TopDown Windscreen for BMW Z3

This article reviews TopDown’s windscreen. This product eliminates turbulence in the cockpit formed while driving with the top down. I will preface this by saying I own a 1999 Z3, which I purchased new. I used the factory windscreen, and was mildly satisfied with it; I then upgrade to this one. Briefly, this is one of the best purchases I’ve made so far for my beloved Z3. This windscreen cost $164.

TopDown’s windscreen attaches to the roll hoops on the later model Z3’s, on a total of 6 points, using Velcro-based fasteners. This windscreen is made of clear 1/4 inch Plexiglas. When installed, it does not shift or rattle. I ran my car up to 100 mph, and it didn’t flex or move about.

What’s unique to TopDown’s windscreen are the winglets, flaps folding out extending coverage, blocking the turbulence between the car door to the outside seat edge. Typically, every other windscreen mounts onto the seats, which blocks only the turbulence that enters between the seats. Therefore, occupants are protected on one side, the inside seat edge. TopDown’s windscreen with winglets prevents turbulence on both the inside and outside edges of the seats. The winglets fold out, sealing the gap from the outside edge of the seat to the door windows. Then, the winglets can be folded back in, so the windscreen can remain in place when the top is placed back up. All-in-all, these winglets are a great idea that really provides a lot of performance.

Performance:

The biggest fan of this windscreen is actually my wife, who has long hair. Without any windscreen in place, her hair blows around terribly. With the factory windblocker I was used, the turbulence is still moderate, and my wife’s hair still swirls around somewhat. With no windscreen, she’s tolerant of driving top down for 15 minutes. With the factory windscreen, she’s tolerant of driving top down for 60 minutes.

This is the only windscreen that my wife doesn’t mind driving around all day with the top down; her hair no longer swirls about. For me, with this windscreen in place, I can talk clearly on my cell phone, hear my expensive stereo system, and cruise at night gazing at the stars out without freezing. With the factory windscreen, I could do these activities, but to a lesser degree. This windscreen provides much better performance, hence a better top down driving experience.

The windscreen also comes available with a high quality vinyl satchel, which I use to store my windscreen when not attached to my car.

Conclusion:

I’m glad I purchased this windscreen It has the highest performance of all windscreen available for the Z3, it looks good, and it doesn’t impede the rear view.. I would recommend this product for those considering purchasing a windscreen, or as an upgrade to the factory windscreen. The only knock I have on this product is that it works only for the Z3’s with the roll hoops. It’s a great product, and I wish it could be made available for all Z3’s.

Contact:

TopDown can be contacted at www.topdown.net, or 206-222-8058. This windscreen costs $164.

Clear Windscreen

Pros: Better visibility, Good at blocking wind, Cost, Blocks/reflects sound, Makes installing the boot cover easier
Cons: Blocks access to rear storage area (for those without the subwoofer), Blocks access to the area behind the rear console when the top is up.
Cost: $85 includes shipping (fromwww.roadster.8m.com)

My first Z3 was a 1997 1.9, and one of the first “accessories” I wanted was a windscreen to cut down on the amount of back draft that was hitting the back of my head. My desire for the windscreen was greater than my patients when I learned that BMW’s windscreen was available in Germany but not in the US. Even the Atlantic ocean could not keep me away from that windscreen, I had a Z3 owner in Germany purchase the windscreen from his BMW dealership and mail it to me.

Once that 1st windscreen was installed I was forever a windscreen fan. However when I traded in that 1997 1.9 for a 1998 3.2 the old windscreen wouldn’t work with the new Z3 because of the roll-hoop rollbars. BMW had a new windscreen for the roll-hoops, so without hesitation I purchased the new BMW windscreen when I ordered the car. The new design didn’t stop wind as well as the original design but it was good enough and since the only other alternative was no windscreen at all it was a easy purchase decision.

I’ve spent over a year with the BMW roll-hoop windscreen, and I have to admit that a year later I’m concerned about the amount of wear the BMW windscreen is showing. In some places the black material has faded to a yellowish brown, it appears to be sagging in the middle and the single support rod that runs inside the top of the windscreen has torn the material in a couple places. It still functions as well as it did when it was brand new but it is starting to look worn and ugly (at least to this owner).

As luck would have it another windscreen option opened up for me. A Z3 owner named JD was contemplating purchasing the BMW windscreen, but there were some aspects of the BMW windscreen that he didn’t care for. After a discussion on the Z3 message board JD set out to make a clear Plexiglas windscreen on his own. When word spread of his clear windscreen plans several other Z3 owners expressed an interest in his efforts. One thing led to another and now JD is in the windscreen business. After watching the $100~$150 BMW windscreen wear over the first year I decided to try JD’s clear windscreen.

Installation

Before long a long slender box was waiting for me on my doorstep. JD shipped the box well labeled as fragile to ensure the safety of the contents inside.

When I opened the box I found instructions, six Velcro straps, some foam padding and a Plexiglas windscreen with protective tape around it. The instructions informed me that this was version 5, an improvement over the previous version in which some modification were made to the shape to improve its abilities as a windscreen. The instructions also walked me through the brief assembly and installation.

Note: With the instructions below, the text in red is from the original instructions that came with the windscreen. The additional black text are my own comments in relation to that step.

Remove protective paper by carefully peeling it off.

This takes a little longer than you would think it would. The protective backing is stuck onto the glass but peels off cleanly. Be careful around the edges of the Plexiglas because it can be sharp.

Take one of the short pieces of the protective rubber tape and place it 1/8 inch away from the edge of the windscreen. Start from the outside edge and work it around the curve. Finish it off in the center

Included in the instructions is a template, you can lay the clear windscreen over the paper template and it will show you were to install the rubber padding.

Now do the same on the other side.

Make sure the curve of the tape is even and smooth. This tape serves as a cushion between the windscreen and the roll-hoops.

Insert the straps with the soft fuzz on the inside so that it will face the roll hoop.

There is no more soft fuzzy side. JD improved the strap design, the new design is stronger and easier to work with.

Do the same for all the strap locations. Straps need only to overlap about 3/4″ to be secure. They may seem a bit tight at the bottom location.

The windscreen is held in place with three straps per side, one of the straps is longer than the other two and the longer strap is for the lower part of the inner support.

Position the windscreen in front of the roll hoops and behind the seats. It may help to move the seats forward for access.

The bottom of the windscreen has a foam/rubber padding on it so you can rest the windscreen on the top of the rear storage area. However after properly installed the top edge of the windscreen should follow the curve of the roll-hoops and leave a gap at the bottom of the windscreen.

Secure the straps around the roll hoops. Put a slight amount of tension on it, especially at the lower strap so that it bows in just a little. This will eliminate any vibration.

You can “scoot” the straps around so that the end of the overlap edge is up in the cutout portion. That gives it a much neater appearance. To eliminate the static build up and also to clean your windscreen, periodically apply one of the many brands of plastic cleaners. Do not use any abrasive cleaners on the plastic.

Once the windscreen was installed my initial reaction was positive, however I wanted to wait before making up my mind. I decided to give this new windscreen a couple months and then record my feelings about it rather than make any snap judgements. There were a couple upcoming Z3 events so I knew I could get other’s opinions as well.

Long Term Update

After the initial installation JD contacted me and said he was working on some different straps to secure the windscreen in place. The original straps I had received with the windscreen were solid Velcro with differing material on the two sides, the straps worked well for me but JD was concerned that the straps might not hold out well over time.

JD tried a couple different straps before coming up with the ones pictured to the right. The new straps hold the windscreen firmly in place and appear to be well constructed.

Since there are now two windscreen designs available for those Z3’s with roll-hoop rollbars, it only makes since to compare the two designs against each other. Each design has its strengths and weaknesses, the following is a discussion on each aspect of a windscreen and how the two compare against each other.

Cost

The BMW windscreen usually sells for around $150 from the average BMW dealership. You can mail order the BMW design for roughly $108 including shipping. JD charges $85 for his design and that price includes shipping. At least for me the BMW design started showing a lot of wear and tear after the first year. We’ll have to wait to see how the Clear Windscreen holds up but currently it appears to be doing fine.

Ability to decrease the wind turbulence

Comparing the two designs I can tell that there are differences. At times the BMW design seems to do better on really windy days, especially with strong side gusts. However I think on the average day the Clear windscreen might stop more wind. Its really too close to tell both do an adequate job.

Rearward Visibility

Personal preference is going to make this different for different individuals, but for me I prefer the increased rearward visibility that the clear windscreen offers. The BMW mesh windscreen is harder to look through which has its advantages and disadvantages.

At night the BMW design decreases the light that comes from the headlights of cars behind you, but in general I always felt a little blind at night with the BMW windscreen. On the positive side, the BMW mesh windscreen can also function as a sun shade if you park your car facing away from the sun. In regard to rearward visibility this is where the two windscreen designs differ the most, some will prefer the increased rearward visibility with the Clear windscreen, some will prefer the privacy and decreased visibility of the BMW windscreen.

Cabin Noise

Although not intended in its design, the clear windscreen also seems to change some of the acoustical characteristic of the Z3 interior. The solid Plexiglas appears to function as a sound wall that blocks some of the road noise coming from the rear of the car while also reflecting some of the stereo sound back into the middle of the cockpit.

Access to rear storage area (for those without the HK subwoofer)

The BMW windscreen is designed to rest against the back side of the rear compartment. The advantage to this design is that those Z3 owners that don’t have the HK stereo have a storage area back here and can lift the lid while the windscreen is installed. The version 5 Clear Windscreen blocks access to this storage area since it installs over the lid. However if you have a Z3 with one of these storage areas JD makes another design (version 4) that rests on the back side of the roll-hoops allowing the storage compartment to be opened.

Installation

Both windscreens can be installed and uninstalled somewhat easily. The BMW design uses clips that snap the windscreen in place holding it down over the roll-hoop rollbars. The clear windscreen uses six Velcro straps to tie the windscreen to the front of the rollbars. If you use the BMW boot cover the BMW windscreen interferes with the rearward snaps making installation more difficult. The clips on the BMW windscreen can also come in contact with the clear plastic window when the convertible top is lowered/folded. Some owners have reported scratches in the clear window from the BMW windscreen clips. The clear windscreen’s installation does not come close to the lowered/folded convertible top.

I guess the bottom line is that I like JD’s Clear windscreen design over the BMW design. For me the important facts are (a) it blocks wind just as good, (b) costs less than the BMW windscreen, (c) gives me better rearward visibility and (d) should last longer than the BMW design. I now own both windscreens and have decided to use the clear windscreen for these reasons. There might be times when I go back to the BMW design but for the majority of the time the clear windscreen is now standard equipment on my Z3.

HMS Windscreen

Pros: Stops the backdraft better than any other windscreen
Cons: Not much to look at
Cost: $149

The HMS Windscreen attaches to the HMS rollbar via four velcro straps. It is fairly easy take take on and off the rollbar but is semi-stiff so it takes up some room in trunk when not in use. At one time I owned the BMW windscreen and in comparison to BMW’s design the HMS windscreen does block more air, but it comes with some additional tradeoffs. The additional surface area makes rear visibility difficult at night. Especially when trying to look at rear 45 degree angles (like before a lane change). The HMS design wraps around the side of the rollbar so it appears you are looking through more material at the ends than in the middle. This makes it more difficult to see through than the BMW design.

In comparing the BMW design to the HMS design I must first point out that the HMS design is much less expensive (less than two thirds the cost of the BMW windscreen). Basically the HMS windscreen is a very simplistic, no frills, get the job done windscreen. Personally I think it subtracts from the Z3s looks but you can’t deny that it does it’s job better than any of the BMW designs. Bottom line, it’s a keeper but I’ll probably only use it on long trips and not around town. It’s a good value and does its job very well, I just wish it was more attractive.

Sold By:

HMS Motorsport

www.hms-motorsport.com

(888) HMS-3BMW

BMW Windscreen (2nd Design)

Pros: Can fold down when the top is up
Cons: Hard to install
Cost: $259.95

This windscreen design is available for the same price as the old windscreen–$259.95. It is significantly harder to install than the old design, but has the advantage of being able to fold down even when the top is up. Unless you feel very handy, I recommend letting your local dealer install it (that’s what I did).

The windscreen in the recommended driving position–tilted slightly forward.

A close-up of where the windscreen mounts into the plastic.

The windscreen has three folded-back positions. Here is the first–tilted back slightly.

This is folded almost all the way down–the recommend position if you use the soft boot.

Folded all the way down–the windscreen can also fold to this position when the top is up.

Here’s how to get to the storage compartment–see those two things in the middle of the windscreen? You squeeze them together and the bottom of the windscreen releases from the side supports.

Then, you can pull the top of the windscreen toward you, which swings the bottom of it up and away from the storage lid.

When the windscreen is tilted so it is parallel to the storage lid, you can easily open the lid and access the contents of the compartment.

BMW Windscreen (1st Design)

Pros: Makes top down driving more enjoyable by eliminating the back draft caused by a cars aerodynamics
Cons: You have to cut some plastic to install it
Cost: $250

After installing the BMW windscreen, I quickly threw the tools back onto my work bench and took the roadster out for a spin. Unlike the Remus, the benefits of this install were immediately noticed. At speeds of under 25mph the difference was noticeable, but small, as I slowly got faster I noticed that the wind inside the cockpit hardly increased. I headed towards the Dallas autobahn (also known as the Dallas Tollway), to give this wind screen the ultimate test. I paid my fifty cents and then quickly accelerated to…. well lets just say I gave the wind screen a good test and it passed with flying colors.

Before I go on with this glowing review, let me point out a negative comment I have about the wind screen. It took me a couple days to get use to it, but the visibility through your rear view mirror is substantially reduced. As I said, I think I’ve gotten use to it, but I’m still a little concerned that the decrease in visibility might cause a problem in traffic.

Okay that said, let me now point out some more good points.

1. My roadster is parked in a parking lot at work and the windscreen (in the up position) with the top also up acts as a excellent sun shade. I make a point to park the roadster with the back window facing west so in the afternoon the sun’s heat is blocked by the wind screen. This has made the roadster much cooler to enter after work.

2. The decrease in wind has made the stereo more audible and cleaner at high-way speeds.

3. The decrease in wind has also made the environmental controls (AC and Heat) much more efficient. In the mornings a little heat keeps the cockpit nice and warm. While after work the A/C keeps the Texas heat at bay.

Since purchasing this windscreen BMW has released two other windscreen designs. Do date I really haven’t had a chance to compare the other two, but visually it would appear that the 1st design (this design) will block more wind. The 2nd design appeared to be harder to install but did not occupy the mount towers that the 1st design did. The 3rd design I have only seen on pictures. It is designed to work with the BMW roll-hoops which became stand with the ’98 models.

I ended up purchasing the HMS rollbar and selling this windscreen to another Z3 owner, the HMS windscreen has it’s good and bad points in comparison to this design. However this design is seems to have a real good balance of form and function.

Installation

After a quick jump over to a friends house (top down of course) I returned home. As I pulled into my driveway, I attempted to fix my wind-blown hair. It was then that I noticed a thin, flat, box propped against my door. The long wait had finally ended, for within this cardboard box was a genuine, BMW Z3 wind screen. Shipped from the mother land herself (Germany).

Upon opening the box I noticed a cloth/nylon bag that housed the wind screen, “Oh cool it even comes with a case” I proclaimed to my uninterested wife. Opening the zipper produced the rarest sight a Z3 owner had ever seen. I then turned my attention to the instruction manual. Doh!, It’s written in German (at least I think it’s German). I put the wind screen down and went to print out an e-mail that was sent to me by Robert Kamen (a.k.a. the “other” Robert). Looking at the pieces within the box, and Robert’s instructions I concluded that this install looked relatively easy, however it involved some cutting so I got a little nervous. A quick inventory of my tools however convinced me that I was well equipped to perform this surgery because I had three tools that seemed perfect for this job.

(Note: Intermixed within the following text are the install instructions that Robert Kamen (a.k.a. the “other” Robert) sent me. I would like to thank Mr. Kamen and acknowledge his input into this web page.)

Step 1: (Repeat for both sides) Pop off the cap on top of the seat belt towers. The instruction say to drill a hole in the caps, then put a hook type device (folded coat hanger) in the hole and pull the caps off. No need. Just use a flat-bladed screwdriver with a rag under the blade to prevent marring the surface of the mount and pry the top off. They are only glued on. The glue will eventually give up and the cap will pop off, leaving it looking like the picture to the right.

Step 2: (Repeat for both sides) Make a circular cut through the plastic housing and the foam underneath. This was accomplished with the help of “Perfect tool number one”, a drill and a special drill bit that cut a 1.5″ circle. This enabled me to quickly cut through the plastic housing and through the foam inside. This left a hole in the roadster about a half inch deep. (Note: The “other” Robert used an industrial razor or knife to do this job. Either will work, the drill will just work quicker).

Step 3: (Repeat for both sides) Once the foam is removed, you will see a plastic cap on top of a steel tube inside the seat belt tower. It sounds confusing, but it is plain as day once the foam is taken out. That plastic cap has got to be removed. It is also larger than the opening made by the cap that you removed in step two. Well the drill got me this far, I reinserted it and it made quick work of the plastic cap, but most of the now shredded cap fell down into the metal tube. (Note: The “other” Robert just took a hammer and screwdriver and whacked it a few times to break up the plastic cap. Then the pieces come right out.) What ever method you use, the goal is to break up that plastic cap so it can be removed.
Step 4: (Repeat for both sides) This is where “Perfect tool number two” made it’s entrance, I plugged my a shop-vac and was pleased to see that the extension wand fit down inside the metal tube sucking out all the parts of the shredded cap, foam and whatever else fell down there.

Step 5: (Repeat for both sides) At this point “Perfect tool number three”, a dremel tool cleaned up the cut the saw/drill had made and left a very smooth and perfect hole in my roadster. The rough areas in that picture are actually the foam below the plastic.

Step 6: (Repeat for both sides) Once the hole was created I inserted the bracket and tightened it until it very slightly rubbed, but was still able to rotate.

Step 7: With the wind screen locks, unlocked. Insert the wind screen into the bracket. This is why I said to leave the brackets still loose enough to rotate in step 6. Once the wind screen is installed lock the wind screen locks and position the wind screen so the brackets are somewhat equal in angle. Then tighten the brackets.
Step 8: Two washers came with the kit, these washers enable both the wind screen and the boot cover to snap onto the snap-things behind the storage compartment. Remove the snap-things add the washers then re-install. Now you can attach the lower flap of the wind screen and the boot cover (over a folded down convertible top) at the same time.

If you want to fold the windscreen down, slightly loosen the two side screws (under the rubber disks). I would suggest using some low grade lock-tight to make sure the screws don’t vibrate out. The windscreen should fold with a slight push or pull.