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.

Wot Guv’nah? ‘Nothah Bleedin’ Project?!?

I know there’s a BMW first-aid kit (51-47-8-163-269) but a few things about it didn’t suit me right. Without any dedicated place in my trunk for it, it’d likely make itself known rolling around back there every time I’d find some corners to attack. It also looked a bit bulkier than I liked. Oh, I’m sure it’s probably outfitted with damn near everything short of a defibrillator..and a nice lawyer-approved Roundel embossed on the leather case…but I’m just looking for something that’ll hold the occasionalBand-Aidd and alcohol wipes for minor scrapes and cuts. Anything more serious and I’ll warm up the PPO medical card.

I filed away a mysterious part number that’s supposed to be a bracket (51-47-8-398-906) for the first-aid kit, but never went to check if this was for the Z3 and if so, where it would take up trunk space. Since manufacturer information was typically sparse and suggested dealer prices are high, I wasn’t about to reward the behavior with a purchase. I struck out to add a practical boo-boo kit to the Z3 — my way…

For this kit I’d suggest obtaining the following items:

Compact first-aid kit. The one I found at Target measures 4″ × 6″ and might’ve cost around $6. It contains a light smattering of adhesive bandages, sponge dressing pads, knuckle bandage, alcohol pads,antisepticc pads, sting relief, iodine packet, adhesive tape roll, gauze, latex gloves and aspirin tablets — all in a sturdy plastic case with better hinges than most kits in this category. I’ve enhanced this kit with some junk-mail samples of PepcidAC, Tylenol and allergy tablets. I’d like to round this out with a quality pair of fold-up metal scissors and some zip-loc bags (medical waste).

Someone told me to look for a liquid bandage. Sounded neat. I found something called New-Skin — antiseptic liquid bandages. These were sold as a box of ten small individual 1.0ml packets. I replaced five of the first-aid kit’s old-tecBand-Aidsds with the New-Skin packets. The New-Skin liquid is supposed to congeal to form a protective barrier against further infection. This appeals to me because traditional Band-Aids would take up 3 inches to protect a 1 inch spot and wouldn’t always stay put.

A package containing 30 inches of each side of Velcro®. (Generically known as Hook & Loop fastener) Look for the sew-on plain-back version. Don’t get the peel-off adhesive-backed version.

And lastly a needle, some thread to match the Velcro and a pair of scissors.

Since most of you will find different-sized kits in your area, I’m only going to emphasize the procedure and omit measurements. I trust you all are competent enough to adapt and extrapolate your sizing without bugging me.

Up on the top right corner of the trunk (behind the driver’s rear wheelwell hump) is a spot begging to be used. I dare say the trunk molding is such that it was meant for something. I’m not sure what the three cut-out ovals are for, but it was a primo opportunity for a fastening point.

I fished a piece of Velcro® through the two middle slats successfully. This tells me I found a suitable mounting point. My first-aid kit was light enough where it’d never cause any weight-related damage to the spot. Now to fashion a Velcro harness. This would secure the kit onto the slats in a manner that allowed quick and easy access. The Shortcut Crowd is probably wondering: ‘Why go through the pain and just simply try to Velcro® the kit to the semi-fuzzy carpeting?’ If you somehow find that to work, congratulations. I, however, don’t consider that secure enough. A few bounces & corners and the carpeting will likely release.

The Velcro® harness I’ve made looks like a sideways “T” when laid flat. It requires stitching together two areas — three if you want to get fancy.

The pieces overlap and get stitched in the manner shown. The “Hook” strip feels harder to the touch. The “Loop” strip is softer and fuzzy. Both strips have a useful and useless side. Pay attention to the orientation of each strip. It would help to look ahead in this article to see how each piece serves it’s purpose. This should allow you to cut the appropriate-length piece. Once you finish the first two critical stitches, that’s it! The project now only needs to be mounted. Start by wrapping the cross-arms of the “T” over and under the boo-boo kit. These tips should overlap and Velcro together.

The long body stem of the “T” simply goes around the box, fishes itself behind those carpeting slats, and comes back around the other side of the box. Tighten up any slack here before Velcro’ing the Hook surface over the fuzzy cross-intersection. The third fancy stitch can be done to the very end of this “T” stem. Fold a half inch of the very end back under itself to cover a bit of the Hook surface. Stitch this closed. This creates a grip tab to start pulling from.

So there you have it; a useful, compact, sturdy boo-boo kit personallized to your needs and occupying a spot in the trunk you’d otherwise never use. If it weren’t for the $5 box of liquid bandage packets, total project cost would be $7.50.

Don’t plan on taking up razor blade juggling? No problem, you can probably find other things to keep in this re-claimed trunk space…emergency CD wallet? snack box? ammo? ant farm? Hey, it’s your space.

Notice: The author assumes no liability nor offers any guarantees your project will go as smoothly or result in the same improvement or usability. Attend a qualified first-aid and CPR class to ensure you administer proper aid to yourself or others. All known issues have been laid down in the clearest manner possible. Despite this, the amount of redundant e-mail sent to the author is expected to be substantial. Not all questions will be answered…some might even get laughed at.

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Give Yourself a Raise

Everyone complains about the seats, no one does anything about them. Until now.

Although I love my Z, I’ve always been disappointed with the seats and the lack of support. I have the “Regular” seats, but I’ve found the same to be true of the “Sports” seats as well. I was reading a post from Jim Harriger who was similarly disappointed with the seats in his ///M. He said he had looked at the seats and found that the fronts are held on with two nuts. He planned on taking off the nuts, replacing them with rod-couplers and bolts. Sounded like a good way to get some support into the seat, but, as I found out, there are a bunch of gotchas!

Previewing the Project

I checked under my seats to make sure they were attached in the same way as Jim’s. He has an ///M, while I have a 2.8. Sure enough – two nuts in the front, two bolts in the back. So far, so good. I took off the bolts and put some 1 inch supports under the front seat just to see how it would feel – I liked it! It made the seat feel like it was cradling you. Putting the seats back to the standard setup made it feel flat and unsupportive.

Obtaining the Materials

I paid a visit to the local Home Store. I found 5/8th inch rod couplers which looked like the right size. I tried to screw them on – no go! I checked with the local hardware store who confirmed my worst fears – the nuts were not 5/8ths, they were metric 8mm. The problem is that rod couplers are pretty easy to find, but metric rod couplers are a specialty. I emailed Jim who confirmed – he had found a local source for the 8mm/1.25 rod couplers. About $2.50 each.

I looked in my Yellow Pages under Fasteners, but the first few places I called didn’t carry metric. The third place suggested I look under “Metric” instead. Bingo! They had them, and for only $1.50! (Sorry Jim – looks like I got a better deal).

I got 3 couplers and two bolts. The couplers look like very long nuts, 24 mm in length (about an inch long). I got the third coupler because I had a feeling I might end up cutting them down to size (I was right) and wanted to have an extra one in case I messed up The nuts are about 1/2 inch long (about 12 mm long). I also got a couple of washers to provide backing and support at various places.

Update: On the net, call Maryland Metric 800-638-1830 (http://mdmetric.com/prgde3b.htm). They have a $10 min order the couplers and bolts and the washers for both sides and you’ll probably just about hit $10.

The Procedure

The procedure is quite simple. If you want to use Jim’s method, all you really need is a socket set. I also used a Dremmel tool and a saw for some wood-work. Jim indicated that he simply moved the seat forward, unscrewed the rear bolts, moved the seat back and removed the front nuts.

He then put the rod couplers onto the screws which protrude from the floor, fastened the front with the washers and bolts and re-fastened the backs.

Note – it’s easier to put everything in place loose, then tighten the back, then the front.

I tried this procedure first. It worked fine. When I took the car out on the road you could immediately tell the difference — I could feel my buns being grabbed by the seat! I never felt this in a Z! It was great – for a few minutes. After that, the sensation got a bit too intense. I was afraid of this – Jim is 5’10”. I’m 6’1″. He probably sits with the seat higher up than I do, so the sensation is not as great. The 1″ raise in height was just a little too much for my tastes.

The Alternate Procedure

The Alternate Procedure is a bit more involved. It’s designed to give the seat a bit more support and to remove about 1/4 inch of extra height:

First I used the Dremel Tool to lop about 1/4 inch off the rod coupler. Be careful – you don’t want to remove too much or you won’t have enough coupler left to attach the bolts.

I then cut several stabilizer units from a piece of wood. I painted these flat black and used them to surround the shorter rod couplers. I also hollowed out a little bit of the top to make a “cup” to mate to the underside of the rails of the seat-foot where there is an indentation (it’s hard to explain, just reach under there are feel around, you’ll see what I mean)

I re-installed the shortened rod-couplers and surrounded them with the wooden stabilizer units.

Tightened up the rear nuts

Tightened up the front nuts

And I was ready to go. The next test drive was a dream! The 3/4 inches made an incredible difference to the feel of the seats. I’m now quite happy with them.

Thanks and credits to Jim Harriger for developing this procedure and for the information that was necessary to complete it!

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.

BMW Trunk Organizer

Pros: Nice velcro pockets, easy to install
Cons: Double sided tape (how long will it last?)
Cost: $92

Part Number 82-11-1-470-187

Arrived in four business days via UPS ground.

Underside of the roadster lid. The pneumatic lifts raise it to a vertical position…it’s begging for utility.

The backside of the Trunk Storage System is lined with industrial-grade double-sided adhesive. The plastic backing is molded perfectly to match the sheet metal.

I originally wanted to attach this with Velcro, but the third-brake light isn’t masked and will still be accessible. The only remaining concern was the Toll Free Roadside Assistance sticker would be lost.

Thoughtfully, they’ve included a Roadside Assistance sticker along with the Installation Instructions.

Those who have the Luggage Rack can rest easy. Four removable plastic caps give access to your mounting hardware.

Isopropyl alcohol prep pads are included.

Use them to wipe down the surface. Removing any grease and dirt maximizes adhesion.

To ensure proper adhesion, install the Storage System in ambient temperatures between 60°F and 110°F. During this installation, the temps were under 50°F. A heat gun was carefully used to warm the surface. A hairdryer would’ve done just as well.

Remove the transfer backing to expose the adhesive.

Before exposing the adhesive, dry-fit the Storage System over and over until you are absolutely sure the positioning is familiar. Use fingertips to gauge positioning in the recesses. An extra set of hands may help. Instructions suggest attaching one side and working across.

Once the Storage System is completely attached, apply additional pressure to contact points. To reduce strain to the hinge area, apply counterpressure from the backside of the trunk lid. Use a cotton towel to prevent any scratches. Congratulations! The Trunk Storage System is installed.

Yup, that’s the leather-bound owner’s manual relocated from the glove box.

The Velcro flap fits over perfectly. Now to figure out what to put in my newly re-acquired glove box.

Your dealer did supply you with a rear window cover (#82-11-1-469-778), right? Now there’s a home for it.

Nice ‘n clean.

Profile of the trunk lid shows the Storage System isn’t protrusive.

Storage System matches trunk’s interior as if it were straight from the factory. It’s an innovative use of space and looks great!

Note: The trunk organizer detailed in this article only works with 1996-1999 model year BMW Z3s. Starting in model year 2000 BMW redesigned the trunk lid making the trunk organizer incompatible.