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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Seat Foam Base Arrives

The seat base foam came in last weekend. At $105 it wasn't exactly cheap but a close look at it reveals a design that would be next to impossible to duplicate for less so I'm not exactly complaining. Modern 3D scanning and CAD technology could be used to reverse engineer these kinds of parts but the investment could only be justified in the context of a business and I have to wonder whether a market really exists for this stuff given the lack of aftermarket E30 seat foam. What have E30 owners done about this? I draw the line at dumpster diving or buying 15 year old foam on fleabay.

Some research revealed that Recaro offers a couple aftermarket seats similar in design to the vaders that would probably look right at home in the car, as well as a custom service in which they will finish a seat in any cloth or leather provided by the customer, but as you might surmise that's not exactly an inexpensive option. Think $5K+ for two front seats. While it's nice to know a quality aftermarket option exists, needless to say the price is enough to convince me to stick with my factory seats.

New Headunit

Over the course of the last six months I've been trying to put together a home A/V setup on the cheap by looking out for specials and pulling the trigger at the right time. Just this week, when I went looking for a low-end A/V receiver to tie all the components together, I decided to take advantage of a special at Crutchfield. While wrapping up that order I saw the DEH-80PRS advertised (though at $349, not on special) and decided to add it to the invoice.

The unit arrived this week and my preliminary inspection confirmed the reviews. The front panel is constructed of polished (and hence reflective) plastic, the "joggle" control is covered in faux chrome that stands out like a sore thumb, and all the buttons have a poor tactile response (including an annoying audible click) that makes the entire unit feel cheap.

On the other hand it's still the least gaudy of any aftermarket headunit I've seen recently, save for the $1200 P99RS, and the backlighting should indeed match the OE lighting nicely. The 80PRS has a built-in amplifier so its high level outputs can be connected directly to the OE amplifier if necessary though I'm still planning to use the low level outputs in combination with a pair of Arc Audio ALDs to drive the four channel SE 4100. The wiring between the headunit and trunk will be installed while I have the seats out for the lower interior overhaul.

Rear Vent Window Seals

Over the last couple of years the rear vent windows have developed a small leak near the Hoffmeister kink so I decided to do something about that before winter.

When I opened the windows to take a closer look I found the flexible rubber seal that sits between the window surface and the interior felt/rubber seal completely disintegrated. A quick check of the ETK found the part described merely as a "covering". Left and Right versions were only about $13 each so I considered myself lucky and ordered them. The exterior rubber trim piece that helps draw water away from the base of each window had long ago succumbed to elements and cracked in several places so since those were about the same price I picked up a set of those as well.

An inspection of the main rubber/felt seal that wraps around the vent window opening showed it to be in remarkably good shape and I believe that is largely due to the fact that the other rubber seal protected it from exposure. This means I won't need to replace the felt seals and that's a good thing, of course, since they aren't cheap.

The Problem of Overengineering

There's an old joke that will be familiar to engineers and computer scientists alike that describes how each group would design a toaster. I'll spare you the traditional telling but the punch line is that the engineer's toaster is simple and purpose built while the computer scientist's toaster is hideously complicated. The first lesson it teaches is the engineer's mantra: KISS (keep it simple, stupid). By extension, the second lesson it teaches is just because you can build something doesn't mean you should build it. I've made more than a few comments about how I think cars (and BMWs in particular) are being overengineered these days and this week I encountered two more examples supporting my opinion.

First, I read an account on bimmerforums in which a guy said his wife and kids were locked against their will in a BMW for almost 30 minutes with interior temperatures "reaching 150 degrees" until rescue crews came to break the window and release them. Apparently when they got in the car all the doors locked and both the door pulls and unlocking button would not work. The guy seemed to indicate that he thought it was due to an electrical problem since nothing else in the car worked, while others quoted a page right out of the manual which stated that this is normal vehicle function when the car is locked with the keyless remote.

Now, I'm sure BMW engineers had good intentions here, but I don't care what they were thinking: door pulls should ALWAYS be tied to the door locks via a mechanical linkage and should ALWAYS open the door for emergency exit. No electrical power or software should ever interfere with this safety function. Period, end of story. There was nothing wrong with the door locking system on any BMW made up to this point including the E36 and E46, so why did they fucking change it? I'll tell you why: because BMW has too much money and too many engineers on the payroll with nothing better to do than think of solutions to problems that don't exist. This is the very definition of overengineering.

I learned of the second example this week at the dealer while waiting to order some parts. One of the techs I see there regularly told me that several of the newest cars including the X3 have eliminated the mechanical emergency brake actuated with a lever in the center console and replaced it with an electronic, button-operated "parking brake". I learned during my rear suspension overhaul that I'm not particularly fond of drum brakes and those $@#!#$! return springs, but they serve an important purpose and their elimination has a couple dire implications:

I realize every generation eventually reaches an age where they look back on their lives and perhaps naively view the world in which they grew up as better than the present day, but taking that bias into account I believe vehicle engineering is going in the wrong direction. As manufacturers continue their quest to turn cars into black boxes only they can fix at considerable cost, I'm warming to the idea of restoring more older vehicles to satisfy my transportation needs.

Mileage: 223400, Parts: $450