Coupe Stereo Upgrade

November 1, 2002

By: Douglas Lindqvist

1.9 Sound System Upgrade

I’ve wanted to upgrade my Z3 sound system for a while. I found that the stock system simply wasn’t good enough to support a convertible. I started looking around and came to MZ3.net and looked at Robert’s 1.9 (Non-HK) Stereo Upgrade. This article helped me A LOT during my search for a better sound system. Now was the time to see where I should get it done. The first place I went to was Audio Excellence. It looked very professional and some of my friends suggested it. I also went to Audio Extreme and Sound Advice but out of the three Audio Excellence was at the top.

I wanted to upgrade the front speakers first. I looked at JL Audio and was impressed by their clarity. I also wanted to get larger speakers and I ended up with 6 ½” JL Audio XR650-CS (with tweeters and crossovers).

I realized that I needed a much better amplifier because the stock amp (non HK) was pushing around 20-25 watts per channel. I decided to go with the Orion Cobalt CS200.4 (Which later changed to the CS500.5) I was also looking at the Alpine V12 models but their prices were too high.

Audio Excellence told me that I might be able to put 5 ½” in the rear to replace the 4″ speakers. This luckily didn’t work out and I got a free pair of 4″ speakers.

Installation

The installation took around 7 hours. I took it in at 9 am at brought it home at about 4 pm. I was very happy with this installation because everything seemed to go my way. First they tried fitting the 5 ½” in the rear. These didn’t fit so they decided to leave the stock 3 ½” in there. The install for the tweeters and XR650-CS went fine but the amp didn’t. They put the CS200.4 in and it blew my rear speakers due to a short. They gave me a CS500.5 instead and replaced my rear speakers with JL Audio XR400-CX.

So the price of the JL Audio XR525-CX was cut from the bill and I upgraded to 4″ rear speakers and a 5-channel amp for free! Total cost was about $750.

Turning up the new system loud would guarantee to make your ears bleed. All that was coming out of it was highs. There was more bass than stock but it wasn’t enough. I decided to get a subwoofer.

The first place I wanted to put one was in the trunk. I planned on putting a 10″ sub opposite the side of the trunk with the CD Changer. Audio Excellence told me that in front of the trunk was a metal wall separating the cabin from it. Porting to the cabin would have to go through the boot of the convertible and with the top down bass would be nonexistent. I also wasn’t too happy with the idea of cutting a whole in my BMW.

My other idea was to put an 8″ or a 10″ in the spot where the HK Sub is. My idea was similar to where the Dodge Viper has its subwoofer. Audio Excellence looked at the area (where my storage compartments are) and told me that it would mess with the structural integrity of the car because the roll bars came down into there. I decided this idea was a no-go also.

They came up with an idea that I was trying to avoid. They wanted to put the sub below the dash on the passenger side. They did this to a member of N’Sync’s Superformance Shelby Cobra. Even though I was disappointed because doing this would take up legroom I decided to go along with this idea.

They ended up making a custom box and putting a JL Audio 8W3 subwoofer in my car. This ended up costing $350 and took about 13 hours (11 hours one day, 2 hours the next). It turned out well and sounds amazing!

Is it worth it?

Yes, I think that it was worth it. I love being able to hear music without distortion at 60mph with the top down. It turned out to be much cheaper than I thought and sound better than I imagined. Even though the subwoofer installation took forever I think that having that extra bass really makes the sound fuller.

Pros – Awesome Sound, Not very expensive

Cons – Lost passenger legroom, No more stock look

Cost – About $1,100

BMW Z3 Wacky Gas Gauge

One of the most consistent failures in the BMW Z3 is the gas gauge. I’ve heard different excuses as to why the gas gauge fails, but rather than pretend to be an engineer or parts inspector let me just share with you some observations I have made regarding my wacky gas gauge.

Let me start by saying I never had a problem during my first year of ownership. But others were having problems during that time so I heard a lot of speculation regarding what caused the failure and I got to see what BMW’s fix was for those under warranty. I can almost pin-point the exact time mine started acting up. I was refueling and for some reason, when the gas pumped stopped I squeezed the pump trigger one more time. I don’t know why I did it, I had been warned not to yet for some reason I did it.

It was long afterwards I saw the gas gauge do its first flip-flop dance between empty and full. The error was initially intermittent, but over time it has become very consistent. Now mine always (and I do mean always) does its dance between empty and full right after I refuel. This will continue until I travel roughly 30 miles, I’ve never noticed the problem beyond the first 30 miles of a tank. Couple months ago I decided to try an experiment, instead of refilling until the pump clicks off I started buying my gas in $10 increments (never filling the tank all the way). The gas gauge never did its dance during the 4 or 5 tanks that I did the $10 thing. So at least in my case, these observations seem to back up the theory that the failure is related to the sending unit. I’ve learned to live with it, but learn from my experiences and resist the urge to squeeze that gas pump trigger again once it clicks off.

I have made the decision to live with it rather than have it fixed because I am not comfortable with the “fix”. To get to the sending unit BMW has to cut the carpet behind the passenger seat. Then they have to hook a hose and drain the gas tank (hopefully without leaving your interior smelling like gasoline). If you look behind the right hand seat you can see a seam in the carpet, this is where they will make the cut. Once the sending unit is replaced the carpet is glued back down. Sounds simple enough but I have seen more than one Z3 after this fix where the carpet flap has come unglued and ends up looking like a bad toupee. It also appears the new sending units are not necessarily any more reliable than the original ones.

I’ve owned my M roadster over four years now and my refueling habits are fairly consistent. I’ll usually refuel before the low fuel light comes on, if I push it and the low fuel light comes on then pull off at the next available gas station. I use my trip odometer to measure distance on a tankful, and on average it usually says around 240 miles since my last refueling and it will take around 12 gallons to fill the tank back up.

One day after work I pushed it a too far, the engine sputtered then quit. I zig-zagged a little and got another second or two of runtime before it quit for good. Luckily I was going downhill at the time so I managed to coast into the gas station and right up to the pump. I got lucky, and this provided me with an opportunity. I now know it takes 13.3 gallons to fill a completely empty tank. I started taking notes after that and refilling at different points on my gas gauge. It takes 8.9 gallons to fill a tank that my gauge indicates is half empty. 12.3 gallons to fill a tank right after the low fuel light comes on. I will continue to take measurements at various points on my fuel gauge and update this page.

One last final note: Remember that my fuel gauge has problems so my measurements may not be typical of most Z3s.

Glove Box Light

Here is some information on a glove box light I made. I bought a keychain flashlight that used a bright blue led for the light. I got it from LL Beans for $20, but I see them for sell everywhere. It is a sapphire crystal led, and two 3-volt lithium batteries. The cells have a 10 year shelf life. All I wanted was the led and the 2 batteries.

I took the light apart and just used the led and the area that holds the batteries, cutting the rest of the body off.

I then acquired a metal cased mercury tilt switch. Durakool (http://www.aecsensors.com) has various tilt switches. I bought part #4929 from Newark Electronics (http://www.newark.com). It was around $5.00, but there was a minimum order, or a $5 penalty. It operates at a plus or minus 7 degree angle. It is very tiny, being around 1/4 inch all round in size. I placed all the parts in a small fuse box (the one that the cylinder type buss automotive fuses come in). It seemed like a perfect candidate since the plastic part of the box slides off easily from the metal top and it is small and shallow.

I drilled a hole in the plastic part of the box for the led to come out, and the rest (batteries in their holder and tilt switch) was placed inside and held in place with electrical tape. I had previously soldered circuit board wire from the tilt switch to the light. Some final touches like an LED holder from radio shack and some chrome tape on the box gives it a more finished look.

This small fuse box was attached to the left side of the glove box and held in place with velcro. The angle of the box had to be adjusted to get the light to turn on and off at the appropriate time when opening and closing the glove box door.

Pleased with the finished results, it puts a nice blue light inside the glovebox that allows me to see the things inside.

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!

Install VDO Oil Pressure Gauge in BMW Z3 M Coupe or M Roadster

The BMW M coupe comes with a warning light for oil pressure, as well as an oil temperature gauge in the center console. I’d like to know if my oil pressure drops below normal without waiting for the oil warning light to come on at 7 PSI, so I decided to install a VDO oil pressure gauge. This project involves interior trim removal and modification, wiring, and replacement of the oil sender (this last one requires you to drain the oil, so you might as well schedule this project when it’s time for an oil/filter change). As usual, Ron Stygar was a big help on this project. Thanks, Ron! His original post in the bimmer.org archives is here.

Parts Selection

The oil pressure gauge that almost matches the existing coupe gauges is a VDO Vision gauge. I say “almost” because standard Vision gauges come in all black, but the gauges in the coupe’s center console are chrome ringed. If you don’t care about the chrome you can buy a Vision gauge anywhere, but to match the existing gauges I went to Jon Maddux at LeatherZ (www.leatherz.com). Jon sells the 0-80 PSI oil pressure gauge ($79.00) that you need for the coupe, and supplies various colored bulb covers. The orange cover makes the gauge light a very close color match to the existing gauges. For this job you’ll also replace the stock sender with a VDO dual sender with angled mounting adapter that provides both the warning light and pressure reading, and Jon offers these too ($67.00). You’ll be running four wires for the electrical connections – one for power, one for dimming power, one for ground, and one for the sender. I purchased four 10-foot lengths of stranded wire in various colors and this was more than enough length. You need #14 wire for the sender wire to give the circuit the correct impedance; the other wires can be smaller gauge. You’ll also need four crimp-on female wire connectors to make the connections to the gauge and two crimp-on O connectors for the sender connections.

Some coupe owners choose to put their oil pressure gauges in the center console, replacing the analog clock. I didn’t want to give up the clock so opted to put the gauge on the A-pillar. The gauge mounts to the A-pillar, or more accurately to the A-pillar trim cover, in a plastic housing called a “pod”. I bought a single gauge A-pillar pod from egauges (www.egauges.com), part # 240-347 ($31.13). They also sell a dual pod in case you want to add a second gauge such as outside temperature.

Getting Started

NOTE: all directions (forward/rear, left/right) are in reference to the driver’s seated position.

Place the pod on the A pillar trim cover and slide it up or down until you get it approximately where you want it. Mark the location of the pod on the trim cover, then remove the cover by wedging your fingertips between it and the windshield and pulling it away from the windshield. The trim cover is held onto the A-pillar with two snap-in connectors. Once the connectors pop loose, slide the bottom edge of the trim cover out from the crevice formed by the A-pillar and the dash.

Cut a hole (I used a Dremel tool with a carbide abrasive tip) in the A pillar trim cover corresponding to the opening in back of the pod.

This hole is used to route wires and to give you access to the back of the gauge for changing the bulb. If your gauge ended up right over one of the trim cover’s snap-in connectors, you may have to adjust the pod position slightly.

Insert the gauge into the pod, orient it so that it will be straight as viewed from the driver’s position, and secure it by screwing the gauge nut onto the back.

To mount the pod to the trim cover, I drilled pilot holes and used the supplied plastic ribbed pins (screws).

Wiring

For power, dimming power, and ground wires, you need a sufficient length of wire to run from the gauge to the footwell area. For the sender wire, you need enough wire to run from the gauge to the footwell area, through the firewall, and on to the front of the engine compartment. Leave plenty of extra length on the wires at this point. Terminate one end of the wires with the crimp-on female wire connectors and, using the instructions with the gauge, mount each wire to the proper connector on the back of the gauge. Tape the wires to the back of the A pillar trim cover to keep them in place. Note which color wire you used for each connection.

Disconnect the battery before proceeding!

You’ll need to remove the lower dash panel just above the pedals, loosen or remove the upper dash panel under the steering wheel, and remove the driver’s kick panel with dead pedal.

Run the wires from the back of the gauge through the crack at the bottom of the A-pillar.

They will come out at the left bottom of the dash.

Re-install the trim cover/pod assembly onto the A-pillar.

Editors Note: The silver metal part with the messy looking ends is an interesting safety feature. Somewhat like a pillow, it’s a soft/thin metal with foam filling. Designed to protect your knees in an accident.

Leave some wire slack under the upper dash panel in case you need to remove the trim cover at some later date. Continue routing the wires down into the footwell area. Locate a violet/any color wire for power, and a gray/red wire for dimming power, from the existing wires in the footwell. You will probably have to release wire bundles by cutting wire ties in order to locate the colors you need. The dimming power wire allows you to control the lighting level of your new gauge by twisting the headlight button, the same way you adjust the other instrumentation.

Cut off any excess on your power and dimming power wires and splice them into the selected wires. I soldered the splices and coated them with some Star Brite liquid electrical tape. Connect the ground wire to the grounding nut, forward of the kick panel speaker. (Ground wires are solid brown in the coupe.)

Resecure all wires with wire ties. You can do a power and dimming test at this point by reconnecting the battery; just don’t forget to disconnect it again!

OK, three wires down and one to go! Take the lid off the fuse box (left rear of engine compartment) then unscrew the four #10 torx screws that hold the fuse box onto the wiring box below it. The right rear screw is somewhat obscured by the hood release cable. Just push the cable out of the way enough to loosen the screw. Disconnect the two black wire junction pods, the large red wire, and the green connector that are fastened to the right side of the fuse box and lift up that side of the box.

This will give you sufficient access to wiring box so you can see and grab the sender wire as you feed it through. You’ll see where the main wiring bundle comes through the firewall and into the wiring box. You can try to get your sender wire through the same hole but it’s already pretty well jammed with wires, so I just drilled a small hole nearby and ran the sender wire through it. Drill another hole in the right side of the wiring box; the sender wire exits the wiring box through this hole. Put a dab of silicon sealer on the hole to keep nasties out of your wiring box, and then reassemble the fuse box.

Route the sender wire along the back of the engine compartment, underneath the intake manifold, and to the oil filter, attaching it to the existing wire looms with wire ties.

Sender Replacement

Now it’s time to drain your oil and remove the old filter insert. Remove the air intake box to allow room to reach the oil sender. Unscrew the old sender from just below the oil filter and cut the wire attached to it, leaving as much length as possible. Terminate it, and the new sender wire, with O-connectors.

Mount the new sender to the angle adapter. Hand-tighten the sender to the adapter until snug but don’t over-tighten. The sender has tapered threads that do not require excessive torque to achieve a good seal. Align the sender so that the connector posts on the top are perpendicular to the engine-mounting hole on the adapter. Install the adapter/sender assembly in place of the old sender. Caution – improper installation of the oil adapter can damage your engine and cause oil leaks. Tighten the adapter bolt to 35-40 NM.

Connect the old (alarm) wire and the new (pressure) wire to the correct posts as marked on the top of the sender.

Finishing Up

Replace your filter insert and oil, reconnect your battery, start your car, and check out your new gauge. Under normal operation you’ll see a range of around 15 PSI at idle to 58 PSI. Assuming everything works, replace your interior panels, and you’re done!

LeatherZ Shift Knob

LeatherZ just keeps coming out with new ideas and products for the Z3. When I first heard that LeatherZ could recover the stock BMW shift knob with their higher quality leather, I knew I would want to have one. After thinking over the additional color options LeatherZ offered I decided to try something different and go with a two-tone dark gray and black. LeatherZ’s dark gray is an almost perfect match to the dark gray on the seats in my 1998 M roadster, and it’s also a great complement to my LeatherZ covered armrest.

Removing the stock Z3 shift knob is fairly easy, the M series has one additional step due to the lighted face. Basically all you have to do is pull it off. With the M series you’ll want to get under the shift boot first and disconnect the two wire plug. Once I removed my shift knob I mailed it to LeatherZ and waited for its return. I went about a week without a shift knob, surprisingly it wasn’t that big a hindrance to shift without the knob in place.

LeatherZ provided a couple interesting pictures (1, 2) of the shift knob during the recovering process. You can see how the lighted knob is internally wired in these pictures. Once LeatherZ completed the upgrade they mailed the shift knob back to me. Reinstallation was fairly easy, I threaded the 2 wire connector plug through the shift boot and plugged it in. Then noted the “U” shaped pattern to the receiving end of the shift lever, aligned the shift knob and pushed it back down (adding a whack with the heal of my hand for good measure).

I’ve heard of some Z3 owners having shift knobs come off while driving. I wouldn’t recommend using glue but maybe some lock-tight inside the “U” indentation would provide some additional holding strength for those that require it.

LeatherZ Pricing Options:

If LeatherZ provides the shift knob (new):

1. Black, Beige, Dark Gray, or Tanin Red monochromatic or 2-tone Leather Shift Knob – $100.00.

2. Illuminated M-style Leather Shift Knob in Black, Beige, Dark Gray, or Tanin Red monochromatic or 2-tone Leather – $135.00

3. Illuminated M-style Leather Shift Knob in Black, Beige, Dark Gray, or Tanin Red monochromatic or 2-tone Leather with Corrected Amber (not red) LEDs – $165.00

If customer provides shift knob:

1. Black, Beige, Dark Gray, or Tanin Red monochromatic or 2-tone Leather Shift Knob – $40.00.

2. Illuminated M-style Leather Shift Knob in Black, Beige, Dark Gray, or Tanin Red monochromatic or 2-tone Leather – $75.00

3. Illuminated M-style Leather Shift Knob in Black, Beige, Dark Gray, or Tanin Red monochromatic or 2-tone Leather with Corrected Amber (not red) LEDs – $105.00

In most cases the customer can specifiy a different shift pattern insert at no additional charge.

LeatherZ is also planning to carry BMW brushed and matte chrome (real metal) shift knobs that also illuminate. These knobs are shorter than stock and should be similar to the one in this article.

Custom Gray and Black Leatherette Seats

Custom Gray and Black Leatherette Seats

During the downtown Greenville party at 2000 Z3 Homecoming I noticed this really good looking black and gray 1.9 Z3. These custom seats appear to have originally been gray leatherette seats that have had custom black inserts added to them. The two tone look was very striking with the black exterior paint.

The gray inserts inside the door are part of the original gray leatherette package. The dash had a carbon fiber kit installed that really matched the black and gray interior. The steering wheel was also different, three section of ridges and the entire wheel appeared to be a little thicker.

Custom (Z8 Like) Speaker Grill

Picture taken at the 2000 Z3 Homecoming

Owner: Fred Kern

BMW Z8

BMW Z3