BMW Volt Meter

BMW Part Number: 62-13-2-695-215
Maker: VDO
Cost: $0 for US M roadster owners

After waiting a long time, BMW finally delivers something to fill in the blank gauge location on the dash.

Thanks to persistent questioning and a fantastic dealership it is my understanding that you are looking at one of, if not the first, dealer installed volt meter gauge in the US.

Behind the dash an unused wiring harness was waiting for the simple volt meter to be plugged in. The BMW technician that installed it (Larry Nissen of Moritz BMW) tells me it was quite easy to install, getting behind the dash to find the wiring harness was the only time consuming part of the task.

I’m not claiming to really understand what is happening to make a volt meter read high or low. To me it’s most important feature is the fact that it fills the once blank plate in the dash. However now that I’ve watched the needle move around for a couple weeks I’ve noticed where it usually resides. If I turn the key far enough to engage the electrical system but not far enough to start the engine the gauge usually reads just right of straight up (about 12.5 volts). Once I start the car the needle usually swings way right and climbs to 14 volts. After the car has been running awhile I notice the gauge slowly sneaking back towards 13 volts. So now that I notice a regular pattern, if I ever see the gauge breaking from this pattern I’ll probably freak out and over-react (which might be the goal of a volt meter). But like I said before To me it’s most important feature is the fact that it fills the once blank plate in the dash.

M roadster owners should be receiving this volt meter via USPS Priority Mail. Along with the volt meter (part number 62-13-2-695-215) is a letter from BMW apologizing for the inconvenience. The letter states that you can schedule an appointment with your local BMW center to have the volt meter installed free of charge. However they also attach installation instructions (which don’t look that difficult) so you could install it yourself if you want to.

Padded Leather Armrest

What you are looking at is the typical BMW Z3 armrest (part number 82-11-1-469-516). Except this armrest has had the two plastic lids covered in nice black leather with padding installed underneath.

The leather wraps around the lid and the underside is lined with felt like cloth. The padding and leather combine to give the armrest a great feel, like it should have rolled off the assembly line this way.

Initially when working with the upholstery shop they were talking about using three pieces of leather that would be stitched together (just like the seams on the seats). But after they tried that method they realized it wouldn’t work. The seams were too bulky and it didn’t look good, so they tried using just one piece of leather. They got the one piece of leather to work, but it took much longer than they had expected. They had to work each corner by hand trying to stretch the leather without leaving folds or loose sections. They also ran into problems around the hinges, there was not enough clearance space to fold the leather under the hinge so they had to trim the leather and just glue it down.

All in all I think they did a good job on the armrest, it is very comfortable and looks good. However I feel obligated to point out the weak points which are the corners, the leather appears very stretched and the edges are not very clean. My only other concern is in the armrests durability. Under this fancy padded leather armrest is still just a $30 piece of plastic. I also wonder about the durability of the leather on the corners, they had to stretch it pretty tight and I wonder how its going to hold up under the constant wear I’m going to give it. The upholstery shop said to use Lexol leather conditioner on it regularly and said it would last a long time so my concerns probably aren’t valid, but time will be the ultimate judge.

Now for the bad part, initially this was ball parked to be in the $100 price range. However that estimate was based on the three piece design. The additional labor to make the one piece design work drove the price up to $150. The upholstery shop and I had made an agreement to do this first one for $100, but they said they would need charge $150 to make any more. They said the next one will require about four hours of labor to complete and $150 basically covers their costs. However after doing 10 or so they could probably get their turn around time down to two and a half hours. At that point $150 is actually profitable for them. So he’s sticking to his $150 price with the hopes that eventually he will get good enough at making them to make a profit.

I asked them about making them in other colors, he said it would be possible but he really didn’t want to get into that. The kind of leather he had to use to make this armrest is special processed leather that has been thinned down to a thickness that can be worked by hand. He can’t buy small pieces of this leather so if he got into making different colors it would have to be in larger quantities. So basically its possible but this thing is barely cost justified as it is, the additional expense is just to much to worry about.

If you are interested in purchasing an armrest similar to this one, contact the maker directly and ask for the owner Howard Finkle.

The Inside Job

2261 Crown Rd. #112

Dallas, Texas 75229

(972) 241-8054

Long Term Update

The armrest is now over six months old and is showing no signs of wear. I’ve used leather conditioner on it twice, the first time at three months and just recently again. The look and the feel has not changed and for these reasons I am extremely happy with the overall durability and quality of this upgrade. However I recently reviewed another leather covered armrest that was made by Jon Maddux (Z3 owner). His leather armrest is better looking, has more padding, and believe it or not is half the price ($75) of this armrest.

Cleaning the Plastic Rear Window

To say my rear window was dirty was an understatement. Honestly, I can’t remember ever washing it in the time I’ve owned the MZ3. It had gotten to the point that rear visibility, especially with the windscreen, was zero. With the homecoming approaching, I figured it was time to clean this window. Turned out to also be a good time to try out the Meguiar’s window cleaner and polish to see just how good this stuff is.

In the graphic below, the top picture is of the window before I did anything (except remove the windscreen). The middle picture is after I used Meguiar’s #17 Clear Plastic Cleaner on both the inside and the outside. The cleaner was difficult to use, especially on the inside. This stuff coats on then dries to a paste just like car wax does. Rubbing off that dried pasty/wax was difficult especially when trying to work on the inside of the window. It took me about 30 minutes but the results were simply amazing. Except for a harsh black line of buildup in a fold mark, it removed everything.

The next step was to use the Meguiar’s #10 Clear Plastic Polish, I had already decided I was not going to mess with the inside window since my back was aching from the cleaner. But honestly it wouldn’t have been very hard since the polish doesn’t dry to a paste like the cleaner. The polish took the buildup in the fold line off with very little effort. The very bottom picture in the graphic below was after the cleaner and the polish. Looks like a practically brand new window as far as I am concerned. I’m very pleased with the Meguiar’s cleaner and polish, however I think I’ll clean and polish the window a little more regularly from now on.

I’ve seen BMW dealerships sell some of the Meguiar’s products in their parts department. But if you are having a hard time finding them you can always purchase directly from Meguiar’s. Meguiar’s has a web site with a dealer locator, but you have to call the number below to actually place an order.

To Order Call: 1 (800) 545 3321

Fax: 1 (949) 752-6659

Or Write: 17991 Mitchell South, Irvine, CA 92614

A Stereo Upgrade to Learn From

In 1994 I made a very costly mistake, I had some extra money burning a hole in my pocket and decided to buy myself an in-dash CD player and Polk speakers for my Ford Explorer. As I was picking out the CD player the salesman made me an offer I couldn’t refuse on a Polk subwoofer that was about to be discontinued. I left the vehicle with them and it was ready later that afternoon. The system sounded awesome but now I recognize what a costly mistake that stereo system was because it forever changed my appreciation for car audio.

In 1996 I found myself with a hard decision to make, I had just driven a Z3 for about a week (dealer loaner) and I really wanted one. While struggling with the decision if I should stick with the Explorer or go for the Z3, the upgraded stereo system almost kept me in that Explorer. However the allure of the BMW Z3 was just too much for me, so in October of 1996 I took delivery of a 1.9 liter BMW Z3.

The stock stereo lasted until February of 1997, with spring weather approaching I decided it was time to upgrade it. Once I had upgraded/fixed the stereo in that Z3 I was pleased with the sound. It didn’t have the deep bass my Explorer had, but the system was very powerful and clean. It could be heard with the top down at highway speed and always sounded great.

In 1998 I had another decision to make, BMW had just released the new 3.2 liter M roadster and the allure of a new muscle bound version of my Z3 was just too much to pass up. I sold my 1.9 Z3 to a friend and purchased the new 3.2 M roadster. The M roadster came with a much better stock stereo system than the original 1.9 Z3 came with. This new HK (Harmon Karmon) stereo was much cleaner and better sounding, in fact I had actually decided that it was “good enough” and didn’t need to be upgraded. I drove around with the stock HK system for three months and never even added a CD player to it.

However the stock HK system suffered a set back when I got to hear my old 1.9 Z3’s stereo system again (I see the current owner about once a month at a poker game). I had forgotten how much better and cleaner the stereo could sound. Top up or top down it didn’t matter because that system had enough power to be heard. The desire for a better stereo and a CD player in my 3.2 M roadster had infected me.

As fate would have it another M owner that I keep in touch with on a regular basis got a deal with a stereo manufacturer to be a show car for a/d/s/ stereo equipment. On almost a daily basis I got to hear the ongoing saga of what they were doing to his car, what kind of equipment they were using, what speakers sizes were fitting into the various locations. This was just too much for me to bare, I decided to start looking into upgrading/fixing the stock HK stereo system. The first step was to figure out as many details as I could about the stock HK stereo system.

Researching the stock HK stereo system

For the 1996, 1997 and 1998 model years every BMW Z3 came stock with the same head unit, regardless if it was an HK stereo upgrade or the base stereo (starting with the 1999 model year BMW started using a different head unit which will not be covered in this article). This common head unit is an Alpine made AM/FM/WB/Cassette unit. It has some nice features like weather band radio, built in theft deterrent system, speed sensitive volume, and the ability to control a trunk mounted BMW CD changer. The stock radio is pretty plain to look at but it blends in to the dash well and shares the same common orange lighting as the rest of the dash. On the downside, the FM reception on the unit is well below average and the tape player ranks right up there with names like Kraco.

Z3’s that have the HK stereo have 10 separate speakers hidden around the cockpit in various locations.

In each of the side door panels there are two speakers, a 1″ 4 ohm tweeter and a 2″ 4 ohm mid-tweeter. These two speakers are running on the same 25 watt, electronically crossed over, amplifier channel that provides a 1.5Khz to 20Khz signal. Some inline crossovers further split and control that signal so that a 1.5Khz to 3.5KHz signal drives the 2″ speaker and 3.5KHz to 20Khz signal drives the 1″ speaker.

On each side of the Z3, down by the driver’s and passenger’s feet there is a single 5 1/4″ 2 ohm speaker in the kick-panel. Each 5 1/4″ speaker is driven by its own 25 watt, electronically crossed over, 100Hz to 1.5KHz signal.

Directly behind each seat is a 3″ speaker that receives its own electronically crossed over 25 watt, 200Hz to 1.6Khz channel.

And lastly there are a pair of 5 1/4″ speakers in a subwoofer enclosure in the center of the console behind the driver. Each speaker in that subwoofer enclosure is receiving an 40 watt, electronically crossed over, 80Hz to 100Hz signal.

The HK amplifier is an eight channel amp that BMW claims is (6×25 and 2×40). However to reach those power ratings BMW had to overdrive the amp to an outrageous 10% Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). To benchmark this amp using aftermarket amp rating standards would probably reveal less than half the power that BMW is claiming. The amplifier is hidden in the trunk behind the lump on the passenger side towards the back.

HK Amp Wiring

M Roadster, 3/98 build date

J1 12-pin AMP connector

Pin Function Wire Color

1 12V red/white

2 on/off white

3 ground brown

4 ground brown

5 RBLO+ blue/purple

6 RBLO- blue/gray

7 LFLO+ yellow/red

8 LFLO- yellow/brown

9 RFLO+ blue/red

10 RFLO- blue/brown

11 LBLO+ yellow/gray

12 LBLO- yellow/blue

J2 26-pin Siemens connector

Pin Function Wire color

1 RB- IN blue/gray

2 RB+ IN blue/purple

3 LB+ IN blue/black

4 LB- IN yellow/brown

5-7 n/c n/c

8 RFHI+ yellow/red (LTwtr)

9 RFHI- brown/orange (LTwtr)

10 LBHI+ yellow

11 LBHI- brown

12 RBHI+ blue

13 RBHI- brown

14 RF- IN blue/brown

15 RF+ IN brown/black

16 LF+ IN yellow/red

17 LF- IN yellow/brown

18-20 n/c n/c

21 LFHI+ yellow/green (STwtr)

22 LFHI- yellow/brown (STwtr)

23 RFHI+ blue/brown (STwtr)

24 RFHI- blue/green (STwtr)

25 LFHI+ yellow/blue (LTwtr)

26 LFHI- yellow/gray (LTwtr)

J3 6-pin AMP connector

Pin Function Wire color

1 GAL IN black/white

2 SPATIAL n/c

3 SUB LO n/c

4 GAL OUT n/c

5 SUB OW n/c

6 SUB HI n/c

Notes:

J1 connector has the thick gauge wires

pin numbers are labeled on the connectors

Function is as labeled on the HK Amp circuit board;

RBLO+: Right Back Low-freq speaker positive

n/c: not connected;

STwtr: small tweeter;

red/white: red wire with white stripe

Knowing these details about the HK stereo system helped me in planning a better stereo system. Figuring out what to keep and what to replace is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You have to identify each piece of the puzzle and make sure they fit with the other pieces. Putting this puzzle together is more difficult than most cars, because BMW uses some non-standard equipment. The trouble starts with the stock head unit. It would appear that BMW knew what they were doing when they had Alpine make both the head unit and CD changer. Both units are only compatible with the other, so if you want to use the BMW CD Changer, you have to use the BMW head unit. Or if you want to keep the BMW head unit and play CDs, your only option is the BMW CD Changer. The other “non-standard” part of the radio is that it sends a 5 volt signal from the Alpine head unit to the amplifier. Not very many aftermarket amplifiers can accept inputs in this range forcing upgraders to either limit their choices on a replacement amplifier or to use a line leveling device (also referred to step-down converters).

So when you are planning your upgrade, consider the BMW head unit and BMW CD changer one unit. You either use both or neither. On top of that, if you’re going to stick with the stock head unit then you have to limit your aftermarket amplifier to ones that can accept 5 volt input, or budget for a couple line levelers as part of your upgrade. See why I say this is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together?

Putting the Puzzle Pieces together

Certain parts of my new stereo system puzzle fell into place quickly. In my previous Z3 I had used Boston Pro series 6.4 component speakers. They worked so well with the odd acoustics inside the Z3 that they were the first piece of the puzzle to be locked into place. At the time I was shopping for stereo equipment Boston Acoustics was starting to place advertisements for their new 6.5 component speakers. They weren’t available yet but plenty of stereo places were putting the 6.4 component speakers on sale to clear the shelves and get ready for the new 6.5 models. I have no idea what the new 6.5 speakers will sell for but the 6.4 speakers were normally in the $400 range, on sale you can find them in the sub $300 range.

The Boston Pro Series 6.4 speakers almost fit without modification. However the speakers did come in contact with the plastic kick panel that installs over the speaker. The solution proved to be simple, a protruding plastic ring was sanded down on the back side of the kickpanel. This provided the extra room necessary to properly install the 6.5 inch speakers.

The next piece of the puzzle involved a new device that I had no experience with. Alpine had a product they were calling Bass Shakers. Alpine was saying that these Bass Shakers could be installed under the seat and they would trick you into thinking you were hearing low bass sounds when what it was really doing was just creating the vibrations associated with low frequency bass sounds. It sounded pretty far fetched to me, but the local stereo shop set up a demo with one of these shaker things mounted to a wood box. The demonstration let you listen to a stereo and step on and off the wooden box to “feel” the difference. It was very strange to be tricked like that but sure enough, when I stepped on the box it really did seem like someone turned on a subwoofer somewhere. I still wasn’t fully convinced of this products capabilities inside a Z3, so I posted my Z3 Bass Shaker question on the BMW roadster message board. It turned out several had not only felt the Bass Shakers before, a few had even felt them inside a Z3. Once I got the virtual thumbs up from a few individuals I started shopping prices on the internet.

After a little research I found out there are a few different Bass Shaker models available. A company by the name of Aura actually makes these devices and offers two different models, the Bass Shaker, and the Bass Shaker Pro. The pro model is physically bigger, heavier, and handles more power which results in more “shake”. I believe that Aura also makes Bass Shaker Pros under the Alpine brand name. Down deep I think the Aura Bass Shaker Pro and the Alpine Bass Shaker are actually the same product, but the Alpine salesman was telling me his version was slightly larger when I was trying to get him to price match on the Aura Bass Shaker Pro. However I think I basically just paid extra for the Alpine name. On the internet I found the Aura Bass Shaker Pros for $180, but I ended up paying just over $200 for the Alpine brand.

To install the bass shakers, the seats needed to be removed. Initially the installer said I would need to take the Z3 back to BMW after the installation because removing the seats would set off the SRS light on the dash. However Larry Nissen (BMW Certified Tech) told me how to remove the seat without setting off the SRS light on the dash. The secret is to never put the key in the ignition. Every time the key gets put in the ignition it triggers a self test that will notice the seat is missing and turn on the light.

My attention then turned to the stock BMW subwoofer. Under the stock conditions the subwoofer seemed to do well up to a point but then it started buzzing and thumping. I removed and dissected the HK subwoofer to see how the thing worked and what could be done to improve it. It was too hot to be working out in the garage so once it was removed I took the subwoofer inside and using some old crossovers I had hooked it up to my home stereo system. (Note: one of the speakers gets wired backwards, reversing the positive and negative wires so the two speakers will work together by pushing in the same direction at the same time even though one is facing the opposite direction).

I was actually quite shocked at what happened, suddenly the bass got much cleaner at high volume, the muffled-buzzy sound was gone. What I learned is that the HK sub still has its limits, but if you give it a good clean power source it actually does pretty well. I could tell that this upgrade was going to get expensive so I decided to stick with the stock subwoofer. As long as I can get a good, clean, power source for the sub it was going to be fine for now (but maybe the subject of a future upgrade). Vibration was really my only concern with the stock BMW sub, especially if I was going to start sending it even more power. I had already found a fault with the rubber porting tube, so I knew I would have to secure it better. But I also suspected that I should invest $20 into some vibration dampening material in an attempt to cut down on the amount of buzzing and rattling the plastic components make as a result of the subwoofer.

I then started looking at those tiny speakers behind the seats, I just wasn’t sure what to do here. It was obvious the current speakers were not worthy of being part of this new stereo system, but what could replace them. I had seen what a/d/s/ did in their show car in regard to rear speakers and liked that solution. But one quick check of the rapidly depleting budget made this decision a little easier. I decided to physically leave the stock speakers in place, but they would not be hooked up to anything. The budget played a big part in this decision, I decided to give up rear speaker sound fill in order to save some money right now. If the desire for rear speaker sound hits me in the future I will deal with it then. However if possible, I should attempt to plan my amplifier selection so I could add rear speakers at a later date if I choose to do so.

There were two pieces left to the puzzle, the CD player and the amp. I went back and forth on the CD player. On one hand I could spend $500 on the BMW CD changer, mount it in the trunk and stick with the stock head unit. This option has many advantages such as retaining the speed sensitive volume, and weather band features on the stock head unit. It also would maintain a totally stock look to the stereo system which is practically a stealth mode shield against car stereo thieves. On the other hand spending the same $500 could get you a much better in dash CD player installed which would probably sound better and offer tremendously better FM reception. The hangup on the in dash option that eventually led me to choose the overpriced changer route was purely cosmetic. It seems the trend on aftermarket stereos now is to add lots of flashy multi-colored light displays. But what I really liked is how that constant simple orange display lights up the dash at night. I didn’t want to break up that look so I choose to purchase the BMW trunk mounted CD Changer. I’m not sure if I made the right decision here, but I figured I could sell the changer at a later date and install an in-dash CD without loosing too much money.

About a week after taking delivery of the CD Changer one additional fact came to light that might have led me to choose an in-dash player if I would have know about it ahead of time. The BMW CD Changer now has two different mounting location possibilities. I had only seen the side mounting location in the Z3 and assumed that is where the CD Changer would be mounted in the M roadster. However now there are some rumors that BMW is mailing me an M Mobility system that will fit in roughly the same area as the side mounting location making me either relocate the CD to a less desirable location (pictured) or remove the nice gray flannel cover around the CD changer. If the M Mobility kit ever shows up I’m probably going to wish I would have gone the in-dash route.

So now the only part of the puzzle left to put in place was the amplifier. A quick count of speakers tells me I need to power 6 separate channels

Boston Pro series 6.4 Component Speaker Set (Left – Front)

Boston Pro series 6.4 Component Speaker Set (Right – Front)

Alpine Bass Shaker (Left – Front)

Alpine Bass Shaker (Right – Front)

BMW Subwoofer (Left – Rear)

BMW Subwoofer (Right – Rear)

Picking the Amplifier

Choosing the right amplifier proved to be the most difficult part of this upgrade. Initially I choose a pair of amplifiers from Phoenix Gold new line of amps that were all chrome. The salesman showed me how Phoenix Gold’s QX4150 4 channel amp and the QX2100 2 channel amp could be mounted together and joined using this cosmetic piece to make them look like one big amp. We took the amps out and laid them in the trunk to see if they would fit. Sure enough they fit just perfectly, almost the entire width of the trunk. The band of all chrome across the back of the trunk looked really good too so I decided these amps were going to be the ones.

The Phoenix Gold amplifiers sounded really good, however they started overheating and shutting down after only 30 minutes of hard use. The stereo shop that installed the amplifiers diagnosed the fault to be the amplifiers and suggested trying a different brand.

The salesman suggested a more expensive Rockford Fosgate 360.6 six channel amp with the promise that it would not only run cooler but it would also sound better. This single unit six channel amplifier delivered 30 watts per channel so the overall output was lower however the salesman promised it would run cooler.

After the new amplifier was installed I found that the bass sound had improved (probably due to the rockford bass EQ feature) but the Boston Pros were not as clear and couldn’t get nearly as loud before distorting. It still sounded pretty good, but not as good as with the previous pair of Phoenix Gold amplifiers. The lower power of this amp didn’t sit well with me especially considering the additional cost and poorer sound quality, but I had resigned myself to accept it as long as this one didn’t overheat.

However after putting the Rockford Fosgate amplifier through a road test this amplifier overheated as well. After talking with Rockford Fosgate’s customer service they suggested that something was wrong with the installation. I returned to stereo shop to question the installer but they didn’t find anything wrong with the installation, and suggested I choose another amplifier. Since I wasn’t happy with the sound quality with the Rockford Fosgate anyway I started looking for another replacement.

At this point I was getting very frustrated and confused. Alan’s a/d/s/ show car was running nearly twice the power with his a/d/s/ P840 amplifier that I was with the Rockford Fosgate. And he was telling me his amps were cool enough to rest your hand on. I really wanted to just give up and retreat back to the stock stereo, but even this option had additional costs. In the end I decided to stop listening to advice from the shop that was installing the equipment. I did my own research and decided to try the same a/d/s/ P840 amplifier that Alan was using in the a/d/s/ showcar. This amplifier has 8 separate channels rated at 40 watts per channel. The amplifier also had full crossover control over each channel. With this much power and flexibility the new amplifier required a lot of thought and planning on how everything would be set up. I ended up setting the new amplifier up in the following configuration.

Channel 1&2 bridged: Source should be the front, left channel with the high pass crossover set at the lowest point of 45Hz. This signal would deliver 120 watts from 45Hz to 20kHz to the driver side (left) boston pro series 6.4 component speaker set via the boston crossover.

Channel 3&4 bridged: Source should be the front, right channel with the high pass crossover set at the lowest point of 45Hz. This signal would deliver 120 watts from 45Hz to 20kHz to the passenger side (right) boston pro series 6.4 component speaker set via the boston crossover.

Channel 5: Source should be the rear left channel with the band pass crossover set to drive the range between 80Hz and 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 80Hz to 100Hz to the front facing driver in the BMW subwoofer.

Channel 6: Source should be the rear right channel with the band pass crossover set to drive the range between 80Hz and 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 80Hz to 100Hz to the rear facing driver in the BMW subwoofer.

Channel 7: Source should be the rear left channel with the low pass crossover set to drive the range below 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 20Hz to 100Hz to the driver’s side (left) alpine bass shaker.

Channel 8: Source should be the rear right channel with the low pass crossover set to drive the range below 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 20Hz to 100Hz to the passenger’s side (right) alpine bass shaker.

Fighting Amplifier Heat

After installing the a/d/s/ P840 amplifier I was still having some amplifier heat problems. After discussing the trouble I was having with other people and with a/d/s/ I decided to give up on stereo shop that had been working on my Z3 *Earmark Car Audio in Dallas). Several other Z3 owners as well as a/d/s/ recommended I talk to Custom Sounds in Austin Texas. I eventually gave into my frustration and paid Custom Sounds to fix the problem.

What they discovered was that a couple of the speakers were wired out of phase, some line leveling (or signal knockdown) devices that were not appropriate for use with the a/d/s/ amplifier were installed, and in general the wiring was in their opinion “messy”. Custom Sounds cleaned everything up, wired the speakers correctly, removed the signal knockdown devices and also suggested installing some fans just for “overkill” to make sure I wouldn’t have any heat related problems. Taking their advice I had them wire a power source for the fans, however they were out of the particular Radio Shack fans they wanted to use so they took the time to show me how to add the fans myself.

On the way home I stopped by Radio shack. The fans were only $9.99 each and I picked up a plug as well so the fans and cover could be unplugged and removed if the need should ever arise. With four fans there is quite a bit of air flow directly over the amp. The fans are attached under the facade but blow air through the groves in the heat sink. It is a very productive setup, the fans are quiet and do not affect the sound quality.

While at Radio shack I also picked up a fancy digital thermometer that has two separate temperature sensors. I used this device to measure the temperature directly over the amp as well as in the corner of the trunk. After comparing these temperatures to those I took from other Z3s I’m ready to declare the heat problem resolved.

Six Month Update


Over six months have passed since this stereo upgrade initially began, and there are several things that have happened so I felt the need for a “six month update”. I will go into detail one issue at a time below but basically I’m happier with the stereo, but even more upset with Earmark Car Audio, the stereo shop that initially installed everything. At this point there is not much of the upgrade that was initially installed that hasn’t been uninstalled and reinstalled by someone else.

Amplifier Heat

This is no longer a concern for me, the a/d/s/ amp is running relatively cool with the help of the four additional fans. When I compared the temperature in my trunk to the temperature in other Z3 trunks during the homecoming convoy, I discovered that I am well within the norm. Most (stock stereo) trunks were cooler than mine but not by much, and any Z3 (with the exception of Alan’s) that had an upgraded amplifier were actually running hotter. I am happy to report that the a/d/s/ amplifier has never shut itself off even with extended high-volume stereo listening. The radio shack digital thermometer was very handy, during the homecoming convoy I was able to toss it into a different Z3 trunk every time we stopped for fuel. By the end of the trip I had a very accurate representation of what was acceptable and I was within that range.

Boston Pro 6.4 Speakers

I was disturbed to discover that the passenger side tweeter stopped working one day. It took nearly two months but a replacement was delivered at no cost. The speakers still sound great, but a recommendation is worthless at this point since the 6.4 model has been discontinued.

Alpine Bass Shakers

While my M roadster was on the lift at BMW one day I asked the Tech “what are those sheet metal screws”. He smiled at me and said “those are holding down your bass shakers”. I could feel my blood pressure rise as I looked at these inch long sheet metal screws ripped through the bottom of my M roadster. One of the screws had been bent (probably from a speed bump) and the installer hadn’t even put any kind of sealant around them to stop water/rust. The BMW Tech cut the screws off so they didn’t stick down quite so far and added some sealant but the damage had already been done. About a month later that bent screw finally gave up and the drivers side bass shaker shook itself loose and was now a bass rattler.

One weekend I ended up taking out both of the M roadster’s seats and then removed the bass shakers. I reinstalled the bass shakers using nuts and bolts and a generous amount of sealant. Once everything was reinstalled the bass shakers were working as good as they had ever worked, however my opinion of them has gone way down over the last six months. Their shaking affect is quite impressive when the car isn’t moving. However once the car is moving at more that 30mph the slight vibrations from normal driving seem to cancel out the bass shaker affect. Maybe they work better in other cars, but the sports car (stiff) suspension in my Z3 appears to make the bass shakers a poor decision.

BMW subwoofer

Finally some good news, for several months a/d/s/ has been using my BMW HK subwoofer to develop a upgrade kit. I haven’t received the finished product yet but they are telling me they have made some improvements to the stock enclosure and are now using two new drivers. I can’t wait to hear it in my car.

Rear Speakers

The desire for rear speaker fill has hit me, I’m going to hold off until I get the a/d/s/ subwoofer installed but I suspect I will be adding some rear speakers (myself) sometime this summer. I will probably work them into the same channel as the bass shakers or a/d/s/ sub via some external crossovers.

BMW CD Changer

The rumors about the M mobility kit and its interference with the side mounted CD changer were correct. To get them to fit in that location the gray flannel cover must be removed. It might be my imagination but the CD Changer also seems to be skipping more frequently. I’m starting to second guess my decision to keep the BMW equipment rather than get an indash CD player.

a/d/s/ Subwoofer

My HK subwoofer was rebuilt by a/d/s/ as a development project while they were evaluating the possibility of making a speciality kit. The product they created works very well, however it was determined that the stock HK amp was not powerful enough to truly drive the (now) a/d/s/ subwoofer with enough power to audibly tell the difference between the stock sub and the much improved a/d/s/ subwoofer. As a result of this, a/d/s/ canceled the project.

The individual within a/d/s/ that had done the research and development of the prototype replacement subwoofer got permission from a/d/s/ to build the subwoofers on his own for those HK owners that had also replaced the stock amplifier. However even that project was canceled with the news that BMW had a new HK subwoofer with the model year 2000 Z3.

So as it stands I have the one and only a/d/s/ prototype subwoofer. I do not have any details about the drivers, they were specifically unmarked so I can’t tell you anything about them from looking at them. All I can add is that they sound very good and its a shame the way things worked out.

Dinan Cold Air Intake for the 2.8 Z3

Pros: Performance, Sound
Cons: Difficult Installation
Cost: $399

After receiving the Dinan snorkel, I looked over the instructions. They looked very sparse and included no pictures and only one diagram.

As recommended, I read through the instruction before starting, and still could not glean what it was supposed to doing – even though I knew what the outcome was supposed to be.

The other part that was missing was a list of tools needed to complete the job. This is important with this install as the proper tools make it so much easier to complete the job in the small areas the snorkel fits in.

So, based on the provided instructions and a little help from the Baba, I was able to complete the job in a relatively short time – even though I had to take apart a good portion of my work to retrieve a wayward socket head.

Based on my experiences, I decided to write up some better instructions to eliminate some confusion I experienced, to input some tips that will eliminate the need for a second set of hands, and provide the much needed information left out of the Dinan documentation.

List of required tools:

Small socket wrench – recommend a small ¼ inch drive

Socket driver (screw driver type) – recommend a small one (¼ inch drive) with extension(s) to provide 6 inches or more of length

6, 8, 10, and 13mm socket heads

16mm open end wrench

Medium blade screwdriver

Small fine tooth saw

Conventions:

The instructions are oriented relative to you sitting behind the wheel of the car. Although you cannot install the snorkel sitting behind the seat of the car, this orientation is necessary.

Directions:

As with the Dinan instruction, I suggest you at least read a number of steps ahead of any step so as to “visualize” the next instruction before you start.

Remove the two 10mm bolts holding the factory air box from the front of the left fender.

Release the clamps from the sides of the Air Mass Meter.

Remove the factory air box by pulling the airflow meter from the air box and pulling straight up and slightly on the air box. The air box intake is stuck in a space next to the headlight, so remove slowly so as not to tear the foam cushion around the intake.

Disconnect 2 power connectors from behind the headlight assembly. Unscrew the turn signal light connector and remove light from headlight assembly.

Locate the four 8mm screws holding the headlight assembly. Below or behind each is a headlight alignment bushing. In order to maintain proper headlight alignment, you must keep these bushings in place while removing the screws. The bushings are a 16mm hex with a slit in each side. If you have open end wrench that you can fit on the bushing, it is best. Otherwise, locate the slit on the bushing and use the screwdriver blade to lock the bushing in place while removing each of the screws holding the headlight assembly in place.

Disconnect the horn power connector and remove the horn and horn mounting bracket. You will need to relocate the horn and its bracket. However, it is much easier to get to the horn mounting bracket bolt if you first remove the horn from the bracket. Re-assemble horn on bracket once removed.

Remove the lower left (remember orientation) bumper shock nut and use this as the new horn mounting bracket attaching point. Tighten the nut only finger tight as you may have to adjust the horn position later.

Assemble the K&N filter, the air filter bracket, the filter support bracket, the support bracket screw clamps and screws, and the filter clamp as shown in the picture. Tighten the filter clamp only enough to hold the filter in place. Place the screw clamps on the support bracket so that the small holes of the clamps are towards the middle of the support bracket. Attach the support bracket to the filter bracket with the supplied screws, but do not tighten.

NOTE: Completely ignore the 2 holes in the air filter bracket. They are never used. I spent quite a time trying to figure where these attached.

Insert the filter assembly into the area just behind the fog light so that the bent part of the filter bracket mates with the lip on the frame rail and the curve of the air filter bracket fits to the contour of the curve of the wheel well.

Align the upper hole of the air filter support bracket with the bottom of the hole on the lip in front of the wheel well and attach in place with the second support bracket screw. Tighten both support bracket screws.

Align the lip of the bend part of the air filter bracket with the lip of the frame rail and attach with the 2 supplied clips.

Adjust the horn so that the power connector can be re-attached and re-attach the horn power connector. Tighten the nut holding the horn bracket in place.

Locate the mounting bracket on the left fenderwell below the airflow meter. If a hose is attached, remove the hose from the attaching clip and remove the clip from the mounting bracket.

Fit the airflow meter support bracket to the left side of the airflow meter. Align the holes at the bottom of the airflow meter support bracket with the bracket on the fenderwell and attach with supplied 6mm bolts.

Secure the airflow meter support bracket to the airflow meter with the long wire tie. Secure the hose formally attached to the mounting bracket to the airflow support bracket with the shorter wire tie.

Slip the #36 hose clamp on the reduced end of the silicone hose and slip the reduced end of the silicone hose to the airflow meter. Tighten the clamp.

While supporting the filter from the bottom, loosen the clamp around the air filter enough to fit the bottom end of the carbon fiber tube into the filter open enough so that the clamp will securely hold it. Fit the carbon fiber tube into the filter opening and retighten the clamp.

Slip the #48 hose clamp over the end of the silicone hose. Slip the end of the carbon filter tube well into the silicone hose and tighten the clamp to hold the tube in place.

Cut the headlight adjuster flang(es) as necessary to allow the headlight assembly to fit in the mounting area with clearance between the headlight adjuster and the carbon fiber tube.

Refit the headlight assembly into position and secure with mounting screws. Ensure the alignment bushings do not move when re-mounting the headlight.

Insert turn signal light into headlight assembly and secure. Re-attach headlight power connections.

Check all connections for tight fit

Review

So, how is the new air snorkel? The extra air the 2.8 gets makes a big difference (particularly when coupled with the Dinan chip). The engine response better and the stock exhaust has a much better tone…particularly when above 3.5K rpm and under load (read, romping on the gas).

An upgraded intake is a definite plus to any Z3. However, at $399, the Dinan intake is a bit pricey for what you get. Particularly since the filter does not open to the outside air. There is probably a better way to make modifications to the existing intake to provide the extra air the engine craves. I have been considering a couple designs myself and plan on keeping the Dinan intake if just to have a comparison should I fabricate a different design myself.

HK Sub Dissected

You can get to the HK sub by snapping off the lid on top of the rear compartment. The lid is attached in four spots. The forward snaps will give way first. Just make sure to keep the lid flat and pull straight up.

The subwoofer is held in place by four screws. Be careful removing the screws because if you drop one it might be difficult to find. Once the screws are removed, you can unhook the wiring harness that attaches the HK sub (it’s tough to undo the first time).

Once the enclosure is removed, you can see how the process was designed to work. One speaker is facing forward and is ported out the front grill into the cabin. The rear speaker is not ported at all; it is wired in reverse phase and is solely designed to assist the front speaker (not to be heard on its own).

The HK sub has two speakers within the plastic box. The rear speaker (pictured on the right) is exposed. The wire plug (coming out of the left side) contains four wires, two for each speaker. (Click on any of the pictures for a larger view).

Looking inside the port hole you can see the second speaker. It is identical to the one on the back. Inside the cavity there is some stuffing. Playing around with the sound characteristic, I found that the sub sounds better at low volume with the stuffing removed, but it sounds much better at high volume with the stuffing. I say high volume, but truth is these are speakers that just can’t handle very much power. The HK sub is a really good sounding speaker up to a point, then everything starts to buzz and rattle.

Some stickers on the speakers claimed 2 ohms, but using an ohm meter, I tested each individual speaker at 3.4 ohms. It would be very interesting to try and find some really good aftermarket speakers that would fit in the same enclosure. I measured the speaker mounting points – it was 4 1/4 inches from the outside of one hole to another and 3 3/4 inches from the inside to inside (click on the picture to the right for a larger view). If anyone finds a possible replacement speaker that will fit, please tell me about it.

You can see there really isn’t much to this design. It’s a plastic molded speaker housing that has just enough room to contain the two speakers. Because of the compact design, there is not a lot of room for air to move. I think the tight design really leads to high air pressure, and the paper/cloth drivers perform up to a point but then the increased air pressure just restricts their movement and they start to distort. But all in all you have to really be impressed with the capabilities of such a small design. I think they could be improved upon, but not bad for stock speakers.

Magnetic Stone Guards

Pros: Looks great (911-ish), Protects from paint chips, Easy to take on and off
Cons: none?
Cost: $39.95 pair (from Z3 Solution)

The rear wheel wells on the 2.3 Z3, 2.8 Z3 and M roadster stick out quite a bit. A few owners started picking up rock chips in this exposed area. Porsche ran into similar problems with its 911 and solved it by adding some sporty looking protective pads.

The say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Keith got the idea to create some stone guards for the Z3 based on the 911 design. Using the same thin magnetic material that people use for those stick on door advertisements. Keith’s original design (pictured on the right) was cut to match the contours of the fender flair.

Later Keith redesigned the shape of the stone guards, the protected area is slightly larger but basically the new design is just cosmetically different from the original design. Using the stone guards is pretty simple, it took me a couple minutes to get them installed “just right” the first couple times but now after some practice I can slap them on pretty quickly (for me the secret was to start at the bottom first). As far as care and maintenance goes, I remove the stone guards every time I clean the car and hand wash them with soap and water. I always make sure to dry them off and I never put them back on until everything is dry (don’t want water trapped under them). When I wax the car I give the front and back of the stone guards a layer of wax at the same time.

Keith also has some new chrome versions of his magnetic stone guards, the chrome version really makes a statement. Not sure if the chrome ones will visually work on every car, but on some colors they should look pretty cool. Keith sells these and a few other “Z3 Solutions” via his web site. He also has a gallery of pictures of Z3s with his stone guards on if you want to see some more examples.

My Kingdom for a Cup Holder!

“Here I am, driving one of the most fun automobiles in the world, yet I can’t find a good place to put this Dr. Pepper while I shift into 5th gear.” This has been a common statement ever since the introduction of the Z3. The BMW roadster is an amazing automobile; a near perfect balance of modern day technology and classic “retro” styling. But it doesn’t have a cup holder, and damn-it, I’m a spoiled American that likes to occasionally have something to drink while I’m driving.

Apparently I’m not alone in this quest for a cup holder. Enough people complained loudly enough that over time several “solutions” have become available to the BMW roadster owner. I’ve seen and/or owned most of the available cup holders, so I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion and offer my own opinion on each of the cup holder options I’ve found.

BMW’s stock armrest.

Every BMW roadster that is built for the US market leaves the factory with the same center console/armrest/cassette holder device. It’s a neatly engineered, modular device that has a open storage area with a raised armrest behind it. The raised armrest area can be pulled out with just a slightly forceful tug. The theory being that other modular devices could be snapped into the same area in its place.

The stock device is a pop-up cassette holder. Problem is, BMW got tied up in its “retro” design mind set and forgot that cassettes are a thing of the past. As the Z3 was making its introduction to the various car magazines, a few reviews pointed out that the Z3 didn’t have a cup holder (guess they had to pick on something).

BMW’s Initial Response

BMW was fairly quick to react to the cup holder oversight and offered a solution that replaced the modular center console area with a non-modular armrest that had a covered storage space and two cup holders. The BMW part number for the replacement is 82-11-1-469-516. Any BMW roadster owner in the US could request this cup holder armrest and BMW would exchange the cassette holder for the new armrest for free.

I took advantage of this offer in November 1996 and gladly handed over my unused cassette holder. The new design was very convenient in that it had a covered storage area and two hidden cup holders. It was also a more comfortable armrest. Problem was, the cup holders are behind your elbow when you are holding the gear shift. Not very convenient, but none the less serviceable.

I was pretty happy with the swap for a couple months but then the new design started falling apart. The coating on the plastic started to flake off and a couple small rubber pieces tore off. While it never happened to mine, apparently it was also common to have the hinge snap on the covered storage area. Owners started complaining about the “cheap armrest” and requests for replacements under warranty started to flood BMW.

It’s okay BMW fixed it!

In BMW’s defense, this new cup holder/armrest really isn’t manufactured by BMW. Apparently BMW passed on the complaints to whomever the maker was and that supplier made an improved version. The improved version looked nearly identical to the original design except it appeared to be made out of a slightly different plastic material, the hinge was sturdier, and they redesigned the rubber bumpers that the lid rested on. If you are curious which version you have, look at the rubber stoppers that cushion the lid of the storage area. If there are raised plastic rings surrounding the rubber stoppers, then you have the “improved” version.

The “New and Improved” version had the same part number as the original version and it was kind of “hush-hush” about the improvement. BMW offered the new design to any owner who lodged a complaint, although it took quite some time for them to replace all original designs that had self-destructed.

I was one of those that received the improved version and I can attest to the improvement. While the cup holder location is not in the most convenient location, the covered storage area is very nice.

Who cares about storage, I want a cup holder!

Even today, every BMW roadster still leaves the factory with the original center console with an open storage area and a modular “snap-in” cassette holder. A few owners may have never seen this because some dealers have become pro-active and replaced this entire center console with the now improved covered storage area and cup holders.

A long time ago when the BMW roadster was first introduced, BMW offered an optional swivel-up cup holder that snapped into the same modular area that the cassette holder used. At the time no one paid it much attention since it was an optional accessory, but it was a neat design that let the owner swap out the cassette holder and/or cup holder.

For some reason this modular cup holder quietly disappeared around November 1996 and was never marketed in an accessories catalog. Then just as quietly, around February 1998, it awoke from hibernation and was spotted in a Z3 in South Carolina.

It wasn’t very long afterward that the BMW part number was discovered (51-16-8-398-250)and is now available through any BMW parts department. This swivel-up design makes use of the original modular area (that the cassette holder occupied), but the bracket holding it is slightly different. So it’s not just a snap-in, snap-out swap for the cassette holder, but with a screw driver you could make the swap in under five minutes. As a cup holder, it is a more convenient and smarter design than the previous cup-holder, which required the driver to somehow put a drink in a hole behind his/her elbow. However, this modular design doesn’t have a covered storage space that the free replacement offered.

This left BMW roadster owners to choose between a convenient storage space or a convenient cup holder. Both models had their respective pros and cons, but I had grown accustomed to the covered storage area and the more comfortable armrest of the free replacement (oh, and the fact that it is free is a nice feature, too). Too bad BMW couldn’t design something that did both.

Owner beats BMW at its own game.

Leave it to an BMW roadster owner to come up with a solution to the cupholder problem. What you are looking at is good old ingenuity. These are nothing more than sections of 3″ PVC pipe, precisely cut to fit inside the side storage areas. After being cut, they were spray painted with semi-gloss black spray paint so that they blend into the interior.

This design is simple, functional and cheap (which is the kind of combination I like). This original cut PVC pipe design was later sold to HMS. HMS had a custom plastic mold made and is now selling cup holders very similar to this one for $34.95.

They work quite well in that they hold typical 12 oz. cans, but they do not work with fast-food cups. About the only other complaint I have is that condensation from the can drips down into the side storage compartment (and sometimes I have other stuff in there). I’ve learned to keep something like a napkin under the cupholder.

Rich borrows a solution from the Miata.

I like my cassette holder.

However, I would also like to have a couple of drink holders in the car. I looked at the BMW offering and found both the older style and the newer styles to be inconvenient, as well as removing utility of the cassette holder.

The BMW designs place the drinks by your elbow, just where they’re likely to get tipped over when shifting from first to second. I had a similar problem in my Miata – Mazda provided a drink holder which could go in the center console, but the drinks tended to tip (although they were further on down than the BMW placement, you could still tip them while shifting). However, the Miata also had a perfect place for an after market “flip-down” drink-holder: a trim screw could be used to secure the drink holder to the center console by the passenger’s legs. In fact, almost everyone who owns a Miata has one of these installed. It’s out of the way, easy to reach and takes away an insignificant amount of room on the passenger side. When folded, they are unobtrusive, looking like a four inch square by .5 inch black box.

When I got my Z3, I was so used to having a decent drink holder, I never considered the “elbow holder” alternatives. Instead, I went out and bought a new “flip-down” and installed it on the console on the passenger side. Unfortunately, this means drilling into the console. I secured the top with two small screws into the console in the middle with one screw into the carpeting and at the bottom with some “male” velcro. Because I have the wood console and extended leather, I chose the “wood-look” drink-holders to which I added a piece of leather matching the leather trim on the console.

My wife pointed out that I wasn’t the only one who needed a place to put my drinks, so I added a second one. The result is a very attractive and serviceable alternative to the BMW designs.

In spirited driving, the drinks are much more secure than in either of the BMW designs. The pincers which flip up are adjustable, accommodating the common soda can, tall late’ cup and the occasional Big Gulp.

Drink holders like these can be found at your local Pep-Boys or Auto-Palace for less than $5 each. They come in flat black or “wood-look”. You can also find more expensive versions, completely covered in leather from Beverly Hills Motoring Accessories (To order call: (800) FOR-BHMA or +1 310 657-4800 (outside U.S. & Canada)) for about $30 each. You can specify what type of leather you want them wrapped in.

Homemade PVC Cupholder

Leave it to an BMW roadster owner to come up with a solution to the cupholder problem. What you are looking at is good old ingenuity, this is nothing more than a section of 3″ PVC pipe, precisely cut to fit inside the side storage area. A couple shots of semi-gloss black spray paint and that’s it, you’ve got a cupholder that blends nicely into the Z3 interior.

This design is simple, functional and cheap (which is the kind of combination I like). If you want to go the PVC route you can visit the local hardware store and then spend an hour or two cutting the PVC to get the fit just right. Total cost is probably going to be around $5, however if you aren’t the do-it-yourself type you have another alternative. This original cut PVC pipe design was used by HMS Motorsport as a prototype for a nicer plastic/rubber moulded cupholder. The HMS cupholder is nearly identicle in shape, except the flexible rubber material makes it easier to snap the cupholder into place. The HMS version is now selling for $24.95, so its roughly $20 more than a home made version but all you have to do is pick up the phone instead of spending an hour or two of your own time making one from PVC pipe.

The design works quite well in that they hold typical 12oz cans, and the larger skinny 20 oz plastic bottles, however it doesn’t work with fastfood cups. About the only other complaint I have is that condensation from the can could drip down into the side storage compartment (and sometimes I have other stuff in there). I’ve learned to keep something like a napkin under the cupholder just in case.

Z3 Side Grills/Gils

Pros: Easy to Swap, Model Confusion
Cons: Price, Model Confusion
Cost: 51-13-2-492-949 M grille left $169.00 retail (unpainted)
51-13-2-492-950 M grille right $169.00 retail (unpainted)
51-13-8-399-719 Z3 Grille left $46.75 retail (unpainted)
51-13-8-399-720 Z3 Grille right $46.75 retail (unpainted)
painting the pair should cost $75-$100

The M roadster’s side grill design is pretty neat (pictured on top), but I prefer the less flashy shark gill style of the Z3 design (pictured on bottom). Its funny how this picture makes the M roadster one look smaller than the Z3 one, but the Z3 gills are actually ~1/16 inch shorter in length than the M ones? This slight difference will leave a larger gap between the gill and the body panel but not enough to really be noticeable.

Both designs are attached to the vehicle similarly. Five plastic snap connectors and one mounting point secured by a screw. To remove, I started by removing the single screw. Then using needle nose pliers, I squeezed the plastic connector wings together and pushed the plastic snaps back through the hole. Took about five minutes before I got them all loose. If you end up breaking one of these plastic snaps the replacement part is 51-13-8-399-231 and those clips list for $3 each. If you wanted to by the BMW nut it is part number 07-12-9-925-730 which lists for $0.08 each.

Once I was able to put the two designs side by side I noticed a small difference between the M roadster design and the Z3 design. The single mounting point required two different sized screws. After a quick trip to the hardware store I was back in business. The Z3 design required #10-23 1/2 inch machine screws, the M roadster design was a different size.

Putting the shark gill Z3 design vents on the M roadster was very easy. With some gentle pushing, the five plastic tabs snapped into place. I then secured the final point with the newly acquired #10-32 1/2 inch machine screw.

Very happy with the end result, now I truly have an MZ3. I’m keeping the M roadster design (so don’t email me asking for them). Do to mood swings I see myself switching between the two different designs a couple times a year. But for now, I think of it as being an M roadster in stealth mode.

When Z3 owners were asked: Which Z3 side vent design do you prefer [106 votes total]

Z3 Shark Gills Design 61(57%)

MZ3 Classic Design 45(42%)