Road to the Perfect Armrest

Folks who have seen pictures of the then yet-to-be-released Z3 in 1996 have reported that it showed pop-up cupholders. When the roadster was finally into its US production, the center console instead sported a 6-cassette holder sitting behind a rubber cubby bin. The uncovered bin was big enough for a garage door clicker and some loose change, but that was about it.

BMW took it to heart when attendees at the first Z3 Homecoming voiced their concerns about the lack of a cupholder. I’m certain that the ruckus from this oversight made it’s way into the Bond Film “The World Is Not Enough” in the form of an inside joke when “Q” tells 007 about the cupholders his Z8 has!

Sometime in late 1997, a bulletin was issued that instructed dealers to swap out the cassette holder for an armrest/cupholder console only upon request of the owner. This involved removing the rubber cubby bin and cassette holder, drilling a hole behind the emergency brake lever, and mounting the new armrest (82-11-1-469-516) in its place.

The chintziness of the construction and material used in the OEM product provided ample opportunity for improvement; that’s when Z3 enthusiast Jon Maddux stepped up to plate and has been slamming homers over the fence ever since. His padded leather armrests have been touted by legions of customers as works of art. The selection of leather, the craftsmanship, the attention to detail are all top-notch. His skills have brought forth numerous other cockpit goodies as shown on his website, LeatherZ.com

As much as I would have LOVED to own a LeatherZ armrest, my desire for functionality wasn’t being met by BMW’s offering. My dirty little secret is that on a sweltering summer day, I might occasionally stop into a 7-eleven and indulge in an icy-cold 44oz Super Big Gulp. There was simply no way BMW Cupholder #82-11-1-469-516 was going to accomodate. Surrendering my unused cassette holder for a seldom-used cupholder wasn’t the solution I was looking for.

When I found out the original pop-up cupholder (51-16-8-398-250) was obtainable, I got it mostly for the novelty of it. The novelty wore off soon enough since it’s nearly flush-mounted design provided zero opportunity to serve as a place to rest the elbow. Any attempts otherwise might cause one of the cupholders to pop-up. It’s ability to hold a variety of cups was equally useless to me. An enthusiastic turn around a corner would be cause enough for a small cup to topple out of the cupholder’s grip.

Model Year 2000 cupholderDuring the 1999 Z3 Homecoming, I was pleasantly surprised to find out another center console design was going into production. BMW gave the OK for a design apparently carried over from the 318ti. The new cupholder (51-16-8-413-622) was slated to be standard-issue for all 2000 model year Z3s. The front edge features a coinholder for quarters, dimes and nickles. Two cupholders follow behind it with a deep storage bin bringing up the rear. Both cupholes are multi-tiered to accomodate a variety of cups, but the cleverest thing about the first cuphole is that it features a removeable plastic ring that effectively gives it a much wider opening. Joy and elation came when I found out the widest opening can accomodate a Super Big Gulp. Functionality-wise, this was THE center console that fit my needs. Comfort and aesthetics however, would have to take a back-seat since it was an open-top design. I had trained my elbow to rest lightly on the irregular hard plastic surface.

LeatherZ Mk2 ArmrestLeatherZ can do no wrong and undeniable proof is in their newest product, the Mk2 Armrest. Made of the same high-quality leather as their previous products, this armrest shows PLENTY of thought in its execution. The first obvious feature is its shape. The extra width is sure to end any long-standing elbow-wrestling matches between driver and passenger — there’s plenty of armrest surface to share. This is achieved without obstructing access to the emergency brake handle in any way.

The coinholder and first cuphole remain accessible since these are the two items used most often. In everyday driving, my elbow rests on the front third of the Mk2 Armrest. Taller drivers would probably find their elbow resting further back. Having an armrest that extended any further forward would be a waste not only because it would never get rested on, but quick access to the coins would be cumbersome if the armrest had to be hinged away everytime. Here again, LeatherZ provides comfort without sacrificing functionality.

Installing the Mk2 Armrest shows yet more thoughtful consideration from LeatherZ. The instructions were straightforward and simple. A piece of thin cardboard was used to provide a tiny smidgeon of gap-space near the rear hinge. All that needs to be done is to drill two holes with a 5/32th bit into the cupholder rear. The existing Mk2 Armrest hinge holes provide an easy guide for this. LeatherZ goes the extra mile by providing two metal plate reinforcements. This has proven to be an extremely sturdy setup. The result is a pleasant asthetic look that could fool any onlooker into thinking this armrest is stock from the factory.

Metal plates slip behind the drilled plasticMetal screws sandwich the plastic between the hinge and metal plate

Aesthetics aside, how does it feel? Maaaaahhhhh-velous! On a 960 mile Memorial Weekend trip with the Midwest Z3 group I had the chance to use the Mk2 Armrest extensively. Jon’s selection of padding density is dead-on perfect. Not too mushy as to feel squirmy yet not too hard as to cause uncomfort or bruising over the lenthy drive. It didn’t dawn on me until a few hundred miles into the trip that the lack of fatigue I’m usually accustomed to was because the Mk2 Armrest encourages optimal posture. Before the armrest, my right elbow would rest on the bare cupholder about an inch or two lower than the driver’s door armrest. This means that the spine slumps over to the right. This can really take its toll over long distances. The LeatherZ Mk2 Armrest is at a dead-even height with the door armrests. How could I tell? After installing it, I laid down a wooden slat spanning from the LeatherZ Armrest to the door armrest. A canister was then laid on the slat and it stayed put without rolling toward either end. Was this a happy coincidence? Given LeatherZ’s reputation, I’m virtually certain it’s not. With the elbows at a matched height, the hands easily fall into the 9 and 3 o’clock positions on the wheel. The track instructor would be proud.

By the time you read this, LeatherZ should have their Mk2 Armrest available and ready to ship — check their website for details. In this reviewer’s opinion, the perfect Z3 armrest has been found. With the LeatherZ Mk2 Armrest installed on the Y2K cupholder, all criteria have been met with overwhelming satisfaction. Versatility, usability, comfort, aesthetics; it’s all there. Great job, Jon!