City Lights Project

Pros: Lights up your highbeams when your parking lights are turned on. “Rounds out” the light display on the front of the car when the low beams are turned on. Inexpensive parts.
Cons: Pretty worthless for anything other than display purposes. Not an easy install.
Cost: ~ $25,00

Ever look inside your high-beam? If you do, here’s what you’ll see: See that black spot? It’s actually a hole in the reflector. You may ask yourself “Why is there a black hole in my light?”. The answer is “Manufacturing Efficiency”.

Basically, that black spot is where a small light, called a European City Light, would go if you happened to live in Europe and owned a 1.8 Z3. “What’s a 1.8?”, I hear you asking, “don’t you mean 1.9?”. Nope. I mean 1.8. The most inexpensive Z ever produced. The base model we never got here. The 1.8 was an 8 valve version of the euro 1.9 engine. The cars were produced as inexpensively as possible. In order to cut down on cost. As part of this cost reduction, there are no front bumper lights (hey! saved close to $40).

In Europe, the front marker lights work differently from the US. When we turn on our “parking” lights, the amber corner lights and the amber bumper lights come on. In Europe it’s illegal to have amber lights in the front, so they replace the amber bumper lights with white ones and they make it so the corner lights don’t come on. The corner lights are used only as turn signals. On the 1.8, instead of putting bumper lights on the car, they elected to mount the lights inside the high-beam enclosure producing a forward-facing white light. Here in the US, the City Lights were never used. However, because the 1.8 needed them, every Z has the vestigial hole in the reflector (note: so do other bimmers).

The hole is plugged at the back by a kind of “blank” on the back of the light. If you could peer inside, however, you would see that they do include the molding required to seat the socket. I decided I liked the idea of City Lights because I thought they would look good, showing off the entire light housing on low-beam and when the parking lights were turned on. The job looked easy, although I knew I would have to remove and remount the lights.

First thing I did was to find the part numbers:

The parts I was interested in were those labeled “8” and “9” in the diagram shown above. #8 is the socket (63-12-8-389-744 “Lamp Socket”), #9 is the bulb. #3, by the way is another European feature which allows you to aim your headlights from inside the car. This power is considered far too dangerous by the DOT for Americans to have access to, but that’s another story.

I called my local dealer (Herb Chambers) and ordered the parts ($17.03). It took about two days to get them. I was very happy until I actually saw the parts:

The socket connects via two very small pins. The problem is that I know of almost no connectors to mate to this to provide the power. I checked the diagram and, sure enough, there is a special connector, but it’s part of the European wire harness. I’d have to buy the whole harness in order to get the two connectors. Rather than shell out these kinds of bucks, I went in search of other possibilities. I checked the Boat Store and the Car Store before remembering good, old You-Do-It Electronics. Sure enough, YDI actually had a part which, with some significant modifications, would work.

They are called Molex .093 Connectors. They are basically a nylon housing around a set of connectors. I also bought some 1/2″ screw-size (5/8″ Chassis hole size) Vinyl Grommets (more on this later). In addition, I had a couple of wire-taps, some wire and a couple of grounding connectors. The next step was to fabricate the connections.

I did this by wrapping a grommet around the “Male” Molex connector. I then inserted it, “backwards”, wrapped in Saran Wrap into the lamp socket and used epoxy to fill in the spaces around the grommet (the Saran Wrap keeps the whole thing from getting stuck to the lamp socket). Once these were set, I attached the wire to the metal “female” inserts which would grip the two prongs on the inside of the socket. I inserted them into the holes (once again, backwards, it takes a little muscle) and once again used epoxy to seal them up.

The result, although still looking home-made, is actually pretty good. The Grommet makes a good seal on the wires and good seal on the lamp socket. The female molex connectors require a little bit of muscle to force them onto the pins, but once there they stay stuck on, further reinforcing the seal. The next step was to remove the lights from the car. See this article for more information on how to do this.

Once the lights were off the car, it was time to drill the holes. I used a Dermal tool to make the holes. Looking at the light socket, you can see two “wings” which are clearly meant to secure it when it is inserted intot eh light. I had a few hint’s from mod-god Ron Stygar who has also installed these. He sent me a picture of the inside of the “plug” (left – don’t ask me how he took this – I suspect one of those “Mission Impossible” microcameras or a team of miniaturized technicians helped). Judging from the picture, the big “wing” goes on top, the little “wing” goes on the bottom. I used the Dermal tool very slowly, while holding a vacuum hose near the work to suck out any small pieces.

Although the work was a little rough, the socket fit in fine and stayed in when I twisted it to the right. After drilling out both lights, I completed the job with the wiring:

I got power by tapping into the connectors for the side marker and connected to a convenient ground. On my car the positive lead was the light gray wire, but I suggest you check with a multi-meter on your car. Note that I have connected it “downstream” of a BMW connector. This way, if I ever need to remove the city lights, I can simply replace the pigtail which goes down to the marker bulb (I actually happen to have a couple of spares anyway). This ensures there’s no issue with dealer support on an electrical issue.

I put the lights back into the car, cursing BMW designers the whole way (would it have killed them to leave an inch or so slack in the wires going to the bulbs?).

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give this project a 7 or an 8 in terms of difficulty, mostly because of the need to remove and remount the lights and the necessity to fabricate the connector part. Overall I’m happy with it. It took me about four hours to do and the total cost was about $25.

Update: I got an email from Greg Paul who wrote me to say that he had also been looking for the connector for about a year with no success. He had bought replacement lights from Circle BMW and they gave him Euro Lights with the City Lights already installed. Unfortunately, no connectors. He had asked the dealer and even went so far as calling the factory to see if anyone knew which connector they were… No luck… He then had an unfortunate incident — he smashed a fog light.

When they went to replace the fogger, he noticed that the connector looked familiar, in fact it was the same as the City Light! He looked up the parts and was able to find the socket and pigtails to connect the fogger to the car. He ordered extra parts and was able to also connect the city-lights.

That’s the good news (and special thanks to Greg for writing me to let me know about the part). Bad news is the price of the connectors: About $25 each (list). Using the BMW connectors just about doubles the cost of the project:

You’ll need 2 each of 61138352390’s (Sockets $20.48 each) and 4 each of 61130007569’s (pigtails $2.85 each). The pigtails need to be inserted into the socket to form the entire connector, but it’s real easy. (see cl1.jpg)

After inserting the pigtails, you need to lock them in. You do this by inserting a small screwdriver and pushing the black locking collar as indicated. (cl2.jpg)

Once this is done, you have your connectors and you can hook them up as described earlier in this article.

PIAA Replacement Headlight Bulbs

Pros: Fairly easy to replace, same wattage, brighter light, whiter light
Cons: Can’t see more any more road, same coverage area as stock bulbs
Cost: $70

I’ve always been unhappy with the headlight performance on my 1998 M roadster. The brightness of the headlights was okay but the light coverage area was terrible. BMW has apparently designed the headlights with more concern for oncoming traffic than the Z3 driver. There is a dead space (I call it the black hole) that is just left of center. The problem is that if I was driving on a road that was turning to the left (like in the picture above) the black hole ended up being RIGHT in the middle of the lane I was trying to drive in. I’ve never been comfortable driving my car at night because of this. Even after repeated attempts to adjust the aiming of the headlights I still wasn’t comfortable with the results. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to start throwing money at the problem and see if that would fix it.

PIAA makes replacement headlight bulbs (model number 9006) that are the same wattage (51 watts) as the stock Sulvania bulbs, but claim to produce brighter, whiter light without producing additional heat. The pair of bulbs cost a hefty $70 but my frustration with the stock headlights made the purchasing decision easier to swallow. I waited until after dark and then drove the roadster to a dark road so I could take before and after pictures. Replacing the bulbs wasn’t simple, but only took about 10 minutes for each side (picture to the right was taken after upgrading only the left side). It would have been a lot easier if I had tiny hands, but the PIAA instructions repeatedly warned about not letting anything touch the bulb so it was difficult to maneuver everything in the tight space. (I’m sure working on a dark road also made it more difficult but it was necessary for this article.

After getting both headlight bulbs replaced my first reaction was “Wow”. But then I took a longer look and went back to my before and after pictures to confirm my suspicions. I think everyone will agree that the PIAA bulbs are whiter and brighter, but if you look at the pictures closely you will notice that the PIAA bulbs don’t light up any additional area, which is what I really intended to do with this upgrade. So now I have brighter and whiter headlights, but my roadster really isn’t any safer to drive at night.

Chrome Lighted Shift Knob

Since you can never have enough chrome in an M Roadster (open to debate, perhaps) I decided to add the BMW chrome gearshift knob. However, if I did that I would loose that cool lighting effect from the stock gearshift knob. I decided to try and make a chrome lighted gearshift knob.

You will need to remove the standard shift knob. Lift the cover up around it (it’s just held in place by small tabs on the side), and find the connectors for the wires leading to the knob. Disconnect these and simply pull straight up on the knob. It’s tight, but it should come off. Be careful not to hit yourself while pulling it up.

The first thing I did was to take apart the stock knob to see how it worked. It’s really just 3 tiny LEDS and a resistor under a knob emblem that let’s light shine through. Since BMW does not sell this emblem as a separate piece, you will need the one from the stock knob. Put your fingernail under the edge and simply pry up. It’s held on by double-sticky tape and should come off easily. Be careful not to scratch either side. Also important, the “silver” look of the numbers is not really paint. It’s some sort of dust that very easily wipes off. Do not get your finger anywhere near it, or you’ve just ruined the emblem.

The next thing you will need is the wire connector off the standard gearshift knob. Cut the wires (but leave some space to work with). I choose to get some nylon connectors from a local electronics store and solder it on the end of the BMW connector. That way I can still take my knob off without dealing with the BMW connector (which is a little big and won’t come off though the hole in the cover that easily).

Now it’s time to work on the chrome knob (which you need to purchase, of course). You need to get the emblem off without scratching the knob itself. The knob itself is covered in some sort of thin film that protects the metal (which is very soft). If you scratch the knob, it will look BAD. So don’t do that *smile*. The emblem is held on by the same double-sticky tape, but lots more or it. The best way I found is to use a dremel and drill directly into the center of the emblem with the dremel screw-like attachment, then yank the emblem off. Remove the remaining double-sticky tape, but save it – you will need it later.

Under the emblem you will find a little hole which is almost the right size. If you were to put the M emblem over this hole, the “R” and the “5” would not light up, because the hole isn’t big enough. Carefully grind the edges away where those two spaces would be (i.e. instead of a round hole, you would create a hole that looked like it had mickey-mouse ears). You don’t need to go very deep, long enough so that light can shine through. Now look at the underside of the knob. Inside you will see a couple horizontal plastic bars that hold the knob in place and keep it from spinning around. Through the center of the knob (in the hole on the top) drill out a vertical line that intersects the horizontal bar. Go all the way through till it’s completely open. You are almost done at this point.

Go back to your car. Figure out where that horizontal bar would go (it’s plainly obvious). Now cut (grind, actually) a small groove down one side of the stick. It doesn’t need to be very big, but you need something to run the wires in. On the stock knob, the wires actually run along the outside of the knob, but with the chrome knob we can’t do that so we need this grove. It won’t affect the functionality at all, there’s still PLENTY of metal left. When I did this, I took a vacuum and left it up close to where I was grinding to keep all the particles from spraying through the inside of my car.

Back to the chrome knob. Take some very small gauge wire (I used the individual strands of a telephone wire) cut two 18″ pieces. One one side, solder an LED to it. I used a jumbo orange LED from radio shack, their part number is 276-206 and the color matches the rest of the car pretty well. On the other end of one of the wires solder a 470 ohm resistor. Then solder on the mating end of the connector that you soldered on the BMW connector.

Go back to the car. Thread the connector attached to the knob through the leather shifter cover, and place the cover back on the car. Now carefully place the chrome knob on the car. Line up the wires in the groove you cut and on the top have the wires come out next to the horizontal bar (i.e. the LED [attached to the wires] still isn’t in it’s final position, it’s sticking out further). If you did everything right, the knob should be in position and on tightly, but if you hold both ends of the wires you can gently slide the LED back and forth. Pull on the wires until the LED is flush in the hole.

Lastly, you need to put a diffuser and the emblem back on. For a diffuser, you can use the white plastic one from the stock shifter, or simply cut a piece of white paper in the appropriate size. Use that double sticky tape you saved earlier to put the emblem back on. Re-connect the wires and put the leather cover back in place, and you are all set!

Another thing to watch out for is to test-fit the emblem into the chrome knob. I’ve had two different knobs, in one the M emblem fit just fine, but in the other I had to slightly grind the emblem down to get it to fit. Also, be careful not to push too hard getting the emblem in place, it CAN crack internally and have ugly white lines running through it. In direct sunlight, the knob can get VERY hot – so you may want a pair of driving gloves. And the wires you use to connect the LED can get damaged very easy, so if you take the knob off again you may want to plan to replace those wires.

All in all, I’m happy with my unique shift knob!

Footwell Lights

Pros: Better Visibility, Neat Fade In/Fade Out
Cons: Requires cutting interior, Warranty
Cost:

The picture at the end of this article is of a typical BMW M roadster interior, except in this M roadster a set of footwell lights has been installed. The picture to the left shows a close up of the footwell lights installed flush in cut-out sections from the underside of the dash. The lights fade in and out just like the overhead light. There is one light in the passenger side footwell and another light in the drivers side footwell. They make a nice addition to the interior, the inside of the car lights up and makes it very easy to see anything down on the floor.

I don’t have the specific part numbers for the lights, but I know they are BMW parts. I believe they are lights from a 5 series but I can not confirm that. At one time a kit was being sold online but the person that was selling it stopped so a certain amount of information on how to do this was lost. The instructions below are from that now extinct kit, hopefully it is enough for you to figure it out yourself.

Foot Lights

These are instructions ONLY.

Installation is at your own risk.

This is in no way related to BMW

Remove lower dash panel. Remove clips (1) from panel by turning 90 degrees with screwdriver. Do this to driver and passenger side. These panels are where you will install the footlights

Next open glove box and remove screw caps with small screwdriver or pick. Remove screws where (1) pointing to.

Remove glove box by taking screws out located by (1). Lower right side of glove box first. This part is a little tricky but work glove box around center console. Watch out for the metal clips. They will scratch the center console.

Next you should see something like this. On connector (1) it is black. There should be a brown wire with a black stripe in pin FOUR. This is the wire that you will splice in to for power. Use the blue crimp connector and splice the yellow wire to the BROWN/BLACK WIRE.

Here is a photo after this splice was done.

(Editors Note: Remember these instructions were part of a kit, obviously the yellow wire and blue crimp device were part of that kit).

Next run the wire over the drivers side.

(Editors Note: This wire will be used to power the light on the drivers side).

Next remove the passenger speaker cover. Turn the screw head 90 degrees (Black arrow). Pull speaker cover towards you like the White arrows shown. You will see a body ground behind cover. This is where you install the ground wire.

(Editors Note: Here is a photo of the ground wire referred to in the previous step).

You will need to cut 2 ¾” by 1 ¼” holes in the lower dash panel for the footlights.

(Editors Note: Refer to the very first image in this article for a photo of the lights installed in these cutouts.)

Missing from the instructions is the step of actually hooking the wires to the lights, but you get the idea. The key here is the identification of the wire that should be used as the source. I would also like to add one final word of caution, notice in the very last picture in the instruction that the lights used in the kit had a thin metal heat shield like thing behind them. The shield is important because once you put all this back up under your dash you don’t want to harm any wires that may come in contact with the back side of the light. Now these lights typically are not going to on for any extended period of time but I would still recommend being a little extra picky about what lights you use.

///M Roadster Foglight Installation

Pros: Increased visibility, looks
Cons: none?
Cost: Less than $200 installed

As we all know, ///M Roadsters do NOT come with factory foglights as either standard or optional equipment. In order to obtain them, we must look to aftermarket suppliers. The decision as to whether or not I needed them was made for me by virtue of the fact that I live on Cape Cod, which just may be the Fog Capital of the Eastern Seaboard. After seeing Walter’s at the Escape to the Cape Drive this year, I know I would be purchasing a similar model. Walter had chosen PIAA 1400’s in Amber. I opted for the same lights but picked the clear lens version, as they are a bit brighter. I purchased them for $149.95 from 4 Wheel Parts Wholesalers (800-421-1050) as they had the best price.

When they arrived, the only question in my mind was where to mount them. Walter mounted his in the engine intake and they look quite good there. I, however, being the Contrarian that I am, decided to mount them in the outer (brake cooling) intakes. Please note that these lights are very small and should not seriously impede the airflow to the disc brakes.

Wiring these lights was easy, I mean REALLY easy. It should take about 1.5 hours for most anyone.

Step #1 – The switch wires and switch:

The first step is to unravel the wiring harness provided with the foglights. I decided to mount the relay (included) and the fuse holder (also included) in the factory fuse box. This would keep the electronics centrally located and dry. Cut the 2 wires that run to the switch plug about 24 inches from the switch plug itself.

Snake the cut wires through the large grommet already in the firewall on the driver’s side.

Unscrew the fuse holder (remove 2 front screws and loosen 2 read screws) so that you may lift it up.

This will allow some additional access to feed the wires up and through the factory hole in the bottom of the fuse holder.

Once that is done, attach a female spade connector to the input side of the switch wire and (using a fuse tap) connect to the switched side of fuse #44 (note: this photo shows the wire tapped into fuse #33 which is not switched). Attaching the wire to this location will allow the foglights to be turned on whenever the ignition is on. Some locations may require that they be wired in such a way that they may only be turned on when the low beams are on. If this is this case in your area, then you may want to tie this wire into your low beam power wire.

The switch itself was mounted to the knockout panel to the left of the steering wheel where the factory switch is located. I simply trimmed the back of the switch to allow the wire to run straight off the back and I drilled a small hole in the knockout panel. The switch was attached with 2 sided tape. Finally, ground the switch to one of the 4 brass bolts under the driver’s side of the dash (I think they are 7 mm).

Step #2 – The rest of the wiring:

Remember that the entire wiring harness is complete when you buy the kit so the only connections that have to be made are power, ground and any wires you cut during the installation itself.

Re-attached the switch wires that you cut. Run all the ground leads down through the fuse holder and out the front (via the rubber grommet there). Route them towards the factory ground point on the front left fenderwall. They may all be grounded here.

Run the wires for the lights out the same rubber grommet and down towards the front grill. The wires may be hidden in the factory wire-loom. This picture shows the foglight wires hidden inside the factory wire-loom and the ground wires grounded at the factory ground point. At this point, the last wire to connect will be the power wire. It can be connected to the hot side of the fuse box (passenger’s side) below the fuses. You will see a nut than can be unscrewed and the power lead attached. I couldn’t get a good shot of this but you will see what I mean. This is an adequate source of power as the foglight kit has it’s own in-line fuse. Once connected, you may screw the 4 screws back in place that hold the fuse box down.

At this point, all you need to do is wire-tie the relay, in-line fuse and extra wiring neatly together and put the top back on the fuse box.

Step #3 – Mounting the foglights:

Run the foglight wires so that they are just to the driver’s side of their respective brake air intakes. Then, carefully cut a small slice in the plastic (about 8” inside the intake) and pull the wire through. The foglights are attached using 2 sided tape and screws (optional). The 2 sided tape is really strong and should be enough to hold them in place. Plug the foglights into the wiring harness and turn them on. If you installed them correctly, they should work. Turn them off again so they don’t get too hot to handle. Unscrew the mounting plates but don’t remove them. Stick the 2 sided tape to the mounting plate and hold the light in the brake intake duct. With the lights (low beams too) on and shining at a wall, aim the foglights where you want them.

Only concern yourself with the left-to-right angle at this time. When they are pointing where you want them, stick them to the roof of the intake. At this point, you have just mounted the mounting plates. Remove the foglights only and ensure that the mounting plates are firmly attached. If you wish, you may at this time use the screws included with the kit. Re-attach the foglight to the mounting plate and adjust the up-and-down angle before tightening completely. Repeat for the other side and it should look like this.

Step #4 – Enjoy!

They greatly increase your visibility off to the sides of the road as well as in the fog without blinding oncoming traffic. I’m quite pleased with the results – for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.