Reversing Camera Retrofit

The E38 7 series, the E39 5 series, E46 3 series and the E53 X5 all have a similar sat nav/TV system available as optional extras. 

What isn’t so well known is that the video module is already prepared for the installation of a reversing camera. 

We’ve done a couple now on E38 seven series and it’s worth detailing the procedure for installing an OEM style reversing camera using the OEM cabling, modules and screen.

For this to work in your car, you need to have at least the the factory sat nav and TV options. Ideally you’ll be using the 16:9 wide-screen monitor too.  

For the E38 – particularly if it is fitted with PDC – the most appropriate camera is one which looks like a parking sensor. We have used this one more than once and it’s cheap, but entirely functional. It also supports NTSC if you’re using the standard BMW screen in the UK. 

The only other item you’ll need to buy – and it’s not strictly necessary, just a lot simpler – is the AV “breakout” cable (also handy if you’re fitting a TV tuner or DVD player into your system. 

We’ve had success with this one, but there are a few on the market.  It fits between the white socket on  your TV/video module and the connector and gives various AV inputs and outputs – including a video input to the dedicated reversing camera channel. Alternatively, you can use the pinout diagram below to connect the camera output to pins 13 and 14 of the white plug.   

You’ll need to access the TV/video module in the left hand boot area.  This photo is just to help identify it, but it’s the big box with the blue and white plugs and the two aerial type connectors. 

If you’re using the breakout cable, just plug it in. There will be a wee bit of white wire that you don’t know what to do with. Keep hold of it just now.  

Fitting the whole setup is no more than a couple of hours work.  

Take the centre rear bumper trim off and measure the centre point. The camera above comes with a correctly sized holesaw, so you just drill out the bumper trim and partially fit the camera. Don’t push it fully home in the hole you’ve cut just yet, you’ll need to adjust its rotation later. 

You then need to get the wiring into the boot area and it’s up to you how you do it. There are a couple of holes there already and the PDC sensors use holes, but I drill a small hole in the wiring channel and fish it through with a bit of welding rod. Fit a grommet to avoid chafing.  

Now to deal with the wiring. 

The camera needs power and earth and the video output from the camera connects to the breakout cable. This is where the wee white wire comes into play too.  When pin 17 of the blue connector on the video module  is connected to ground, the signal from the reversing camera channel is displayed on the monitor. So you need to connect that pin to ground when the camera is switched on. 

First get the power for the camera. Easiest place to find that is at the reversing lights. Splice in there and take two feeds from there. Run one to the camera positive. 

Now using a standard automotive four pin latching relay, connect the other positive you spliced from the reversing lights to pin 86 of the relay. Connect pins 85 and 87 along with the negative or ground connection from the camera to earth. 

The wee white wire is connected to pin 30 of the relay and the terminal end of that wire goes into pin 17 of the blue plug at the TV module. 

Pins 85 and 86 operate the relay when reverse is selected and makes the connection between pins 30 and 87, thus connecting pin 17 of the blue plug to earth.   

Ignore “Power source” in the diagram below because you’re using it to connect a terminal to earth, not power. 

Putting the car into reverse powers the camera via the splice from the reversing lights and the earth you connected; and the relay is latched by the other splice.   Latching the relay connects pin 17 of the blue plug to earth and displays the camera output in the screen. 

There are earth combs and relay holders in the area of the fusebox beside the battery.  

Connect the video output from the camera to the appropriate connection on the breakout cable and your camera should work when you put the car into reverse.  

Test it, and rotate the camera to get the picture the right way up, then push it fully home and bolt it all back together and your 20 year old executive saloon will have another function still sold as an optional extra on new executive saloons. 

“Nice tables mate…..Nice contours mate….Pity they’re not….”

I don’t think the 18 way adjustable contour sports seats from the E38 have been bettered by BMW in the almost twenty years since they stopped producing them. 

They look great and they are probably the most comfortable car  seat you’ll have sat on. 

Even today, they are sought after – particularly for E39 conversions where they bolt straight in with  a bit of wiring – and it is far from unusual to buy a car with them fitted just for the seats.  Well, I  think it’s far from unusual.  

You can see why:-

If there are seats that are more desireable than the contours, it’d probably be the comfort seats with rear picnic tables and vanity headrests. These are usually found on highly specced iLs and our Cosmos Black car is fitted with these seats. Currently. 

I don’t know if the tables and headrests were ever fitted to contour seats, but I’ve never seen a set from the factory. I’m not saying they weren’t, but I’ve not seen them.  

The Cosmos Black iL has standard beige leather and despite the tables and headrests, the seats aren’t very good, having been badly overpainted at some point – and not using Liquid Leather products. 

We were recently offered a potential breaker in the form of a 1998 740i with very little going for it at all, apart from a sweet running engine, a not unreasonable spec and standard beige leather interior. Oh…. and these:-

A plan was therefore formed.  

The comfort seats are out the iL and the tables removed. It’s not difficult to do and if you need to know how to remove the tables, the best way to learn is probably to watch this YouTube video

Always tilt the top half of the backrest as far forward as it will go BEFORE you take the seats out the car. You’ll not get the tables out without the top backrest in this position.  I’m sure you can guess what makes me so certain of this? 

Another top tip is that if you’re buying a pair of seats for the tables make sure the top half of the backrest moves because stripping out motors and mechanisms to get the tables out certainly adds some time and swear words to the process.  

With the seats out and the tables and backs removed, you also need to get the other parts from the comfort seats that are required to retrofit the tables and headrests to the contour seats. 

Our experience is that you need to remove:-

The headrest motor and as much of the wiring that connects to the pin locating socket (which powers the headrest light) as you can get. This loom will not be in the contour seat loom.  You need these if you want the lights on the vanity headrests to work. Some may prefer to fit screens or DVD players as the vanity headrests aren’t particularly useful, and in that case, you don’t need the headrest motor. They’re only needed to power the headrest illumination 

The comfort seat stripped of tables, and headrest motor

The two brackets at the top of the backrest that you can see here.  Grind off the welds and remove the brackets, carefully noting and measuring their position.

The cross spar that goes across the middle of the seat back where two lower screws bolt in. Just cut as much of this off as you can. It’s easy to trim to fit.  

And you’re left with a pile of bits and a scrap seat that looks like this:-

Now fit these bits to the contour seat. 

Ideally you need to put a couple of M5 rivnuts into predrilled holes in the frame, but I’m sure you could manage with spring clips or nuts and bolts, but I put rivnuts in. That’s what the factory used and I struggled to get in to tighten a nut on the left side.  

Now you’re ready to test fit the tables. 

If you’ve got it right all the holes will line up and you can finish off the welding. 

To wire the headrest illumination, I just ran the cable directly back to the main power and earth sources at the connector block and soldered splices in using bits of loom chopped out of other E38s to keep colours consistent. 

That provides power for the illumiated vanity mirrors in the headrests. 

You need to trim the leather to fit back in the tangs around where the new brackets have been fitted.

And that’s you. Fit the seat backs and you’ve  built a pair of probably  *the* most sought after seats you can have in your E38.  

Next.  Cleaning, restoring and reconnolising the seats and fitting these pre facelift seats in a facelift car. 

At The End of the Day, it’s Just Another E30

This absolutely cracking wee 1990 215 bhp, E30 M3 came in the other day, with a potential blown head gasket. The owner has it had it a few weeks and was understandably concerned.  

It had apparently overheated – probably due to a burst hose – and the owner had, sensibly, stopped at the first sign of steam escaping and had the car recovered to a modern BMW specialist who had diagnosed a blown head gasket, but had fairly indicated that they weren’t set up to do the work. 

On arrival, I checked the cooling system for leaks and bled the system. There was no evidence of coolant/oil contamination and the coolant level was correct.  So I started it and carefully watched both for leaks and the behaviour of the temperature gauge as the car idled and it rose to, and maintained, normal operating temperature. 

There is no viscous fan on these 16 valve, S14 engines, derived  for the Motorsport division from the venerable M10 block, so when idling, there is no air flow  through the radiator, and the temperature will climb quite quickly. There’s a thermostatically controlled cooling fan which also appeared to be operating correctly. 

After about 45 minutes of idling, with the temperature being maintained correctly by the electric fan, I took it for a half hour run on mixed roads, some National Speed Limit and some Friday afternoon Hamilton Town Centre traffic. It behaved faultlessly and the temperature remained spot on. 

Back at the workshop, after it cooled down, the coolant level was checked again and found to be correct and further visual checks showed no signs of head gasket failure. 

As a final precaution, the owner agreed that a compression test should be done and I am pleased to say that all four cylinders came in between 11 and 12 bar, and I’m hopeful that the owner’s worst fears of head gasket failure have been dispelled.  There are certainly no indicators of head gasket failure.  

There’s no doubt  that – even though he was only minutes from home – his safety first approach of stopping as soon as he saw steam, and calling for the recovery service, was instrumental in saving his engine, and his credit card, from a very expensive cylinder head overhaul.  

At the customer’s request we had a general look around the car and found it to be in the the sort of overall excellent condition you’d expect to for a car that has covered only 80000 miles in its 27 years. 

And it’s another confirmation that even low mileage, well maintained, blue chip classics aren’t  immune and can  suffer in the standard E30 areas that are known to be rust prone.  

So, this fine, low mileage example of the exotic and iconic E30 M3, was found to have both boot pockets – on the M3 one is the battery compartment –  in the same condition as you’d expect of a standard 1990 four door 316i auto. 

Here you can see the extent of the corrosion and our usual repair with all the rot cut back, new panels fabricated and seam welded in place, welds ground flat, and rustproofed using Dynax UB. 

A couple of other minor wee bits and pieces, mechanical and aesthetic, were attended to and it’s off now to be detailed prior to its appearance at this weekend’s (17 June 2017) Milngavie Classic Car Show. 

A cracking wee car and a privilege to work on it.   

1986 Baur TC2 320i Recommissioning

This very original 1986 Baur TC2 has been owned by its current custodian for in excess of ten years. 

It has been used regularly, but is still showing a relatively low mileage and, like so many cars we see, maintained primarily to allow its continued use. It confirms the truth that cars when used regularly, will deteriorate with age as well as with mileage. Low mileage therefore, of itself, is no guarantee of condition.   

It is in better condition than most thirty year old unrestored  Baurs and its owner now feels that the time is right to secure its long term survival.  

We started with a full service, all fluids and all filters changed, new rotor arm and distributor cap, and timing belt and water pump changed.  The M20b20 is, in my experience, almost always the smoothest engine fitted to the E30 and this is no exception.  It has a beautifully quiet, smooth engine.  

It is showing some rust in some of the usual places, the front trays, footwells and sills in particular, so we started there, and stripped off the front wings, bumper etc. and started with the footwells, transport pads and sills. 

Here’s the offside with all the rot cut out and repair panels made up and welded in place.  The floor itself, the transport pad, the usual join between the floor and inner sill, the inner sill, and the jacking point on this side all needed rot removed and good clean metal welded in its place.  The forward portion of the outer sill had to be removed to allow access to the rusty inner sill behind itas can be seen here.

Here is the portion of the outer sill welded back in place. The outer sill around the jacking point will require to be replaced and the jacking point strengthened and re-attached. Before that, though the sills will be flooded with Dynax UB rust proofing.  

And here’s the passenger side with the transport pad and the rusty footwell cut out. This isn’t so bad and the inner and outer sills – at the front anyway – appear to be sound. 

The next stage is to grind flat the external welds, finish the floors and footwells,  recreate the transport pads and weld them in place.   

E30 Big Brake Kits

For Project “No Bother”, we designed a big brake kit for the front that uses cracking big E38 7 series four pot calipers; Corrado G60 discs – providing the correct offset and a decent improvement in size – these have to be machined slightly to fit the E30 centre bore; our custom modified 51mm strut housings and brackets laser cut from 10mm high tensile steel plate.

This is the result:-

We have a couple of spare sets

Comprises- Modified 51mm bare strut with ABS hub. No spring. No insert. No brake back plate.

Larger Corrado G60 disc with correct offset and bolt pattern. Centre machined to match.

Laser cut mounting brackets in 10mm plate.

One pair of E38 4 pot calipers. New pads.

A standard 15″ BBS wheel will not fit, though it is very close and may be machinable to fit. We have had 16″ Lenso wheels on and 17″ Alpina replicas without issue.


E38, E39 and E53 Instrument Clusters

The instrument clusters in the E38,  E39, and, E53 are interchangeable, though I’ve only ever seen the “low” cluster in the E39.  All E38 clusters are the “high” cluster.

All are renowned for losing pixels in the display – to the extent that sometimes even the mileage can be illegible.

We can now repair these using a brand new complete screen and/or ribbon from £90 plus P&P.

We can also code replacement clusters – from another car –  to remove the tamper dot, and switch off the ASC/DSC light you often find with a replacement cluster.

We can reset the mileage to zero – so that the cluster will read your mileage from the light control module – or to whatever mileage you want it to be.

Get in touch if you need your cluster repaired or recoded or the mileage corrected/tamper dot removed.

We can also code Light Control Modules, General Modules and EWS out of the car if required.



1990 BMW E30 318iS Project Turns Into S54 Powered Track Car

I’ve a little reluctantly come to the conclusion that this E30 318iS project is unlikely to get to the front of the restoration queue much before it becomes eligible for free road tax and I’m prepared to move it on to allow someone else a shot at building a very tidy 318iS.

I’m not going to feed you all the baby M3/prices are only going one way/better than a 325i/investment potential bullshit and I’ll assume that you know what an E30 318iS is and how much more unusual it is than the ubiquitous E36 318iS.

If not, it’s a sporty 16 valve E30. Quite sought after, it does perform nicely and very differently from the six cylinder cars. Revvy and peppy, it is quite an enjoyable drive. Only manufactured for about a year in 1990/91 it is one of the rarer E30 variants.

What is for sale?
It’s a very good, solid 318iS rolling shell. Effectively all the iS bits – except the black headlining – have been removed – believed stolen, but the removal of the engine certainly doesn’t give the impression that it was done by thieves.
A known good 97000 mile M42 with all ancillaries, loom, ECU etc. This will bolt in and once done, the car will drive. Everything required to get the car mechanically sorted is there. There are even some duplicates/spares.
A pair of 51mm vented disc front struts – it’s on 45mm struts just now.

What does it need to complete it?
Interior – we’ll have some bits which I’ll include, but it definitely needs seats and door cards
Front valance and bumper – I might have one
IS lip – I can get new for about £100
Wheels. It’ll come on four slave wheels
N/s rear quarter light
Other bits and pieces

But it’s a rare opportunity to buy a good solid two door genuine iS shell with some desirable bits – not least the complete 318iS running gear M42 engine gearbox, prop and diff, 51mm front struts, black headlining etc. Think of the value of the parts alone and it’s a good deal, never mind the good iS shell.

I’d consider an E30 convertible or a Baur or any other interesting classic (BMW preferably, but not necessarily) in px/swap too.

Sensible offers bearing in mind what’s on offer will be entertained. Stupid offers will be ignored. If you make an offer and don’t hear from me, you can assume it was a stupid one.

Introducing Project “No Bother’ – S54 Engined Track Focussed Car – Part 2

When I advertised this for sale, it was specifically on the basis that we were unlikely to have the time to build it up ourselves and it was really combining  two existing  projects together to free up some workshop space and time.

We had a good wee 318i convertible that I had acquired the 318iS running gear for, with the intention of building another car that BMW should have built – the 318iS convertible –  but, at about the same time as the shell appeared, I decided that the convertible would be better kept as a 318i.  It has low owners, low mileage and lots of history.

Anyway, I turned the two into one complete 318iS project and advertised it for sale.  Two chaps from a local garage  – one of whom I have known for a wee while – came to see it.

They were building a track car for a customer who had provided them with a V8 powered two door shell that he had bought – more of this shell later.  They had examined the shell and suggested to the customer that  it was looking likely that it would be more trouble to repair than it was worth and suggested to their customer that he should find a better shell.

They came to see this one, examined it, and declared it to be ideal for their customer’s intended purpose.  

Later the same day, their very enthusiastic sounding customer called and we discussed it in some detail.  He was of the view that his garage weren’t terribly keen on welding and much more interested in the mechanical side of the build and asked if we could prepare the shell to his spec and the two chaps who came to view it would then build the car into this shell.

No bother.

I spoke to them before agreeing, and far from being unhappy with that course of action, they were very keen, so from the starting point of  intending to reduce the projects we had to complete, I had managed to take on another one, but it was only a light refurbishment of an already sound shell.  It won’t take long!

E46 M3 Powered E30 – Project “No Bother” – Part 3

So, what our now mutual customer wanted was a bare bodyshell, repaired as required, and rustproofed for delivery to the garage who were going to build his car for him.

We started by getting absolutely everything stripped off the car and mounting the bare shell on our own custom made spit  and repairing what rust we could find in the sills, inner flitch panels, floor and footwells, transport pads etc.

Our custom spit allows 360 degree access to all areas and makes repairs so much easier. We have fitments for both E30 types and E24/28 too.  It also makes moving a wheelless shell much easier.


Once the shell was repaired,  the customer explained that the other garage weren’t all that keen on welding and asked if we could do some strengthening and weld in a roll cage that had been removed from the other shell.

No bother.

The cage was delivered and we spent a good part of a  morning trying to get it to sit in place. it just wouldn’t go in.

Then I checked the other shell.  No sunroof! That’ll be it then.  So, after discussion with the customer, who’s vision for the car is to try to make it look as much like a standard 318iS as possible, we shortened the cage and fitted the rear half in place.

We fabricated fillet plates to brace the strut tops to the inner wing, like on the factory convertible and welded these in place.

We shortened the front half of the cage to fit and needed to manufacture some pads for the floor to make it secure.  I was concerned that there might be very restricted head room with the front half of the cage in place and suggested to the customer that as it was to be a road legal, road looking,  and road useable track day car, it might be better to fit just the rear half cage. Another benefit would be to allow a fully trimmed interior and a full dashboard – without the cage requiring it to be butchered – to be fitted.  He was having none of it.

We found some Bilstein coilovers and the customer bought them.  At this stage, he thought it “might be easier” if we were to carry on with the build and deliver to the garage, a repaired, rolling shell, with the roll cage fitted.

No bother.


Project “No Bother” – Part 4

So, now the project that we were selling because we didn’t have the time to undertake another project is starting to grow into a bit of a project.

To recap, the shell is stripped,  rust free, the rear half of the roll cage is in, but the front isn’t,  and now we have to acquire, build and fit front and rear suspension in order to deliver the bare rolling shell to the garage who are going to complete the build.

We have already acquired Bilstien coilovers front and rear, and we keep strengthening pieces in stock for the front crossmember – around the engine mount and the ARB mounting points. So,  one of our strengthened front crossmembers was welded up and sent for powdercoating.

We have laser cut diff mount strengthening plates too and a rear beam was removed from the powdercoating pile, the strengthening plates welded in and the rear beam sent for powdercoating too. You can see the extra strengthening in these photos.

We acquired an E46 purple tag steering rack – which is an astonishing modification and if you use an E30 day to day, you really ought to do it – and we collected all the bushes, new bottom arms, rear trailing arms etc., required to build up the suspension and turn the shell into a bare rolling shell.

“I think I’d like it painted. Can you get your paintshop to paint it and can you build the painted shell up so that we deliver a fully painted, clothed rolling shell to the garage for them just to fit the running gear?”

No bother.

The bare shell acquired a pair of doors, bonnet and bootlid, a set of glass, bumpers, trim, a new front valance, lights and an iS lip.

All of these were sent with the car – still on our spit –  to be painted inside and out in the original Brilliant Red.

“The guys in the garage are really busy, while you’re building up the bodyshell, could you maybe run the fuel lines, brake lines and stuff, fit the fuel tank and brakes etc., so that it is really just the engine conversion that the guys need to do?”

No bother.