Robert’s Wood Dash Saga

Pros: Wood looks good with tan interior
Cons: Still looks “stuck on” in places
Cost: $240

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Short Version:

One day I was gawking at a green and tan Z3 with a wood dash, it looked so incredibly good I decided I had to look into a wood dash kit for my Z3. I went back and forth trying to decide what dash kit would look good in my silver/black/gray Z3. While contemplating this my wife decided a dark walnut wood dash would look good in her 318i. I ordered her a kit from New England Wood Dash and it was horrible (for further details see “The Bad”). I ended up returning that kit, and purchased a kit from Auto Designs (for further details see “The Good”). The Auto Designs kit fit like a glove and looked great. The looks were so good I finally talked myself into purchasing a carbon fiber kit for my Z3. Well, that kit also fit perfect, unfortunately I didn’t care for the look of the “real” carbon fiber (for further details see “The Ugly”).

Update: Apparently AutoDesigns has gone out of business since the creation of this article. ///MZ3.Net recommends HMS wood dash kits as well as those from MG Racing.

Long Version:

# The Good:After my horrible experience with New England Wood Dash I was pretty soured on any wood dash kit. Thankfully, Jonathan Gentry of Auto Designs contacted me (he saw a post I had made on the message board about my ill fitting wood dash), we exchanged e-mail a couple of times, and I sent him the pictures I had taken of the New England Wood Dash. He assured me his kits were of a higher quality and I eventually ordered a wood dash from him for my wife’s 318i.

The kit promptly arrived two days later. Still a little leery I tested (dry fit) each piece and was elated to see how precise the entire kit fit. After a final go-ahead from the boss (my wife), I started applying each piece. The kit was very easy to install (and kinda fun). About 30 minutes later it was all done. My only complaint about this kit was that I wished it had more pieces. Unfortunately the 318i kit doesn’t cover as many areas as a Z3 kit does. That small complaint aside, I was very pleased with the end result.

I highly recommend Auto Designs to those of you considering wood dashes. The product is precise and the wood is beautiful. I even received a unsolicited e-mail from Auto Designs asking if everything went well after the sale (pro-active customer service, kinda rare). (return to top)

# The Bad:When the New England Wood Dash kit arrived for my wife’s 318i, one of the first things I noticed was that they sent the wrong instructions (the instructions were for a 2 door convertible). So I started looking at each piece and trying to figure out where it would go. I tried the pieces, starting with the center armrest. On the armrest the pieces fit okay, but not perfect. The biggest flaw made a cup holder slightly smaller in diameter. I go ahead and install these pieces on the center console and was fairly pleased with the results. It was late that night so I stopped for the evening.

The next evening I tried the piece around the gear shift. This piece just did not fit at all. The geometry was off and I started to think that maybe New England sent me the wrong kit. This theory was further backed up when I discovered that the four door panel pieces couldn’t be installed because where the wood was to lay down, there was cloth fabric on the door (they would never stick for longer than a week). The final blow was the wood piece for a rounded coin holder, the piece was square. At that point I gave up and tried to resolve these issues with New England Wood Dash.

At first I called them and ended up talking to an “Eddie”. Eddie confirmed that I had received the correct kit, so I started addressing the individual flaws. I got the impression that Eddie either didn’t understand me, didn’t believe me, or that he thought I was an idiot. After not getting anywhere I told him I would write him an e-mail describing the problems I was having and attach a bunch of digital pictures and e-mail them to him at New England Wood Dash.

Two days passed, no response. So I called Eddie again, he said the e-mail showed up but no pictures (he didn’t say why he had not responded). I sent the e-mail again, this time actually sending several separate e-mails each with it’s own picture. Two days passed and once again no response.

Needless to say at this point I’m a little upset with New England Wood Dash and call them once again. “Eddie is not here can I take a message?” I leave a message but Eddie never calls back. The next day I try again, this time catching him while he’s in the office. I hardly get a word in as Eddie boldly tells me (paraphrased) “You don’t like any of the pieces, something must be different with your 318i, it would cost me too much money to make a kit just for your car, return the kit for a full refund”. I ask him about the pieces that are already installed, he said it was my fault for not testing (dry fitting) the entire kit first. He said to return the pieces I had not installed for a full refund. This left me with a wood arm rest and nothing else (Eddie didn’t care).

I packaged the remaining 17 pieces up and send them back. Nearly two weeks pass before I see the credit on my VISA card. And when the credit finally shows up it was $180 (I purchased the kit for $198) Eddie shorts me $18 despite his claim of a full refund.

In my opinion you should avoid doing business with New England Wood Dash. I have only dealt with them this one time but my opinion is that their product is flawed, their support is evasive, and their ethics are questionable. (return to top)

# The Ugly:After dealing with Auto Designs for my wife’s 318i, my impressions of wood dash kits was once again very high. I talked myself into ordering a carbon fiber kit for my Z3. (When I purchased my car alarm the little plastic clicker thing was carbon fiber and I liked the looks of the black and gray pattern). When I was placing the order with Auto Designs, I was asked “do you want real or synthetic carbon fiber”. Not knowing that there were two different kinds of carbon fiber, I decided on the more expensive “real” carbon fiber (only the best for my Z3). The kit promptly arrived two days later. I tested (dry fit) every piece and once again the kit fit precisely. However the look of the carbon fiber was not what I was expecting. Apparently there is a big difference between real and simulated carbon fiber. The real stuff is reflective, kinda like a hologram. This is pretty neat but very distractive. It also surprised me because it wasn’t black and gray (like my little plastic car alarm remote). It was black and hologram like. The color depended on what kind of light you were under. In direct sunlight the dash looked black and bluish white (kinda cool). However, in the shade it picked up a yellow/green tint. In my garage, it had a nasty burnt yellow tint. After showing some of the pieces to a couple other Z3 owners, we all agreed (Yuck!). So this kit got returned, in the end I decided to stick with the stock black plastic dash. (return to top)

Remus Exhaust for the 1.9 Z3

Pros: Better Performance, Great Sound, Do-It-Yourself Installation
Cons: Cost, Not 100% Stainless Steel
Cost: $529 (from Bavarian Autosport)


I’ve had it with the tinny, rattly, metallic sound of the stock exhaust. I placed an order with Bavarian autosport for the Remus Exhaust System. After a little haggling I got them to sell me the Remus exhaust for $529, including shipping.

Feb. 7, 1997

A very beat up box was delivered today (no damage to the exhaust), but I’ll have to wait until the weekend to install it.

Feb. 8, 1997

Installed the Remus today. It makes a difference, but I was hoping for more. Also concerned about the install because the chrome tip is rubbing.

Feb. 10, 1997

Took the roadster to a muffler shop and they “adjusted” the install. Now it fits better and for some reason sounds a little better.

Feb. 15, 1997

When I initially installed the Remus I said, “I was hoping for a little more.” Well, now it’s a week later and I GOT IT! The system sounds better every day. The friend of mine that took delivery of the Remus system had not heard the results until yesterday (so the last he heard was the stock exhaust). He said it was a tremendous difference and he loved it. The exhaust now meets with my $529 expectations.

April 1997

The Remus exhaust system just keeps sounding better. It took about a month to fully break in and now I love it. At this point, the Remus has pleased me enough to consider it my best upgrade so far.

June 1997

Drove a roadster with a stock exhaust for the first time since upgrading mine to the Remus 6 months ago. There was a slight difference in acceleration and a tremendous difference in the sound. After driving a stock roadster again, I have even more appreciation for my Remus.

September 1997

Returned from the Z3 reunion. After 2000 miles I am convinced that the Remus was the single best upgrade I have done on the Z3. I heard many 1.9 and 2.8 Z3s during this trip and I prefer the exhaust sound from my Remus over them all.

October 1999

A 1.9 owner that recently installed the Remus exhaust adds this advice… “I would suggest purchasing new nuts and bolts from a dealer (at less than $2.) prior to the installation (The springs can be reused.) After several years, the already-soft copper nuts are almost impossible to remove. I managed to horse off the lower nut with vise grips, but ruined the nut and bent the bolt. And cutting off the upper bolt was the only viable option for it.

Installation of Remus exhaust

I had finally had it with the tinny metallic sound of the stock exhaust. On Jan. 31 I placed an order with Bavarian autosport for the Remus Exhaust System. Every time I called the price changed, but with a little negotiating the final price with delivery was $529. On Feb. 7, a very beat up box was delivered. Upon opening the box I discovered a small 5×7 index card size instruction sheet. On this small piece of paper were the install instructions in three different languages. My first thoughts were, “I hope this is an easy to install as this makes it seem.” One humorous note to add here: I had the exhaust shipped to a friend’s house because he would be home. The Remus exhaust can NOT be put inside the roadster. My friend had to put it into his car and drive it over to my house.

The next day I jacked up the car and attempted to crawl under it to see what had to be done. First problem, the jack that came with the car can lift the car just high enough to get the wheel off the ground, but not high enough to replace the exhaust. The other conclusion I came to was that this was a two person job. So I put everything back down and called a friend who had a better jack and some stands. He was happy to help, and invited me over to his house to do the work (he has more and better tools for doing this stuff so this was definitely a good decision). Of course after hanging up I remembered that the exhaust is too big for me to haul around so I had to call him back and ask that he drive over to my house to pick up the exhaust.

Okay, I’ve finally got the roadster, the tools, the exhaust and a friend all in one place. So the first order of business is how to get under the car. This proved to be a rather difficult task, but we finally got the left side of the car tilted up enough where one could crawl under the car from the rear and the other from the left side. We started by looking at the stock exhaust and the Remus exhaust to make sure everything looked like it would fit. Although this picture was taken later this is a good time to show you the two exhausts side by side.

The exhaust is attached to the roadster in four places. The first place is where the exhaust fits/plugs into the catalytic converter. This fit is very precise and tight, BMW designed this clamp thing that attaches the two parts together with a couple of bolts that have springs on them. This design is great but this is where we spent most of our time because to we could just barely get to one of the bolts and only had a small amount of room so it took a long time to loosen this bolt. The other thing that slowed us down is the catalytic converter was very hot (so a good suggestion would have been to start after the car had cooled down for a couple of hours). The Remus fit just as precisely as the stock system however we could not get the stock bolts to fit so we had to reverse them. (The bolt and spring was toward the back and a nut toward the front, we had to put the bolt and spring toward the front and the nut toward the back although this should not make any difference it would have been nice if the instructions would have pointed it out).

After bolting the Remus to the roadster the other three connections are made using rubber rings that allow the exhaust to move slightly side to side. However the second connection concerned me. This picture to the right is actually of the stock exhaust, you can see that even the stock exhaust was not connected here. The rubber ring does not make contact with the stock exhaust and has slipped forward. This appears to be a because the exhaust is hung slightly too high in the rear. After installing the Remus exhaust I found that the same situation occurred and this second connection was not making contact. This really bugged me but I decided to go ahead and finish the install since the problem occurred with both the stock and the Remus systems. (later I figured out what the problem was, but I’ll come back to this).

The final two connections are in the rear of the car using thick rubber rings with holes for the support pegs. I had to pull and pull to get the stock exhaust off of these rings, however about a month after the install another roadster owner said that a shot of WD-40 made this easy (why didn’t I think of that?). So to review the Remus system fit just like the stock system, bolted on in the front and attached in the back with three rubber rings that allows the unit to swing freely (slightly). The Remus exhaust fit precisely in place of the stock exhaust, so precisely that the Remus exhaust did not make contact with the middle support ring. I was going to live with this until I discovered that the chrome tip was making contact with the top of the hole cut out in the rear for the exhaust. This made me decide to take the roadster to a muffler shop and show them the Remus install and the part that didn’t fit. The muffler guy took one look and said, “well you didn’t finish the install job”. He fired up his blow torch, heated the two rear support arms on the Remus exhaust (that those rubber rings are connected too) and the whole setup slowly sank another 1/4 – 1/2 inch. He then turned off his blow torch and said “now your done, no charge”. He said he had installed over a hundred exhaust systems on various cars and trucks and he has yet to have one fit without slightly bending those rear supports. He claimed that most after market systems need a little custom modifications for that perfect fit.

Performance

At the peak torque values, the Remus exhaust gained 3 ft/lbs of torque. Looking at the entire torque curve and measuring the differences every 50 RPM the Remus exhaust averages a gain of 2.91 ft/lbs of torque between 2000 and 6500 RPM.

Click on the graph to the right for a full dynograph of the before and after differences.

Locking Lugnuts

Pros: Cheap insurance policy
Cons: Plastic fake cap heads
Cost: $40

From the Bavarian Autosport Ad. “Our own wheel locks give you peace of mind without sacrificing your car’s looks, thanks to a 17mm cap that matches original lugs. Precision machined from high-tension strength steel. Bavarian Autosport exclusive. Sold in sets of 4.”

They appear to do their job very well. When I initially installed them I kind of expected one of the fake plastic cap heads to crack and fall off by now. Well, I’ve had them for over a year now and those plastic caps are doing just fine. I consider them a well spent $40 insurance policy.

Update: It took over three years, but one of the plastic caps finally disappeared. I contacted Bavarian Autosport and they sent me four new caps without asking any questions.

BMW Windscreen (1st Design)

Pros: Makes top down driving more enjoyable by eliminating the back draft caused by a cars aerodynamics
Cons: You have to cut some plastic to install it
Cost: $250

After installing the BMW windscreen, I quickly threw the tools back onto my work bench and took the roadster out for a spin. Unlike the Remus, the benefits of this install were immediately noticed. At speeds of under 25mph the difference was noticeable, but small, as I slowly got faster I noticed that the wind inside the cockpit hardly increased. I headed towards the Dallas autobahn (also known as the Dallas Tollway), to give this wind screen the ultimate test. I paid my fifty cents and then quickly accelerated to…. well lets just say I gave the wind screen a good test and it passed with flying colors.

Before I go on with this glowing review, let me point out a negative comment I have about the wind screen. It took me a couple days to get use to it, but the visibility through your rear view mirror is substantially reduced. As I said, I think I’ve gotten use to it, but I’m still a little concerned that the decrease in visibility might cause a problem in traffic.

Okay that said, let me now point out some more good points.

1. My roadster is parked in a parking lot at work and the windscreen (in the up position) with the top also up acts as a excellent sun shade. I make a point to park the roadster with the back window facing west so in the afternoon the sun’s heat is blocked by the wind screen. This has made the roadster much cooler to enter after work.

2. The decrease in wind has made the stereo more audible and cleaner at high-way speeds.

3. The decrease in wind has also made the environmental controls (AC and Heat) much more efficient. In the mornings a little heat keeps the cockpit nice and warm. While after work the A/C keeps the Texas heat at bay.

Since purchasing this windscreen BMW has released two other windscreen designs. Do date I really haven’t had a chance to compare the other two, but visually it would appear that the 1st design (this design) will block more wind. The 2nd design appeared to be harder to install but did not occupy the mount towers that the 1st design did. The 3rd design I have only seen on pictures. It is designed to work with the BMW roll-hoops which became stand with the ’98 models.

I ended up purchasing the HMS rollbar and selling this windscreen to another Z3 owner, the HMS windscreen has it’s good and bad points in comparison to this design. However this design is seems to have a real good balance of form and function.

Installation

After a quick jump over to a friends house (top down of course) I returned home. As I pulled into my driveway, I attempted to fix my wind-blown hair. It was then that I noticed a thin, flat, box propped against my door. The long wait had finally ended, for within this cardboard box was a genuine, BMW Z3 wind screen. Shipped from the mother land herself (Germany).

Upon opening the box I noticed a cloth/nylon bag that housed the wind screen, “Oh cool it even comes with a case” I proclaimed to my uninterested wife. Opening the zipper produced the rarest sight a Z3 owner had ever seen. I then turned my attention to the instruction manual. Doh!, It’s written in German (at least I think it’s German). I put the wind screen down and went to print out an e-mail that was sent to me by Robert Kamen (a.k.a. the “other” Robert). Looking at the pieces within the box, and Robert’s instructions I concluded that this install looked relatively easy, however it involved some cutting so I got a little nervous. A quick inventory of my tools however convinced me that I was well equipped to perform this surgery because I had three tools that seemed perfect for this job.

(Note: Intermixed within the following text are the install instructions that Robert Kamen (a.k.a. the “other” Robert) sent me. I would like to thank Mr. Kamen and acknowledge his input into this web page.)

Step 1: (Repeat for both sides) Pop off the cap on top of the seat belt towers. The instruction say to drill a hole in the caps, then put a hook type device (folded coat hanger) in the hole and pull the caps off. No need. Just use a flat-bladed screwdriver with a rag under the blade to prevent marring the surface of the mount and pry the top off. They are only glued on. The glue will eventually give up and the cap will pop off, leaving it looking like the picture to the right.

Step 2: (Repeat for both sides) Make a circular cut through the plastic housing and the foam underneath. This was accomplished with the help of “Perfect tool number one”, a drill and a special drill bit that cut a 1.5″ circle. This enabled me to quickly cut through the plastic housing and through the foam inside. This left a hole in the roadster about a half inch deep. (Note: The “other” Robert used an industrial razor or knife to do this job. Either will work, the drill will just work quicker).

Step 3: (Repeat for both sides) Once the foam is removed, you will see a plastic cap on top of a steel tube inside the seat belt tower. It sounds confusing, but it is plain as day once the foam is taken out. That plastic cap has got to be removed. It is also larger than the opening made by the cap that you removed in step two. Well the drill got me this far, I reinserted it and it made quick work of the plastic cap, but most of the now shredded cap fell down into the metal tube. (Note: The “other” Robert just took a hammer and screwdriver and whacked it a few times to break up the plastic cap. Then the pieces come right out.) What ever method you use, the goal is to break up that plastic cap so it can be removed.
Step 4: (Repeat for both sides) This is where “Perfect tool number two” made it’s entrance, I plugged my a shop-vac and was pleased to see that the extension wand fit down inside the metal tube sucking out all the parts of the shredded cap, foam and whatever else fell down there.

Step 5: (Repeat for both sides) At this point “Perfect tool number three”, a dremel tool cleaned up the cut the saw/drill had made and left a very smooth and perfect hole in my roadster. The rough areas in that picture are actually the foam below the plastic.

Step 6: (Repeat for both sides) Once the hole was created I inserted the bracket and tightened it until it very slightly rubbed, but was still able to rotate.

Step 7: With the wind screen locks, unlocked. Insert the wind screen into the bracket. This is why I said to leave the brackets still loose enough to rotate in step 6. Once the wind screen is installed lock the wind screen locks and position the wind screen so the brackets are somewhat equal in angle. Then tighten the brackets.
Step 8: Two washers came with the kit, these washers enable both the wind screen and the boot cover to snap onto the snap-things behind the storage compartment. Remove the snap-things add the washers then re-install. Now you can attach the lower flap of the wind screen and the boot cover (over a folded down convertible top) at the same time.

If you want to fold the windscreen down, slightly loosen the two side screws (under the rubber disks). I would suggest using some low grade lock-tight to make sure the screws don’t vibrate out. The windscreen should fold with a slight push or pull.