|Pros:||Reduced road noise, Increased insulation, Folds away neatly without affecting the use of the boot cover|
|Cons:||Slight loss of head room, Maintaining a “perfect” installation requires occasional adjustments|
I love owning a convertible, every chance I get to drop the top I take it. However there are times when the top must stay up because of rain, extreme heat, or extreme cold. There are pluses and minuses to everything, and it is during these “top up” times that the minuses of owning a convertible become evident. I always thought the Z3 top did a fairly good job, but my only previous experience with a convertible was a 1980 MGB. The Z3 top was clearly better than the old MG one, but then I saw a real convertible top. Some friends of mine had just taken delivery of a new 3 series convertible and invited me over to take a look at it. After seeing and experiencing the top on that convertible 3 series I noticed the key difference. That 328ic had an second inner layer to the convertible top. With two layers instead of one the 3 series top looked better, you couldn’t see the metal frame because it was hidden between the two layers. The extra layer also appeared to cut down on wind and road noise as well as provided more insulation.
The top on the 3 series was clearly better than the top on the Z3, so the hunt began for an aftermarket inner liner or an altogether improved convertible top. My efforts didn’t turn up anything, about the closest I got was at the 1998 Z3 homecoming. The producer of the Z3 top attended the event so I asked one of them what the chances were of getting a top for the Z3 similar to the top on the 3 series. They said they would look into it but seriously doubted that they would be creating such a top. Imagine my surprise when not more than a couple months later MG Racing posted a message on the Z3 message board about an aftermarket inner liner specifically made for the BMW Z3. The liner claimed easy installation, decreased road/wind noise and increased insulation all for $330.
After exchanging a few e-mails with MG Racing a gray colored liner was on its way to Dallas. Once it arrived I opened up the instructions and got my first real look at the product. The instructions were pretty straight forward, they described how the black plastic parts replaced the current ones on the Z3. They snapped on over the support ribs in the top and held the liner. The rest of the installation involved velcro straps that wrapped around the folding metal frame and held the top in place.
The material was thick and soft, it reminded me of a high dollar college sweat shirt. After that initial inspection I knew the product would cut down on road/wind noise as well as provide insulation, the only remaining questions were the installation and how it would handle the folding top. My primary concern was if the top could still fold down flat enough to use the boot cover.
The first part of the installation was to remove two of the existing black plastic sleeves from the convertible frame and replace them with the sleeves that were sewn into the inner liner. There is a glue like goop under the plastic sleeves that helps holds them in place, so its best to start on one end and slowly work the support off. When installing the replacement support I would rotate the sleeve slightly so that the stitching is slightly rotated forward instead of facing straight down (I’ll come back to this later when I talk about tweaking the installation). This part of the installation should be done with the top unlatched and slightly opened to reduce tension. It’s important to get the support centered, I just eyeballed it the first time and later had to go back and make adjustments.
The next part of the installation involves working with the various velcro straps to finish securing the inner liner to the frame. I would suggest opening the top up a little further while you work on the side straps. The instructions do their best to try and explain in words where each strap should go, but a little trial and error was needed for me to get it installed. Resist the urge to get each strap as tight as possible.
From this angle to can see how the liner is attached to the frame, at this point I had spent a lot of effort to get each strap tight. Later I realized how loosening up the straps let the top hang straighter and fold down with less tension. The one gap that you see I was never able to get rid of, but when sitting in the seat you don’t notice it. This is also the side of the top that has the additional frame pieces for the power top. I think the liner is really designed for the manual top because it doesn’t fit as well around the additional power top mechanism on the drivers side. It fits much better on the passenger side which doesn’t have any additional items related to the power top.
Once you get the velcro straps on the side secured there are a couple in the back. These were somewhat difficult to secure because of the close quarters back there and you really can’t see what you are doing. I found it easier to sit backwards in the seat and reach back into the opposite side area (ie when sitting in the drivers seat work on the passenger side and vis versa). Remember that tighter is not necessarily better when working with these straps.
The last step of the installation secured an elastic strap to the frame. There is a plastic pop-rivet like thing that comes with the top liner. It pops into an existing hole in the convertible frame. The elastic helps keep the liner tight in the corner and a piece of velcro on the strap holds the liner down.
Once the installation was complete I sat in the Z3 and gave it a visual inspection. I could see areas that seemed too loose or too tight, but basically it was there and looked pretty good. I like what it did to the interior, the gray material lightened up the interior and made it feel bigger. But I could tell that my installation needed some adjustments.
It was time for the real test, how would it handle lowering the power top. I was especially concerned about the tops ability to fold down enough so the boot cover could still be used. With the uncomfortable sound of velcro tearing/loosening the top went down, the installation really needed adjusting. However despite my obviously sloppy installation the inner liner folded away neatly and somehow folded just as tightly as it did before. The boot cover could be installed without any problems. When I raised the top back up most of the velcro straps that I had spent so much time tightening were now loose, it was time to tweak the installation.
Tweaking the Installation
The droop over my head needed tightening because it would occasionally touch my head. When I looked at the area over the passenger’s head there wasn’t a droop. I concluded that the plastic sleeve in this area must not properly centered. Once I centered it the droop was less on the drivers side but more so on the passenger side (the key is that after getting the snap on support centered the two sides were now equal). Once I had the two sides equal I found that rotating the plastic sleeve tightened up this area and got rid of both droops. You can’t actually rotate the sleeve because of the glue like goop stuff under the sleeve, so by rotate I actually mean remove the sleeve and reinstall with it slightly rotated forward.It was obvious my installation needed some adjustments, There were two things that were bothering me. The first was a droop in the liner right over my head, the second was the velcro sound when the top was lowered.
I then turned my attention to the velcro straps on the side, what I discovered is that tighter was not necessarily better. By loosing the straps the liner was able to hang straighter and it actually made the top material fit better against the frame. The now looser straps also allowed the liner more flexibility when it was being lowered and folded away. This cured the velcro tearing sound when the top was being lowered. The secret is to let the material hang naturally and then secure the velcro strap so the material continues to hang there. Don’t think of the straps as tie downs but rather rather as supports during the folding process.
I’m pleased with the end result, however if I had it to do over again I probably would have chosen a black liner. I like how the gray liner makes the cabin feel bigger and less confined. However the lighter color also shows every detail. This is why I’ve been so picky about the installation and felt the need for additional tweaking. That is because I can see every fold, crease, tuck and strap on the light gray liner. I’ve seen the exact same liner in black installed in a Z3 and you really can not see any of these details when it is black on black. I also wonder what my gray liner is going to look like after a season of top down driving, I suspect its going to need a good cleaning since it will probably be a brownish gray from all the dust.
This hasn’t really affected me, but it might affect some Z3 owners over 6 foot. Since the liner hangs on and below the frame, you lose a little head room. I adjusted my seat up just to see how annoying it would be if your head made contact with the liner. After only a few minutes my hair looked like Kramer’s hair on Seinfield (stood straight up).
The liner really does cut down on road and wind noise, even more than I expected it would. I think the softer fabric has also increase the acoustics inside the Z3, I have no way of proving this, but to me it appears that the stereo sounds better. I can’t really comment on its insulation capabilities at this time, I live in Dallas and even though its Thanksgiving weekend its still 70 degrees here. I’ll update this article again once the cold weather hits, however it would appear that this liner will make quite a difference. I guess the bottom line is that the liner is probably a wise investment for the winter months, especially for those who live in colder climates.