Chrome Lighted Shift Knob

Since you can never have enough chrome in an M Roadster (open to debate, perhaps) I decided to add the BMW chrome gearshift knob. However, if I did that I would loose that cool lighting effect from the stock gearshift knob. I decided to try and make a chrome lighted gearshift knob.

You will need to remove the standard shift knob. Lift the cover up around it (it’s just held in place by small tabs on the side), and find the connectors for the wires leading to the knob. Disconnect these and simply pull straight up on the knob. It’s tight, but it should come off. Be careful not to hit yourself while pulling it up.

The first thing I did was to take apart the stock knob to see how it worked. It’s really just 3 tiny LEDS and a resistor under a knob emblem that let’s light shine through. Since BMW does not sell this emblem as a separate piece, you will need the one from the stock knob. Put your fingernail under the edge and simply pry up. It’s held on by double-sticky tape and should come off easily. Be careful not to scratch either side. Also important, the “silver” look of the numbers is not really paint. It’s some sort of dust that very easily wipes off. Do not get your finger anywhere near it, or you’ve just ruined the emblem.

The next thing you will need is the wire connector off the standard gearshift knob. Cut the wires (but leave some space to work with). I choose to get some nylon connectors from a local electronics store and solder it on the end of the BMW connector. That way I can still take my knob off without dealing with the BMW connector (which is a little big and won’t come off though the hole in the cover that easily).

Now it’s time to work on the chrome knob (which you need to purchase, of course). You need to get the emblem off without scratching the knob itself. The knob itself is covered in some sort of thin film that protects the metal (which is very soft). If you scratch the knob, it will look BAD. So don’t do that *smile*. The emblem is held on by the same double-sticky tape, but lots more or it. The best way I found is to use a dremel and drill directly into the center of the emblem with the dremel screw-like attachment, then yank the emblem off. Remove the remaining double-sticky tape, but save it – you will need it later.

Under the emblem you will find a little hole which is almost the right size. If you were to put the M emblem over this hole, the “R” and the “5” would not light up, because the hole isn’t big enough. Carefully grind the edges away where those two spaces would be (i.e. instead of a round hole, you would create a hole that looked like it had mickey-mouse ears). You don’t need to go very deep, long enough so that light can shine through. Now look at the underside of the knob. Inside you will see a couple horizontal plastic bars that hold the knob in place and keep it from spinning around. Through the center of the knob (in the hole on the top) drill out a vertical line that intersects the horizontal bar. Go all the way through till it’s completely open. You are almost done at this point.

Go back to your car. Figure out where that horizontal bar would go (it’s plainly obvious). Now cut (grind, actually) a small groove down one side of the stick. It doesn’t need to be very big, but you need something to run the wires in. On the stock knob, the wires actually run along the outside of the knob, but with the chrome knob we can’t do that so we need this grove. It won’t affect the functionality at all, there’s still PLENTY of metal left. When I did this, I took a vacuum and left it up close to where I was grinding to keep all the particles from spraying through the inside of my car.

Back to the chrome knob. Take some very small gauge wire (I used the individual strands of a telephone wire) cut two 18″ pieces. One one side, solder an LED to it. I used a jumbo orange LED from radio shack, their part number is 276-206 and the color matches the rest of the car pretty well. On the other end of one of the wires solder a 470 ohm resistor. Then solder on the mating end of the connector that you soldered on the BMW connector.

Go back to the car. Thread the connector attached to the knob through the leather shifter cover, and place the cover back on the car. Now carefully place the chrome knob on the car. Line up the wires in the groove you cut and on the top have the wires come out next to the horizontal bar (i.e. the LED [attached to the wires] still isn’t in it’s final position, it’s sticking out further). If you did everything right, the knob should be in position and on tightly, but if you hold both ends of the wires you can gently slide the LED back and forth. Pull on the wires until the LED is flush in the hole.

Lastly, you need to put a diffuser and the emblem back on. For a diffuser, you can use the white plastic one from the stock shifter, or simply cut a piece of white paper in the appropriate size. Use that double sticky tape you saved earlier to put the emblem back on. Re-connect the wires and put the leather cover back in place, and you are all set!

Another thing to watch out for is to test-fit the emblem into the chrome knob. I’ve had two different knobs, in one the M emblem fit just fine, but in the other I had to slightly grind the emblem down to get it to fit. Also, be careful not to push too hard getting the emblem in place, it CAN crack internally and have ugly white lines running through it. In direct sunlight, the knob can get VERY hot – so you may want a pair of driving gloves. And the wires you use to connect the LED can get damaged very easy, so if you take the knob off again you may want to plan to replace those wires.

All in all, I’m happy with my unique shift knob!