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My main project this winter was to recover the Roadster's seats and door panels with Nappa leather. That, and do the console and door panel aluminum trim. Console was done last month. Pics of seats coming soon.

Here's the pic gallery for the door panels. Bear with me while I post several groupings of 5 shots. I'll also include a small bit of narrative, but keep in mind the picture journal is dropping out dozens of other steps. All in all, each panel, from removal, recovery, to reassembly.. took around 10 hours each. Maybe more. It was not an easy DIY, but it was very rewarding. The panels came out perfectly stock. I'm very pleased.

Starting out with the finished product pics...
 

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More pics...

Pic1: Pull everything off the panels. Door handle, two leather panels (one for the airbag), upper plastic trim.

Pic2: Leather panelettes are attached via heat-stalked melted mushroom head vinyl posts. The head are milled off and sanded flat using a dremmel tool. There is built in play in the door panel's post holes. I kept the vinyl posts in their oval shapes, because this provided a precise realignment method for assembly later on. There is a good deal of careful clean-of prep work done to the door panel and the posts.

My idea was to remount the leather panels with body panel screws (since the original factory heat stalking "ate up" the vinyl posts. One use only). The posts are hollow. I needed to use screws that were coarse threaded, and just the precise diameter needed. Too small and they wouldn't bite. Too large and they would split the posts.

I should mention at this point, that these panelettes cannot be ordered as a separate part from BMW. If the plan I had set forth did not work out, I had a back up plan of using a hot glue gun to attach the panels. The problem is, according to the reupholstery people this is not a long term attachment method. They would eventually pop loose. Other, more permanent methods, were not an option. I may need to replace the leather again some day. Servicability was key in my plan. If the plan didn't work, it would mean having to replace the ENTIRE door panel... $1,400 each. Gulp.

Pic3: The old leather was pulled off, and the Dream Red Nappa leather was fitted and glued on. There is a single french stitch seam in the forward panel.

Pic4 & 5: Cut off the excess leather at the top edge. Cut out the handle holes.
 

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And More pics ..

Pic1 through Pic4: The corners and edges of each panel have to be fine tuned. It's critical that they are glued down very firmly and smashed down hard. The upper folds in particular (where the aluminum cap goes over them) must be dead straight and "tucked" just right for alignment purposes.

Pic5: Pressing down the edges. There is a trough / groove in the door panel that receives this "bead" in the leather panels. Nappa leather is fairly thick.
 

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Next round...

Pic1: Sand off the high spots with the dremmel tool. Again, to minimize the profile of the leather so that the panel lays very tight into the door panel groove.

Pic3: This seam is critical. If even the tiniest gap is present, you would be able to see the black vinyl of the door panel through the seam on a sunny day. It's also a very thick seam at the top. It's ground down thinner, but not so much as to go through the fold of leather.

Pic4: Double check fit.

Pic5: I spray painted a red strip behind where the seam happens, so that if I was unable to close the gap, at least red would show through. The gloss was a mistake.. but try finding matte flat red spray paint (grins). It turns out later during assembly that the seam was very tight, so the paint was not necessary.
 

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Next..

Pic1: A French seam is a double-row stitched seam. There are two ways to do them. The factory OEM way is to not have a backing piece of leather to hide any potential separation. These are done using the backing method. This makes the seam thicker though, so I had to grind out a well in the door panel's vinyl (the hidden part behind the leather panel) to make room for the extra thickness.

Pic2: Carefully align and then punch out the holes along the top of the panels. This is where the aluminum trim piece's vinyl posts go through. They help to hold the leather panels on very tightly. Alignment is important, because if the holes permit too much slack than you wont get the right "tensioned look" in the leather panels at the top. If the holes are off the other way they can "tug" the leather, creating.. not as much as a wrinkle.. but a "wave" in the finished panel. The holes have to be just right.

Interestingly, these holes.. on the airbag panel.. in my opinion, severely hamper the airbag's ability to deploy. The airbag must rip through 4 tangs of leather, all with the high tension of the aluminum trim strip holding it down. Air bags are very powerful. But even if it was strong enough to rip through all this, that in itself would translate to the aluminum door trim launching itself into your shoulder at lightening speed. I am no longer surprised why, when looking at pictures of crashed Z3's, that the side airbags have not deployed. I debated on "slitting" the hole tangs. But, this would contribute to ruining the look of the panels.

Pic3: These body panel screws work so well because they have an inverted "pie pan" head washer to them. This allows the vinyl post of the leather panel to be "sucked up" slightly into the screw head area.

These screws had to be ground off just the perfect length. With a variance of no more than a third of a milimeter. The vinyl posts are very very short. I deliberately drilled them all the way through in order to pick up another half mm of depth. The screws have to be long enough so that they come to just barely past the vinyl panel. The polyester batting on the other side can hide just a tiny bit of a protruding screw thread... but not much. When assembled, only 2 or 3 threads are biting the vinyl post shafts. A dab of Barge cement to keep them from backing out under summer heat. Voila. It worked great. Good solid hard bite and torque. The panels aren't going any where... and now they're servicable!!

Pic4: Special prep for the air bag reinforcement vinyl cage. Had to make room for the screw heads.

Pic5: Dremmel tools of the trade.
 

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Last round.. Phew!

Pic1: Align and mount panels using screws.

Pic2: Install aluminum hockey stick trim. The recycling technique I used on the leather panel's vinyl pins would also work on the upper door trim.. in case you ever find your self wanting to do your leather panels and then re-use your trim pieces. In my case I was switching to aluminum trim from black plastic, so the new trim pieces came with fresh unused vinyl pins.

I used a $2 rivet tool from the leather supply store to create the mushroom heads. This particular rivet tool has an inverted conical shape to it (the top of a mushroom). It worked great. Heat it up with a propane torch, then hold it over the vinyl pin and patiently wait for it to mushroom over. You don't want the mushroom head to be smashed down super flat. Remember, the mushroom is forming the washer that holding the trim down (and under considerable tension with new leather panels). You want to mushroom it over, but leave some meat to it. If it's too thin it coul break the mushroom / washer later (like.. when the panel is on the car!).

Pic 3: I practiced first on the old black plastic trim.

Pic4: Glue on the leather flaps of the door handle.

Pic5: Attach the door handle. This worked out beyond cool. The door handles have a single vinyl pin as well. One use. I ground mine off, then drilled it out. Then used a 1-1/4" body panel screw. I heated the vinyl handle some with a heat gun first. (this kind of vinyl is designed to be heated). Then I put the screw in. Whoa. Very tight. Excellent bite. No signs of the vinyl post wanting to split at all.

This pin is important because it draws the door handle down tight against the leather, and "pooches in". A lot of tension is needed. I used an extra washer. The result is, the door handle is waaay waaaaay tighter and tougher than it ever was from the factory. And, the handle is totally reusable now. Important, if you have $350 leather covered M handles (I couldn't afford those. Darn it).
 

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Discussion Starter #9
The car is Alpine White. I'll post some full car pics with all the components installed once I get the car Zaino'd up and we get a sunny day here. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
01silber said:
Ohhh , When you got the alum trim door pieces where they one metal and one platic left/right
The black or beige plastic trim pieces are just solid vinyl.. that color. The Aluminum ones are the same trim piece, but capped with a second, 1mm thick cap of aluminum. But yes.. weird as it is, the driver's side cap piece is actually plastic (just like the console trim), and the passenger side one is an aluminum cap. They don't look identical, but as others have mentioned, .. once installed and now 5 feet apart from each other, you can't tell.

After all these mods, I actually prefer the look of the "plastic aluminum" trim. Also, it's easier to work with. The real aluminum trim one was not a one thousand percent perfect fit like the plastic one was. Also the aluminum one has "spattering" on it. If I had to guess, I'd say it's metalic paint over real aluminum. I returned it for a second one, but they all seem to have this micro splattering on it (you have to look really close). The Plastic painted to look aluminum looks cooler, and can be detailed with Meguiars plastic detailing spray, and comes out awesome.


-Bill
 

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Beautiful work! I'd love to do something like that in my Coupe... black/beige would be rich!
 

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TurnAround said:
The black or beige plastic trim pieces are just solid vinyl.. that color. The Aluminum ones are the same trim piece, but capped with a second, 1mm thick cap of aluminum. But yes.. weird as it is, the driver's side cap piece is actually plastic (just like the console trim), and the passenger side one is an aluminum cap. They don't look identical, but as others have mentioned, .. once installed and now 5 feet apart from each other, you can't tell.

After all these mods, I actually prefer the look of the "plastic aluminum" trim. Also, it's easier to work with. The real aluminum trim one was not a one thousand percent perfect fit like the plastic one was. Also the aluminum one has "spattering" on it. If I had to guess, I'd say it's metalic paint over real aluminum. I returned it for a second one, but they all seem to have this micro splattering on it (you have to look really close). The Plastic painted to look aluminum looks cooler, and can be detailed with Meguiars plastic detailing spray, and comes out awesome.


-Bill
First of all I would like to say that the panels look fantastic great job :bling:

About the plastic vs metal trim pieces, made me wonder if our (RHD) models come with the reverse setup to yours? If so, you could have a perfect set.
 

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Very nice Turnaround, one question, why was the French stitch needed??
 

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Discussion Starter #19
mng said:
i would love to add grey to my doors. but that job is skeery
Don't cross it off yer mod list quite yet. I'm sure we could set you up. :thumbup:
 

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Discussion Starter #20
idblackz3 said:
one question, why was the French stitch needed??
I've never studied the panels on a '97, but I can only presume you have this as well.... There's a single seam just underneath / behind the door handle. It's just for looks. The way BMW designed it. The panel could be done without it (and would be simpler then). I really like the look of the OEM seam. I had my seat reupholsterer dude do the seam for me, as he has the sewing machine and those particular leather skills.
 
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