Tuesday 24 September 2013

E21: Deep 'Alpina' Style Front Valance on eBay UK

** UPDATE - This sold for the same £51 bid that was there on day one of the auction, but alas I missed the end.

I've been looking for a replacement chrome rear-bumper to get rid of the two minor, but ugly, dents on mine and spotted this -


A super-rare for the UK deep front-valance / bumper, I think from the 'Alpina' models and it's genuine BMW. Probably going to sell for way over the current £50 bid, but I think I will be having a cheeky bid myself if it doesn't go stratospheric.

Saturday 21 September 2013

E21: Front indicators - a common problem?

Is your front corner-indicator not working, but the bulb and fuse are fine?

Mine wasn't and it turned out to be the metal live-clip that sits against the bottom of the bulb. Not the best of designs, connection is lost to the bulb if the clip is bent back slightly, causing the indicator to fail intermittently [denoted by faster clicking of the turning-signal]. The clip having a little corrosion or crud on it is also enough to stop the bulb getting a signal.

A quick clean up with emery-cloth and a slight bend forwards so it sits tight on the bulb was enough to get mine working solidly again. This could be a common problem, especially in the UK and Europe where grime gets pushed everywhere in an E21, so if your fuse and bulb appear fine, but the indicator won't work, you can bet it's the live-clip.


1. Dis-connect the corner indicator wiring by sliding apart the plastic-clip located behind the headlamp under the bonnet and push it through the hole to the outside of the wing.

2. Remove the two crosshead screws holding the corner-indicator lens and lift the lens off.

3. Remove the two crosshead screws holding the indicator-housing to the wing. The housing should now slide forwards and clear the wing.

4. Use nose-pliers to remove the metal live-clip from where it sits in the plastic-housing.

5. Bend the prong [denoted by the arrow] in towards the other prong, bringing the flat-edge down.

6. Clean up the face of the prong and the metal-contact on the bulb with emery-cloth.

7. Replace the live-clip to the plastic-housing and reverse Steps 1-3 to re-fit.

E21 316: Burst shock-absorber woes...

SPAX adjustable - like hen's teeth.
Well, I've had a bit of a nightmare week. As I was replacing the front n/s shock-absorber with the new spring, ready for the MOT on Saturday, the strut-insert burst in my face. To get an extra couple of inches clearance at the top and get it under the wing I'd been pushing the damper down into the insert. I figured they sit quite far down with the short-springs anyway, but eventually, probably after doing it several times, I must have plunged it further than its full operating depth and it popped, sinking the insert completely into the strut.

You wouldn't think pushing it down would pop it, considering the forces on it under load, but once its down far enough the top seal just fails under the pressure of the oil. You can have SPAX, as with most adjustable-inserts, re-filled and the seal replaced if you can be bothered to send it back to the manufacturer and pay the cost, but with time of the essence I just bought a new one.

Larkspeed in Leeds were the cheapest, though the price had gone up from £90 to £112 [and £118 now for the shortened!] for a single insert, but they claimed to have the part in stock and would have it to me by Tuesday the latest. Today I rang them to say it'd been a full week since they rang to confirm the order and still no insert. After half an hour they rang me back to say the insert had been specially ordered from SPAX, who were now lacking correct parts and can't build them until the end of October. I wish they had told me that last week as I'm now waiting on a refund...

Bilstein - fixed damping-rate and pricey,
nothing but good reviews.
I rang DC Performance.co.uk, who also claimed to have the part in stock and it would take 2 or 3 days. Before parting with any money this time I asked if they could check the insert is definitely in stock, which they are not, so it's not looking hopeful for any existing stock anywhere. I will be contacting SPAX directly from now on.

Monroe Gas-Matic - strong, but ride too soft.
So what are the short-term options? There are no ride-adjustable inserts in stock and available now, so it looks like i'm now bound to non-adjustable inserts. Stiffened Bilstein inserts are £62 each, where OEM-replacement ones can be had for as little as £20. With the springs this low, I have no idea what would work best. The sportier, better-brand damper might last longer under the stress and be a better match for the adjustable SPAX on the other side. Alternatively, the cheap, softer damper might compress better under the load and a pair will only cost £40 should the o/s one need swapping too. Another option is to replace both with Monroe gas-filled dampers for £123. The blurb says they are a heavy-duty design for trucks and vans, but according to this thread they are just too soft and will cause me to bottom out. So, £60 for one Bilstein it is, or take a chance on a cheap KYB. Hmmm, stress.

Sunday 15 September 2013

E21 316: Taller springs for MOT.

Well my MOT, the UK roadworthiness test, has come round and the E21 is just too low to get into my local testing station, let alone up onto the ramps. This is where height-adjustble coilovers would be worth their £650, as even if I can get the car onto the ramps, an attempt to raise the wheels off the ground will cause the short springs to become loose in the pans. The solution to this problem is still cheaper than coilovers - shortened strut-inserts from this post at ~£400, but I'll still have to find somewhere with ramps low enough to take her.

Seems to me the easiest and cheapest overall solution is to just swap longer springs in for the test and put the chopped ones back on later. Seems like quite a lot of effort just for a 30-minute inspection, but that's motoring in the UK, we're at the mercy of the MOT and it sees more cool cars off our overcrowded roads than insurance write-offs ever would.

Slight length difference. The red SPAX was a -40mm too.
A nice set of yellow APEX -40mm springs set me back just £80 from eBay. They are a lot longer than I remember though, which heralded me finally buying some spring-compressors, £17.99 and bringing the grand total of this years test to a ton before I've even had it inspected... not good.

Fitting the rear springs was a doddle, but the fronts threw up a few problems. Getting the cut spring off was easy enough, but even under compression the longer one was never going to fit in the space available. After damaging my newly filled wheel-arch and bursting one of my strut-inserts - nightmare - I started looking for a better guide on replacing springs and find out if it can ever be done with the strut and brake-line still attached, but one doesn't seem to exist - a good validation for this and other blogs! I did, however, find a Youtube video of some guys fitting H&R springs without removing the shock, which did give some clues from about 3min30 onwards:


Rear Springs - 

1. Follow the steps in THIS POST to remove and re-fit the rear shock-absorbers, swapping the cut-spring for the new ones, obviously.

Front Springs [without removing strut, steering or brake-line] -

1. Raise the car and remove the corresponding front wheel. [It makes life easier to drop the front on axle-stands and remove both wheels, doing both springs together.]

2. Undo the top-nut from the shock-absorber, located on the suspension turret under the bonnet, using a 19mm wrench and 8mm open-end spanner at the top of the strut-insert to stop it from rotating.

3. Disconnect the brake-pad sensor wire by simply pulling it apart at the join behind the disc and sliding the rubber-mount free of the bracket.

4. Remove the earth-lead from the strut by undoing the bolt with a 10mm wrench.

5. Remove the bracket holding the brake-line to the strut using a 10mm wrench and open-end spanner. [This is essential to free the brake-line enough for it to tilt forward without having to remove the hose and drain the brakes. Without freeing the bracket, the brake-line will be stretched to breaking.]

** If the spring is still under compression without the weight of the car on it, use spring-compressors to hold it short enough to loosen the top spring-pan away from the turret.

*** The strut can be tilted out far easier with the track-rods unbolted, using a 17mm wrench and moved out of the way, but mine wasn't budging easily and there is enough room if you can push the steering-arm down enough.

6. Remove the four nuts holding the anti-roll bar brackets to the sub-frame using a 17mm wrench and open-end spanner. The anti-roll bar should drop down and remove tension from the two struts.

7. Tilt the shock-absorber strut out of the wheel-arch, remove the top spring-pan and spring.

8. Drop the new spring onto the bottom pan and reverse the above steps, using spring compressors if necessary.

Wheel-arch gap a little more prominent. Was it really that much before?!

E21/E30: Crude Rear Seat Repair.

When the seats arrived the rear one had a noticeably big tear on the top of the back-rest. By the time I'd finished cleaning them however, there were now 3 tears along the same strip. I was being super-careful with the scrubbing brush, but after 25 years under the back-window the glue is coming away and the strands of twill fabric separate very easily indeed. An attempt to repair one of the splits only made it worse as the material is stretched by the glue and can't wait to rip.

I considered throwing the stock beige seats back in, but then had a moment of er, inspiration, and found a strip of spare material wedged into the frame behind. I cut it into patches and stuck them down with fabric spray-adhesive, £7.99 but it's strong stuff.

It's not the prettiest of repairs, despite matching the lines up, but looks better than threadbare, won't get any worse now and the interior of the car looks a lot fresher with them in I must say. If they're going to stay though, a permanent cover-up will be needed - probably in the form of a parcel-shelf re-trim. The beige carpet could do with a refresh, so I may extend the fabric past the shelf and have it cascade over the back-rest slightly. We will see.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

E21 316: Fitting E30 rear sport-seats - or having a go anyway.

Stock fit works, but leaves big gaps.
As with the front seats I used HSVTurbos build [here] as a rough guide. His rear bench-seat is the all-sponge kind, whereas mine have the sponge base, but a sprung back-rest, possibly due to the folding arm-rest or model year difference. This means I have a metal frame to work with on the back-rest, so it can be pressed flat to greatly reduce the proud fit at either corner, but also means more needs to be cut away than just blobs of sponge. The E30 coupe's rear seat-pan, the body-tub and front doors are almost identical dimensions to the E21, so the rear seat-base just slots in. There are no brackets along the bottom-edge to clamp the squab down, but with it seated flat and wedged under the back-rest these may not be necessary, although fabbing some up might be worthwhile to stop the carpet sagging down in the footwells.

The general shape of the back-rest is more or less the same as the E21 and the hooks fit into the existing brackets, though the E30's parcel-shelf is curvier, causing the back-rest to stick out slightly at the top corners. The back-rest also sits slightly higher, leaving an inch gap at the bottom between it and the squab. If these gaps don't bother you then the seat works fine like this and will only need a little chopping off each upper corner to achieve a pretty good looking fit. If they do, then a little more work is required to seat the back-rest flush and minimise the corner gaps.

The main problem here are the seat-belt reels, which protrude from the bulkhead and fill up where the upper corners of the back-rest want to be. The back-rest bolsters are also slightly too broad, though the centre of the rear frame is more or less a perfect fit to the E21 bulkhead.

Modifying the Back-rest:

1. Bend up the small hooks holding the cover material in place over each side edge of the back-rest and pull the fabric clear of the metal frame.

2. Cut away the side-support on each side of the frame, leaving just the edge of the 'mattress' frame that holds the springs, as in the photo below. The brackets at each bottom corner should come away here too.

3. Cut in half the metal bar that runs between the centre and bolsters, the one attached to the top spring in each corner, and trim away the top spring as close to the frame as possible.

4. Cut the metal bar running along the top of the frame about 4" in from either top corner

5. Cut away the boar-hair matting along each side of the back-rest to reduce its depth by about half.

6. Cut a 2" square from each top corner of the boar-hair matting to give a recess where the seat-belt can run freely back into its reel.

7. Replace the fabric cover, hooking it to points on the mattress-frame and tucking it under the springs. At each top corner, I pierced a hole and ran a cable-tie through to hold the folded fabric clear of the seat-belt reel.

Fitting to the E21:

To get the back-rest sitting flush to the seat-base the original mounting-brackets may have to be abandoned in favour of slotting the hooks on the bulkhead directly into the top of the back-rest frame. The original lower brackets are attached to the frame here and may need cutting off for a tight fit.

1. Hook the top lip of the back-rest frame over the metal hooks on the bulkhead. Press hard to make sure the metal bar gets over the hooks and not just the boar-hair and fabric. Give each side a good knock down onto the hooks. The top of the back-rest should be about 5mm lower than the parcel shelf.

2. Fit the centre arm-rest and lock the clips into place. The back-rest should sit a bit proud of the bulkhead and need pushing flat. Drill two holes through the back plate of the arm-rest and bulkhead. Fasten it together with two bolts or pop-rivets. Not only will this hold the seat in place, it will also stop it moving when the arm-rest is lowered.

Friday 6 September 2013

E21 316: E30 Sports Seats - fitted.

MJNewbs from eBay got back in touch and we finally negotiated a low enough price for the seats. The fronts are in great nick, only a slight fray to the driver's back-rest, but the rear seat back-rest has a few tear that I'll address in a later post.

Thankfully, the E30 seat bases fit onto the inner stock mount, next to the trans. tunnel, on the E21 so they are already sited neatly in the centre and only require the outer mount to be lowered. Here's how I finally got them to an equal height.

The outer seat-mount was cut away about 1.5 inches height from the lowest point of the floor-pan and the top half completely removed from the sill. This leaves a large flat T-piece section onto which a length of '2by4' style wood-beam was placed that sits at the same height as the inner seat-mount, give or take 2mm.

To strengthen the edge of the wood where the seat sits a piece of 2mm-thick angle-steel was screwed in place, clamping the wood to the remaining edge of the cut seat-mount. The M10 seat bolts run through the wood and are bolted to the floor-pan, so the wood only acts as a riser, not an anchor and the angle-steel helps to distribute any downward force on the wood, or twisting motion as the seat is adjusted.

I chose to bolt my seats directly through the floor-pan for strength and this leaves a gap under the base of the wood at the inside corners, which I stacked out with a nut and large washers. This gives the added benefit of the seats being bolted first to the wood, then through the floor-pan with the same bolt. The downside is the sealed floor-pan nuts will need removing should the seat need to come out in future. The alternative method, used by HSVTurbo in his build here, is to bolt the seats to a thicker metal bracket, then bolt the bracket through the wood and floor-pan. This way the seat can be removed from inside the car leaving the wood fixed in place, but I just don't feel this setup will be strong enough, even with the thicker metal bracket.

I used M10 nyloc-nuts with a dab of stud-lock inside and large-diameter [40mm] 'bumper' washers. A good blob of silicone-sealant was put between the washer and body, then round the outside of the seated nut. Finally, I coated them in a thick layer of Finnegan's WAXOYL Underbody Sealant, for protection obviously, but also to blend the shiny nuts and washers into the car's underside.

I still have the rear-seats, including the folding arm-rest, along with the door-cards/handles and rear trim-panels, so we'll have to see how much will fit after the MOT.

Sunday 1 September 2013

E21 316: Inner-Arch Fix + MOT Prep.

Hacking out the inner wheel-arches at the back to make the 16x9s fit left them in a right state, with a big gap up inside the wing. Being where it is, the gap is wide open to dirt and water flinging up off the wheel ready to rot the body from the inside out, so as a temporary measure I covered the area in ally-tape. It worked well, but was never going to last long. I figured the inner-arch would be considered a structural part of the body and would need a steel fillet welding in, but it doesn't appear to be the case so fibre-glass will do.

The area is a bit big for filling in though, so I shot up to Halfords and bought a square-metre of fibre-glass matting, £4.29. You need resin to apply it, which is a bit dearer. A kit is available for £9.99 that includes a small bottle of resin and a small mat, otherwise resin starts at a fiver and hardener is extra. The recommended resin is polyester-based, so it stretches, but I figure that marine epoxy-resin, which can be used for fibre-glass, will do the job as it may not be as flexible, but sure is waterproof and rock hard. I also happen to have a litre of the stuff left over from some carbon-fibre projects a few years ago.

I weighed the fibre-glass mat up to the whee-arch and cut it into rough shapes. The instructions say to coat the mat in resin and then stick it, but I found it just as easy and a little less messy to brush a little resin onto the surface, then stick the pieces of mat on dry and brush in heaps of resin over the top. The epoxy is quite thick and stiffens quickly, so this may the only workaround method using this stuff. It's certainly done the trick, the fibre-glass is as solid as the metal and has stuck well even to the rough under-seal surface, lets just hope it doesn't flex too much and crack away. It should see me through the MOT next week and that's the main thing, but at least there's no mud being flung up into the wing anymore. A quick coat of red-primer and the tester may not even notice the difference...