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Monday, July 22, 2024

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Friday, November 28, 2014

ZKW Ellipsoids Arrive

I ordered a pair of ZKW Euro Ellipsoid headlight assemblies from Turner a bit over a month ago and they finally arrived today. Overall they seem to be well constructed units and have the "ZKW" logo imprinted in the glass, so they're authentic. They were hard to get, but they're here and I'm looking forward to installing them.

Naturally I opened the bulb access covers and quickly confirmed they come with H1 bulbs plus a smaller bulb for the "city light" or parking light. So if you're buying a pair of ZKWs and are content with the factory H1 bulbs you need not purchase new bulbs at the same time.

A reader suggested some time ago that I consider replacing the factory H1 bulbs with some Phillips X-treme Vision or other "upgraded" units. The engineer in me always looks skeptically at new technology, particularly when it tends to promise something for nothing, but based on my preliminary research the Philips bulbs do seem to provide more light with a modestly higher color temperature (3700K) with the same power consumption. Still, I'll likely run with the factory bulbs for some time, if for no other reason than to serve as a comparison to the newer bulbs should I ultimately install them.

Before I can install them I have to construct the harness adapters. I've already acquired the sealed BMW four pin circular connectors and associated pigtails. The pigtails should be long enough to reach the factory harness so that means I should be able to cut them to size and then crimp on the required female socket terminals and insert them into the mating 9005/9006 shells. According to realoem.com, the low beams (and fog lamps, for that matter) on the stock DOT headlights are 55W HB3 (9005) and the high beams are 60W HB4 (9006). That means I'll need to both shell types to make the harness adapter work.

My next order will include the tools and parts needed to complete the adapters and a protection film kit for all the new glass up front. I may go with Lamin-X but it's not exactly cheap so I plan to look for alternatives.

Seat Repair and Replacement Research

Almost three years ago I bought the bottom seat foam cushion to replace the failed unit on my driver's side sport seat thinking a) I would start on the interior overhaul real-soon-now™ and b) the part would be discontinued soon, much like the backrest foam. Neither happened, and meanwhile the seat wear has progressed steadily. I probably should have bought a seat cover for it several years ago to stem the tide but I felt that would have looked a bit...ahem...trailer. At this point the leather has opened up considerably on both the adjustable thigh rest as well as the left side backrest bolster, and the foam is showing additional wear. In short, it looks like shit and I'm almost embarrassed to drive the thing in that condition.

In looking over the effort and cost associated to repair and recover the seats I started to wonder if there were other options available. I've always hated the electric seats on this car as they take forever and a day to move in any given direction, and I've long known electric seats are considerably (20-30 pounds) heavier than manual equivalents. Some browsing for aftermarket seats lead me to the Recaro website once again. Recaro makes some very nice seats, some of which are sold by BMW under the Performance Parts banner (behold, the Sportster CS), and although many of their seats are targeted at track cars they do make a line of seats that would be at home in any performance oriented street car. Case in point: their Speed seat.

The problem is the seats come in fabrics that do not match the beige interior and while their website indicates they offer custom leather work one of the distributors I spoke with said that Recaro no longer offers that service on the Speed seats because they were “unhappy with the way the leather laid down on the high bolsters”. But as it turns out I couldn't have used the service anyway, as the distributor conceded that Recaro would not, as a matter of policy, integrate factory or aftermarket seat heating pads or (the real deal killer for me) the passenger seat SRS occupancy sensor mat. The distributor did offer a small and obviously self-serving consolation: I could buy the seats with the least expensive (fabric) covers and then have them custom covered by a third party, discarding the Recaro covers in the process. I ignored the dollar signs floating around in my brain at that moment and suggested to myself “yea, that might work.”

This presents a few issues:

  1. Finding a shop with the talent and desire to do that work. Most of the real talent in custom leather left the automotive industry for greener pastures long ago, meaning either retirement or the aviation industry, as there is little good paying work in this field anymore. You can read that as: people don't keep their cars long enough to wear out the interiors, those that do are usually too cheap to do anything about it, and turn-key pre-engineered covers that almost anyone can install (like those available from GAHH) are readily available.
  2. Fitment. The seats are generic in that they are not designed to fit any specific vehicle. Normally I'd just buy the seat as well as the necessary accessories and be done with it but I read one report of a guy who had to replace the E36 pyrotechnic seatbelt closures with E30 models to eliminate some transmission tunnel clearance issues. I don't want to do that, so this may be the deal breaker for aftermarket seats.
  3. Seat Height. While the manual slider assembly makes moving the seat fore/aft quick and easy, it lacks vertical adjustment so the height of the seat is fixed. That could be good or bad, depending on the depth of the cushion. Because I generally prefer a lower seating position and my car is equipped with a sunroof that robs some headroom I've always left the factory seat all the way down. My hope is, naturally, that the Recaro sliders would result in a similar seat height, but the only way to verify that is to buy and install the new seat. Not exactly the cheapest option.

I'm still hoping I can repair the factory seats, as I think that will definitely be the least expensive option overall, but the thought of having an all-new, lighter seat with better support that is designed to meet newer safety standards has a strong appeal. While I could probably wait until April to make the call the thought of having work done over the winter months is appealing, particularly because most aviation shops are booked far in advance (4-6 months, possibly longer). So the longer I wait, the fewer options I may have.

Mileage: 253500