What you are looking at is the typical BMW Z3 armrest (part number 82-11-1-469-516). Except this armrest has had the two plastic lids covered in nice black leather with padding installed underneath.
The leather wraps around the lid and the underside is lined with felt like cloth. The padding and leather combine to give the armrest a great feel, like it should have rolled off the assembly line this way.
Initially when working with the upholstery shop they were talking about using three pieces of leather that would be stitched together (just like the seams on the seats). But after they tried that method they realized it wouldn’t work. The seams were too bulky and it didn’t look good, so they tried using just one piece of leather. They got the one piece of leather to work, but it took much longer than they had expected. They had to work each corner by hand trying to stretch the leather without leaving folds or loose sections. They also ran into problems around the hinges, there was not enough clearance space to fold the leather under the hinge so they had to trim the leather and just glue it down.
All in all I think they did a good job on the armrest, it is very comfortable and looks good. However I feel obligated to point out the weak points which are the corners, the leather appears very stretched and the edges are not very clean. My only other concern is in the armrests durability. Under this fancy padded leather armrest is still just a $30 piece of plastic. I also wonder about the durability of the leather on the corners, they had to stretch it pretty tight and I wonder how its going to hold up under the constant wear I’m going to give it. The upholstery shop said to use Lexol leather conditioner on it regularly and said it would last a long time so my concerns probably aren’t valid, but time will be the ultimate judge.
Now for the bad part, initially this was ball parked to be in the $100 price range. However that estimate was based on the three piece design. The additional labor to make the one piece design work drove the price up to $150. The upholstery shop and I had made an agreement to do this first one for $100, but they said they would need charge $150 to make any more. They said the next one will require about four hours of labor to complete and $150 basically covers their costs. However after doing 10 or so they could probably get their turn around time down to two and a half hours. At that point $150 is actually profitable for them. So he’s sticking to his $150 price with the hopes that eventually he will get good enough at making them to make a profit.
I asked them about making them in other colors, he said it would be possible but he really didn’t want to get into that. The kind of leather he had to use to make this armrest is special processed leather that has been thinned down to a thickness that can be worked by hand. He can’t buy small pieces of this leather so if he got into making different colors it would have to be in larger quantities. So basically its possible but this thing is barely cost justified as it is, the additional expense is just to much to worry about.
If you are interested in purchasing an armrest similar to this one, contact the maker directly and ask for the owner Howard Finkle.
The Inside Job
2261 Crown Rd. #112
Dallas, Texas 75229
Long Term Update
The armrest is now over six months old and is showing no signs of wear. I’ve used leather conditioner on it twice, the first time at three months and just recently again. The look and the feel has not changed and for these reasons I am extremely happy with the overall durability and quality of this upgrade. However I recently reviewed another leather covered armrest that was made by Jon Maddux (Z3 owner). His leather armrest is better looking, has more padding, and believe it or not is half the price ($75) of this armrest.