Thursday, March 31, 2011

Watch My Tail Lights Fading (and Replaced)

While neither of the tail light units on the car were in terribly poor condition, the driver's side one had some issues, mostly with the running light lens.

1) The old d/s tail lights. I suspect this is the original assembly from 1967; the passenger side unit appears to be of newer vintage.

  Most troubling was the crack in the lower left lens.  I didn't think the damage allowed water to enter the interior of the unit and affect wiring but the lens looked, well, bad.  Besides, the lens had clouded with usage over the years due to the running light continually illuminating and heating the plastic.

I discovered from La Jolla Independent in California that BMW in Germany only had six of the USA version tail light assemblies left in stock. That's right, six.  Luckily they were all driver's side units.  So the time to act was, like, yesterday and I ordered one of the precious items immediately. (On you can readily find the Euro versions with the amber turn signal lenses but that would have meant changing both sides, very costly when one considers buying the two units and paying the shipping costs from Europe.)

I examined the rear of the car to determine what would be necessary to change the assembly.

2) The old unit as installed adjacent to the rear panel and trim

The assembly was designed with a bevel that angles inward into the chrome trim that rests over the rear panel so the tail light does not just pop out as it does in the 2002. Furthermore, the tail light has a flange that slides under the trim.  Trust BMW to overly complicate the matter.  So I looked in the trunk to see how to loosen the piece of trim and removed all the screws between both the d/s and p/s light units, including the ones that hold the white anodized aluminum and the trim underneath, and those fastening license plate bracket.

3) The trim fasteners just below the top of the trunk and below, the bolts that hold the license plate bracket, the anodized white piece, and the lower trim. Note the after-market carpet from my old 2002.  It covers the trunk floor nicely but is not an exact fit

Care was required when fiddling with the upper trim because inside is the wiring that powers the Euro-style license plate lights.

Now I checked the unit itself. Two plastic nuts hold the bulb cluster in place; an easy removal.

4) The bulb cluster set-up

5) Cluster removed

To quote James Whitmore in The Shawshank Redemption, "Easy-peasey, Japanesey!"

The unit itself is held in place by four nuts, one on each corner.  Three are visible in the photo above.  With all the fasteners on the rear panel removed, the unit slid free without difficulty.

5) The empty socket

To satisfy my curiosity as to the condition of the old tail lights I looked closely. The gasket had seen better days but because the lenses are double-paned, the unit interior was dry and intact.

6) Assembly interior.  The plants underneath don't seem to mind. On the bottom two bolts you can see the nuts which must be loosened to remove the chrome horizontal piece, which is a separate part from the tail light unit

I now took some time to polish various metal pieces that don't usually see the light of day but frankly the results were underwhelming.

Finally I unwrapped my new tail lights.  I immediately noticed some interesting stumbling blocks.  First, there was no new gasket so I was obligated to pry the old from the original lights.  More important, the assembly did not include the top chrome part of the unit - I am not sure what it is called - so I had to pry the piece off my old lights.  Forty odd years of corrosion and road glue meant that the process took nearly half an hour of gentle wiggling.  At one point I was tempted to get a hammer but I resisted the urge.

 7) Here is what the old lights looked after I removed them

8) And this is what the unit looked like after I took the top chrome bit from it - a question of loosening some nuts and a lot of patient jiggling

But finally all was ready to install the new lights. I wiggled and pushed and eventually the new unit fit snugly into the edge of the rear panel trim.  I tightened all the fasteners and the job was finished.

9) A close view of the finished work: there ain't a dry eye in the house

10) And how the rear of the car will look to other motorists behind me

The last thing I did was to go in the house for a well-deserved cup of tea.

8) Dorey the cat and Maddy the dog join me for tea

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Shining

The anodized trim on my driver's door had its shine removed at some point and looked terrible.

1) The driver's door trim piece

After consulting with the kind people at, I had some choices to make. The first was to acquire a new piece of the trim. A look on German ebay and I found one, but the shipping costs were prohibitive. The trim itself was selling for 29 Euros but the vendor wanted 35 Euros to mail the item to the USA.  Yikes!

My online advisers also suggested I might find a reliable metal polish product and have a go with it.  So I went to my local auto supply store and found something called, generically enough, "Never-Dull."  I applied and buffed the stuff twice.  The whole process took twenty minutes and the results were about 80% satisfactory.

2,3) After the buff

So I'll save some money and keep with what I have done. The car looks a lot better and the total expenditure was $4.37.

Still... the thought of a brand new NOS trim piece is tempting.  Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


The very first time I watched the car being fired up by the previous owner, I looked underneath and saw that exhaust was pouring out of the joint between the forward muffler or resonator and the pipe that leads back to the rear muffler. The car sounded somewhat like my brother's old 30' Lyman twin V-8 wooden motor boat.

1) The Lyman in dry-dock; my 2000, with its failed exhaust system, sounded just like the boat

That wasn't going to remain satisfactory. I started making phone calls and was pleasantly surprised that the exhaust parts I needed were both available and inexpensive.

From an East Coast vendor I acquired new mufflers and La Jolla Independent in California provided me with the necessary tail pipe pieces. Best of all, they had the NLA chrome tip for the exhaust pipe. Now I was going to be styling, and after installation the car sounded like a cheetah, gently purring after sating itself with fresh meat.

2) The NOS chrome-tipped tail pipe and rear muffler

3) View of the resonator or "front" muffler. No rust underneath... 

4) Where the exhaust pipe connects to the rear muffler

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't Turn the Heat On When the Car is Cold

My owner's manual has a very interesting, if a bit run-on, sentence:

1) The manual. I guess arrows and curly-cues are supposed to distract you from the bad news

"Warning!  When the heater is switched on the second or fast blower speed should not be used until the indicator on the radiator thermometer gauge is within the white section of the dial."

What does that mean?  I can't blast the heat until the car warms up?  Who's idea was that?  Especially in a country like Germany, which is not exactly known for its tropical climate.

2) The heater controls -better keep the top lever away from the right hand side if you plan to engage the fan on "high"

3) The offending fan switch; bad enough that it's under the dash.  Locating the device and using it is akin to texting while driving (TWD)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Doors of Perception and Otherwise

This is not a treatise about Aldous Huxley, but rather a few remarks about the front doors of the car.  I  perceived quickly while buying the 2000 that the the two front doors didn't shut properly.  Again, since I had dealt with the issue during work on the 2002, I surmised that I could take care of the situation without much bother.

When I shut the doors, they did not stay firmly closed but rather jiggled in the frame.  Very annoying, especially when knowledgeable people tested them. For their take on the play in the doors inevitably became the basis to inform their decisions as to my own skills. Since those are not exactly outstanding, I was forced to take immediate action.

First, I noticed that the latches themselves were stiff with age.

1) The moving parts on the door itself. This is the open position. Originally the left side of the latch was topped by a plastic bushing but the only ones I have seen recently cost more than 20 Euros a pop

2) And here is the closed position

I doused them with WD-40 and shifted their positions manually many times, pushing the button on the door handle to do so.  After a few minutes they became as loose as, well, you pick the simile.

While that made the doors easier to close - no slamming required - it did not address the jiggle factor.  So I turned my attention the non-moving mechanism on the B-pillars.

3) B-pillar latch

Held secure by three screws, I already knew that for unknown reasons -at least to me - the screws had a tendancy to loosen with use and would not stay tight. Fast verification with a screwdriver proved my point. They were loose. This is a crtical situation, for when loose the latch itself shifts position and will not sit still. Therefore you get the jiggle.

So I obtained some Lock-tite. Loosening all the screws and shifting the latch to a place where I thought the door would shut tightly, I then tightened them to see if this was the case and closed the door. Perfectly tight. I then examined the outside of the car to see if the doors shut seamlessly against the body of the car.

4) A nice fit, not perfect but what can you expect on a 44 year-old car?

Now for the final step.  I loosened and removed the screws, one at a time, and applied a generous amount of Lock-tite to the holes, waited fifteen minutes between each operation, and screwed the fasteners in tight. At fifteen minutes per screw this involved 45 minutes and an egg timer, along with some mindless CNN drivel on television to kill time.

Now when people open the car doors, they are suitably impressed with the car and with my (almost non-existent) skills.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to learn this stuff on my old 2002.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Curse of the Dome Light Switches

1) The p/s switch

 I bought the car knowing the dome light didn't work. Having gone down this treacherous path with my 2002, I figured I could get the thing going by taking apart the switches on the door and sanding them to renew the contact points.

This procedure proved successful with one of them.  The passenger side switch now worked fine but no luck with the driver's side.  Hmm, I thought, puzzled.  So I repeated the process with 60 grit sandpaper, scraping every surface on the switch.  Still no luck. Then I noticed that when the shaft inside the switch touched the body of the car - in the form of the hole it goes into - the light illuminated.  So I had power!  The issue had to be the ground.  I solved the problem easily by bending a small piece of copper wire around the shaft and running it to the screw that fastens the switch to the car.

Then there was light, and it was good.

2) The dome light blazes in garage-darkened glory

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Holy Grail: Euro Headlight Conversion

I didn't know much about headlight configurations when I started to explore the world of the 2000 but I learned fast.  Everyone seems to think that the European version is superior in style to the American one.

1) An example of the Euro headlight version; this car was for sale in Seattle last year, photographer unknown but thank you anyway

Not only do the single headlights look more sharky than the boring round American ones, but the parking lights are located inside the light units, outboard of the lamps.  Very, very cool.  The side lamps are used in this configuration for turn signals only.

Yet there is a certain disadvantage to the set-up.  First, other drivers, those positioned laterally to the car, cannot see the parking lights.  Since the lights are clear (white), they violate the American rule that parking lights must be amber and so they are also technically illegal.  The Washington State RCW, for example, clearly states:

RCW 46.37.100 

Color of clearance lamps, side marker lamps, back-up lamps, and reflectors.

"(1) Front clearance lamps and those marker lamps and reflectors mounted on the front or on the side near the front of a vehicle shall display or reflect an amber color."

A friend in Law Enforcement has told me, however, that this rule is very unlikely to be enforced, assuming all other aspects of the vehicle and its operation are legitimate.

But back to the Euro conversion itself.  I was determined to make the change but knew next to nothing about how to do it. I located this schematic on

And I had to locate the two grills to go with the new lights. 

I finally found reasonably priced items on Ebay in Germany, for sale by a vendor from whom I had bought a few small parts already.  An honest person, in other words.  The two headlamps cost 59 Euros and the grills around 50 Euros.  I had them shipped Express mail. The package took a mere four weeks to arrive at my doorstep, a land-speed record for Deutsche Post, no doubt.

When I opened the box, I was confronted with the following equipment, or lack thereof:

2) This unit was more or less complete but had no light bulb or position light socket (not visible here)

3) The other headlight was missing the outer supporting ring and spring assembly altogether

How these things were supposed to hold light bulbs, much less connect themselves to the car's wiring, was a complete mystery, eventually solved more by intuition than knowledge, of which I have almost none when it comes to mechanical and electrical issues.

I contacted the vendor, and, using the above schematic, said that I was missing one part # 15 (the supporting ring and spring) and two of # 14 (the plug terminal).  The vendor kindly agreed to look for the parts and offered to send them to me without charge.  Luckily he was able to locate a supporting ring because he deals in 2000 C and CS vehicles and the rings are the same in both models. Otherwise I would have been out of luck as the part is long gone from the BMW system and completely unavailable in this country.

Since these small parts were shipped in a much smaller package than the original lamps and grills, they arrived in two weeks, a flash in the pan, geologically (and postally) speaking.

The head lamp bulb and position light socket turned out to be easy to find in the USA; both items are still used on BMW motorcycles and on cars of more recent vintage.

4) The position light socket; it pushes easily into the back of the headlight housing: photographer unknown

5) The 45W light bulb. It is vital to use this one as the headlights are directly wired and do not have a fuse. Modern bulbs like the H4 are of much higher wattage: photographer unknown

As the headlight lamp came with its own inner support ring (unlike the one shown in the schematic) I was not obligated in the end to use the plug terminals.  But the outer ring that spring-loads the bulb was crucial.  I still thank my lucky leprechauns that the German vendor was kind enough to send me one.

The last step was to purchase new lenses, not because the ones that came with the headlights from Germany were bad, but rather in order to have spares on hand.  Here in the Pacific Northwest rocks fly and coyotes howl; the roadways are not our friends and drivers can easily find themselves with a fresh hole in a headlight. I changed out the lenses - very nice to have the brand new ones on the car - assembled the bulbs/sockets, and then was ready for final installation of the Euro system.

Here is the new look:

6) The headlights installed, with parking/position lights illuminated 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Rainy Day Removal

Yesterday the rain came down in sheets of water into the trees and roadways of our neighborhood.  Not wanting much to go driving in such weather, I took a deep breath - several, actually, since the substance is so toxic - and sprayed paint remover on the trim that covers the rear panel under the license plate and roundel .  This sheet of anodized aluminum had been poorly painted black by some well-meaning but misdirected individual prior to my guardianship of the 2000.

1) The car with its black trim on the rear metal.  While it looked ok from a distance, the black enamel applied between the tail lights was neither an original look for the car or well-executed in its application.

According the directions on the can of paint stripper, the user was supposed to spray the chemical in temperatures over sixty degrees F and in well-ventilated conditions.  The inside of my garage fit neither criterion so I turned on a small ceramic heater in back of the vehicle, masked the area around the trim with tape and newspaper, and held my breath while spraying the nasty stuff, with my face beneath my shirt and gloves on my hands to prevent skin burns.

I waited half an hour and cleared the softened and blistered paint away with a wooden stir stick, sawed by hand to an angle resembling that of a snow scraper.  Every thirty seconds I raced to the front of the car to draw a breath of chemical-free air.

When the mission was completed I opened the garage door and fine-tuned the removal process with paper towels, steel wool, and finally chose brake cleaner and Windex to get at the ornery spots the paint remover had missed.  When all was said and done the car fairly shone when I pulled it into the driveway during a break in the clouds and rain.

2) The completed work

The last step was to wait until the rain started again and drive the car to a local auto parts store to pick up a filter for the next oil change.  The rain, again gushing onto the streets like a mad waterfall, washed away all remnants of the various chemical fluids.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Refinishing the Wood Dash and Other Small Upgrades

The 2000 has a nice wood veneer dash board.  Probably a lot of the cars that still exist show signs of wear, age, and sun damage in this area.  Here's how mine looked a couple of months after purchase.  Note the splotchy wood effect caused probably by water and general neglect, the plastic shifter and the hideous seat covers:

1) Still cool, but splotchy and worn.

The fix was easy for the dash, involving only a package of 0000 steel wool and a small bottle of teak oil.  I spent half an hour rubbing down the wood until the original surface was revealed. Then I dabbed an old shirt in teak oil and applied the product evenly over the wood, taking care not to get the oil on any clear surfaces such as the instrument faces.

I found a wooden shifter on ebay for six or eight dollars and I had the seats restuffed and recovered with original-to-the-car vinyl.

2) The new look

It's nice to know some upgrades are relatively easy to accomplish and do not require the help of expensive professionals (with the exception of the seat vinyl). Regarding the dash, having worked with wood and wooden boats for a long, long time I knew exactly what to do to get the best look from the wood.

A note on the floor mats:  Originally bought in Germany for my now-expired 2002, they are genuine BMW NOS from the late 60s or early '70s. While produced for the '02, virtually identical mats were available in 1967 as an accessory for the 2000.