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!

How to Build a Z3 Dual Arm Rest

With a trip to your local BMW dealership for one $25.00 part and a visit to your local Home Depot for another $20.00 in hardware you can construct this dual arm rest (uncovered) for your Z3 or ///M with simple hand tools.

This arm rest was inspired by my wife Sharon. I would be the driver, she would be the passenger and as I would raise my arm to shift she would steal the arm rest or as I would raise my arm to steer she would steal the arm rest. I decided to invent my Z3 dual arm rest. In doing so I have also come to learn that it is now possible to rest my elbow on the new arm rest while steering. This is not really possible with the OEM arm rest as it is to far away. I’m 6’4″ with long arms and people with shorter arms that have tested the dual arm rest prefer this arm position. So many thanks to my wife Sharon.

I have tried many different variations on this project and what I give you now is the best I have found to work. You have a few choices to make, such as, color of hardware and felt, painting it or dipping it and whether it is going to be leather covered by Jon Maddux at www.leatherz.com. It’s REALLY not that complicated once you read through the instructions and get a better understanding of what I’m talking about. My personal choice was brass hardware with a black felt covered forward bumper support catch that was dipped in black Plastic coat. Then sent to Jon M. at www.leatherz.com for matching tan cover with the word Roadster embroidered on it.

Generally speaking the parts will cost you anywhere from $34.00 to $42.00 depending on if you get a discount at BMW dealership, the choices you make regarding felt and plastic dip, sales taxes and what you may already have available to you. The tools on the other hand could add up to $150.00 or more. Then if you are sending it on to leatherz to be covered more $. Yeah, but it’s your “baby” right.

You will need to remove the cupholder assembly from your Z. The one in your car now is not the one we will be working on but will be replaced by the new . Note: there may be cases where the one in car is the one to be retrofitted. Anyway this is no big deal. We are talking about removing one screw or one nut and bolt. OK it is a tight spot but you can do it. There is even a great article on the www. leatherz.com site for removing the cupholder assembly. See Rachels excellent cupholder assembly instructions there.

If you are not having this leather covered (why in the world aren’t you) you may want to spray paint the top ring of the rivet nut and possibly both hinges black to match the lids. If you are doing an installation WITHOUT the rivet nut the top nut and lock washer should be painted or better yet plastic dipped black to match lids and prevent clothes catching on it. This nut REALLY bothers me especially if it’s going to be leather covered so I wish you would reconsider and do the rivet nut option.

Collecting the Parts

Start by collecting all parts and tools you will need. Here is the list.

1. Cup holder assembly BMW part # 82-11-1-469-516

2. 1 pair of 2″x 3/4″ hinges. National or simuilar with removeable pin in brass or silver (your choice). Home Depot # 218-995 (brass) # 218-979 (silver)

3. 1-Grip clip. Home Depot # 201-739, 4 to a package, only need one.

4. 1-7/8″ dia. bumper. Home Depot 3 524-062, 4 to a package,only need one. Black if you can find it but I couldn’t.

5. 1- 8″x 11″ sheet of felt (or less) with sticky back. Color of your choice. I got mine at Rag Shop in black, two sheets to a package. Home Depot -Felt Gard # 423-234. Choice of biege or brown in medium and heavy grade. I suggest medium.

6. Opinional. Plastic dip. Available at Home Depot in red, yellow and blue. I used black and got mine at local hardware and also available from Harbor Freight. This is to coat brown bumper black or cover exposed nut and lock washer in non- rivet, non-covered lid. Note: you can get away without plastic dip if you chose to leave bumper brown or paint it. But you should use it on non-nut rivet installations.

7. 1-Machine screw (1 1/2″ 10-24 thread) slotted round head in brass or silver (your choice)

8. 3- 10-24 nuts and 3- #10 lock washers (color match)

9. Loc-tite or Permatex nut lock (permanent type) only for non rivet nut installations. READ ON FOR MORE INFO ON THIS TYPE INSTALLATION.

10. Styrofoam ( the softer white that comes with everything. Not the harder flower arrangement stuff.)

***Part #’s are for reference only. Please make sure you get what is described.

Tools

* Drill

* 3/16″ and 17/64″ possibly 11/64″ drill bits

* Normal rivet gun

* package of 3/16″ with 1/4″ bite aluminum rivets

* *Rivet nut gun – This can be gotten via Harbor Freight for $20.00. It is a cheap(er) version of one that is available at Napa car stores for $114.00. Both come with the 10-24 nut rivet you will use.

* Razor knife

* Scissors

* Hacksaw with blade

For cupholder assembly removeal and installation:

* Allen wrench

* Metric or adjustable wrench

* I’ll tell you how to do it without this tool but it is much better with nut rivet!

Let’s Make It

DISCLAIMER: The writer of this article assumes no responsibility what-so-ever for this armrest. It is given to you as a do- it- yourself project and you and you alone assume ALL responsibility for it’s construction, installation and any possible damage to your vehicle in connection with it. Also note that it may be unwise or illegal to obstruct the hand/emergency brake. Again you and you alone bear full responsibility. READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS THOROUGHLY BEFORE PROCEEDING WITH THIS PROJECT.

First if your OEM arm rest has no metal rod in back for the rear lid, has only little rubber bumpers without plastic surrounding them and a rubber mat in storage compartment instead of nice soft material you have the “old style”, pre-1997, and I would highly recommend you use the new cupholder for this job. For everyone else why not use the new cupholder anyway since it’s unscratched and not in the car. Yes, you will have to remove the cupholder assembly in the car and replace with the hinged one you’ll make. I see no way to drill, align and rivet on the assembly while still in the car. It’s only one screw or one nut and bolt.

OK, Let’s begin to make YOUR Z3 dual arm rest.

If you are going to dip or paint the bumper stop DO IT NOW! Screw in 1 1/2″x 10-24 machine screw through bumper until it’s recessed under the opening and flush with bumper base. Bumper is not threaded so this will require a little force. Give bumper 2 coats of dip or paint. Try to keep dip off threads. Let dry overnight. Take lids off new assembly (un-hook o-rings). The lids in your car now will replace these on this side of cupholder assembly LATER. Remove with either a hacksaw or razor knife the lid latch tabs on both lids. Cutoff flush with lid side.

PUTTING ON HINGES

Pull the pin out of one of the hinges. Get some seperation using putty knife then use wide blade screwdriver to pry out. Align 2 barrel half with the back edge of assembly, get it lined up with lid and even with top edge. Mark holes and drill 3/16″ holes. Clean off any drilled material. Note: Line up back lid (SMALLER ONE WITH BOTH CORNERS CUT OUT) with outside edge of assembly. This gives a nice space between old and new lids. Line up hinge on lid and back of assembly. Make sure edge of hinge is even with both lid edge and assembly edge. This is very important to understand, pay close attention to this picture. First visualize that the back lid is on the top left hand side of the assembly (where I made the pen marking.) You need to line up the lid with that side in order to get space between the two armrests. Now you also need to align the hinge halfs. One on back lid and one on assembly. Take note that this hinge half is NOT centered in that assembly space so we can create that needed spacing BUT it will be centered to the matching other half of hinge. We do that by holding up the FULL hinge with lid on assembly and marking sides of top and bottom hinge. Now one more thing. When you get set to mark holes you line up hinge half with edge of assembly (this case) or in next case edge of lid. This is the model you follow for each hinge. VERY IMPORTANT!

Get rivet gun loaded with 3/16 rivet, place hinge over holes and rivet. Keep it level and flush (both assembly edge and hinge edge are flush.) **Please note these rivets touch the inside wall of the assembly when first inserted, pushing the rivet head away from hinge. With a light squeeze take up on the rivet so that it gets flush with hinge and only then finish snapping rivet. Take other 1 barrel half of that hinge and do the same to the back (2 arched cut outs) of rear (smaller) lid. Be careful to line up hinges and keep hinge and lid edges level and flush with each other

Follow the same proceedure. Remove pin from second hinge and use the 1 barrel half for the front (non arched cut out side) of rear (smaller) lid . Continue on by putting the 2 barrel half on the back (non sloped end) of the forward lid. Again be careful to line up hinges with each other and have hinge edge with lid edge and keep centered. Remember to clean off any excess drilling material. *SMALLER BACK LID SHOULD NOW HAVE A 1 BARREL HALF OF HINGE ON BOTH SIDES.

Next Step

This next step is for rivet nut installation ONLY! – Hole for and installation of nut rivet in lid

Drill 7/64″ hole in the front of front lid (large lid arch cutouts on sides) at this exact location (see picture). Hole is on the OPPOSITE side of where the arch cutout is. That is the driver side of armrest. Look at lid and you will see where rounded edge ends and flat top begins a straight line appears. Pencil (red in picture) a straight line on top of it. Do this on front edge and side edge. From front line measure in 3/8″ and place a mark and from side (non-arched side) measure in 5/8″ and place a mark. Drill a 17/64″ hole where marks meet. Clean away any drilling material. Load up rivet nut gun with 10/24 rivet nut and insert into hole, (put 10-24 nut on thread of arbor as block) squeeze nut in place. Note: I stripped 2 rivet nuts. (cheap rivet nuts??) The theaded arbor on rivet nut gun pulled right through. I suggest you thread arbor all the way through rivet nut and place a 10-24 nut on arbor thread to act as a block so arbor can not pull through. Be gentle but make sure nut is firmly in place. Feel and touch sort of thing!

This next step is for those NOT using rivet nut. – Hole for machine screw with nut on lid

Dril1 3/16″ hole in the front of front lid (large lid arch cutouts on sides) at this exact location (see picture). Hole is on the OPPOSITE side of where the arch cutout is. That is the driver side of armrest. Look at lid and you will see where rounded edge ends and flat top begins a straight line appears. Pencil (red in picture) a straight line on top of it. Do this on front edge and side edge. From front line measure in 3/8″ and place a mark and from side (non-arched side) measure in 5/8″ and place a mark. Drill a 3/16″ hole where marks meet. Note: If you have a 10-24 tap drill a 11/64″ hole instead and tap it. This will add some strength.

Felt and Grip:

Place grip onto felt and trace width of grip. Add 1/16″ to 1/8″ when you cut felt with scissors. I found it better to use one continuous strip from inside grip from bolt hole around both loops and back to other side of bolt hole (approx. 7″x 1/2″ ). Leave hole uncovered. Trace open sides (outside diameter) to exact size. Flip over grip and do other side. This makes a “butterfly” shape. One for each side. DO NOT COVER YET! Now place the grip on the Styrofoam and push grip into it to fill holes. My piece of foam was 1/4″ thick and I placed on ground and hammered on block of wood. Did this twice. This filled the cavities in grip. Cut off any extra so foam is flush with sides of grip.

Next Step

Bumper support catch for nut rivet installation:

If you have not done so already, remember dipping, thread the 1 1/2″ 10-24 machine screw through the bumper. After screw is all the way into the bumper ( screw head is recessed in bumper) put screw through hole in grip from the inside to the outside. Push bumper to be flush with grip metal. This can be very tight. You need to bend the grip a bit for bumper to get seated and you also need that bend plus a little more so grip guides onto hand brake and does not clamp it. It should have just some grip. This is a good time to test it on your hand brake. OK, now put on a #10 lock washer and 10-24 nut and tighten. Put another 10-24 nut and #10 lock washer onto screw about 3/4″ down. This is then screwed into the nut rivet on the front lid. The nut down the threads is to adjust height of arm rest to match other and then tightened to lock in place. ** You do not send this to Jon M. Put aside with your hinge pins. Remember where you put them! You can install this when they are returned covered.

Bumper support catch for non-nut rivet installation:

If you have not done so already, remember dipping, thread the 1 1/2″ 10-24 machine screw through the bumper. After screw is all the way into the bumper ( screw head is recessed in bumper) put screw through hole in grip from the inside to the outside. Push bumper to be flush with grip metal. This can be very tight. You need to bend the grip a bit for bumper to get seated and you also need that bend plus a little more so grip guides onto hand brake and does not clamp it. It should have just some grip. This is a good time to test it on your hand brake. OK, now put on a #10 lock washer and 10-24 nut and tighten. Put another 10-24 nut and #10 lock washer onto screw about 3/4″ down. This is then screwed (if tapped) or put through hole on the front lid. The nut down the threads is to adjust height of arm rest to match other and then tightened to lock in place. If there is extra screw protruding out top cut of with hacksaw and grind /sand. Use permanant lock thread compound on top nut and thread to help prevent it coming off. If you are not and perhaps even if you are sending lids to be covered I’d suggest you use plastic dip on top nut. Tape around it leaving a little hole cutout enough for dip to attach to lid and then coat nut. Let dry and razor cut dip in circle shape. If you are sending this to Jon M for leather covering YOU MUST SENT IT ATTACHED WITH LIDS. He will cover over that nut and washer.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU ARE DONE.

Well I don’t know about you put but I sure would want to test this out in my Z. It takes minutes to exchange the cupholder assembly in your car PROVIDED you take your time AND do not drop the nut into the well. Go to www. leatherz.com and read Rachels how to install cupholder assembly. My first experience in removing the assembly I encounter “old style” anchor screw (see picture in extra picture section) that just keep on turning and turning. Finally I lifted up on back of unit and forced it up. New style gives bolt and nylon lined nut. That nut is what you DON’T want to drop. It’s a tight fit but I haven’t dropped one yet. I would suggest to you, DO NOT put on the nut for testing out your new dual armrest. Just the bolt in hole and tabs in front will be OK for now. Plus nylon lined nuts are meant to be screwed on ONCE. Have Fun!

Final notes:

You need to talk to Jon Maddux concerning filling the front corner. Originally I had all 4 corners filled with Styrofoam. When Jon went to cover it his glue dissolved the Styrofoam. Jon made up wood corners for my arm rest and covered it. This was alot of work for Jon and also caused some “stacking” problems with the leather. We feel it is best if only the front corner is filled. The back two you don’t see and the other front lids back corner is on the side facing the other arm rest and will also be unnoticed. Besides Jon does great work on the regular corners and it may well look fine with out ANY corners being filled.

When you put lids on assembly for “final” time push pins in all the way. this takes out some play in them. This is a little tough if assembly is in car but I use a pair of wide channel locks and squeeze pin in WHILE supporting lid and hinge with my other hand. You will find it is also a little harder now that it is leather covered. You will also notice arm rest unit is less wobbly. A putty knife blade will seperate pin from barrel enough to get a wide blade screw driver in that space to remove pins.

Padded Leather Armrest

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.

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.

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.