Chrome Hand Brake Button

Pros: Looks Good, Inexpensive, Easy to Install
Cons: Only For Chrome Lovers
Cost: $3.10 (list)

Here’s a real easy upgrade, that doesn’t cost much, and looks good. Change the black hand brake button to chrome. BMW makes a chrome hand brake button part number 34-41-1-163-199 that lists for $3.10. I’ve added several chrome accessories to my black and gray interior and this small inexpensive upgrade adds to the look.

The button just screws onto the hand brake. To remove the old button simple unscrew it. It takes a lot of turns but you should be able to notice it slowly coming free of the hand brake. Once the old one is unscrewed simple screw the new chrome button on in its place.

Dynamat on ///M Coupe Subwoofer

The bass is noticeably better. I purchased a pack of 5 square foot pieces which was enough to do the whole job. Eastwood’s 1-800-345-1178 item number 52105 $19.99. Each square foot weighs aproximately 10 ounces. About 3 pounds added weight substracting the scrap.

– From the Dynamat Literature –

Dynamat Original is a Styrene-Butyadine-Rubber based and Pressure Sensitive Adhesive Backed, Heat Bondable, Sheet Metal Vibration Damper. This product is made to conform and fuse to automotive body surfaces such as floor pans and doors. Product shall be die cut to shape and placed onto the body surface after sheet metal cleaning operation and prior to the paint system (typically at the sealer application operation) or on painted panels. Adhesive side is smooth, giving complete contact with the underlying surface without any air pockets of channels. Both material and adhesive can withstand temperature ranges between -30C to +177C(-22F to +350F) and are highly resistant to aging.

Acoustic Properties

The acoustic loss factor ‘n’ is used as a measure of ability to damp structure-borne sound. It states how much vibrational energy (in steel sheets, for instance) is converted into heat rather than sound. For constructions containing several layers, the combined loss factor ‘n comb’ is used. The theoretical maximum loss factor is about 1. An undamped steel panel 1 mm thick has a loss factor of roughly 0.001 at 200 Hz. Damped with Dynamat Original the loss factor would be about 0.16 at +0C(32F). Multiple layers of Dynamat Original can be used to improve sound daming still futher.

Application

Dynamat Original is used as treatment for metal panels, partitions, ducts, doors, bins, panels, etc. in railroad cars, buses, automobiles, and ships. It is also used for ventilation ducts, relay cabinets, steel furniture, sink units, office machine, computer equipment, machine tools, and for many other purposes.

Installation

Dynamat Original should be cut to the desired size and shape before the backing paper is removed. It may be cut with scissors, knife, or die. Remove dust, grease, moisture, and other foreign matter from the application surface. Peel off the backing paper. The simplest application technique is to bend the pad slightly and attach it along its shortest edge. The pad is then pressed firmly into place, preferably with a roller for larger pieces. This reduces the risk of leaving air pockets, which reduce the sound damping capacity. The temperature of the pad and application surface should not be below room temperature during fitting. Heating the material before applying is strongly recommend, and increases flexibility, strechability, and adhesion.

The Harman Kardon Affair

One of the reasons I got a 2.8 instead of a 2.3 was the “premium” Harman Kardon stereo system with “upgraded” speakers. Granted, it wasn’t the ONLY reason, nor was it the PRIMARY reason, but it was A reason. I have to admit that as far as stock sound systems go, I’ve heard worse. But I’ve heard better, as recently as the day I got my Z3, which is when I turned in my 1998 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer with a Mach 460 stereo system. Without getting too much into an acoustics argument, the Harman Kardon system, well, how can I put it….. SUCKED.

I am not an audiophile. I am not a music hardware nut. However, I do enjoy my music, and I like it loud and I like it distortion free. The first clue that the HK was a POS was the rattling of the subwoofer enclosure. However, through my “investigation”, I found out that the HK amp was “tweaked” to produce 10% harmonic distortion. Now, I am not an audio engineer, but for something that is usually measured in FRACTIONS of ONE PERCENT, 10% cannot be good. Cranking the volume up supported this conclusion. The distortion was there, and life sucked.

The Amp has GOT to GO

In one of those fits I am famous for (hey, the car cost me quite a bundle with all the stuff I put in it, so I WAS frustrated), I took it to the folks at Tampa Bay Audio Sound, and they hooked me up with a couple of brand spanking new Alpine amps — an MRP-F306 and a MRP-F406.

Alpine MRP-F306 4 channel amp

MAX POWER (EIAJ)

75W x 4 (4 Ohm Stereo) 180W x 2 (Bridged 4 Ohm)

FEATURES

RMS Continuous Power (Watt) (at 14.4V, 20-20 kHz): 4 Ohm Stereo (0.08% THD) 30W x 4; 2 Ohm Stereo (0.3% THD) 40W x 4; Bridged 4 Ohm (0.3% THD) 80W x 2

Alpine MRP-F406 2 channel amp

MAX POWER (EIAJ)

90W x 2 (4 Ohm Stereo) 240W x 1 (Bridged 4 Ohm)

FEATURES

RMS Continuous Power (Watt) (at 14.4V, 20-20 kHz): 4 Ohm Stereo (0.08% THD) 40W x 2; 2 Ohm Stereo (0.3% THD) 60W x 2; Bridged 4 Ohm (0.3% THD) 120W x 1

Why two? Trunk space was a prime concern (or lack thereof), so any of the premium solutions that ate up trunk space were unacceptable to me. No 1000 watt amps for me. I wasn’t looking to win a BOOM BOOM competition, just clean, distortion free, loud music. Simple.

The Alpine MRP-F356, a 5 channel amp, would have sufficed, but it was BIG. The F406 fit nicely into the space the HK POS amp fit (marked by the red circle in the middle picture below), and the F306 was fitted vertically neat and tidy on an L board on the other side of the trunk with virtually no loss in trunk space.

The guys at Tampa Bay Audio Sound configured the F306 to supply only highs and mids, and the F406 to supply the bass (using a simple switch on the amps themselves).

Now, with this came some good news and some bad news. The good news was that the highs and mids sounded better, cleaner and crisper at high volumes. The HK amp was clearly very deficient in this regard. The bad news? The subwoofer popped, Bad. Of course you genius!!! A subwoofer rated at 30W was getting juice from the F406 which can pump up to 240W!!! Ok, so of I went into the quest for a new subwoofer.

The Quest for a Subwoofer

Putting a subwoofer in a Z3 is like trying to fit an elephant into a Jetta. Reading some more articles at MZ3.net and the Z3 message board I learned of many options, including custom enclosures and Bazooka tubes. None of these options sounded good to me (literally and figuratively) since the Z3 trunk is sealed and the lack of air put a serious cramp in the boom of the subs. Drilling holes in my brand new Z3 was DEFINITELY not an option for me, so on I went trying to find another solution.

I took apart the subwoofer enclosure (thanks to Robert Leidy and his article on Dissecting the HK Subwoofer) and took it to the folks at Sound Advice. They hooked me up with a couple of Boston Acoustics 5.5 ProSeries woofers (I had to pay for two whole kits which included tweeters and crossovers, which sucked) and installed just the woofers it into the Z3 subwoofer enclosure.

Something tells me that I could have gotten off a LOT cheaper than $400, but at that point all I wanted was a functional subwoofer that would fit in the stock enclosure. Money was not an issue (never is until the bill gets here… 🙂 I plugged the enclosure back into my Z3 and… Voila!

Ahhhhh, nice, neat tidy bass. Cool. I cranked up the volume all the way and it was now the tweeters and midranges distorting — the sub was cool as a cucumber. It was a good thing I padded all the contact points as specified in the Z3Bimmer.com Subwoofer Rattle article, since the extra bass would have certainly worsened the rattle problem. Once the proper insulation was installed, the rattling disappeared.

I cranked down the gain on the F306 a notch (to NOM setting) since I don’t listen to music that loud anyway (it was really hurting my ears at that point) and I reached a happy compromise — $1,000 later. 🙁

Upgrading the Front Speakers

With new amps and a new sub, the remaining speakers started to get on my nerves. Having seen the poor quality of the speakers I removed, I wanted the rest of those POS speakers out of my Z3 pronto!!! After reading several messages in the Z3 Message Board, I learned that to remove the tweeters on the doors, I had to remove the door panels. All of a sudden, the tweeters started to sound good to me. Nahhh, I didn’t need to replace THEM (wimp).

So I turned my attention to the kick panels in the front. An article in MZ3.net showed how easy it was to do, so I did the logical thing… took it to the folks at Tampa Bay Autosound to do it for me. 🙂

They replaced the front speakers with a couple of Rockford Fosgate 5.25″ coaxial 2-way speakers. Yes, I know, the stock speakers were component speakers and had no tweeter. However, I am the guy who turns the treble all the way up anyway, so a pair of extra tweeters didn’t bother me. And since I am not an audiophile, I had no clue what this would do to the sound balance in my car (ignorance is bliss…)

Actually, they sound pretty good to me. I can crank the sound up more, but the tweeters in the doors pop a little bit at the highest volume. Darn. I guess I’ll have to remove those door panels after all. Maybe some other day, but not today… 🙂

Upgrading the Rear Speakers

Turning my attention to some easy-to-replace items, I focused on the rear speakers. Removing the covers revealed a couple of 4″ component speakers (again, no tweeters here). Removing the covers was relatively easy. On the Y2K 2.8, the speaker grills and covers are held by five plastic tabs. You can pop a little door on the base of the roll hoops and you will see the top tab holding the cover to the plastic wall of the car. With a long screwdriver you can push down on that tab and pop the cover off.

WARNING: Do this at your own risk. I broke the little tab on one of my covers, although it didn’t seem to mind too much when I put it back. Don’t blame me if you brake your precious little Z3…. 🙂

I took my car over the folks at Tampa Bay Autosound and they hooked me up with a pair of Sony Xplode XS-F1020 4″ two-way speakers. We tried some SAS and some Alpines, but the tweeters wouldn’t allow the grills to be put back on. The Sony’s were a good choice since they had recessed tweeters which did not add anything to the size of the speakers themselves. No drilling or cutting of any kind was a goal of mine, not to mention a depleting budget made the Sony’s a good choice at $85 for the pair, installed. WOW!

Leave the Door Panels Alone

Which brings me back to the “popping tweeters” in the door panels. The folks at Tampa Bay Autosound put in some other kind of crossover that filtered out more of the mids and lows, sending more of the highs to the door panel speaker to address the popping sound. Seem like it took care of most of it. Only when I crank it ALLLLL the way up (and my ears start to bleed) do I hear some popping, but even at the loudest level I use it (which is doing 90Mph with the top down) they sound great. Besides, leaving those door panels alone is worth a lot to me… 🙂

Upgrade Summary

BMW’s “premium” sound system is, in my humble opinion, disappointing. They could have done better.

However, this is the ONLY thing that I can find fault with in an otherwise very, very, very cool car.

In summary, this is what I did:

Replaced Harman Kardon amplifier with a pair of Alpine amps

Replaced stock subwoofer speakers with a pair of Boston Acoustic Pro Series 5.5 woofers

Replaced front footpanel speakers with a pair of Rockford Fosgate 5.25 two-way speakers

Replaced the rear speakers with a pair of Sony Xplode XSF1020 two-way speakers

Filtered out all mids and bass going to the doorpanel speakers

The choices in speaker brands were mostly driven by price and fit into the car. The Rockford Fosgate speakers cost me $85 for the pair plus $20 install fee, and the Sony Xplode cost me $85 for the pair, installation included. For that price, you can’t go wrong! The Boston Acoustics Pro 5.5, on the other hand, cost me $400. Too pricey.

The system as a whole sounds good to me. No, I will not be competing in any auto shows, but it sounds a heck of a lot better than the stock system, virtually no modifications to the car at all, and 99% of my trunk space is still available.

Mikky’s M Coupe Stereo

Mikky’s 99 M Coupe has a JL Audio 10W3 Subwoofer with a Precision Power 6600 amplifier built in on the top.

You can see the blaupunkt toronto with the remote control mounted on the steering wheel.

Short Shift

The Short End of the Stick

(A romp in the Connecticut woods with some seriously height-impaired shift levers)

Ron Stygar is a man of small tolerances. – Very small tolerances.

In engineering terms a tolerance is a lack of precision. Manufacturers build in many tolerances into their product. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes tolerances give you an added measure of safety. Sometimes, however, tolerances are merely a way of appealing to the most common tastes or a way of saving money. The shifter on the Z3 is a perfect example. The shifter in most Z’s feels like it belongs in a family hauler instead of a low-slung sports car.

Ron does not like this type of engineering tolerance. He believes in precision in his gear shifting and has invested a serious amount of time developing an approach, which both preserves your warranty (mostly) and offers you some serious short shifting fun. In addition, he’s come up with a magic do-hickey to improve your driving (more on this later).

Row Row Row your gears…

OK, so a little exercise is not a bad thing, but don’t we live in a world of modern-day laborsaving devices? Turns out we do.

It was Ben Liaw who first noticed that a significant change had been made between the M3 and the MZ3 shift levers. Ben took the shifter from the MZ3 and transplanted it into his M3, making short-shifting history. A number of people followed his lead, transplanting the heart of motorsport shifting into their more mundane vehicles, resulting in a serious amount of short shifting fun. But the fun was not without a price – the transplant of MZ3 shifters into 1.9-Z3’s resulted in issues with 5th gear hitting the transmission tunnel, but more seriously, while 328, 2.8-Z3 and 1.9-Z3 owners were enjoying the fun, MZ3 owners were left out of the party.

Enter Ron Stygar…

Ron goes back a bunch of years with BMWs. He has a 318ti with and ///M Coupe on order. In addition to his many other projects with his cars, Ron has spent a year investigating the ins and outs, ups and downs and the backs and forths of BMW shifters.

Ron has developed a number of shift levers, which just scream short shifting fun! At the prompting of Jon Maddux (the leather guy), Ron sent me a picture of some of his creations a while ago and invited me down to sample them in my Z3-2.8. Ron had heard that I had upgraded to the MZ3 shifter, but had gone a little further – I had dropped the height of my shifter by installing a round aftermarket knob. This, effectively, shortened the shifter another inch. The upside was seriously short shifts. The downside is the loss of the gorgeous BMW knob.

Ron said he had the solution.

Bug Collecting…..

It seemed like a good day for bug collecting, so I headed south to rural Connecticut where Ron does his work.

What I found when I got there was a meticulous garage, a workshop complete with fiche reader, and loads of special tools which Ron makes himself. Ron was interested in trying a number of prototype shortened MZ3 shift levers on my car. The plan was to start with the standard 2.8-Z3 shifter and work our way down to his most shortened unit. Along the way we would take key metrics:

The height of the stick (with the standard BMW knob),

The length of the throw from 3rd to 4th and the amount of force needed to shift from 3rd to neutral and from neutral to 4th.

We would tabulate these metrics into a guide for shift-lever reduction.

Levers 101…

Give me a lever long enough to move the world, a fulcrum big enough and a place to stand and I will break my lever!

Short Shifting in concept is an easy thing to comprehend if you think of the basic physics of a lever. A lever has two parts: the lever and the fulcrum.

The most common lever we are familiar with is a seesaw. Remember when we were kids and the seesaws had several adjustments, which allowed you to lengthen the lever on one side and shorten it on the other? The purpose of this arrangement was to allow you to distribute force in the most effective way. The lighter kid would sit on the longer side, the heavier kid on the short side. Do it right and each kid exerted the same amount of force. The difference was in the length of the lever on their side of the fulcrum. The longer side of the lever takes less force to move, but translates the force over a shorter span on the short side. The lever is a classic force multiplier.

If you imagine the seesaw stood on end, you’ve got your shift mechanism. The lever is your shifter. The fulcrum is the pivot ball which sits under your shift boot. In general, if the longer end of the lever is on the top, you will have to travel more to move the shorter end any significant amount, but it will be easy to move. This is the situation right out of the box. The advantage is that it’s easy for everyone to move the lever because of the force multiplication of the long end.

But it’s not much fun.

Adjusting the See Saw…

You can shorten the shift in a couple of ways: You can “adjust the see-saw” by extending the shift lever below the pivot ball. This is basically what the MZ3 shifter does in the 2.8-Z3 and 1.9-Z3 applications. This has the effect of slightly increasing the effort needed to shift, but it’s really not all that noticeable.

However, the 1.9-Z3 shifter has and additional twist – or rather an additional turn: it’s bent. The bend in the lever accommodates the different transmission in the 1.9-Z3. In the 1.9-Z3 implementation, the straight MZ3 shifter results in the bottom of the shifter and the transmission being seriously out of line, resulting in a condition called “notchiness”, or the difficulty in getting into gear. When you replace a bent 1.9-Z3 shifter with a straight MZ3 shifter, you can compensate for the increased vertical off-axis force by raising the fulcrum point of the lever. Ben Liaw sells a kit call the “ERK” (Effort Reducing Kit”) which allows you to do this. Luckily, in the 2.8-Z3 the difference in height is negligible, so this does not become an issue.

Where’s my Chainsaw?

Another way of changing the relationship of the lever in the shifter is by taking a more radical approach: Shorten the top of the lever.

Using this approach, you can, effectively, shorten the throw down to just about nothing, but there is a cost: as you shorten the upper part of the lever, the force needed to move the bottom part increases. Any reduction in shift throw results in an increased effort regardless of the method you choose to shorten the throw. Remember how the lever works. Extending the length below the pivot ball as well as shortening the length above the pivot ball will result in increased shifting force Shortening the upper part of the lever is the heart of Ron’s idea for short shifting the MZ3. Although Ron chose to shorten the prototype levers 3/4, 1 1/8, and 1 1/2 inch, to equate with a 5% , 10% and 15% reduction, this distance could be any value in between.

It’s actually quite a simple approach. It also leaves all the important parts, those below the lever, in the same relationship and generally intact. Other short shifting kits sold for the Z tend to replace more components, thus encroaching on your warranty. Ron’s approach trades off increased effort in exchange for a more standard implementation where it really counts. The question has always been – how much effort?

That was what we intended to find out.

The Measure of Success

Ron had created several prototypes of shortened sticks from BMW ///MZ3 shifters. Each change in length reduces the throw by five percent: The sticks were shortened by 3/4, 1 and 1/8, and 1 and 1/2 inches. We set out to measure the differences in throw and effort between both the standard 2.8-Z3 shifter, the ///MZ3 shifter and Ron’s shortened ///MZ3 shifters.

Jack of all Trades

Ron is an amazing guy. Not only is his garage neater than just about any room in my house, but he has the most incredible collection of tools, many of them specially made for the sole purpose of swapping out BMW shifters. The first hurdle was to get the car jacked up. Not an easy task. First of all, floor jacks don’t work because the nose is so close to the ground, same problem with ramps. Solution: Ron had built a set of “mini-ramps” which raised the car enough to get the jack under. Next problem: standard jack stands won’t fit the indentations on the bottom of the Z3 at the jack points.

Solution: Ron has built a set of adaptors for jack stands, which exactly fit the Z3. (Ron actually sells jack-stands modified to fit BMW’s, he has been asked by an owner to create a set of jack stands which will fit his Z3, but that’s another story). Once the car was up on the stands, we inserted standard ramps under the front wheels as a backup. We also chucked the rear wheels using Ron’s modified Tru-Cut chucks in the back of the car. This car was not going anywhere!

Mr. Wizzard Goes To Work

We measured the height of the MZ3 shifter with the modified aftermarket knob, then put everything back to standard 2.8. We then measured the height of the standard 2.8 shifter, removed the knob and measured the throw from 3rd to 4th.

We then used a calibrated scale to test the force needed to move the shifter from 3rd to neutral, then from neutral to 4th. By this point I thought I was back in Mr. Wizard’s physics class. Only Mr. Wizard was nowhere near as precise as Ron was!

How to shorten a Shifter

Ron, with the help of Manoj Mehta, Alan Alfano and his coworker Jim Guyan has come up with a way to shorten the upper portion of a shift lever that works well. He and his friend Alan Alfano have been dissecting BMW shift related parts for about a year now.

They cut apart a number of shifters to find out how they are constructed. They’ve discovered a couple of things about how the units are made: The shifter is a rod within a rubbery substance, surrounded by a metal shell. The purpose of the rubber is to isolate shift knob from the vibration and heat of the transmission. The upper portion of the inner rubber is glued to the inner rod. The lower portion is not.

Ron with the help from his dedicated and fanatical crew (OK, he buys them beer) has discovered a way of removing the outer casing from the unit without damaging it. They then cut down the top of inner rubber core to the desired length, while, at the same time cutting down the bottom of the outer casing to match. Afterwards, they re-glue the shortened parts together and polish the unit to a dazzling brilliance. The end product rivals BMW for workmanship.

Instead of adonizing the stick, Ron polishes his to a high gloss

Getting Bent

Ron also bends the ///MZ3 shifter to fit the M3/328 (and, presumably, the 1.9-Z3). His method uses a number of specially machined parts, which places no stress on the shift lever. The bending tool and clamping pieces were made by Alan’s Dad. Ron places the shifter into a vice and bends it to an angle and length known only to High School Math teachers.”When we first started to bend these things”, said Ron, “we assumed that the angle should be the same as the OEM shifter. But it turns out, that this results in the top of the shift lever being too far back, depending on the car. The increased length below the pivot ball, brings the top of the shift lever back”. That was way too much tolerance for a guy like Ron. He wanted precision, so he calculated the X-Y delta between the stock and new lever and bent the new lever accordingly. The new lever duplicates the position of the stock lever in neutral accommodating the height of the new lever.

Note: of course this does not apply in the 2.8-Z3 since the stick in both the ///M and the 2.8 are straight to begin with.

SAT’s (Shifting Attitude Test)

In order to quickly swap out the shifter, Ron developed several special tools to do the job. The first mimics the BMW tool used to remove the nylon cup from the carrier. Unfortunately, the tool must be applied from underneath the shifter, a tight squeeze. We loosened the heat shield under the car to make room. Once you reach it, a simple turn and the tool unhooks the nylon cup and the shifter pops out the top. “You know, a smart guy like you should figure out how to remove this things from the top, then anyone could do it”, I said. I guess Ron took this as a challenge to his engineering prowess, because a couple of weeks later, he sent me a picture of his new tool — the Upper Cup Removal tool. Unlike the BMW tool, this can be used from the top, significantly simplifying the job. Ron’s the only one in the world who makes these things.

We used another special tool, a bent screwdriver to remove the clip, which secures the bottom of the shifter to the rod, which connects with the transmission.

Using Ron’s tools, a shifter can be removed in a minute or so. You simply follow the reverse procedure, making sure the nylon cup is aligned properly for reinstallation. Push the securing back on and the new shifter is in. In the Z3, there is actually no need to remove the carrier or other parts to change the shifter. However, we did discover one “gotcha” — when reinstalling the rubber boot on the shifter at the end of the day we found out how hard it is to actually reseat the boot properly. There is actually a “lip” which needs to be hooked below the carrier. Ron’s tool which is designed to reseat the lip around the carrier in a 328 does not work in a Z3. We somehow managed to do it through brute force. Most do-it-yourselfers (like me!) tend to just let the boot sit on top of the carrier when they are done. The problem is that it will then get dirty and gritty, sure recipie for trouble down the road. Luckily, there was no need to reinstall the boot every time, instead we just swapped out the shift levers to take our measurements.

Even with the special tools, it still took us the whole afternoon to test all the sticks (and we weren’t even drinking beer yet!). The results are tabulated below:

Height “ Change “ Throw “ Reduction “ Change Change Force1 Change Force2 Change
std 2.8 5.0000 3.8750 2.8 ///M 3.75 5.75
//MZ3 4.7500 -.2500 3.2500 -.6250 -16% 4.75 +1.00 6.75 +1.00
“3/4 3.8125 -.9375 2.8750 -.3750 -26% -12% 5.25 +.50 7.50 +.75
“1 1/8 3.5000 -.3125 2.6875 -.1875 -31% -17% 5.75 +.50 8.25 +.75
“1 1/2 3.1875 -.3125 2.5000 -.1875 -35% -23% 6.25 +.50 9.13 +.88

The table shows the results of our obsevations in white and the calculations in gray. Force 1 is the force needed to go from third to neutral and Force 2 is that needed to go from neutral to fourth as measured by Ron’s force meter.

Basically, we found what we expected — as you decrease the length of the shaft, the effort to shift increases. We found that for every third of an inch the shaft was shortened, the effort increased by about 3/4 of a pound of force. Although it does not sound like much, it does tend to add up when you get down to the shortest stick. However, the increase in effort for all sticks was still in the “quite acceptable, thank you” category.

In addition to the metrics, I also offer my subjective impressions of the various levers:

2.8 Standard– Effort to shift is very light, but the throw is enormous. Coming from a Miata, the standard Z3 shifter feels like a giant step in the wrong direction. Feels like I’m driving my Maxima.

3.2 (//M) standard– Better, feels much more like a sports car should, but there seems to be room for improvement. There does not seem to be a great deal of effort or increase in notchiness by stepping to the //M shifter, even though the figures show that this is the largest increase in the force figures. If you’re looking for a marginal improvement, nothing drastic, in fact, something that even a BMW tech could not detect, this is the way to go. If you’re looking for something more read on.

3/4″ short– Effort is still very reasonable, but the shift throw is starting to come down significantly. But there still feels like there’s room for improvement. Personally, I think this stick falls into the gray area of either “too short” or “not short enough”, depending on what you’re looking for. Interesting side note: This is the stick which closely approximates the Miata throw. However, because the standard BMW knob is taller than the standard Miata knob, the final throw is more losely approximated with the 1 1/8th short.

1 1/8″ short – This was my favorite. When we measured the height of the standard knob with this unit it was almost exactly equal to the height of my aftermarket knob on the //M shifter. I’ve been very happy with the throw reduction, but this unit allowed me to use the standard knob. Very Nice! This definitely qualifies as a short-shift implementation. The shifts are more than an inch shorter than the standard 2.8-Z3 shaft and about 1/2-inch shorter than the MZ3 shaft.

1 1/2″ short– This approach was a little too extreme for me. Although it gives you toggle-switch-like performance, the effort increase and the notchiness were beginning to show, but not actually to the extreme where it was unmanageable, but the knob had begun to sink into the shifter well and getting into reverse was starting to be a pain. In addition, the reduction of the amount of external metal sleeve was beginning to show. I would have some questions about the longevity of this diminutive stick with a heavy-handed shifter.

The ///MZ3 shifter in a 2.8-Z3 results in about a 17% reduction in the throw. The 1 1/8th shortened lever results in another 17% improvement over the ///MZ3 shifter. Ron figures that a 30 to 40 percent reduction in throw is about optimal. Anything more than that is too extreme in his opinion. The 1 1/8th short results in about a 30% reduction from the standard 2.8 shifter.

Conclusion: if you were happy with the upgrade to the //M shifter, you’ll be twice as happy with the 1 1/8th short.

In the end, I decided to leave the short stick in my car. It allowed me to get the same performance I was getting from my aftermarket knob, but with the standard BMW knob which matched my dash. In addition, it also gave me an additional feature: by keeping aftermarket knob for “special occasions” I can shorten the shifter by another inch to almost the same dimensions as the 1 1/2 short! It’s a nice option if I feel the need for the occasional bout of “toggle-switch shifting”. If you’re interested, Ron is still looking for someone with an ///M to go through the same exercise with.

You want one of these bad!

Before I left, Ron showed me another special modification. It’s very simple: it’s an adjustable clutch stop.

If you look at the carpet floor in back of your clutch pedal, you’ll see a small black knob. The purpose of the knob is to stop your clutch at the end of it’s travel (it’s a sort of cushion). BMW has actually engineered in another tolerance in the clutch: the last 3 or 4 inches of travel don’t actually do anything!

Try it: Sit in your car with plenty of space in front of you. Shift into first and slowly let up on the clutch. Try to figure out the exact point that the clutch catches then press your foot down slightly. Look down at the floor and notice the amount of space till you hit the floor. What a waste! When you shift, if you are pressing your foot to the floor, you spending close to six inches of travel time in the tolerance zone.BORING!

Ron has the solution: This little do-hickey replaces your standard clutch stop, allowing you to raise it up. This prevents you from going all the way down to the floor with every shift. The result is a much quicker uptake from the clutch and a much faster launch. In fact, as I found out in front of a gang of bikers at a rest stop, it may be such a quick uptake that you’ll end up stalling out the first couple of times. (The bikers were actually very nice and waited to make fun of me until I left the parking lot).

This is the next best thing to sliced bread. Ron sells these things, but he also has a page to show you how to build one yourself. Believe me, if you can get your hands on one of these, do so ASAP!

The Future

Ron has indicated that he will soon be retiring from his job at the East Hartford, CT Pratt & Whitney motor mill. Ron helps maintain the computer / instrumentation systems facilities used in testing the F100 military jet engines. Although he now does things by request, he plans to offer his shortened shifters (and all his other neat thingees!) on a small commercial basis in the near future. If the quality of the work he did on the prototypes can hold up in production, I predict he’s got a ready market out there.

The smile never left my face in the 99 miles of driving back to Boston from Ron’s house. I parked just long enough to jot down these notes and switch to my “short-shorts” aftermarket knob (which shortens the shift by another inch!). Time to take my precision instrument out on the road again!

Postscript: If you think this modification was cool, let Ron know. If you’re hard up for projects for excuses to spend time with your car, Ron can help. Check out his web page which lists more than 120 separate articles with pictures showing stuff Ron has done with his and other BMWs.

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Z3 Solution Cupholder

Pros: Very convenient location, holds 12oz cans and slim 20oz bottles, flexibly material so its easy to install and uninstall
Cons: Condensation can drip into door pocket
Cost: $24.95 (from Z3 Solution)

“Here I am driving one of the most fun automobiles in the world, yet I can’t find a good place to put this can of coke 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. This is where Z3 Solution enters into the story. Pictured below is a cupholder that Z3 Solution makes that snaps into the side door pocket.

This design is simple and functional, its a single piece of molded plastic/rubber material that was custom made for the Z3. The flexible material lets the unit snap into place in the door pocket. Once installed the cupholder holds standard 12oz cans and the newer styled slim 20oz plastic soda bottles. It sticks out from the door slightly more than the door pocket, so there is a slight loss of leg room. However the positioning doesn’t affect the driver, on long drives I even find myself resting the side of my knee on the soft rubber since its more comfortable than the door pocket.

I find myself using the cupholder to also hold my sunglasses and other items when I don’t have a drink in there. I needed to come up with some “cons” for this article, so I got really picky and found one. Condensation from the can ends up dripping down into the door pocket since there is no bottom to the cupholder. If you keep items other than the cup holder in the plastic door pocket they could get water dripped on them (so its not a good place to keep paper). I’ve learned to keep something like a napkin under the cupholder so this isn’t much of a problem.

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.

M Roadster Trunk Organizer

Using Carter’s instructions I installed the BMW trunk organizer installed in my previous Z3. I used the trunk organizer to store the BMW manual and many other assorted items. I grew quite fond of it and considered it a well spent $90.

Now I own BMW’s M roadster, and the trunk lid in the M roadster has an additional liner installed that interferes with the installation of the BMW trunk organizer (part number 82-11-1-470-187). The liner can be uninstalled quite easily since it is only held in place by four plastic screw like connectors. A quarter turn on each of these fasteners and the liner can be quite literally pulled off. However I liked the way the liner looked and wanted the best of both worlds, so I started looking for a way to have both the liner and the trunk organizer installed.

Once the liner was removed I laid the organizer on top of it to take this picture. This was the “look” I was after, I just had to figure out how to do it. The back of the organizer has two sided tape but there was no way the tape would hold/stick against the liner. I had seen a picture of a trunk organizer than had been sewn onto the liner. This sounded like a good idea but I knew I couldn’t sew through the hard plastic backside of the organizer with a needle and thread. I didn’t want to take the time or pay the expense to have an upholstery shop do it, so I came up with another solution.

The liner itself is form molded to fit the contours of the trunk. I did some measuring and found that if I followed the edge of one of the moldings (shown with a red line) it made the perfect pattern for what needed to be cut out. The theory I was going on is that if I cut a hole in the liner I can install the trunk organizer just like in Carter’s instructions. Then I could add the liner and the trunk organizer would slip through the hole I cut out for it.

So with a brave and steady hand I took an exacto razor to the liner following the molded line in the liner. The exacto razor worked well as the liner cut more like paper or cardboard then fabric. While the razor wasn’t cutting all the way through the fabric, I found that bending the fabric along that cut made the cutout area practically snap off clean. I was initially worried about fraying or soft uneven edges but the material made the cut very clean and sharp. I messed up one curve because I was pressing to hard with the exacto and deviated from the line I was trying to follow. This slight imperfection can be seen in the finished installation so I recommend a light and easy touch when cutting the material.

Once the hole was cut out I test fitted everything, looking at the back side of the liner and organizer everything looked good. At this point I took the trunk organizer and installed it using Carter’s instructions. Then once the organizer was installed, I then installed the liner and was pleased to see the organizer cleanly slide through the cutout area in the liner.

The finished installation matched the “look” I was after. The tape is holding the trunk organizer to the metal panel on the trunk lid (just like it was designed to). And the liner covers over the exposed metal areas around the organizer. The one imperfection can be seen below the right (passenger side) pocket. You can just make out the arctic silver paint through the gap that my overzealous razor left. However despite that one flaw I am pleased with the final results.

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Cell Phone and Radar Detector Power, Another Way

I was getting tired of plugging my cell phone charger into my cigar lighter, so I decided to permanently wire it into my car. I was thinking that I would use power from one of the various unused connectors or perhaps from the radio. But then I came across Vince’s article and it gave me the idea that I could use the BMW cell-phone connector.

What’s more important to note here is that I could use this connector for more than just a cell phone. I could use it for anything I wanted. Vince’s article details a way that you can order the connector and pins for the cell phone connector. In addition, both switched and unswitched power are available, and they are both regulated by individual fuses in the fuse box, so you can play around without the danger of seriously hurting the car. But best of all using this connector means no permanent wiring changes to the car. I would not have to cut a single wire that was part of the car, which sounded pretty good to me!

First thing I did was prepare the charger. I opened it up, and replaced the metal contacts on the circuit board that ran to the tip and the sides of the cigar lighter with wires about 1 foot long. Then I closed the charger back up, running those wires out the hole in the tip of the charger.

Next I prepared the radar detector by cutting the cord right before the cigar lighter plug. I placed the radar detector where it was supposed to be on the windshield, then ran the wire along the inside of the window and down the seam of the door, and under the steering column. From there, if you lift the cover on the shifter and the handbrake, you should be able to fish the wires through to where the cell phone connector is. NOTE: Those that are truly anal-retentive will probably want to run the wire INSIDE the plastic pieces along the inside of the windshield. Other articles here can tell you how to remove it.

I then found the cell phone connector as detailed in Vince’s article. I took the wires from the charger and the radar detector and started soldering the pins on them. One wire from the radar detector (the positive lead) goes to a pin. One wire from the charger goes to a pin (once again, the positive lead). The remaining wires (which should both be ground [negative lead]) should go together into one pin.

Now put the charger inside the center console, with the piece that connects to the cell phone (and the coiled cord with it) coming out from under the bottom of the console on the passenger side behind the seats. I used a piece of Velcro (the non-fuzzy side) to hold the cell phone connector against the back wall.

Time to start the final piece. Put the pin for the radar detector into the hole in the connector for switched power, and put the pin for the cell phone charger into the unswitched power hole. Put the shared pin into the hole for the ground connection. Plug the connector into the cell phone connector in the car and you’re ready to go!

NOTE: I also replaced the fuses in the fuse box that related to the cell phone power with 5 amp fuses (smaller than the standard fuses). This just gives me an extra degree of protection that I like. I would have used smaller fuses (like 1 or 2 amps), but I couldn’t find any in that form-factor that had such a small rating.

Finding Power in your Center Console

Note: This article is for the 1996 and 1997 model year BMW Z3, I’ve had vague reports that on 99 models (and perhaps some 98 models) the connector has changed.

Do you need power in your center console?

There are several reasons why you might need access to a switched or unswitched power in the Z3 center console. I needed to install a hands-free kit for my Nokia phone. As luck would have it, BMW prewired the Z3 for their cell phone kit. Part of this prewiring is a connector providing switched and unswitched power (as well as radio mute).

To find the connector, lift up the shifter boot. There are 4 tabs (two on each side) that snap it down. Squeeze the side on either side and then lift once it’s loose. Once you’ve lifted the boot, you’ll see several bundles of cables:

1 bundle for each window switch

1 bundle for the hazard light switch

1 bundle terminating in a 2-pin female connector (purpose unknown)

1 bundle terminating in an 8-pin female connector (circled in red and seen in the close up picture below)

The bundle terminating in the 8-pin connector has what you’re looking for. It is a little hard to find! The connector is buried underneath a layer of carpet just to the left of the hazard switch. Just look for a bundle of 5 wires and follow it. I assume this was done so that while floating about it didn’t touch anything and short out the battery (it has fairly exposed 12V and ground connections). It may also be hidden under the emergency break boot (look for a square cut-out in the carpet).

Using the numbering in the picture to the right, Here’s the pinout:

Pin 1 – 12 volts, unswitched

Pin 2 – Ground

Pin 3 – Unknown — if anyone can identify it, let me know.

Pin 4 – Not connected

Pin 5 – 12 volts, switched

Pin 6 – Radio Mute

Pin 7 – Not connected

Pin 8 – Not connected

Now the bad news. The pins required for the connector are odd-sized. They’re 0.098 inch pins. The common 0.093 inch pins won’t stay in. The good news. You can get the correct size pins and even the mating connector free from AMP. Call (800) 522-6752 ask for some engineering samples. Ask for part numbers 1-828737-1 (the mating connector) and 927797-2 (the pin). I asked for 5 connectors and 20 pins, and they didn’t bat an eye.

Interestingly enough, you’re not allowed to buy the connector unless you are a BMW contractor. But ask for free ones, and there’s no problem. I love the way the world works!