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Friday, September 22, 2023

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Friday, June 24, 2016

New Leather Arrives

The leather arrived this week in the form of two boxes, the second being sent because GAHH forgot to include the headrests in the original shipment. I shrugged it off and began examining the leather and developing a plan of attack for its installation.

Almost immediately I got a sinking feeling that the covers were not what I expected. The first and most obvious were the rear seat bolsters. They looked nothing like the factory covers and could never have been installed as is because they lacked the necessary attachment points, J-channel, etc. I talked to GAHH about this problem and at their request provided pictures for them to confirm the differences.

I tried to install the rear headrests next. I didn't realize it until now but the rear headrests are smaller and differently shaped than the front headrests. The problem was GAHH had provided four front headrest covers despite specifically ordering two front and two rear headrests for a sport package car. I pointed this out to them and they said "We'll call you in two hours". Well, it didn't take more than that to realize I had yet more problems.

I decided to pull the rear seat base out of the car and compare it closely with the new cover. Not even close. Several of the seams did not line up, mostly in the rearward portion of the seat which is a bit more recessed on the sport package cars. The rear center of the cover did not properly fit into the cutout provided in the foam for storage of the seatbelts, and it lacked similar cutouts (and the associated seams) for the seat belt receptacles on the far left and right -- despite sending them pictures of the seats ahead of time and being told "we have everything we need to proceed". It was painfully clear to me at this point that GAHH was using generic patterns for this stuff, or at least reusing an old pattern for a non-sport package cover and trying to adapt it as required to make it work.

By now I knew I wasn't going to waste any more time dismantling my interior so I took the rear backrest leather out to the car instead, tilted the rear backrest forward and attempted to fit the cover over the existing cover. The first thing that I noticed was that the leather was not precut for the seat belt / backrest release mechanism. Okay, fine -- I could probably do that myself. However, I then realized the top portion of the cover was about 1.5" too wide at the top. Also there was a break in the J-channel on one side along with a cutout in the leather for what appeared to be a latch of some sort. As the latches are at the top of my seatbacks this confirmed that the cover was built for another vehicle entirely.

Frustrated, I walked back inside and sat down for a moment. Without much consideration I wrote GAHH an email requesting a full refund. Then I spoke to my dealer and asked for them to clarify whether a full set of leather could be purchased. The predictable answer? No, of course not. I then spent about 20 minutes Googling for upholstery shops and New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. I found nothing for which I'd drive 2+ hours each way. My last option was, as I've mentioned previously, an aviation upholstery shop, but I knew I'd pay top dollar for that. At my wits end, I realized I still needed a solution to this problem and giving up was not an option. So in an attempt to minimize the amount of custom work I figured I'd have to do at this point I decided to take the front covers out to the car and fit them. Amazingly, those appeared to be a good match.

About an hour passed before I got the email response from GAHH, who were willing to allow me to return all the products for a full refund. But by this time I had calmed down and wrote another proposal to GAHH -- simply put, to keep the front seat components and return all the back seat components....along with my original covers -- one bolster, one headrest, one backrest and the seat base, assuming they were willing to template my covers precisely. I spoke to them the next day. They were concerned about the timeframe I had mentioned in another conversation, particularly given that some of their staff would be on holiday around the 4th of July, but I confessed that at this point my original schedule was not possible and I would be willing to accept any reasonable timeframe up to 60 days to receive first articles. They suggested they could easily meet that schedule and would ship some of the simpler pieces likely within a few weeks, so we agreed to proceed.

So it appears once again that I'm blazing the trail. While this was the last thing I wanted to do it's fair to say that the work I coordinate with GAHH over the coming weeks will benefit not just me, but all E36 owners with sport package interiors. If all goes well you'll be able to buy a complete leather set from GAHH with confidence that your covers will fit and the knowledge that my covers made it all possible. You can hit the new Donate button now if you would be so kind. Rest assured, every click will help lower my blood pressure a few PSI.

Broken Bolster Mounting Flange

In the process of pulling the bolsters out of the car for fitting I noticed my driver's side bolster's mounting base was cracked where the rectangular extension snaps in place. I don't recall how it broke -- I may very well have done it at one point while trying to figure out how to remove the cursed things. A minor issue in the grand scheme, but I went in search of possible fixes, my first choice being a new bolster.

(Image: Hog rings and pliers purchased for the job)

My dealer confirmed that only four bolsters of one side and one bolster of the other side are left in worldwide inventory (all located in Germany). The downside? They were all black leather. So I could probably replace the bolster if I really saw a need to do so but I'd have to toss the factory leather cover. I didn't bother to ask the price, but my guesstimate was "are you out of your fucking mind?" So it's probably just as well that I've decided to repair mine. As the pieces that broke off are nowhere to be found I think I'll just buy a sheet of ABS and leverage the remainder of that plastic epoxy I used to fix the ZKW mounting rail to repair this part.

Oh, and incidentally I also asked my dealer about the rectangular extension as that was a separate part in ETK as I didn't know at the time whether that was broken as well. Yup. You guessed it. No longer available. I'm beginning to get the idea BMW wants me to buy a new car. Fine. Put the E30, E36, or E46 back into production and I'll think about it.

Hog Rings and Pliers

While at the dealer I also picked up two 100 count packages of hog rings. Then, on the way home, I stopped at Eppy's and bought a GearWrench branded set (part number 3207D) of two hog ring pliers (one straight, one 45 degree offset) for $38. Not cheap, but they appeared to be of reasonable quality and, as I discovered soon after getting back in the car, the BMW hog rings mated perfectly with the tool. A particularly smart feature of these tools? A spring that, contrary to the operation of most tools with such things, keeps the jaws closed so you can load up a hog ring and not worry too much about dropping it in some nook or crevice of the seat.

Now all I need is a set of covers.


Mileage: 263600