I took delivery of my Z3 in April of 1998 and had the dealership replace the factory armrest/cassette holder with the free armrest/storage area. By August of 1998 my armrest was already showing the typical peeling wear that many other Z3 owners have experienced, so BMW replaced it under warranty.
While it was nice of BMW to replace it, I wanted to find a solution to this problem so I wouldn’t be requesting a new armrest every 5 to 6 months. The most reputable theory behind the cause of the peeling is that some lotions (like suntan lotion) react with the top layer of the plastic armrest. I wasn’t about to give up suntan lotion and subject myself to sunburn to save the armrest so I needed another solution.
After consulting with an upholstery shop I decided to have the surface/contact areas on the armrest covered in leather. It cost me $100 and afterwards the upholstery shop said they would need $150 to do another one. When I posted the details on the Z3 Message board the reaction was mixed. The majority agreed it was a good idea but the price was just too high.
This is where Jon Maddux enters into the story. Jon is a Z3 owner that has experience working with leather. After some development time Jon announced that he was able to produce a similar leather covered armrest for only $75 (that’s half the cost). I asked Jon to route one of his armrests through me so I could take pictures of it and compare it to my armrest for this article. About that time Mark Volk had requested that Jon make him an armrest and Mark was nice enough to let his armrest be delayed a few more days so I could take pictures and compare it to my more expensive armrest.
I have to admit that I my checkbook was very angry with me once I got a look at the armrest Jon made. Jon was able to work the corners much more smoothly then the local upholstery shop (view this article to compare).
Jon’s armrest also seems to have more padding then mine. The additional padding makes the armrest not only more comfortable but it also gives the armrest a slightly more rounded and smooth look. My camera flash brought out detail that normally can’t be made out. You can see the outline of the padding Jon added under the leather.
The other major difference I noticed was the edges around the hinge. because the hinge area is narrow both my local upholstery shop and Jon and had to cut the leather here (rather than tuck it under). Jon’s armrest made this area look much cleaner than my armrest.
I realize this is petty of me, but I kept looking for some place where my armrest was better than Jon’s. The closest I could come was the area under the lid. The upholstery shop that made my armrest (pictured) managed to fit the cloth to the underside of the lid and wrapped the leather up the sides. Jon’s design has the cloth also coming down the sides and it appears a little bulkier and less attractive. However to be honest, I really didn’t notice the difference until I got the two armrests side by side.
I’m reminded of the old phrase “if you want something done right, do it yourself”. Jon may be more adapt at working with leather then the upholstery shop that did my armrest, but I doubt it. I think this is just a case of Jon being a Z3 owner and taking the extra time to make something that he would be willing to put in his Z3.
If you are interested in purchasing one of Jon’s leather covered armrests he has a web page at http://www.leatherZ.com/. He charges $85 to cover your existing armrest, and offers two ways to get around the logistics of the upgrade. You can either send him your armrest and $85 which he will cover and then mail back to you. Or you can send him an additional $22.35 ($107.35 total) and Jon will mail order a brand new BMW armrest which he will cover and then mail to you.
In general ///MZ3.Net is a supporter of Z3 owner built products, and once a year the site give out a Best Owner Designed Product Award. After reviewing Jon’s leather covered armrest I’ve decided to make it the first official nomination for the 1999 award. Nominations will be made throughout the year and the voting for the winner will be done by MZ3.Net readers in December of 1999.
Update 7/19/99: Jon Maddux (of http://www.leatherZ.com/) talked me into upgrading from my original lessor quality leather armrest to one of his newest creations. Once he described his idea to me the vision of a dark gray leather armrest with custom embroidered ///M logo made me an easy target. Jon sent me many dark gray samples and let me find the one that matched my dark gray interior. Once the right color was identified he went to work making my armrest. I watched his progress via LeatherZ’s on-line order status webpage in anticipation of its arrival on my doorstep. It had been over four months since my original review of Jon’s armrests and after holding his newest creation for a couple minutes it was apparent that several improvements had been made. Since that initial armrest Jon has upgraded to an even higher quality of leather, as well as improved his own skills in the manufacturing process. It really is a super high quality work of art and I am very happy with my decision to upgrade.