. Well something happened in between the time I signed the paperwork, and the time I took delivery of the M roadster. The M mobility system had been removed and replaced with a hollow promise of “lifetime roadside assistance”. Lot of good lifetime roadside assistance is going to do me stuck with a nail in my tire half way between Dallas and Little Rock without a cell phone.


The three different BMW roadster configurations each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Despite the visual similarities, they really are three different automobiles in three distinct price ranges. The price distinction alone might making picking between the three models an easy decision. Just pick the one you can afford, because all three models are worth the money and all three will leave you with a permanent grin on your face no matter which engine you’re sitting behind. But what good is this article if I don’t come up with some kind of conclusion, so here’s my opinion.

Looking at the three from a “price for performance” standpoint, I think most would conclude that the 2.8 is probably the best value. It’s raw, grunt, in-your-face power off the line is very impressive. If the 2.8 has a performance weak spot, it would be its high-end torque. However 2.8 owners are starting to figure out ways to open up the high-end torque with new exhausts, air filters and performance chips. Now with the new double VANOS 2.8 coming out in 1999 it would appear the 2.8 is going to deliver a little more performance for the same price.

Look at the three from a “price for handling” standpoint, and the 1.9 is my clear-cut winner. With just the stock configuration the 1.9 will out perform most vehicles in its class at an autocross. In fact depending on the autocross layout the 1.9 might even beat the 2.8. With just a little aftermarket help the 1.9’s handling breaks into a “race car” like performance range that will have you feeling immune to the affects gravity and inertia. It’s sub $30,000 base price is really hard to beat and with the reports of a 2.5 liter model falling into the same price range I suspect BMW is going to be selling every Z3 it can make.

So where does the M roadster fall in these specific comparisons? Looking at handling I can’t really say its any better than the 1.9 (at least for a driver of my capabilities). Looking at performance I know the 3.2 is faster than the 2.8, but the 2.8 is already pretty darn quick. The real value of the M starts to come into focus when you start adding up all the little extras you get with it. To start with there are the things you can actually put a dollar value on like the 17″ tires ($1125 option on the 2.8), heated sport seats ($900 option on the 2.8), power top ($750 option on the 2.8), metallic paint ($475 option on the 2.8) and the chrome package ($150 option on the 2.8). Add to that some things inside the cabin that are not offered on the 2.8, like the better leather, slightly more leather, and additional chrome gauges. Suddenly the price gap between the two models becomes pretty narrow and when you start to think about the bigger engine, additional chassis framework, and possibly better resale value you start to realize what a bargain the M roadster is in comparison.

So for me it the decision became much easier once I started breaking down all the little things. But that was because I wanted all the little things. There are enough differences between the three models that no one could successfully debate why one model is better than another. Although the debate itself would be fun I doubt that in the end anyone would have changed their mind. Each configuration offers a great value for the price, and it will be interesting to see how BMW tries to keep the separate configurations unique now that the performance gap between the models is narrowing with the new 2.5 and 2.8 double VANOS models.

Adding Motion Sensor to BMW Alarm

Here is what I did – it is fairly straight forward but please make modifications at your own risk.

The sensor I used came from Sound Conceptions – “”. The sensor is listed as “sensor: single zone perimeter sensor (radar)” and is $24.95 as of today (3/30/98). You can find it in the storefront – security section. It has three wires to hook it up – battery, ground and trigger. The wires are just long enough to reach where I mounted the sensor. If you want to experiment with different mounting locations, you may want to extend the wires.

For safety, unplug the BMW alarm harness at both ends before making any connections. I soldered and taped all connections.


connect this to the fused battery wire in the alarm wiring harness this is a yellow wire with an inline fuse. Connect to the alarm side of the fuse, thus the fuse protects the new wiring.


connect this to the ground wire in the harness – brown wire.


this will get connected to the hood switch sensor wire (white with red stripe) in the wiring harness. To avoid potential interference between the new and old sensor – I isolated them with two diodes. The diodes are 1N4001 which you can get at Radio Shack. Cut the existing sensor wire and splice in a diode with the cathode (banded end) toward the sensor – this sensor is active low. On the alarm side of this diode, add another with the banded side toward the new sensor – connect the new sensor trigger wire to the cathode of this diode. See the crude diagram below:

I mounted the sensor in the console just forward of the gear shift. Remove the gear shift boot and the foam insert. If you put just the hook portion of some stick on velcro tape on the back of the sensor, you can stick it to the carpeting under the console. You will want to play with the sensitivity adjustment on the sensor. I have mine currently set about 3/4 of the way to fully sensitive.

Performance is good but a little inconsistent. If someone sits in your car, the alarm will definitely go off. An arm reaching in will set off the alarm if the arm is moved around. Repositioning the sensor might help – the directions say the higher it is in the car the better.

Discuss this article and other Safety/Security upgrades in the

///MZ3.Net discussion forum.

Black Cars, Never Again

My very first vehicle was a black 1980 MGB special edition that my father purchased for me in 1984. I loved that car, and that old MGB had a lot to do with my decision to purchase the BMW roadster. However, I learned at an early age that black cars are always in one of two states. The first state is Clean the second state arrives an hour after you wash it Dirty. Sometime during the three years I owned that car I vowed not to own another black car again.

Flash forward to 1991 and we find Robert purchasing a brand new black Ford Explorer Sport. Somewhere between 1984 and 1991 I must have forgotten my vow. However, I took comfort with my decision by saying, “the Explorer looks so good in black, and hey it’s a truck, who cares if it’s dirty.”

Now flash forward to August 1996. A BMW salesman has just loaned me a Montreal blue 1.9 Z3 for the weekend, and it’s just too much fun. I decide I have to own one. Later in October of that same year I took delivery of a silver 1.9, remembering my anti-black vow and resisting to acknowledge how good the black BMW roadsters looked in the brochure.

By the following spring I had made many “Internet friends” on a BMW roadster message board. It was through this board that owners started noticing a trend that the black BMW roadsters seemed to be picking up more chips than the silver ones. The theory seemed to hold water, and was broadened a little to also include dark green in the “chip prone” category. People were trying to speculate why one color would be more prone to chipping than another color, but we really never came to a real conclusion. In my mind, I acknowledged that this theory might be true, but since we were just talking over the Internet it was hard to see the evidence.

Over Labor Day weekend later that same year, several of us drove to South Carolina for the first BMW roadster homecoming. It was there that we started re-discussing the paint chip issue. I saw with my own eyes Ulrich’s black roadster with lots of small paint chips on the hood. It was just as he described over the Internet, but it still wasn’t concrete evidence. I jokingly asked if he worked at a gravel pit, but the point was his daily route may be much different than mine. Despite all the evidence, I still couldn’t convict the black paint as “guilty”.

Flash forward to March 1998, I have sold the 1.9 to a friend and I am currently waiting to take delivery of a new 3.2 liter BMW roadster. While I am waiting for the new roadster to show up, the salesman is loaning me a 2.8 liter model so I can have the experience of driving each of the three engine configurations. As fate would have it, the loaner 2.8 turned out to be a freshly cleaned and waxed black roadster. The black looked really good as I pulled out of the dealership and it reminded me why black was such a popular color. Two days later I was already washing it, but it looked so good I really didn’t mind. One week and a thousand miles later the black 2.8 already had six very noticeable paint chips on the hood. The evidence is just stacked too high now; I am firmly convinced that the black paint is not only more prone to chipping, but the chips are also more visible.

I would strongly suggest that those considering the purchase of a BMW roadster avoid the black paint available on the Z3. If the lure of the black is just too strong, then I suggest you talk your salesman into throwing in some BMW touch-up paint because I think you are going to need it.

The 3.2 model has a different black paint, and while the jury is still out, it would appear that it is much better in regard to its durability. But it was my fear of the unknown that confirmed my color choice for the new roadster, Arctic silver.