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.