PIAA Replacement Headlight Bulbs

Pros: Fairly easy to replace, same wattage, brighter light, whiter light
Cons: Can’t see more any more road, same coverage area as stock bulbs
Cost: $70

I’ve always been unhappy with the headlight performance on my 1998 M roadster. The brightness of the headlights was okay but the light coverage area was terrible. BMW has apparently designed the headlights with more concern for oncoming traffic than the Z3 driver. There is a dead space (I call it the black hole) that is just left of center. The problem is that if I was driving on a road that was turning to the left (like in the picture above) the black hole ended up being RIGHT in the middle of the lane I was trying to drive in. I’ve never been comfortable driving my car at night because of this. Even after repeated attempts to adjust the aiming of the headlights I still wasn’t comfortable with the results. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to start throwing money at the problem and see if that would fix it.

PIAA makes replacement headlight bulbs (model number 9006) that are the same wattage (51 watts) as the stock Sulvania bulbs, but claim to produce brighter, whiter light without producing additional heat. The pair of bulbs cost a hefty $70 but my frustration with the stock headlights made the purchasing decision easier to swallow. I waited until after dark and then drove the roadster to a dark road so I could take before and after pictures. Replacing the bulbs wasn’t simple, but only took about 10 minutes for each side (picture to the right was taken after upgrading only the left side). It would have been a lot easier if I had tiny hands, but the PIAA instructions repeatedly warned about not letting anything touch the bulb so it was difficult to maneuver everything in the tight space. (I’m sure working on a dark road also made it more difficult but it was necessary for this article.

After getting both headlight bulbs replaced my first reaction was “Wow”. But then I took a longer look and went back to my before and after pictures to confirm my suspicions. I think everyone will agree that the PIAA bulbs are whiter and brighter, but if you look at the pictures closely you will notice that the PIAA bulbs don’t light up any additional area, which is what I really intended to do with this upgrade. So now I have brighter and whiter headlights, but my roadster really isn’t any safer to drive at night.

Mikky’s M Coupe Stereo

Mikky’s 99 M Coupe has a JL Audio 10W3 Subwoofer with a Precision Power 6600 amplifier built in on the top.

You can see the blaupunkt toronto with the remote control mounted on the steering wheel.

UUC M Roadster/Coupe Short Shift Kit

Pros: Reduced shift throw, solid shifts (no “play” in linkage)
Cons: Requires some crawling on the ground if you don’t have access to a lift
Cost: List price: $300 (from UUC motorwerks)

The UUC motorwerks M roadster/coupe short shift kit comes with all the parts you need to reduce the shift throw of your M roadster or coupe by 15-20%. The kit includes a replacement M roadster shifter lever with a custom bend in it, a CNC machined adaptor to mate the shift lever to the shift selector rod, all clips, pins, washers, and lubricant needed for the installation, replacement Delrin bushings for the shift carrier, and a special tool for removal of the shifter cup.

The kit also comes with a 17-page booklet detailing every aspect of the installation. The instructions are detailed, but it is wise to take some time to familiarize yourself with all the different terms used before beginning, and to constantly go between looking at the parts on the car and the pictures and descriptions in the booklet. If you don’t know what all the parts are (I didn’t when I started), it may not be immediately obvious what the “carrier” is, for example.

Besides all the parts in the kit, you will need some tools. An 8mm hex bit or 8mm allen hex wrench is absolutely necessary. You will also need some blue “Loctite” threadlock. A small hammer may be necessary to tap some things into place, and a flashlight is a must. A large flat-bladed screwdriver is needed, and snap ring pliers (tips to the side, not straight out) and work gloves are recommended although not absolutely necessary (I made do without them, but having them would have made the job easier). You will also either need access to a lift (recommended if you have any chance to get your car on one) or jackstands to lift the front of the car. Two final notes before beginning: First, make sure the car is cool. You will be working all around the exhaust. Second, some parts of the installation are almost impossible without two people. For example, sometimes one person will need to be under the car, working to attach something to the bottom of the shift lever, and at that time it is very useful if you have someone else above the car to hold the shift lever in place and keep it from flopping around.

Step 1 is to remove the shift knob by pulling up on it forcefully. Be careful not to mash your nose, and also be careful not to rip loose the wires for the lighted shift knob that M roadster and coupes feature. After you have the shift knob loose, pull on the leather boot on the sides towards the center and lift the boot up. This will expose a foam insulating insert which covers the connection to the lighted shift knob.

Tug the foam insert up out of the way and unplug the connector for the lighted shift knob. You should now be able to set the shift knob, leather boot, and foam insert to the side.

If you feel like having a little fun at this point, you could try driving your car around the block using just the stub of the shift lever–the effort is noticeably increased, but you get a great Miata-like feel to the shifter. This just makes you look forward to getting the short shift kit fully installed!

Notice in the pic of the bare shift lever that there is a rubber boot around its base. Your next step is going to be to pull up on it to remove it.

Once the rubber boot is off, you can see the top of the aluminum carrier. In this is the nylon cup which holds the ball of the shift lever in place.

Now that the rubber boot is out of the way, push the shift lever to the right and look down on the left hand side of the carrier underneath it. You should see a circlip. This clip is what is holding the selector rod in place in the hole in the bottom of the stock shift lever. You can push the clip off with a screwdriver, use a pair of snap ring pliers to remove it, or push it off with a gloved hand. After removing it, remove the small yellow washer and you should then be able to push the selector rod pin out of the shift lever.

I was naive about how the shifter lever in an M roadster actually connected to the transmission. I had no idea what a “carrier” was. The carrier is a metal piece that attacnes to the top rear of the transmission and extends rearward into a rubber fitting behind the shift area. The shift lever itself has a round ball that mounts into a nylon cup which fits in the circular area of the carrier. The bottom of the shift lever is under the carrier and attaches to a selector rod which extends forward to the transmission. The UUC instructions are about to tell you to remove the nylon cup and then to remove the carrier. This is a picture of the carrier next to the car so you can realize how long it is–this will keep you from a little bit of puzzlement as you try to figure out where various clips are (that you need to remove) in relation to the shifter lever.

I’m going to fast forward a bit in the installation. The instruction booklet from UUC contained better pictures than I could take with my camera–since I didn’t have the car on a lift, I just didn’t have room to try to take any pictures from under the car. The UUC instructions clearly take you through removing the shifter cup (either with the supplied shifter cup removal tool or, in a pinch, with a pair of small screwdrivers). The instructions then take you through removing a clip/pin that attaches the front of the carrier to the top of the transmission. Take your time feeling out where the carrier ends and where this clip is. It is not immediately obvious and is hard, if not impossible, to see–you just have to feel along. The clip can be hard to pry up–as the instructions say, “some cursing and swearing tends to make the job easier”. I really recommend trying this tip, as it really works!

Once you have the carrier out of the car (see picture above of it laying next to the car), you can remove the stock rubber bushing shown already out at lower right in this picture) and replace it with the Delrin bushings shown on either side of the hole in the carrier in this picture.

Before reinstalling the carrier, you need to flip the selector rod (which is currently still attached at the transmission end) from side to side and end to end. You will need to remove a circlip from it at the transmission end just like you did at the shift lever end. Make sure to note where yellow washers are used when you take it off and put new ones (supplied with the UUC kit) in place when you reinstall the selector rod. When you take the selector rod out, you should see that in its original position, it had its pins pointing towards the left side of the car, and had a “kink” or bend in it near the transmission end, which bend “pointed” up, giving the rod a little clearance over the driveshaft. When you flip the rod end to end and side to side, you will be reinstalling it with the pins pointing to the right side of the car. If done properly, the kink will now be towards the rear of the car and will still be pointing “up”. This is important to maintain clearance of the drive shaft.

After moving the selector rod, you now need to reinstall the carrier. Again, the clip that fastens it to the transmission is going to give you fits. UUC provides a replacement clip, which you need because you will probably destroy the original clip when you remove it. Make sure to get the replacement clip snapped down all the way when you install it.

Once the carrier is back in place, you should slip the UUC-provided new nylon cup over the ball of the shift lever, slide the cup into the hole in the carrier, and snap it into place as per the instructions. Use the provided grease to lubricate the ball of the shifter before placing it in the nylon cup. Unlike the stock lever (shown at bottom of picture), the UUC lever (top of picture) has a bend in it. Make sure that the lever leans towards the back of the car, and that the bottom part of the lever is also pointing towards the back of the car.

You now will install the supplied adaptor onto the bottom of the shift lever. Note that it can be installed in one of two positions. You should install it in the 15% reduction position to match the way you have now flipped the selector rod. Continue with the instructions to attach the selector rod to the adaptor.

Back to the rubber boot–after you have the shift linkage reassembled, and you have tested your way through the gears, you need to reinstall the rubber boot. The instructions do tell you to make sure to get the bottom of the rubber boot around the top “lip” of the carrier. However, they don’t say that the best way to do this is probably from beneath the car. Get your fingers up in there and tug the boot down around this lip–this is important to keep dirt from getting in the pivot point of the shift mechanism. After reinstalling the rubber boot, reinstall the foam insulation, reconnect the lighted shifter wires, and reinstall the leather boot and shift knob, all in the opposite of the order in which you took them off.

gear pair Stock

throw UUC

throw difference

(savings)

1-2

2-3

3-4

4-5 3 11/16″

3 3/4″

3 11/16″

3 11/16″ 3 3/16″

3 3/16″

3 3/16″

3 1/4″ 1/2″

9/16″

1/2″

7/16″ So, what is it like when you are done? I took the following measurements. In general, the UUC short shift kit reduces the throw about one-half of an inch between each pair of gears. This may not sound like a lot at first, but it certainly feels different when shifting and is a very nice change. The shifter feels like it should have come this way from the factory.

The animation below shows the stock shifter on the left and the UUC shifter on the right. This gives you some idea of what it is like to shorten your shift throw the UUC way.

All in all, I recommend the UUC short shift kit. The installation is difficult for a first-timer, but having been through it once, I think it would be much easier the second time around now that I know where all the components are and what they look like. It feels great in my car, and I have been enjoying it each day since I installed it.

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1.9 Borla Exhaust

Pros: Performance, Exhaust Sound
Cons: Not a “Do It Yourself” Install
Cost: $400

BabyZ wanted to get her exhaust modified for two basic reasons. One for increased performance and two, so she would sound like the high performance sports car she is. Three things hindered performance of the OEM exhaust system. First of all the OEM unit is very heavy (approximately 30 lbs.). The reason it is so heavy is that there is a lot of baffle material in it to make the engine very quiet. This results in the second performance problem that this material creates a large backpressure that reduces engine horsepower. The third problem is an additional source of backpressure in the exhaust pipe. Where the pipe goes under the rear axle it has a large kink put in it to apparently increase the clearance from what look to be quite ample with a full diameter pipe to an even greater clearance.

The kink is not easily seen in this picture of the OEM system as it is right behind the massive hangar and in front of the shinny resonator (close-up of this kink follows in a bit). The second basic desire was to hear the engine. BabyZ didn’t like being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She’s bad and doesn’t mind anyone knowing it!

Well we have a pretty good idea why BabyZ wants new pipes now, so the next problem is deciding what to put on instead. The first requirement was the system had to be all stainless like the OEM one. In some areas this may not be as important as it was to me but with the rain, humidity and chemicals present in Houston, this was a must. This eliminated the Remus as it is not stainless, a nice sounding unit for sure, but not stainless. The stainless units available were Supersprint, B&B and Borla. With Supersprint and B&B you can get a cat back bolt on system that uses the OEM hangars while the Borla is a weld up modular system. If you want to do this all yourself, and assuming you aren’t a stainless welder, you would not be able to do the Borla. This however may not be a total disadvantage if you don’t mind letting a muffler shop in on the fun. Two reasons balance out the ability to do it yourself are the cost of the system and the sound. Borla is cheaper even after the shop install and gives more sound with a deeper tone than either the Supersprint or B&B (IMHO). Based on the extremely detailed research done by theBaba, where he determined that the Borla did make a muffler (PN 40651) that fit the system and satisfied all BMW requirements (even though they did not list the Z3 on their application list) and testing out his fine ride, Hans, this was the system decided on for BabyZ. Another advantage for BabyZ is that she could keep the resonator which was felt desirable given her automatic tranny (of course you can drop the resonator for a manual if you like).

In the photo of the OEM and Borla mufflers on the ground the difference in size is apparent, but what you see is only part of the story. The weight difference is incredible with Borla weighing in at well under half of the OEM. The smaller size should also help with heat dissipation and reduce the heat exposure to the floor of the trunk and the battery. You can also see that the inlet and outlet to the muffler line up around the centerline of the muffler exactly at the same points as the OEM so the tips will line up with the bumper cut out without any modification.

This is a close up of the infamous “kink”. It actually is more of a smash. The pipe looses fully half of its diameter to go under the rear axle and meet the BMW engineers specified clearance. This smashed pipe is eliminated in BabyZ’s new pipe. In over 2 years of operation since installing the Borla with a full diameter pipe I do not see any indication on the pipe that it has ever been hit by the axle. This includes street, cross-country, track and autocross driving.

This shows the full diameter pipe going under the axle and you can hopefully see that there is plenty of clearance. Also, a new hanger was used on the pipe and attached to the original mounting point. (Note. The second OEM mounting point on the left of the muffler was also used but the third on the right rear of the muffler was not used.)

The shop foreman fabricated the stainless steel “Y” for the dual tips. It was quite a battle to see who would get to install the muffler on BabyZ, I guess this proves that “Rank Has It’s Privileges”. The tips are Borla Turbo Intercooled (PN 20102) and are also stainless steel.

The tips are staggered at the ends to follow the contour of the bumper. This is a personal preference as theBaba and others have theirs straight across and both ways look fine. Another thing to note is that the tips are not positioned on the centerline of the opening in the bumper cover but are moved toward the right side of the opening. This was done to give the maximum room for the tips to move left as the exhaust pipe warms up and expands. This will prevent the tips from touching and melting the surrounding bumper material. The tips are also positioned close together to further maximize the safe area for tip movement.

The finished product is and all stainless steel system with the resonator left in place to compensate for the low rpm preference of the automatic transmission. The Borla is the easiest available system to customize this way and can be installed with or without the resonator (true cat back) as per your preference.

Borla is also the loudest of the systems and depending on your desires this is either a positive or a negative. One drawback is that it is the loudest at 2300 to 2800 rpm’s. This equates to 50 to 60 mph and can resonate quite a bit with the top up. There are two other things wrong with that scenario in the first place; i.e. why is the top up and what are you doing going less than 60mph for any way, so it isn’t much of a consideration for me.

Installation of the Borla resulted in a nice performance boost that was most noticeable in the low rpm range especially in accelerating. The Borla was the first performance upgrade on BabyZ so there were no other mods that could have interfered with the effect of the exhaust upgrade. Since this time the chip has been upgraded with Dinan programming and the airbox has been “Fogged”. Each of these upgrades had an additional effect and I recommend that the full trifecta be done to get the maximum effect from all of the upgrades. One interesting side effect of the addition of the airbox upgrade is that the tone of the exhaust changed and a particular resonate tone was eliminated. I take this as an indication that a definite restriction in airflow was eliminated with this upgrade and that the exhaust was happy to accommodate the additional airflow.

One other benefit is that you won’t need “no stinkin stereo upgrades” when you are listening to the sweet Z3 engine music played through a Borla.

Cost of the muffler and tips is about $300. Installation, including all the needed pipe was $100 and it took about an hour and a half even with a substantial amount of discussion and picture taking. . The Borla is made of T-304 stainless and has a one million mile warranty. Borla’s website is at http://www.borla.com.

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BMW Fog Light Kit for the 2.3 Z3

When I bought my ’99 2.3 in March from dealer stock there was one option missing that I would’ve ordered – fog lights. I had considered after market PIAA’s. But when BMW came out with a retrofit kit, I ordered one right away. And the installation is pretty easy, since the car is pre-wired from the fog light connectors all the way to the switch connection behind the dash.

The part # for both 1999 and 2000 Z3s is 99 00 0 001 658. The suggested retail is $229, but they are available from Circle BMW for about $161 plus shipping (www.circlebmw.com)

The kit comes with easy to follow instructions that are well illustrated. The only tools required are simple hand tools, but a hook awl is handy to remove the existing fog light mount covers. I’m not very handy with tools around the house or cars. I usually have to be retrained each time I remove or replace my Stonegards. So I got a friend to help me, and I’m glad I did. Despite interruptions for picture taking and running into a glitch or two, it took about 50 minutes from unpack to drive away.

The preparatory instructions called for disconnecting the battery ground cable, but we decided against it to keep from reprogramming the anti-theft radio.

I began by removing the plastic fog light mount covers with a small pick bent to form a hook awl. They pull out easily.

Install the silver Tinnerman clips over the fog light mount as shown with the smooth surface facing you. (LH light opening shown.)

The RH fog light connector is located behind the bumper adjacent to the receiver dryer. Pull up on the wiring harness to cut the tape holding the connector to the harness. The instructions said to secure any other connectors that were loose with cable ties (not provided) to prevent wire chaffing or interference with the A/C compressor pulley. This did not appear to be a problem so we skipped it. Then pull the connector through the opening and push the RH fog light connector into the RH fog light assembly.

Position the RH fog light assembly in the opening and press the assembly flush against the Tinnerman clips. Then secure with two of the 4.2x16mm hex head screws provided.

The LH fog light is installed in the same manner, except there was no need to secure any wires with cable ties.

To access the fog light switch connector you have to drop the driver’s side lower trim panel (knee bolster). With a small screw driver, pop off the caps that cover five M6x12 hex head bolts and remove the bolts and washers. Then push out the oval knock out panel from the alcove where the switch will be mounted just left of the steering column. The fog light switch is easy to find behind the panel and is larger than the oval knockout opening. Now came the only tricky part of the installation. I couldn’t reach the connector and hold it up against the oval opening in order to push in the fog light switch to connect it. So we strung a wire around the connector and pulled it flush with the back of the oval opening and held it while we pushed the switch in. The round switch button should be positioned on the left.

Next, reassemble the knee bolster and lower trim panel.

Under the hood, remove the cover from the power distribution box and plug in the provided relay in position K47. There should also be a 5 Amp fuse in position 22. If missing, use a spare fuse. Mine was already in place.

Functional check of fog lights is next

Turn ignition to position 2 and switch low beams on. Switch fog light switch on the green fog light indicator on instrument cluster should illuminate when fog lights are on. Then select high beams – fog lights and indicator should go out. There is a screw adjustment on each light assembly to adjust the vertical beam – no adjustment available to side.

Last step is press in the black plastic covers supplied to fill in the opening.

Note: Two things are different from the factory fog lights:

The lens is crystal clear instead of a ribbed surface. Personally I like the appearance better.

The fog lights will only come on with the low beams, period. You can’t turn them on with only the parking lights selected as the factory installation allows. That I don’t like. I suspect the relay is the problem. My service rep promised to get me an answer about this oddity. Maybe the relays are defective or maybe the factory relay can be substituted. I’ll provide an answer as soon as I find out.

In summary

This was an easy installation that any 1999 or 2000 2.3 driver could do in 45-50 minutes. You’ll save $100 over the factory lights and have a unique set of fog lights. Now, go out and shine your light!

Short Shift

The Short End of the Stick

(A romp in the Connecticut woods with some seriously height-impaired shift levers)

Ron Stygar is a man of small tolerances. – Very small tolerances.

In engineering terms a tolerance is a lack of precision. Manufacturers build in many tolerances into their product. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes tolerances give you an added measure of safety. Sometimes, however, tolerances are merely a way of appealing to the most common tastes or a way of saving money. The shifter on the Z3 is a perfect example. The shifter in most Z’s feels like it belongs in a family hauler instead of a low-slung sports car.

Ron does not like this type of engineering tolerance. He believes in precision in his gear shifting and has invested a serious amount of time developing an approach, which both preserves your warranty (mostly) and offers you some serious short shifting fun. In addition, he’s come up with a magic do-hickey to improve your driving (more on this later).

Row Row Row your gears…

OK, so a little exercise is not a bad thing, but don’t we live in a world of modern-day laborsaving devices? Turns out we do.

It was Ben Liaw who first noticed that a significant change had been made between the M3 and the MZ3 shift levers. Ben took the shifter from the MZ3 and transplanted it into his M3, making short-shifting history. A number of people followed his lead, transplanting the heart of motorsport shifting into their more mundane vehicles, resulting in a serious amount of short shifting fun. But the fun was not without a price – the transplant of MZ3 shifters into 1.9-Z3’s resulted in issues with 5th gear hitting the transmission tunnel, but more seriously, while 328, 2.8-Z3 and 1.9-Z3 owners were enjoying the fun, MZ3 owners were left out of the party.

Enter Ron Stygar…

Ron goes back a bunch of years with BMWs. He has a 318ti with and ///M Coupe on order. In addition to his many other projects with his cars, Ron has spent a year investigating the ins and outs, ups and downs and the backs and forths of BMW shifters.

Ron has developed a number of shift levers, which just scream short shifting fun! At the prompting of Jon Maddux (the leather guy), Ron sent me a picture of some of his creations a while ago and invited me down to sample them in my Z3-2.8. Ron had heard that I had upgraded to the MZ3 shifter, but had gone a little further – I had dropped the height of my shifter by installing a round aftermarket knob. This, effectively, shortened the shifter another inch. The upside was seriously short shifts. The downside is the loss of the gorgeous BMW knob.

Ron said he had the solution.

Bug Collecting…..

It seemed like a good day for bug collecting, so I headed south to rural Connecticut where Ron does his work.

What I found when I got there was a meticulous garage, a workshop complete with fiche reader, and loads of special tools which Ron makes himself. Ron was interested in trying a number of prototype shortened MZ3 shift levers on my car. The plan was to start with the standard 2.8-Z3 shifter and work our way down to his most shortened unit. Along the way we would take key metrics:

The height of the stick (with the standard BMW knob),

The length of the throw from 3rd to 4th and the amount of force needed to shift from 3rd to neutral and from neutral to 4th.

We would tabulate these metrics into a guide for shift-lever reduction.

Levers 101…

Give me a lever long enough to move the world, a fulcrum big enough and a place to stand and I will break my lever!

Short Shifting in concept is an easy thing to comprehend if you think of the basic physics of a lever. A lever has two parts: the lever and the fulcrum.

The most common lever we are familiar with is a seesaw. Remember when we were kids and the seesaws had several adjustments, which allowed you to lengthen the lever on one side and shorten it on the other? The purpose of this arrangement was to allow you to distribute force in the most effective way. The lighter kid would sit on the longer side, the heavier kid on the short side. Do it right and each kid exerted the same amount of force. The difference was in the length of the lever on their side of the fulcrum. The longer side of the lever takes less force to move, but translates the force over a shorter span on the short side. The lever is a classic force multiplier.

If you imagine the seesaw stood on end, you’ve got your shift mechanism. The lever is your shifter. The fulcrum is the pivot ball which sits under your shift boot. In general, if the longer end of the lever is on the top, you will have to travel more to move the shorter end any significant amount, but it will be easy to move. This is the situation right out of the box. The advantage is that it’s easy for everyone to move the lever because of the force multiplication of the long end.

But it’s not much fun.

Adjusting the See Saw…

You can shorten the shift in a couple of ways: You can “adjust the see-saw” by extending the shift lever below the pivot ball. This is basically what the MZ3 shifter does in the 2.8-Z3 and 1.9-Z3 applications. This has the effect of slightly increasing the effort needed to shift, but it’s really not all that noticeable.

However, the 1.9-Z3 shifter has and additional twist – or rather an additional turn: it’s bent. The bend in the lever accommodates the different transmission in the 1.9-Z3. In the 1.9-Z3 implementation, the straight MZ3 shifter results in the bottom of the shifter and the transmission being seriously out of line, resulting in a condition called “notchiness”, or the difficulty in getting into gear. When you replace a bent 1.9-Z3 shifter with a straight MZ3 shifter, you can compensate for the increased vertical off-axis force by raising the fulcrum point of the lever. Ben Liaw sells a kit call the “ERK” (Effort Reducing Kit”) which allows you to do this. Luckily, in the 2.8-Z3 the difference in height is negligible, so this does not become an issue.

Where’s my Chainsaw?

Another way of changing the relationship of the lever in the shifter is by taking a more radical approach: Shorten the top of the lever.

Using this approach, you can, effectively, shorten the throw down to just about nothing, but there is a cost: as you shorten the upper part of the lever, the force needed to move the bottom part increases. Any reduction in shift throw results in an increased effort regardless of the method you choose to shorten the throw. Remember how the lever works. Extending the length below the pivot ball as well as shortening the length above the pivot ball will result in increased shifting force Shortening the upper part of the lever is the heart of Ron’s idea for short shifting the MZ3. Although Ron chose to shorten the prototype levers 3/4, 1 1/8, and 1 1/2 inch, to equate with a 5% , 10% and 15% reduction, this distance could be any value in between.

It’s actually quite a simple approach. It also leaves all the important parts, those below the lever, in the same relationship and generally intact. Other short shifting kits sold for the Z tend to replace more components, thus encroaching on your warranty. Ron’s approach trades off increased effort in exchange for a more standard implementation where it really counts. The question has always been – how much effort?

That was what we intended to find out.

The Measure of Success

Ron had created several prototypes of shortened sticks from BMW ///MZ3 shifters. Each change in length reduces the throw by five percent: The sticks were shortened by 3/4, 1 and 1/8, and 1 and 1/2 inches. We set out to measure the differences in throw and effort between both the standard 2.8-Z3 shifter, the ///MZ3 shifter and Ron’s shortened ///MZ3 shifters.

Jack of all Trades

Ron is an amazing guy. Not only is his garage neater than just about any room in my house, but he has the most incredible collection of tools, many of them specially made for the sole purpose of swapping out BMW shifters. The first hurdle was to get the car jacked up. Not an easy task. First of all, floor jacks don’t work because the nose is so close to the ground, same problem with ramps. Solution: Ron had built a set of “mini-ramps” which raised the car enough to get the jack under. Next problem: standard jack stands won’t fit the indentations on the bottom of the Z3 at the jack points.

Solution: Ron has built a set of adaptors for jack stands, which exactly fit the Z3. (Ron actually sells jack-stands modified to fit BMW’s, he has been asked by an owner to create a set of jack stands which will fit his Z3, but that’s another story). Once the car was up on the stands, we inserted standard ramps under the front wheels as a backup. We also chucked the rear wheels using Ron’s modified Tru-Cut chucks in the back of the car. This car was not going anywhere!

Mr. Wizzard Goes To Work

We measured the height of the MZ3 shifter with the modified aftermarket knob, then put everything back to standard 2.8. We then measured the height of the standard 2.8 shifter, removed the knob and measured the throw from 3rd to 4th.

We then used a calibrated scale to test the force needed to move the shifter from 3rd to neutral, then from neutral to 4th. By this point I thought I was back in Mr. Wizard’s physics class. Only Mr. Wizard was nowhere near as precise as Ron was!

How to shorten a Shifter

Ron, with the help of Manoj Mehta, Alan Alfano and his coworker Jim Guyan has come up with a way to shorten the upper portion of a shift lever that works well. He and his friend Alan Alfano have been dissecting BMW shift related parts for about a year now.

They cut apart a number of shifters to find out how they are constructed. They’ve discovered a couple of things about how the units are made: The shifter is a rod within a rubbery substance, surrounded by a metal shell. The purpose of the rubber is to isolate shift knob from the vibration and heat of the transmission. The upper portion of the inner rubber is glued to the inner rod. The lower portion is not.

Ron with the help from his dedicated and fanatical crew (OK, he buys them beer) has discovered a way of removing the outer casing from the unit without damaging it. They then cut down the top of inner rubber core to the desired length, while, at the same time cutting down the bottom of the outer casing to match. Afterwards, they re-glue the shortened parts together and polish the unit to a dazzling brilliance. The end product rivals BMW for workmanship.

Instead of adonizing the stick, Ron polishes his to a high gloss

Getting Bent

Ron also bends the ///MZ3 shifter to fit the M3/328 (and, presumably, the 1.9-Z3). His method uses a number of specially machined parts, which places no stress on the shift lever. The bending tool and clamping pieces were made by Alan’s Dad. Ron places the shifter into a vice and bends it to an angle and length known only to High School Math teachers.”When we first started to bend these things”, said Ron, “we assumed that the angle should be the same as the OEM shifter. But it turns out, that this results in the top of the shift lever being too far back, depending on the car. The increased length below the pivot ball, brings the top of the shift lever back”. That was way too much tolerance for a guy like Ron. He wanted precision, so he calculated the X-Y delta between the stock and new lever and bent the new lever accordingly. The new lever duplicates the position of the stock lever in neutral accommodating the height of the new lever.

Note: of course this does not apply in the 2.8-Z3 since the stick in both the ///M and the 2.8 are straight to begin with.

SAT’s (Shifting Attitude Test)

In order to quickly swap out the shifter, Ron developed several special tools to do the job. The first mimics the BMW tool used to remove the nylon cup from the carrier. Unfortunately, the tool must be applied from underneath the shifter, a tight squeeze. We loosened the heat shield under the car to make room. Once you reach it, a simple turn and the tool unhooks the nylon cup and the shifter pops out the top. “You know, a smart guy like you should figure out how to remove this things from the top, then anyone could do it”, I said. I guess Ron took this as a challenge to his engineering prowess, because a couple of weeks later, he sent me a picture of his new tool — the Upper Cup Removal tool. Unlike the BMW tool, this can be used from the top, significantly simplifying the job. Ron’s the only one in the world who makes these things.

We used another special tool, a bent screwdriver to remove the clip, which secures the bottom of the shifter to the rod, which connects with the transmission.

Using Ron’s tools, a shifter can be removed in a minute or so. You simply follow the reverse procedure, making sure the nylon cup is aligned properly for reinstallation. Push the securing back on and the new shifter is in. In the Z3, there is actually no need to remove the carrier or other parts to change the shifter. However, we did discover one “gotcha” — when reinstalling the rubber boot on the shifter at the end of the day we found out how hard it is to actually reseat the boot properly. There is actually a “lip” which needs to be hooked below the carrier. Ron’s tool which is designed to reseat the lip around the carrier in a 328 does not work in a Z3. We somehow managed to do it through brute force. Most do-it-yourselfers (like me!) tend to just let the boot sit on top of the carrier when they are done. The problem is that it will then get dirty and gritty, sure recipie for trouble down the road. Luckily, there was no need to reinstall the boot every time, instead we just swapped out the shift levers to take our measurements.

Even with the special tools, it still took us the whole afternoon to test all the sticks (and we weren’t even drinking beer yet!). The results are tabulated below:

Height “ Change “ Throw “ Reduction “ Change Change Force1 Change Force2 Change
std 2.8 5.0000 3.8750 2.8 ///M 3.75 5.75
//MZ3 4.7500 -.2500 3.2500 -.6250 -16% 4.75 +1.00 6.75 +1.00
“3/4 3.8125 -.9375 2.8750 -.3750 -26% -12% 5.25 +.50 7.50 +.75
“1 1/8 3.5000 -.3125 2.6875 -.1875 -31% -17% 5.75 +.50 8.25 +.75
“1 1/2 3.1875 -.3125 2.5000 -.1875 -35% -23% 6.25 +.50 9.13 +.88

The table shows the results of our obsevations in white and the calculations in gray. Force 1 is the force needed to go from third to neutral and Force 2 is that needed to go from neutral to fourth as measured by Ron’s force meter.

Basically, we found what we expected — as you decrease the length of the shaft, the effort to shift increases. We found that for every third of an inch the shaft was shortened, the effort increased by about 3/4 of a pound of force. Although it does not sound like much, it does tend to add up when you get down to the shortest stick. However, the increase in effort for all sticks was still in the “quite acceptable, thank you” category.

In addition to the metrics, I also offer my subjective impressions of the various levers:

2.8 Standard– Effort to shift is very light, but the throw is enormous. Coming from a Miata, the standard Z3 shifter feels like a giant step in the wrong direction. Feels like I’m driving my Maxima.

3.2 (//M) standard– Better, feels much more like a sports car should, but there seems to be room for improvement. There does not seem to be a great deal of effort or increase in notchiness by stepping to the //M shifter, even though the figures show that this is the largest increase in the force figures. If you’re looking for a marginal improvement, nothing drastic, in fact, something that even a BMW tech could not detect, this is the way to go. If you’re looking for something more read on.

3/4″ short– Effort is still very reasonable, but the shift throw is starting to come down significantly. But there still feels like there’s room for improvement. Personally, I think this stick falls into the gray area of either “too short” or “not short enough”, depending on what you’re looking for. Interesting side note: This is the stick which closely approximates the Miata throw. However, because the standard BMW knob is taller than the standard Miata knob, the final throw is more losely approximated with the 1 1/8th short.

1 1/8″ short – This was my favorite. When we measured the height of the standard knob with this unit it was almost exactly equal to the height of my aftermarket knob on the //M shifter. I’ve been very happy with the throw reduction, but this unit allowed me to use the standard knob. Very Nice! This definitely qualifies as a short-shift implementation. The shifts are more than an inch shorter than the standard 2.8-Z3 shaft and about 1/2-inch shorter than the MZ3 shaft.

1 1/2″ short– This approach was a little too extreme for me. Although it gives you toggle-switch-like performance, the effort increase and the notchiness were beginning to show, but not actually to the extreme where it was unmanageable, but the knob had begun to sink into the shifter well and getting into reverse was starting to be a pain. In addition, the reduction of the amount of external metal sleeve was beginning to show. I would have some questions about the longevity of this diminutive stick with a heavy-handed shifter.

The ///MZ3 shifter in a 2.8-Z3 results in about a 17% reduction in the throw. The 1 1/8th shortened lever results in another 17% improvement over the ///MZ3 shifter. Ron figures that a 30 to 40 percent reduction in throw is about optimal. Anything more than that is too extreme in his opinion. The 1 1/8th short results in about a 30% reduction from the standard 2.8 shifter.

Conclusion: if you were happy with the upgrade to the //M shifter, you’ll be twice as happy with the 1 1/8th short.

In the end, I decided to leave the short stick in my car. It allowed me to get the same performance I was getting from my aftermarket knob, but with the standard BMW knob which matched my dash. In addition, it also gave me an additional feature: by keeping aftermarket knob for “special occasions” I can shorten the shifter by another inch to almost the same dimensions as the 1 1/2 short! It’s a nice option if I feel the need for the occasional bout of “toggle-switch shifting”. If you’re interested, Ron is still looking for someone with an ///M to go through the same exercise with.

You want one of these bad!

Before I left, Ron showed me another special modification. It’s very simple: it’s an adjustable clutch stop.

If you look at the carpet floor in back of your clutch pedal, you’ll see a small black knob. The purpose of the knob is to stop your clutch at the end of it’s travel (it’s a sort of cushion). BMW has actually engineered in another tolerance in the clutch: the last 3 or 4 inches of travel don’t actually do anything!

Try it: Sit in your car with plenty of space in front of you. Shift into first and slowly let up on the clutch. Try to figure out the exact point that the clutch catches then press your foot down slightly. Look down at the floor and notice the amount of space till you hit the floor. What a waste! When you shift, if you are pressing your foot to the floor, you spending close to six inches of travel time in the tolerance zone.BORING!

Ron has the solution: This little do-hickey replaces your standard clutch stop, allowing you to raise it up. This prevents you from going all the way down to the floor with every shift. The result is a much quicker uptake from the clutch and a much faster launch. In fact, as I found out in front of a gang of bikers at a rest stop, it may be such a quick uptake that you’ll end up stalling out the first couple of times. (The bikers were actually very nice and waited to make fun of me until I left the parking lot).

This is the next best thing to sliced bread. Ron sells these things, but he also has a page to show you how to build one yourself. Believe me, if you can get your hands on one of these, do so ASAP!

The Future

Ron has indicated that he will soon be retiring from his job at the East Hartford, CT Pratt & Whitney motor mill. Ron helps maintain the computer / instrumentation systems facilities used in testing the F100 military jet engines. Although he now does things by request, he plans to offer his shortened shifters (and all his other neat thingees!) on a small commercial basis in the near future. If the quality of the work he did on the prototypes can hold up in production, I predict he’s got a ready market out there.

The smile never left my face in the 99 miles of driving back to Boston from Ron’s house. I parked just long enough to jot down these notes and switch to my “short-shorts” aftermarket knob (which shortens the shift by another inch!). Time to take my precision instrument out on the road again!

Postscript: If you think this modification was cool, let Ron know. If you’re hard up for projects for excuses to spend time with your car, Ron can help. Check out his web page which lists more than 120 separate articles with pictures showing stuff Ron has done with his and other BMWs.

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