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5 Series DIY
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  #1  
Old 12-11-2010, 03:50 PM
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gonzilla gonzilla is offline
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Mein Auto: 02 540iT, 96 Carrera
DIY: E38 armrest retrofit (warning: MANY pics)

OK, right off the bat, this is kind of a lame DIY. I did this a few months ago and took a bunch of pictures in order to do a nice DIY post. Unfortunately right after that my dad passed away, so I shelved this DIY post for a while. I'm now unsuccessfully trying to remember all of the steps that were involved in it. I know I left out a few holes to drill and screws to screw. What I can say is that it would be hard to screw this up. It was relatively easy, it just took some time to get it to fit right. Hopefully this will at least save someone some time. Anyway...

So I was sick of the stupid armrest in our cars that has the hole, but no phone, and no place to store anything even though there is plenty of room. I wanted something with a little storage but I'm too cheap to plop down ~$300 for a Euro armrest with storage. I decided to split the difference and try an armrest from an E38. Although it still has the "phone hole," it also has two flip-up storage compartments on either side of that and is leather. One of the best parts is while it slides, it also has a lever that allows it to lock in place! All around it's a step up. I found one on Ebay for ~$60 and decided to experiment.



As you can see the E38 armrest is bigger and has a different base:

(E39 on the left, E38 on the right)





Here's the E39 with the base still attached (note how high the armrest sits off of the base)


Here's the E38 with the base still attached (note how it sits noticeably higher. you can also see the slide-locking mechanism)


OK, so basically all you need to do is swap armrests and bases. Unfortunately they aren't exactly plug-n-play. The hinges on the flip-up doors end up hitting the little wings on the back of the E39 base (the biggest problem), the armrest sits too low on the base and you have to transfer the slide-locking mechanism over to the E39 base as well.

DIY SECTION:

1. First thing you need to do is remove your stock armrest. Rather than beat a dead horse, I'll direct you here for info on that:
http://www.bmwtips.com/tipsntricks/Armrest/armrest.htm

2. Now you need to remove the armrests from their bases. Unfortunately I didn't take pics of this, nor do I remember all the details. However, this also leads me to believe that it's rather easy. I seem to remember that you access the screws from the bottom of the E39 armrest and may need to slide the bases fore and aft to get at all of them.

I also seem to remember that many of the E38 screws were accessed from the top (in addition to a few on the bottom). To do this, you must first remove the storage trays, which pull right out.


Once they're out, you have access to the screws.


When you're done removing the armrests, you will end up with two very different looking bases.

E38 on the left, E39 on the right.


3. Now it's time to see what you have to modify on the E39 base & E38 armrest to get them to work together. The first thing I had to do was to cut the plastic on the bottom of the E38 armrest handle. You can see from the picture that when you lay the E39 base on the E39 armrest there are two sections of the handle that will need to be cut before it can sit flush (outlined in purple magic marker (sorry the only color I could find)).


I removed the handle...


And started cut out the two sections that you see outlined above.


Attach the newly cut handle back onto the armrest.

4. After this, you have to shim up the armrest from the base slightly so that there is less interference between the base and the storage bin hinges. I used tomato stakes that I saw sitting out in the yard.


5. Now as you try to mate the E39 base to the E38 armrest, you'll see it fits pretty well. But if you try to open up the storage bins, no go. These little wings on the E39 base (used to support the back of the armrest) need to be ground down in order to allow the hinges not to hang on them. I used a dremel tool.



This part is kind of a pain because every time you think you've ground down enough, you still haven't. Just keep grinding and checking.

6. Now my memory gets a little hazy again here. I lopped off one of these little nubbins towards the front of the base (upper left silver part). I can't remember why and I can't remember if it was even necessary (I seem to remember after I was done I felt I didn't need to do it). But if there is an interference issue here, go ahead and lop it off because I don't think they'll be doing anything for you with the new armrest.
pre-lop:

post-lop:


7. The last thing you need to do is transfer the slide-lock from the E38 base to the E39 base.
There are just two screws that hold it on:


Remove them and take it off:


Now you just need to figure out where to place it. First I slid the base to full back position. I placed the armrest on top of the base. You'll see the little mechanism on the armrest drop down to engage the (not there yet) lock. Just figure that will be as far back as the armrest will slide, so base the lock position off of that. I used blue tape and purple marker to mark it, then drilled the holes.


This is what it ends up looking like:


Unfortunately, the lock sits farther out on the E39 base than it does on the E38 base, so you will need to grind down the end of the little locking mechanism arm on the armrest so that it is actually functional. No pics, but you'll see what I mean.

8. Try to find all the screws and screw them in. Then put that thing in your car!

This is how it ended up looking in my car (forgive the mess, I've got a one year old):

All the way back:



All the way forward:



Somewhere in the middle:

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Mike
'02 Titanium Silver 540iT Sport - Birch Anthracite trim, retrofitted window shades, DJ Auto Euro clear corner lenses, BSW t110 subwoofer, Dice Silverline w/DSP, lowering links. Lots of upgrades waiting in the garage for time to install
'96 Polar Silver Porsche Carrera - MY02 5 spokes, Bilstein PSS9s, Euro TT Sways, KLA Strut bar, Big Red TT Brakes, RS Motor Mounts, RS Shift kit, Recaro A8s, FVD 360mm wheel, HIDs, Big Oval tips.
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  #2  
Old 12-11-2010, 06:31 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Nice retrofit! Very innovative!
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  #3  
Old 12-11-2010, 06:41 PM
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Leovigilde Leovigilde is offline
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Location: Waupun WI
 
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Mein Auto: 94' 325i
Looks like it could be stock! Great work.
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  #4  
Old 12-11-2010, 07:49 PM
sidneyj sidneyj is offline
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Good work. Is there an E38 armrest without the phone tray I wonder? I think "Mack" did this on his 525. Edit: This link from realoem.com shows there is an E38 version without the phone tray, and, looks like there's options on tray type. http://www.realoem.com/bmw/showparts...61&hg=51&fg=35

Last edited by sidneyj; 12-11-2010 at 08:09 PM.
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  #5  
Old 12-12-2010, 08:59 PM
mrpumpk1n mrpumpk1n is offline
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Leovigilde, dude i gotta tell you, i think you have THE funniest sig pic ive seen on this board LMAO
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  #6  
Old 12-13-2010, 12:13 AM
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Leovigilde Leovigilde is offline
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Location: Waupun WI
 
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Mein Auto: 94' 325i
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrpumpk1n View Post
Leovigilde, dude i gotta tell you, i think you have THE funniest sig pic ive seen on this board LMAO
Haha Thanks, it was my buddies honda he did the swap!
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  #7  
Old 12-13-2010, 02:21 PM
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gonzilla gonzilla is offline
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Location: Redondo Beach, CA
 
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Mein Auto: 02 540iT, 96 Carrera
Thanks guys!

Quote:
Originally Posted by sidneyj View Post
Good work. Is there an E38 armrest without the phone tray I wonder? I think "Mack" did this on his 525. Edit: This link from realoem.com shows there is an E38 version without the phone tray, and, looks like there's options on tray type. http://www.realoem.com/bmw/showparts...61&hg=51&fg=35
Yeah I saw that too, but for the price, you might as well get the E39 euro armrest. At least you wouldn't have to mess round with fitment! I also saw this on ebay today:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/BMW-O...Q5fAccessories

Kind of wonky top, but I like the idea!
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Mike
'02 Titanium Silver 540iT Sport - Birch Anthracite trim, retrofitted window shades, DJ Auto Euro clear corner lenses, BSW t110 subwoofer, Dice Silverline w/DSP, lowering links. Lots of upgrades waiting in the garage for time to install
'96 Polar Silver Porsche Carrera - MY02 5 spokes, Bilstein PSS9s, Euro TT Sways, KLA Strut bar, Big Red TT Brakes, RS Motor Mounts, RS Shift kit, Recaro A8s, FVD 360mm wheel, HIDs, Big Oval tips.
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  #8  
Old 12-08-2014, 01:14 PM
Malberto Malberto is offline
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Mein Auto: 2003 BMW 540i ///MSport
Did this a while back thanks to this thread! Awesome mod! Thanks again!
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  #9  
Old 04-18-2015, 08:52 PM
mss1 mss1 is offline
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Had a hard time finding the armrest, without having to pay an arm and a leg. But finally founded in a junk yard who knew!!!. and only pay 12 bucks for it, and was just perfect.
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