Z3 Solution Window Blanket

Pros: Works much better than the BMW window blanket. On new cars it will prevent formation of the dreaded wave. On older cars it helps prolong rear window life.
Cons: Slightly bulkier than the BMW version. Not free.
Cost: $37.95 from Z3Solution

This article reviews the Z3 Solution alternative to the free BMW window blanket. The Z3 Solution product has been designed to minimize or eliminate the dreaded “wave” whcih forms when you leave the top down on your Z3. It does this by providing extra padding in critical areas. The blanket sells for $37.95 from Z3 Solution.

I’ll preface this article with a couple of comments:

* If you are leasing your Z3 and you plan on turning it back in, this article is probably not for you.

* If you plan on keeping your Z3 for a couple of years and are worried about it looking good, especially for resale, this is one of the products you should seriously consider.

The picture above shows two window-blankets. The one of the top is the Z3 Solution version, The one on the bottom is the standard BMW version. They are both made of just about the same type of flannel material, the BMW version is gray, the Z3 Solution version is beige. You can see from the picture that the Z3 Solution version is a bit smaller than the BMW version. There is one critical difference between the two of them: The blanket on the top can prevent the dreaded “wave” in the Z3 plastic windows.

The wave is the effect you see when you put your top down for an extended period of time. When you put the roof back up there is a slight wave which goes horizontally across the window. It’s caused by one of the roof supports hitting the window and creating pressure. Since the Z3 first came out, people have been trying to get rid of the wave by stuffing various things into the fold of the roof. There used to be round pillows you could buy and many people also used pipe insullation material in an attempt to get rid of the wave. None of these approaches worked very well.

Keith, of Z3 Solution, studied the folding of his roof and determined that many of the earlier attempts to combat the wave were really addressing the wrong part of the window. The actual culprit is not the place where the window folds, instead he determined that the second support from the back actually rubs along the window with a lot of pressure creating both the wave and the associated scratch marks.

Keith determined that some padding in the window blanket would be the perfect way to protect the window from the damage caused by the roof support. The problem was that padding the whole thing would mean that the blanket would be bulky in areas where the bulk wasn’t needed. The first think Keith did was to cut down the size of the blanket to just the critical window area. In this way the padded blanket places no extra strain on the roof which might lead to premature wear. The next thing was to pad only the lower two thirds of the blanket, eliminating the bulk at the critical bend in the window.

Keith was also concerned about the quality of the unit. He tested out various materials to simulate the BMW quality. The result is a product which might have come from BMW. Keith uses the same quality fabric, the same connectors and the same quality of fit and finish as the BMW unit. The only obvious difference is the longer loops on the BMW I mentioned that the longer loops and slightly shorter elastics on the BMW model do make it easier to handle and Keith said he would look into addressing this in production versions of the blanket. I have a ’97 2.8 with a hard top. In the fall I had the soft-top completely replaced by BMW, so I got a new window. The window has spent the winter crushed under the hard top, so when I took the top off for the spring I had a significant wave. Keith told me that the Z3 Solution blanket will not remove the wave, but it would keep newer cars from acquiring one. Based on experience, I have found if you hit the window with a hairdryer it will straighten out the plastic.

In several weeks of use, the blanket has practically eliminated the wave from my window. I’m very impressed and would recommend this highly to anyone who intends on keeping their car for a while. Using the Z3 Solution window blanket will definately prolong the life of your rear window and give you a much clearer view. With window replacement running anywhere from $150 and up, the $37.95 Z3 Solution Blanket seems like cheap insurance against a hefty repair bill.

Retrofitting BMW Roll Hoops

Pros: Upgrades both safety and image of pre-98 Z3’s to 98+ standards. Added protection in the event of rollover. Creates framework for additional accessories, like the windblocker.
Cons: Long, involved procedure. Plenty of opportunity to break stuff. Relatively high retrofit cost for what was a no-cost upgrade to the ’98s.
Cost: $633 ~ $840 (not including installation)

If your BMW Z3 does not have rollhoops it may be possible to retrofit them into your vehicle. BMW has an upgrade kit, but it can only be used on 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 (and remember — some “1997” cars were actually built in 1996).

There is no external indication of this. The cars made in 1996 and in 1997 look the same. However, the designers clearly thought that the car needed rollhoops and tried to plan for it, even though the hoops were not ready in 1996 and 1997. It looks like some kind of manufacturing error led to the release of the ’96 cars without the hoop supports, but in ’97 they had (at least) started to install the critical braces. In ’98 the hoops became a factory installed option, standard in the US, optional in Europe and other parts of the world.

(Editors Note: Another rumor was that BMW Legal held up the release of the roll hoops, but manufacturing had already made the design changes. So just the hoops themselves with removed from the scheduled production.)

If your car meets the VIN requirements, it means it can be retrofitted. When you order the kit, you will receive new hoops and a set of instructions. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems:

First, the kit is not complete, there are some additional parts required. The list of parts varies depending on the type of car you have (color and rear-console configuration).

Second, the instructions with the kit do not cover the install for a Harmon Kardon equipped vehicle.

This article seeks to address these shortcomings and to provide the potential hoop-installer with enough information to make the decision to install themselves or to have BMW do the job.

General Instructions

BMW will generally quote about 5 hours of time to do the install. Most BMW dealers charge around $75 per hour. A competent do-it-yourselfer should plan on about 8 to 10 hours. Although it’s not a technically complex procedure, there are lots of steps and some fabrication required. In general, anyone handy with a wrench and power drill can probably do it. The only “special” requirements are for the special tools required: TORX bits, metric torque wrench, Hex keys, dremal tool or power drill and screwdrivers.

Although your car can be driven during this procedure, it will likely have a lot of small parts loose, so it’s not advisable. Therefore you should plan ahead and have all the parts and tools ready beforehand.

Before you start, clean the rear window. Once the hoops are on it will be a lot harder to do so you want to do a really good job. In addition, have a couple of towels around to protect the window as you work. Generally speaking, the top is down for most of the install, so only a small part of the window is exposed.

As with all procedures read all the instructions first. Print these instructions beforehand. You’ll want them close by as you start to take your car apart. The hoop kit will come with instructions as well, but they will be in German with an English transation in the back. It’s much easier to follow these instructions in English (unless, of course, you speak German 😉

As you remove small parts, tape them to the instruction sheet or tape them near where they came from (whichever is easier for you). There are lots of different sizes and shapes and they are easily confused.

When you are done, sweep up before moving the car, that way you will not run over an errant screw and ruin a $200 tire.

BMW only wrote up instructions for cars with the “Storage Compartment” option. They did, however, provide parts for retrofit of HK subwoofer cars, but with no additional instructions. Since the majority of the instructions in this article come directly from the BMW english instructions shipped with the kit, they are intended for the “Storage Compartment” installation, but can generally be used with the HK subwoofer. I have added notes where the Harmon Kardon installation differs. These are identified by “HK NOTE:”. There are no instructions for the Nokia subwoofer and no one I have ever talked to has attempted to retrofit hoops to a Nokia-equipped car.

Parts

The part number for the main kit is 54-61-9-408-817. BMW list price is $640.00, but you can find them at a discounted cost of $430 from some internet-friendly BMW parts departments. You can also try your local BMW dealer who will generally give BMWCCA members a discount on parts (15 or 20%).

In addition to the kit you also need to order a replacement set of plastic covers for the rear storage/subwoofer area:

The actual part numbers will differ depending on the color of your interior and your rear compartment type (Storage or HK Sub). See the following table for the list of parts you’ll need to order in addition to the hoop kit:

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

The kit for the subwoofer will only work with the Harmon Kardon subwoofer. There is no kit available for Z3s with the “regular” Nokia subwoofer.

HK Note: If you’re doing HK, you’ll also need six 6×20 (6 mm x 1mm) pan-head screws which can be bought from Home Depot or your local hardware supply.

You may also want to order a number of small caps for the screw heads:

Black Screw Cap: 51 161 949 793

Beige Screw Cap: 51 168 398 920

You will be removing about 6 of them and will, more than likely, destroy most of them in the process.

You should also order a gasket: 51 168 399 072

This part fits in between the new rear covers. Although you do get one gasket with it, the extras will allow you to seal up the area between the covers.

Thre are two extra projects which are easy to perform as part of this install. For them you will need 4 size “00” washers, a small strip of velcro “loop-side” and a piece of foam padding approximately 12 x 12 inches large and 1/4 inch thick. These projects are not absolutely necessary to do for the hoop install, but since you will have the car apart, it’s a good time to do it.

Although it’s beyond the scope of this article, hoop-install is also a perfect time to replace your rear speakers.

54-61-9-408-817 Kit Contents

HK Note: You will need to modify part H. You can toss parts I and J – you won’t need them.

Extra Parts:

You should have the following “Extra parts”:

m. seatbelt tower covers (L & R)

n. inner covers (L & R)

o. center cover

p. brackets (2x)

q. gasket set

r. pan head screws (from Home Depot – HK only) (6x)

Tools

Note: In the instructions, the word “spanner” means “wrench”. The instructions were clearly written by Germans for the UK market.

You’ll also need a socket set (with philips screwdriver bits for hard to reach places) and a saw or a dremal tool if you are doing the HK install.

Important Safety Tip: When sticking tools down inside the car, be sure they are tightly attached. When I did this, in the final tightening of the hoops, I dropped a TORX attachment down into the opening and had to take the whole thing apart. Don’t let this happen to you. Suggestion: tape your tools together.

Phase I – Lay out your parts

Lay out a sheet or large towel and place all your parts on it. Take inventory and make sure you have everything:

Phase II – Strip Your Car Naked

In order to install the hoops, you will need to remove a large number of parts from the car. Before starting, lay down a sheet, or large towel where you will place the parts you remove. Be sure to label each part as you remove it, this will help when you go to put it back together.

Important Safety Tip: You will need to have the top folded down. The rear window will be exposed and will be very close to where you are working. You should take extra care to cover the window with a towel to protect it.

Note: Those darn screw covers! They are easy to tear. I’ve used a strong paper clip to remove them, but you are better off just buying a bunch before you start and not worrying about how badly you screw them up in the removal process. There is a small hole along the edge, you can grasp onto this hole and pull. Usually the cover just shreds at this point.

Note that you just gently lifting up the console enough to get at the screws. Be careful, it’s still attached at the front and you can damage it if you pull too much.

Hint: raise the roof at this point. It gives you a little more room to work in for the next step and there’s less danger of hurting the rear window as you remove the screws behind the storage box.

Now lower the roof.

HK Note: In order to gain access to the HK compartment, pull up on the cover, hard, from the front center area. It is hinged at the back and should just fold back. Don’t worry about breaking it – you’re just going to throw it away.

Next remove the grill for the HK “speaker”. You can do this by grasping the sides and pulling towards you. Remove your “snorkel” (this is the part which moves the sounds from the HK down to the grill) by pulling it outwards through the grill opening. Next, remove the HK subwoofer by unscrewing it from it’s mounts (4 screws) and unhooking it from the wiring harness. (for more information see this article from //MZ3.NET)

The instructions “Undo the clips(1) on the rear floor covering” refers to the plastic piece behind the seats. The diagram shows you looking from the drivers side towards the passenger seat belt. Unfortunately, in order to get this part to move as much as you need to, you also have to undo the sill strip at the bottom of the door. I just pulled up (HARD) and it came off. While you’re pulling it feels like you’re going to break it, but it’s pretty resilient. There’s probably a better way to do it. I suspect if you pull up and “reverse curl” the sil, the part will release from the fasteners. However on mine, 2 fasteners pulled out, still attached on both sides. This was not a big deal, I simply removed the third, and inserted it into the sil on reinstallation.

Phase III – Install the Hoops

OK, you now should have a naked car. The next step is to start installing the hoop supports and the hoops themselves.

HK Note: Before starting, attach your extra “HK part P” to “Part B” (see the parts list) with the screws you got from Home Depot. This bracket will support your HK subwoofer later on in the install.

HK Note: Skip this step, you don’t need the hinge

HK Note: Skip this step (F 36 54 059)- don’t remove the old silver “hinge supports” – you need them to back up the Tenax fasteners.

HK Note: you’ll need to “modify” the box which fits inside the console by cutting off the ends as indicated by the red line in picture. You don’t use the center box, but you will need the “ears” (the ends). Keep as much of the ends as will allow you to preserve the slots (these are used for the trim parts to secure with).

HK Note: Skip this step (F36 54 060). You will not need the hinges. Look at the next step, but skip down to the next HK Note instructions.

HK Note: Secure the side parts (highlighted in red in the picture) as indicated in the instructions. Next put the HK Subwoofer back in, reconnecting it to the wiring harness. The HK Cover does not use the hinges. Instead, it is secured by small tabs in the back. The new top will need to be inserted vertically. Before doing so, you must modify the metal plate (highlighted in yellow)

You’ll need to drill a couple new holes in the plate which secures the front of the cover. The problem is that the “studs” in the cover don’t line up the way the ones in the old cover do. I put some masking tape onto the cover and “pushed” an indentation into it to see where the holes should go. I then used my demal to make the holes. Careful: I made a mistake and made the holes a little too large, so I to buy a new part and start all over.

You also need to enlarge the existing holes to make room for some new screws on the cover where the old studs went. The new top then just “drops in”. You need to be careful to place it down vertically or you might break the small plastic parts which hold it on.

Phase IV Additional Hints and Tips

Now that you’ve taken most of the back console apart, you can take the opportunity to improve things a little more. There are two major areas in the rear console which can be improved with a little extra work:

– Eliminate the buzz from the HK subwoofer

– Improve the Tenax Fasteners (these are the little round knobby bits you fasten your boot cover to)

First wrap your subwoofer snorkel in some kind of foam insulation when you are reinstalling it. This prevents it from vibrating. I used some backing foam, but you can find this stuff at any harware store in the insulation section.

Next, get some velcro. You’ll just need the “fuzzy” (loop) side. Cut it into small (1/4 inch) strips. Look for wear-points on the inside of the grill. If you can’t find any, simply place the velcro near each corner. If you do find a wear point, place the velcro over it. This prevents the grill from buzzing.

While you’ve got the Tenax fasteners off, do the “Robert trick” – put a couple of “00 washers” behind them to stick them out more and make the boot easier to fasten.

Phase V Cleanup

Parts-is-parts… and if you did the HK install, you’ll have a bunch of extras:

Don’t worry about it. The HK install does not require these parts as they are designed to support the storage compartment install.

You did it!

Congratulations! You’ve now got a safer, cooler looking car.

Now that you’ve got rollhoops you can also avail yourself to another nice feature: The Wind Blocker. There are two versions available, a clear, plexiglas version from Z-Aids and a mesh version form BMW (Part # 82-15-9-408-546). This article from MZ3.net provides a pretty good comparison of the two products. I personally own both of them and enjoy using the clear screen in the spring and fall, reserving the mesh screen for the summer (because you can fold it down if you want the “wind through your hair” effect).

Overall, I’m very pleased with my rollhoops. Hope you are too!

City Lights Project

Pros: Lights up your highbeams when your parking lights are turned on. “Rounds out” the light display on the front of the car when the low beams are turned on. Inexpensive parts.
Cons: Pretty worthless for anything other than display purposes. Not an easy install.
Cost: ~ $25,00

Ever look inside your high-beam? If you do, here’s what you’ll see: See that black spot? It’s actually a hole in the reflector. You may ask yourself “Why is there a black hole in my light?”. The answer is “Manufacturing Efficiency”.

Basically, that black spot is where a small light, called a European City Light, would go if you happened to live in Europe and owned a 1.8 Z3. “What’s a 1.8?”, I hear you asking, “don’t you mean 1.9?”. Nope. I mean 1.8. The most inexpensive Z ever produced. The base model we never got here. The 1.8 was an 8 valve version of the euro 1.9 engine. The cars were produced as inexpensively as possible. In order to cut down on cost. As part of this cost reduction, there are no front bumper lights (hey! saved close to $40).

In Europe, the front marker lights work differently from the US. When we turn on our “parking” lights, the amber corner lights and the amber bumper lights come on. In Europe it’s illegal to have amber lights in the front, so they replace the amber bumper lights with white ones and they make it so the corner lights don’t come on. The corner lights are used only as turn signals. On the 1.8, instead of putting bumper lights on the car, they elected to mount the lights inside the high-beam enclosure producing a forward-facing white light. Here in the US, the City Lights were never used. However, because the 1.8 needed them, every Z has the vestigial hole in the reflector (note: so do other bimmers).

The hole is plugged at the back by a kind of “blank” on the back of the light. If you could peer inside, however, you would see that they do include the molding required to seat the socket. I decided I liked the idea of City Lights because I thought they would look good, showing off the entire light housing on low-beam and when the parking lights were turned on. The job looked easy, although I knew I would have to remove and remount the lights.

First thing I did was to find the part numbers:

The parts I was interested in were those labeled “8” and “9” in the diagram shown above. #8 is the socket (63-12-8-389-744 “Lamp Socket”), #9 is the bulb. #3, by the way is another European feature which allows you to aim your headlights from inside the car. This power is considered far too dangerous by the DOT for Americans to have access to, but that’s another story.

I called my local dealer (Herb Chambers) and ordered the parts ($17.03). It took about two days to get them. I was very happy until I actually saw the parts:

The socket connects via two very small pins. The problem is that I know of almost no connectors to mate to this to provide the power. I checked the diagram and, sure enough, there is a special connector, but it’s part of the European wire harness. I’d have to buy the whole harness in order to get the two connectors. Rather than shell out these kinds of bucks, I went in search of other possibilities. I checked the Boat Store and the Car Store before remembering good, old You-Do-It Electronics. Sure enough, YDI actually had a part which, with some significant modifications, would work.

They are called Molex .093 Connectors. They are basically a nylon housing around a set of connectors. I also bought some 1/2″ screw-size (5/8″ Chassis hole size) Vinyl Grommets (more on this later). In addition, I had a couple of wire-taps, some wire and a couple of grounding connectors. The next step was to fabricate the connections.

I did this by wrapping a grommet around the “Male” Molex connector. I then inserted it, “backwards”, wrapped in Saran Wrap into the lamp socket and used epoxy to fill in the spaces around the grommet (the Saran Wrap keeps the whole thing from getting stuck to the lamp socket). Once these were set, I attached the wire to the metal “female” inserts which would grip the two prongs on the inside of the socket. I inserted them into the holes (once again, backwards, it takes a little muscle) and once again used epoxy to seal them up.

The result, although still looking home-made, is actually pretty good. The Grommet makes a good seal on the wires and good seal on the lamp socket. The female molex connectors require a little bit of muscle to force them onto the pins, but once there they stay stuck on, further reinforcing the seal. The next step was to remove the lights from the car. See this article for more information on how to do this.

Once the lights were off the car, it was time to drill the holes. I used a Dermal tool to make the holes. Looking at the light socket, you can see two “wings” which are clearly meant to secure it when it is inserted intot eh light. I had a few hint’s from mod-god Ron Stygar who has also installed these. He sent me a picture of the inside of the “plug” (left – don’t ask me how he took this – I suspect one of those “Mission Impossible” microcameras or a team of miniaturized technicians helped). Judging from the picture, the big “wing” goes on top, the little “wing” goes on the bottom. I used the Dermal tool very slowly, while holding a vacuum hose near the work to suck out any small pieces.

Although the work was a little rough, the socket fit in fine and stayed in when I twisted it to the right. After drilling out both lights, I completed the job with the wiring:

I got power by tapping into the connectors for the side marker and connected to a convenient ground. On my car the positive lead was the light gray wire, but I suggest you check with a multi-meter on your car. Note that I have connected it “downstream” of a BMW connector. This way, if I ever need to remove the city lights, I can simply replace the pigtail which goes down to the marker bulb (I actually happen to have a couple of spares anyway). This ensures there’s no issue with dealer support on an electrical issue.

I put the lights back into the car, cursing BMW designers the whole way (would it have killed them to leave an inch or so slack in the wires going to the bulbs?).

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give this project a 7 or an 8 in terms of difficulty, mostly because of the need to remove and remount the lights and the necessity to fabricate the connector part. Overall I’m happy with it. It took me about four hours to do and the total cost was about $25.

Update: I got an email from Greg Paul who wrote me to say that he had also been looking for the connector for about a year with no success. He had bought replacement lights from Circle BMW and they gave him Euro Lights with the City Lights already installed. Unfortunately, no connectors. He had asked the dealer and even went so far as calling the factory to see if anyone knew which connector they were… No luck… He then had an unfortunate incident — he smashed a fog light.

When they went to replace the fogger, he noticed that the connector looked familiar, in fact it was the same as the City Light! He looked up the parts and was able to find the socket and pigtails to connect the fogger to the car. He ordered extra parts and was able to also connect the city-lights.

That’s the good news (and special thanks to Greg for writing me to let me know about the part). Bad news is the price of the connectors: About $25 each (list). Using the BMW connectors just about doubles the cost of the project:

You’ll need 2 each of 61138352390’s (Sockets $20.48 each) and 4 each of 61130007569’s (pigtails $2.85 each). The pigtails need to be inserted into the socket to form the entire connector, but it’s real easy. (see cl1.jpg)

After inserting the pigtails, you need to lock them in. You do this by inserting a small screwdriver and pushing the black locking collar as indicated. (cl2.jpg)

Once this is done, you have your connectors and you can hook them up as described earlier in this article.

Gotcha Covered – BMW Boot Cover

I got a new job! – Yay!

Better pay, better title, better crew to work with. However, there was one big problem: In my old job the Z3, which is my daily driver, got parked in a garage. Nice and safe, walls on both sides, protected from the elements. I am now faced with the issue of parking in a public lot, with loads of other people with their doors aimed squarely at my car on a daily basis. In addition, since I like to keep my tonneau cover on during the summer months, I had to figure out something to keep the car interior protected from the elements (in the winter I run with the hard top, so it’s not as much of an issue). I, of course, suggested to management that they build me my own, private garage. The suggestion was not well received.

What to do?

Z3Solution to the rescue!

I remembered that Z3Solution was now offering a cover that also includes unique padded door protection. This would allow me to not only protect the cockpit, but also the sides of the car from those that would poke my baby. A cockpit cover is a great idea if you park outside a lot. Remember – BMW says that you must use your tonneau when you are running top-down or your top may get worn prematurely. Putting the tonneau on and taking it off is much more of a pain that putting on a cockpit cover. A Cockpit cover will also keep your interior cooler than leaving the roof up.

I ordered the cover the week before I was scheduled to start my new job in order to give me some time to get acquainted with it. I also own another cover from MM Marketing that I have used on occasion, but it was no where near as nice as the Z3Solution cover. The Z3Solution cover is cut much fuller than the MM Marketing version and also includes the door protection with built-in foam pads. I can actually put the cover on the car with the top up or down and it fits just fine.

The cover attaches at several points:

* There are Velcro ties in the front that attach to the wipers.

* There are small “barrels” in the back. These are basically fabric-covered tubes that can be shoved down between the tonneau cover or placed into the trunk opening to secure the back.

* Unique to the Z3Solution cover are the tie-downs that slip into the crack at the bottom of the door. These help secure the sides and the side-padding.

Overall Impressions

The quality of the cover is excellent. It is well made from something called “Weathershield” fabric from Nextec. Weathershield is light, compact and very weather resistant. While most covers have a weatherproof layer appied onto them, Weathershield actually has the waterproofing applied to each individual strand of fabric. This means that the protection is much better than most traditional car-covers (see comparison chart). It compares very favorably with NOAH, but with significantly less bulk. The stitching on the unit is very sturdy and all the parts look like they will last a long time. The entire cover and all parts that touch the car are covered in a soft flannel. The number of connection points to the car is excellent: two in the back, two in the front, two on either side. There have been several windy days and the top stayed securely anchored and I have noticed no “rubbing”. I have used the cover for several weeks and have found that the design works well with the top up or down. The ability of the top to repel water is simply amazing!

As I intend to use the cover to protect my top from weathering, being able put the cover on with the top up was critical to me. In the spring and fall it will act as a safeguard against the torrential rains we sometimes get in New England and in the summer it will protect the top from sunlight and keep the cockpit cool.

With the top up, it’s easy to attach the cover. Simply plunk it on top and make all the connections. It does require a trip around the car, but I can do it in about 20 seconds. Removal is even quicker. It’s not quite as easy to put the cover on with the top down (it tends to billow around a bit), but it’s also not particularly difficult. In general, it’s much more time consuming to put the cover on than to put the top up (assuming you don’t use the tonneau cover), but the extra protection justifies it’s use for me. If you do use the tonneau religiously, you’ll find it much easier to deal with a cockpit cover than taking the toneau off and raising the roof.

Before ordering the cover, I also considered a full car cover. I decided not to go that route because I did not want to put the cover on the car when it was dirty. I was primarily interested in protection for the parts susceptible to rain and sun: the interior and the fabric top.

The Z3Solution cover doestouch parts of the car and I’ll have to see what the long term effects will be, but early indications are good: the sides do not move significantly because of the bulk of the foam padding and the tie-downs, therefore the cover does not rub on the paint.

At $109 The Z3Solution cover is slightly more expensive that some of the competitors (MM Marketing offers its unit for about $80), but the full cut of the cover, the Weatherguard material and the ding protection make it well worth the increment. It’s significantly less expensive than a full body cover and takes up less space in the trunk (but it should be noted that the padding makes it bulkier than a normal cockpit cover).

The cover comes with a nice carrying case, but so far I’ve never used it. I just fold the thing up and dump it in the trunk.

Cockpit covers may not be for everyone. I have a number of friends who are comfortable with parking their cars outside for long periods of time with no protection. For me, however, the protection afforded by the cockpit cover, including the protection from the inconsiderate co-worker’s doors, easily justifies the cost of this new accessory…..and I get to keep my new job!

Comparison chart from www.covercraft.com

Clear/White Front Light Replacement

An Illuminating Project – Front Light Install

It’s a kind tradition in the BMW world to replace your orange blinkers with white lenses. I’m not sure where this tradition came from. Perhaps it’s just a way of selling more aftermarket parts, but it certainly makes the car look cooler!

I succumbed to white light fever a while ago when I replaced everything except the front lighting pods following the instructions on this article. The new clear rear lights looked really great. The effect of the white lights was not so much as an addition of anything, but more of a subtraction of an annoying other aspect of the car. On a black car like the Manx, it really helped to smooth out the lines. But there was still something wrong — the white lights looked great, but there were still those annoying orange ones in the front pod. They became even more annoying when I switched to yellow fog lights. Too many colors. However, at the time, the cost of replacing the front pods would have been close to $600. For that, I could live with a little annoyance.

But then things changed when BMW released the Y2k Z3’s. White lights were now standard on all Y2K Z3’s. In addition, they have decided to make the white lights available for all US models. This brought the price down to $500. Let’s see, 20% BMWCCA discount and we’re at $400. Hmmmmmmm. May be a possibility…. The final straw was when Zeroster posted that a Circle BMW was running a sale on the white lights at $344. $344! For that price I could not resist. A quick phone call and the lights were on their way to me.

The lights came about a week later. The interesting thing was that they included not only the main headlamp units, but also the various side markers (which I had already, but they’re not very expensive, so it didn’t matter — now I have spares). The lights came complete with bulbs as well, all-in-all a very good deal. Of course, you also get those cool multi-lingual instructions which are really, really helpful (honestly, it amazes me that BMW has not figured out that it’s main market being the US, the main language (the one which accompanies the pictures) should be English.

It’s quite easy to remove the lights. All you need to do is remove four screws. the problem is the re-installation of the lights. That’s where it gets tricky.

First of all, start with the driver’s side of the car. The passenger side is harder to remove because of the washer fluid reservoir. You should remove the the top two screws first. However, there’s a special precaution to take: The screws do not go into metal. BMW have developed an incredibly Rube-Goldberg-esque system for attaching the lights to the body which also serve as aiming devices: the enclosures the screws fit into actually screw and unscrew themselves into the body of the car. If you unscrew the screw-sheath, you can move the light. Before attempting to unscrew, place a wrench on the screw-sheath to stabilize it. The wrench will hold it in place, preventing you from seriously changing the alignment of the lights as you remove them. This works well on the two front screws, for those in back, you need to get a bit more creative. I used the flat blade of a small screwdriver to stabilize them, but even then I could feel them moving.

Once the lights are removed, you can simply reach behind them and unplug all the bulbs. You then position the new white lights and reverse the process. If you have not changed the positions of the screw-sheaths, everything will be pretty much aligned and you’ll be ready to go. Before you do, however, try this simple test: Take a small piece of cardboard and run it under the lights. If you encounter any resistance (like the light is resting on the body of the car) you will need to take them out again and realign the screw-sheaths in the back. Once you are done, close the hood and make sure the edge of the lights line up with all the body parts. Sometimes, you just need to play around with it until you get it right. The first time I did it, I removed and reinstalled the lights in about five minutes. When I noticed they were not aimed properly, I did the procedure again and it took me about 30 minutes per side, but the alignment is perfect.

Another tip – when you get to the passenger side you’ll need to complete the install with one last screw down the back. The problem is that the screw need to be positioned before you can tighten it and there’s no way to get back there because of the reservoir of washer fluid. I solved the problem by taping the screw to the driver using the handy-man’s secret weapon: duct tape. This allowed me to position the screw and complete the install.

The final results is exquisite! The White lights look great — for only $344 I’ve completely removed that annoying orange from the front of the car. The replacement lights are BMW OEM, but there were some differences. The new lights did not have the cool liquid/bubble level and it seems to be missing a vestigal gear. The purpose of this gear seems to be to mount to a motor in the car. Many european cars actually allow you to change the aiming of the headlights from inside the car. They allow you to raise and lower the lights depending on your load. This is particularly critical in soft-sprung French cars, but somewhat wasted in the firmer German builds.

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.

Discuss this article and other Convenience upgrades in the

///MZ3.Net discussion forum.

Valentine One Radar Detector

A police officer had a perfect hiding place for watching for speeders and used it quite often. But one day the officer found traffic surprisingly tame. After a long while, the officer found the reason: a 10 year old boy was standing on the side of the road with a huge hand painted sign which said “RADAR TRAP AHEAD!”

A little more investigative work led the officer to the boy’s accomplice, another boy about 100 yards beyond the radar trap with a sign reading “TIPS” and a bucket at his feet, full of change.

I’ve been using a BEL 605 for about 5 years now and another BEL product for about 7 years. Both detectors have kept me out of trouble and both offer a good number of bells and whistles. I was, therefore, unhappy when my 605 stopped working. Since it was 5 years old and my original price was only $40, I figured I got my money’s worth out of it. Time to buy a new detector.

My criteria was pretty simple: I wanted to pay as little as possible for as much protection as I could get. I wanted to get the best deal. I did my homework and consulted Car & Driver’s detector comparisons. Of course, the leader is a V1 from Valentine Research. No big surprise. Everyone knows V1’s are the best. They are also the most expensive ($400). Looking at the figures, you can get about 3/4 the protection of the V1 for about 1/4 of the price. I therefore decided to check out the latest from BEL. I rejected the higher priced units, looking for something in the $100 to $150 range (heck, if I was going to spend real money, I’d buy a V1 and be done with it!). After some review (and finding a number of good prices combined with a $30 rebate) I chose a 846i.

The 846i has a lot of neat features – immune to VG2, good field of view for Laser (about the same as Valentine, and good sensitivity on K and Ka band. The best feature, however, is the display. It lights up and tells you what type of RADAR you’re dealing with. No need to squint at little LEDs. It has a digital voice, but you can disable it and just use tones. The 846i also includes Safety Warning System (SWS) detection – . This feature alerts you to the messages broadcast in K-Band by certain road signs (the system has not received wide acceptance or use, but is used on the Mass Turnpike).

The rest of the controls (mute/dark/city) all behave like my 605. The final cost (with a $30 rebate – only good till the end of December 98) was about $110. The unit worked well when I first tried it. The range, however, seemed somewhat shorter than I remembered compared to my 605. I soon encountered another, perhaps more serious problem: it’s not loud enough for top-down driving. If you look on the right of the unit, you can see a small speaker. This speaker actually points away from the driver when mounted in the center of the windshield (at least here in the US). When I dropped the top (on a chilly 32 degree day!) I found that even turning the volume all the way up, I had trouble hearing the warning. I totally gave up on the voice (which is kinda dorky anyway) and was just using the tone alerts. The major problem here is that they have used the most noticeable sounds for X band with K being the least distinctive. Since most highway RADAR is K, this left me somewhat exposed.

I was getting pretty discouraged at that point when I ran across another article which indicated that “except for the V1, all other detectors seem to have lost range over the venerable ESCORT and PASSPORT in the K and X range when wideband KA was added”. Suspicions confirmed – the unit did not perform as well as some older detectors. Darn!

OK. It’s been a good year. I had a big bonus coming and when you weigh the cost of increased insurance against the cost of a ticket (not to mention the ticket itself) you can easily start to talk yourself up to justifying the $400 cost of a V1 (OUCH! it still hurts even saying $400!). The clincher was an unexpected Christmas present (it was from my Mom…) of $100 (because she totally gave up trying to shop for me decades ago!). I picked up the phone and plunked down my four bills. A week later, a flimsy cardboard box arrives and I’ve joined the V1 set. Retrofitting the power took about 30 minutes. The V1 cord is a large, flat cord with RJ11 (telephone) jacks on either end. I elected to simply mount the unit where the BEL had been – secured to the top of the dash with velcro.

Initial Impressions:

Let’s just say that Mike Valentine clearly spent most of his R+D on the inside, rather than the packaging of this unit. It looks a little unfinished and really reminds me of my original FUZZBUSTER – big black box with a big knob and a big red light. It’s actually about half the size of the FUZZBUSTER and the technology involved is clearly as different as Voyager is from Capt. Kirk’s Enterprise . It just doesn’t look that way from the outside. The V1 kinda looks like it was designed by Dilbert.

Come to think of it, there is a vague resemblance.

The utilitarian black plastic housing of the V1 has very few curves and the display looks like it was something of an afterthought. The band indicators, small LEDs for X, K, KA and Laser, are a real letdown from the more sophisticated BEL display. Warnings are characterized by the “beep” and “braaap” system. If you’re good with music, they may be distinctive enough and if you can remember a “beep” means X band and a “braaap” means K, you may not have as many problems with the display as I do.

The unit itself is also gargantuan compared with my little 605. Granted, the 605 does not have LASER detection, nor does it offer a rear-facing detector.

The controls on the V1 are also a little hard to get used to. The big knob controls sound for “important alerts”. The “balance control”-like ring controls the sound for “muted alerts”. The BEL provides an auto mute feature which drops the volume of an alert to a series of “clicks” which can be silenced with a push of a button. If you press the big knob on the V1 during a full volume alert, it changes to the “muted” volume level, however, there is no way to totally silence the unit without a turn of a knob. It took a little getting used to.

So far, I’d still give the ergonomics prize to BEL.

I’ve already mentioned my lukewarm reception of the small K, KA, X and Laser LED’s, but I should temper this with a big, enthusiastic thumbs up for the RADAR locator display.

After couple of RADAR encounters, I cannot imagine how I’ve ever lived without this feature! I’ve got to hand it to Valentine – this has got to be the biggest innovation in detector history! (OK, the $400 is still smarting). Not only does the locator display tell you where the RADAR source is, it also tells you how many sources it is monitoring. This allows you to sniff out revenuers who sit in the shadow of another radar signature hoping you’ll get sloppy. Let’s say you always pass the Dunkin Donuts and it always makes your detector go off. One morning you’re rolling by, the detector goes off, your tendency is to ignore it, but instead of one source, it shows two so you hit the brakes! There, hiding behind that big jelly roll is Officer Bob Speed, hoping you’ll just fly on by, helping to fill his quota. The V1 has just earned it’s keep. There are a couple of other features I’ve discovered in the past week or so – The V1 actually includes a light sensor, so it automatically dims itself at night and brightens during the day. The unit is also upgradable – Valentine will upgrade both software and hardware as new features are added.

The V1 operates in three modes which are changed by pressing and holding the big knob when you’re not under fire:

A – “All Bogeys” mode. In this mode, the detector alerts you, at full volume, of every burglar alarm, automatic door, microwave dish or any other source of RADAR (including Police RADAR) in the vicinity. For those of us who live in the city. This mode will drive you stark raving mad in about a minute.

l – “Little L” Logic mode. In this mode the detector filters out what it does not think are “significant” sources of RADAR and only calls attention to them with the “muted” volume if they seem to increase in strength. If something seems really threatening, you get full volume. I’ve found this works well for me on my daily commute.

L – “Big L” Super Logic mode. In this mode the detector tries to make the most decisions for you. I’ve fundamentally never trusted computers, so I’m a bit leery of this mode and have not made a lot of use of it.

Nice features, but pretty much equivalent to BEL and other makers with advanced logic for signal processing.

The cost of the V1 still bothers me. Not so much for the cost itself, it’s more the responsibility of a $400 detector on my dash. The instructions even warn you about leaving it in plain sight – it’s an invitation to a break-in. I never had to worry about that with my $40 BEL – I simply left it on the dash. With the V1, there’s really no alternative, you disconnect the unit every time you get out of the car and hook it back up when you get in. That’s the main reason I chose not to use the mounting bracket. The velcro approach is a lot easier to deal with. I’ll save the windshield mount (which strikes me as kind of flimsy) for road trips where I need peak performance. I constructed a pocket in the trunk as a place for the V1 to sleep during the day when the car is parked at work.

The big test came when Cambridge decided to mount one of those dorky “The Speed limit is XX your speed is…” automated (self service?) RADAR signs on the way to work. The unit was mounted around a corner and up a hill. I could use the unit to test the various brands without annoying the cops. (Ever ask one of them if you can test your RADAR detector with their gun?). The V1 gave me consistent .2 mile warnings (even on “small L”). The BEL gave a respectable (but definitely shorter) .15 mile warning. Given some other encounters, I’d also predict the V1 would do better in a straight line-of-sight situation than the BEL (which is what Car +Driver said too). The sensitivity advantage clearly goes to the V1.

So. The $400 question – is it worth it?

At this point, after a few week’s use, I’d say “yes”, but it is a qualified yes. I still say you should buy what you need and for many people, the V1 is just overkill. If you can afford it, however, I can see no reason to spend your bucks on anything other than a V1, simply for the locator function alone. I’d like to see a better packaged V1, one with something other than those dorky RJ11 plugs for power cords, one which has a digital display of X, K, KA and L in big letters, but you certainly can’t fault the unit for performance. At an average of $100 per ticket with an insurance surcharge which can easily run into the 4 figures over 10 years (yes! MA counts those tickets against you for the next decade!) it becomes easy to justify the $280 increment over a competing brand. If you can afford the V1 – go for it! If not, be sure to test your choice with the top both up and down under your particular “normal driving conditions” before committing to the unit. It could save your hide in the long run.

Note: Images of BEL and V1, Mike Valentine and Dilbert were all yanked from various sites w/o anyone permission and are presented here merely for purposes of illustration.

Statistical Information

Car & Driver 4/97, Page 115, “Rating High End RADAR/LASER detectors” (Also the issue which compares the SLK, Z3 and Boxster)
Detector Price Overall Score X** K KA Laser*
V1 399 97 0.30 1.50 1.70 10
Bel 855STi 200 54 0.15 0.90 0.90 8
Escort Solo 230 48 0.10 0.65 0.15 8
Cobra RSA515 119 45 0.10 0.70 0.17 9
Whistler 1490 148 42 0.10 0.40 0.60 10
Uniden LRD 6399 SWS 83 41 0.05 0.70 0.70 9***


* Laser units in band detection spread @ 1000 ft, all other measures in miles
** X band City Mode, highway mode is much greater for all models
*** Rear detection did not work

Car & Driver 9/95, Page 87, “Five Budget Radar Detectors” (also the issue which “Reveals the 1996 Z3 Roadster”)Note: This comparison is now over 3 years old and none of the units listed (except the V1) are likely to still be on the market.

Detector Price Overall Score X** K KA Laser*
V1 399 97 1.00 2.40 1.10 19
Uniden LRD 220 SWS 86 89*** 0.39 1.00 1.70 17
Fox 230 57 0.19 0.50 0.80 10
Whistler 1140 63 56 0.25 0.30 0.40 19
Bel 535i 93 54 0.25 0.41 0.80 16
Cobra RDL212 80 27 0.19 0.30 0.00 6

* Laser units in band detection spread @ 2000 ft, all other measures in miles

** X band City Mode, highway mode is much greater for all models

*** Looking at these older figures, it seems clear the Uniden models in subsequent years have gotten worse, not better

From the same issue:

Countries where US detectors will probably work:

Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Saudi Arabia, much of South America and Sweden.

Countries using bands not covered by US detectors:

Austria, Holland

Countries using US and other bands:

Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

(Source: RADAR 800-448-5170)

Babes in Toyland

I’ve always had models of my current car. I started with a Renault R5, moved on to 2 VW Sciroccos, followed with a Miata and now that I have a Z3, I needed a suitable scale model to display with the rest. I had found a couple of models which were red 2.8’s or black 1.9’s, but I wanted a black 2.8. The Baba had suggested that I contact http://www.babybimmer.com.

I called the number on the page and started talking to Michael J. Izor – a self-confessed car model addict. Michael’s tastes in mini-cars is very narrow, he only collects BMW’s. However, he’s managed to collect over 4500 of them!

I think my request for a black 2.8 Z3 seemed sort of mundane to Michael. He’s used to harder challenges. He checked his inventory and told me it was mine for $28.50 plus tax plus shipping. Plus shipping! Hey! He’s only out in Natick! I could just drive out there and get it! Michael seemed amenable to a visit, so we set up a time.

It was a great day for a drive! The sky was blue, the sun was hot and the road was long and twisty! Michael lives in Natick, Massachusetts about a half hour from my home. Natick is a lovely town, filled with old trees and old victorians. Michael says he “lives in a beautiful, big old Victorian home, in a state of elegant decay (yes, both of us)”. We found the house without too much help (thank god for cell phones). Michael greeted us at the door as he picked up his mail – more toys, no doubt.

Michael took us on a guided tour through his wonderland of mini-cars, models and toys. Before seeing it, I could not imagine that there were 4500 different BMW models in existence. Michael has turned his home into a museum, devoted to miniature BMW’s.

There are several display cases in his office where he also has his computer. The cars are not arranged in any particular historical sequence, but they do tend to be grouped together by model or by size.

Leaving his office, there is a long hall lined with the smallest cars in his collection, the 1/87 scale models. Each one of those cases contains about a hundred cars! I immediately found the sections devoted to the Z1’s and Z3’s.

Michael’s collection runs from classic BMW’s to BMWs of the future, like the Alternative Fuel car (which never saw production as a real car, but, quite unusually, got to be a production model in 1/43rd scale.)

The crown jewel in Michael’s collection cases is this old display case from a dentist office. It houses some of his older collectibles, including a small silver 2002, his first miniature which he purchased, along with a full-scale 2002 in 1970. Michael paid $1 for the 2002 (the small one). It was only the first of a large number of dollars which have gone towards his “hobby”. Michael worked for many years as the CFO of a local television station, but has now decided that buying and selling model cars (mostly buying, he admits) is a much more fun way to make a living. We agree!

Michael’s collection rambles on from room to room. It includes memorabilia, much of it from his years as BMWCCA treasurer and president. He showed us this neat little gizmo which was designed by BMW engineers. It’s a miniature set of pistons which are driven by a solar panel – a remembrance of a particular conference held by BMW.

Although reception to the Z3-coupe has been somewhat lukewarm on the Z3 board, Michael had no hesitation adding one to his collection.

We had a great time at Michael’s. After the tour, he gave me my model 2.8 and we took the long way home, knowing we were driving not one, but two BMW Z3 2.8’s! If you’re in the Massachusetts area and are looking for a little bit of BMW to put on your desk or shelf you should be sure to give him a call. If you’re lucky enough to get an audience at casa-Izor, take him up on the offer of a tour!

However, it was time to go home and play with my new toy and add R281MNX(2) to the collection:

Give Yourself a Raise

Everyone complains about the seats, no one does anything about them. Until now.

Although I love my Z, I’ve always been disappointed with the seats and the lack of support. I have the “Regular” seats, but I’ve found the same to be true of the “Sports” seats as well. I was reading a post from Jim Harriger who was similarly disappointed with the seats in his ///M. He said he had looked at the seats and found that the fronts are held on with two nuts. He planned on taking off the nuts, replacing them with rod-couplers and bolts. Sounded like a good way to get some support into the seat, but, as I found out, there are a bunch of gotchas!

Previewing the Project

I checked under my seats to make sure they were attached in the same way as Jim’s. He has an ///M, while I have a 2.8. Sure enough – two nuts in the front, two bolts in the back. So far, so good. I took off the bolts and put some 1 inch supports under the front seat just to see how it would feel – I liked it! It made the seat feel like it was cradling you. Putting the seats back to the standard setup made it feel flat and unsupportive.

Obtaining the Materials

I paid a visit to the local Home Store. I found 5/8th inch rod couplers which looked like the right size. I tried to screw them on – no go! I checked with the local hardware store who confirmed my worst fears – the nuts were not 5/8ths, they were metric 8mm. The problem is that rod couplers are pretty easy to find, but metric rod couplers are a specialty. I emailed Jim who confirmed – he had found a local source for the 8mm/1.25 rod couplers. About $2.50 each.

I looked in my Yellow Pages under Fasteners, but the first few places I called didn’t carry metric. The third place suggested I look under “Metric” instead. Bingo! They had them, and for only $1.50! (Sorry Jim – looks like I got a better deal).

I got 3 couplers and two bolts. The couplers look like very long nuts, 24 mm in length (about an inch long). I got the third coupler because I had a feeling I might end up cutting them down to size (I was right) and wanted to have an extra one in case I messed up The nuts are about 1/2 inch long (about 12 mm long). I also got a couple of washers to provide backing and support at various places.

Update: On the net, call Maryland Metric 800-638-1830 (http://mdmetric.com/prgde3b.htm). They have a $10 min order the couplers and bolts and the washers for both sides and you’ll probably just about hit $10.

The Procedure

The procedure is quite simple. If you want to use Jim’s method, all you really need is a socket set. I also used a Dremmel tool and a saw for some wood-work. Jim indicated that he simply moved the seat forward, unscrewed the rear bolts, moved the seat back and removed the front nuts.

He then put the rod couplers onto the screws which protrude from the floor, fastened the front with the washers and bolts and re-fastened the backs.

Note – it’s easier to put everything in place loose, then tighten the back, then the front.

I tried this procedure first. It worked fine. When I took the car out on the road you could immediately tell the difference — I could feel my buns being grabbed by the seat! I never felt this in a Z! It was great – for a few minutes. After that, the sensation got a bit too intense. I was afraid of this – Jim is 5’10”. I’m 6’1″. He probably sits with the seat higher up than I do, so the sensation is not as great. The 1″ raise in height was just a little too much for my tastes.

The Alternate Procedure

The Alternate Procedure is a bit more involved. It’s designed to give the seat a bit more support and to remove about 1/4 inch of extra height:

First I used the Dremel Tool to lop about 1/4 inch off the rod coupler. Be careful – you don’t want to remove too much or you won’t have enough coupler left to attach the bolts.

I then cut several stabilizer units from a piece of wood. I painted these flat black and used them to surround the shorter rod couplers. I also hollowed out a little bit of the top to make a “cup” to mate to the underside of the rails of the seat-foot where there is an indentation (it’s hard to explain, just reach under there are feel around, you’ll see what I mean)

I re-installed the shortened rod-couplers and surrounded them with the wooden stabilizer units.

Tightened up the rear nuts

Tightened up the front nuts

And I was ready to go. The next test drive was a dream! The 3/4 inches made an incredible difference to the feel of the seats. I’m now quite happy with them.

Thanks and credits to Jim Harriger for developing this procedure and for the information that was necessary to complete it!

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!