ZF Sealed For Life Gearboxes


When we bought this, the seller happily told us that it had a gearbox fault and that it would go into limp mode very quickly.  He wasn’t kidding! Within about 100 yards, it would go into limp mode (this provides fourth gear only – useable, but a bit of a pain, particularly taking off from standing on a hill!). Though, if you cleared the fault code, the car would drive normally until the next time you switched the ignition off.

Reading the codes showed that it had had problems with the fluid temperature sensor and gear monitoring.

We did all the work detailed in this blog entry and had reached the stage where we had to come to a decision about what to do with the gearbox fault.

BMW originally stated that these gearboxes (ZF5HP) were sealed for life and no fluid changes, checks, or top ups were required. They pretty quickly changed their tune and now suggest a fluid change and a filter at 100,000 miles.

Anecdotally, a transmission service can cure many “faults” and the never, ever wrong, ever, internet suggested that the fluid temp sensor fault “might” be cured by a fluid and filter change.

The car has only done 88000 miles, but it is nearly 20 years old and a few litres of fluid and a filter can’t go wrong

The proper fully synthetic fluid is quite dear, though the filter isn’t terrible. I reckoned about £100 at trade prices would get the fluid and filter. A DIY transmission service isn’t particularly difficult, but you are really only draining the fluid in the sump and you do leave a couple of litres in there, in the torque converter in particular.  To get it all out, you really need to use a specialised pump and even just filling it to the correct level is a bit of a pain for those without the special equipment.

I phoned the local ZF agents/service centre (Mackie Transmissions)  and they would supply us the correct fluid and filter from stock for just under £100. Or, they’d drain it, flush it, fit the filter and refill it for about £150. That’s a fluid change rather than just drain and refill. Go on then.

They were very professional.  They asked if there were any faults and explained that there was no guarantee that any faults would be fixed and in fact, some faults were known to get worse after a service.

We dropped it off first thing – in fourth gear – and they phoned at about 4:00. It was done and had been serviced successfully, but, unfortunately, it was still going into limp mode within a very short distance. The codes thrown were gear monitoring and slippage in second gear and third gear.  Only a rebuild would fix it – at a cost of about £1800!

Well, it was worth a try.  I’ll look out for a good secondhand gearbox, then.

We collected it and, sure enough, it went into limp mode after a few yards. I cleared the codes and drove it back.

I used it the next day, doing the same thing, clearing the codes and just driving it.  The next day, I thought it might have taken very slightly longer – maybe a few hundred yards –  to fail into limp mode and after a week, I was getting a few miles. After a fortnight, it went from East Kilbride out to Milngavie – 15 miles or so. Now, four or five weeks later – and I’m jinxing it now – it hasn’t gone into limp mode in over a week.

I’ve used it in manual, auto and sports mode; driven it gently, driven it normally and red lined it more than once,  and the gearbox “appears” to be working perfectly.

Now, I am not unrealistic, the gearbox may chuck its toys out the pram at any point and I may just be having a run of good luck, but my advice if your ZF5HP (fitted to loads of mid to late 90s onwards stuff, not just BMWs) is dropping into limp mode, without any obvious noise, bangs, clunks or slippage, is that a fluid and filter change is definitely worth a try before condemning the gearbox to the scrap pile.

What odds on “BONG” “Trans Failsafe Prog” tomorrow?


The Answer to all, “What Luxury Saloon Should I Buy?” Questions is……

….is, as I’ve often said, “E38”.

Recent events have  made me look at the E38 question again and I thought it might be time to detail the situation which appears to be getting out of hand

Currently, there are four here. Two breakers, one just about to find a new home, and one just about to be made into what I hope will be a lovely car.

It’s all a customer/friend of mine called Scott’s fault. He obtained a free 735i and offered it to me at a price that made it very foolish not to buy a car with full electric leather and a running Motronic fed V8 (no carbs, points etc.). It also sat on a decent set of 16″ Imperial Style 5s which are sought after by metric avoiding E24 and E28 owners. In fact these very wheels now grace an E24 Highline.

But it needed a tank and brakes and a radiator. At least.

Then I found another identical car that was cheap – because the gearbox was u/s – but had had a recent new tank, new brakes and new suspension. So it would be able to provide all the bits required to repair the first one. So I bought it too.

So, now I have two 1997 735is, but neither of them roadworthy. Sound familiar? I have a car needing brakes, suspension and a tank and one needing a gearbox and a window regulator. So, I decide that I should probably build the better one – the second one – using the  gearbox and window regulator from the first one.

At around this time, another local specialist trader  – a motorcycle dealer I’ve know for years, literally wouldn’t take “No” for an answer – despite several attempts – and I reluctantly became the owner of a silver facelift 728i with a long MoT and a smell of petrol for about the cost of the BMW battery in the boot.

This purchase made me rethink the “two 735is into one” plan and I realised we’d spend at least  three days and some consumables building a car worth about £750, so, I put the plan on hold and ran about in the 728i for a few weeks before a very enthusiastic young Polish couple acquired it at a decent profit and immediately – and I mean with 45 minutes – put it through three speed cameras on the way home to Edinburgh. Always, always email a copy of the receipt to any purchaser you don’t know personally before they leave your premises.  It’ll prove handy when the Police come looking for speeding camera offenders.

So, now I’m back on the one good 735i from two plan, but it’s not really stacking up.

Then, the stack collapsed entirely when I acquired this Individual Mora metallic 740i beauty with extended leather, Individual interior, some decent spec and the now familiar smell of fuel:-

This was – is – a peach – it needed a fuel tank – spot any pattern emerging? – but it had a superb spec, quality colour, ran well and had the potential to be a lovely, lovely car.

So the two 735is finally became breakers.

Unfortunately, that potential I spoke of in the Mora monster was spotted by a customer one day, who waved cash in my face, offering me a not insignificant profit. I am sorry to say that I succumbed and, I  regretted it even before its bonnet was out the gate. I still do. I should have kept it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, another Mora Metallic E38 appeared on the scene, this time a 728i sporting M Parallels, Alpina spoilers, quad stainless exhaust, top tint screen, Shadowline, comfort sports interior, black head cloth, DSP, PDC, widescreen Nav, electric sunblind, folding mirrors, Brembos etc., etc..

However, it also came with some history – and not necessarily the desireable kind, though there’s a bundle of that too:- a colour change, faulty electrics, a smell of petrol(!), engine management light on, and a tamper dot on the mileometer.



So, it’s never going to be a retail car, but it’s got a cracking spec and because of its faults and “history”, it’s cheap. I’ve *still* got that good, new tank, despite it being earmarked for three separate cars now (this’ll be its fourth), so we’ll fix it up and keep it. I don’t care about its history. It’ll make a decent car to run about in, even if it’s just a little too “brash” for my taste. That’s a plan I can definitely  stick to.

Well you’d think so. It was a plan that unravelled before the Mora car was even delivered here.

I was offered a local, one owner, 88000 mile FSH, 728i in poverty spec  silver with black interior, with a gearbox problem, an ABS problem, and, surprise, surprise a leaky petrol tank, but it’s a lovely, unmolested, straight thing that has obviously never been apart, with quite a nice private number – not that I’m into them, but it looks quite good on it. The cost of this one owner, FSH potential money pit? Not a lot. That’s the plan up shit creek again and the fifth car to be promised that new tank arrives at Bavarian Retro Cars!

So, what’s the plan now then?
Well, the FrankenMora  car is now even more of a bitsa and is now poverty spec with an 88000 mile complete black interior (every single interior piece except the roof lining was swapped, carpets, door cards, seats, seatbelts, all trim, stereo, etc.), etc. Externally, it took the older lights, the eBay grille, the standard mirrors –  basically all of the goodies were removed and swapped for the bog standard stuff on the silver 88000 mile car. It sounds easy when you say it quickly, but there was a good three or four full days of work in that and honestly, the workshop looked like there had been an explosion on the 1999 E38 production line.

All the goodies are now scattered far and wide – well, mostly in the boot of the silver car – and all the Grey Comfort Sports interior is waiting to be cleaned and fitted to the low mileage silver car. Once we’ve fitted the tank, oh, and an ABS precharge pump, and tidied up a couple of bits of surface rust.

Here’s the Mora 728i now, ready to go to its happy new owner. I think it actually looks better with the black interior, black carpets, black head cloth etc.:-

And just to round us off nicely, and bring us back to the start, do you recognise the 415 TRX wheels it’s wearing now?

They were last seen gracing Scott’s – remember him? – E28.

E38 prices are all over the place just now. From previous experience with the E24 and, for a longer period, the E30, it seems to be a phenomenon that’s a precursor to them taking a hike. If you want a decent E38 for banger money, I really don’t think you’ve very much longer before they start to stop dropping in price. Anyone still waiting for them to bottom out is probably holding out too long.

For us, the E38/39 family is the last BMW, I’d be prepared to own, I think. Anything much newer (except the E39 based E53) is getting to be too electrically complex.

I’ll report on the build of the silver one in the next episode….unless the plan changes.



The Answer to all, “What Luxury Saloon Should I Buy?” Questions is……, Part Two

So, we left the “Strip both  and swap all the good bits from one to the other, then swap all the ordinary, povvo spec bits back into the one that originally had all the good bits” project a few weeks ago,  mid way through, with all the standard bits out of the silver car and refitted back into the Mora Metallic  car  and the Mora Metallic FrankenSieben off to its new owner.

It always tickles me to see E38s advertised as “fully loaded with electric leather memory seats, air con, cruise control, etc. too much to list.” That’s base taxi spec in a car that could be had with at least four different upgrades to the basic leather, electrically adjustable, memory front  seats; electrically adjustable heated rear seats; bullet proof glass; fridge in the back; picnic tables; TV; Satnav; and as many as TWO phones in the same car – one in the front and one in the back.

To be fair, Titan Silver, and standard black leather was very much poverty spec – as far as any E38 can be described as “poverty” – back in 2000, but we’ll change that.

We were left with a car with a completely stripped out interior – and I do mean “completely” – and an enormous pile of bits – and I do mean “enormous” – some of which were quite interesting wee extras.

There were a couple of  surface rust blemishes around the boot, so we started by getting them attended to.  We took the bumper off and sent the car off to the paintshop along with the bootlid lip spoiler we had removed from FrankenSieben.

While it was away, the plan was to refurb the interior and, incredibly,  I hadn’t noticed that the grey sports 18 way adjustable contour seats were Individual and piped two tone grey. It was clear that they needed a bit of a refurb, so a couple of colour samples were despatched to Gliptone and some Liquid Leather and Scuffmaster were supplied to improve them.


We did the fronts in the two tone and I think they turned out really well.

While I was still considering whether or not I could be arsed doing the rears to match, I acquired a set of electrically adjustable, lumbar support, heated rear seats in Nappa grey.  But piped. So another 250 ml of the lighter grey leather colour was obtained from Gliptone and the rears were made to match the fronts in the Individual piped two tone grey.

The interior we were using – out of, but definitely not native to, FrankenSieben – had one out of four of the door pull handles in grey stitched leather from an Individual or 750iL extended leather interior.  The same source as the rear seats managed to supply a pair of full  grey extended leather front door cards and the other rear handle in stitched leather. So all the door cards were stripped and the leather handles removed and  recoloured in the light grey to  complete the two tone Individual interior.

So, that’s the interior leather trim pretty much sorted out and now the car is back from paint. It was wearing mismatched slave wheels, so they were ditched in favour of the staggered 18″ M Parallels purloined from the Mora car.


There was an ABS fault which I tracked down to a faulty DSC precharge pump.  An in stock replacement was fitted and the brakes bled.

The later lights with clear indicators and the power fold mirrors had been swapped over prior to paint and, with the wheels on, it was externally complete, and so, unfortunately, there was nothing else for it, but to start reassembling it.

Start at the back and move forward is normally our approach, and originally, in terms of ICE  this basic car had only a basic radio and a fitted phone.  Nothing else.

The first thing to go in was the AV loom front to back for the widescreen Nav. It was run from the boot to the front and the monitor connected to let us check the functions as we built it. Then we started adding bits. A radio module, TV and video module, GPS antenna, DSP amp, and CD changer all came from FrankenSieben which also supplied an early Mk2 CD based Nav computer and “Trimble” unit required to make it work.  I managed to obtain the latest compatible Mk4 DVD navigation computer, a reversing camera that looks like a pdc sensor, and a break  out lead to allow AV input and output to and from the TV and video module.

Getting it all to work, upgrading the nav computer, finding bits not working, downgrading it to the  earliest workable version to get it all working and then upgrading it to the latest again is all a bit of time consuming hassle, but worth it.

Talking of PDC sensors, replacing one dead front one and one equally lifeless rear one got the PDC working again and annoying the Hell out of me.

The reversing camera was fitted to the rear bumper and wired via a relay (actually from an E30 convertible rear screen blower) so that when reverse gear is selected power is provided to the camera and a pin on the video module plug is earthed to display the output from the camera, no matter what the screen is currently displaying. This works well and is better than having to switch the display to the AV channel before engaging reverse.

With all those wires and boxes now in the boot, I decided that a CD changer was unlikely to be used, so it was jettisoned.  That left a spare power feed.  What to do with it?  A Zoom Mobile wi-fi router that had once provided the office wi-fi also came with a 12v power supply.  In it went and the car now has its very own wi-fi hotspot. The layout and wiring all took a bit of time, but it is now complete, uses all BMW parts (apart from the wi-fi) and could have been ordered from the factory.

So into the cabin and still moving from the back forward, the Mora car had an electric rear sunblind fitted, but not operational. We checked it actually worked and it was fitted and wired correctly to the switch in the front of the car.  Fortunately the correct switch bank was with the Mora car, but as not all the wiring required at the plug was there, we needed to butcher  plug out of a scrap E39 to add pins to  the existing plug and wire them up to get power to the rear blind.

The chap with the rear seats also supplied a non working blind which luckily had an older pre facelift type of switch, so we wired that into the rear of the centre console to allow the blind to be operated by rear seat passengers independently. So, that’s the rear sun blind in and working with switches in both front and rear.  If you haven’t seen one of these in action, it’s definitely worth watching:-

Next component forward is the DSP speaker box.  It’s fairly straightforward and just bolts in and connects to the main AV loom. Nice and simple.  Result.

Now what about the GPS antenna? Where does it go? Oh, aye.  Under the rear parcel shelf.  Nae bother.  We’ll just take the sun blind and the DSP back out to fit a stupid wee thing no bigger than a box of matches. And put them back in again.

Moving forward to the electrically adjustable rear seats.  I’ll just say nearly two days of trial fit, adjust, weld, grind, trial fit, adjust, weld, grind,  trial fit ……repeat ad infinitum covers it fairly, though it ignores the time spent trimming the brackets apparently chopped out of the donor car with a blunt fireman’s axe.

Then there was the wiring, which, to be fair was, pretty quick and simple.  Oh, and the brackets that have to be removed from the donor parcel shelf and fitted.

So that’s the rear seats in.  The front seats have monitors in the back of the  headrests, but like just about every other good bit in the original FrankenSieben, they weren’t connected. A USB bank, 12v charger and various cables and HDMI box thingy are now fitted in the centre rear armrest allowing pretty much anything to connect to the screens, which are now wired up,  and phone charging etc. to be performed.

So carpets in, interior built up, seats in, dash built up with widescreen monitor and Robert is your mother’s brother. .  Again, that’s oversimplifying getting the best bits of trim out of three cars – using Vinylkote 40 (matched by Technispray to a sample) to repair scuffed bits of grey trim and recolour undamaged beige to replace broken bits discovered on removal.  I think the grey interior into the Mora car was the first E38 interior whoever did it had done – lots of broken bits, Tiger seal and PanelBond.

The 16:9 widescreen monitor was in the Mora car and the chap told me it was an X5 unit. That’s pretty standard. 16:9  RHD E38 units are very, very rare and while they will fit E38, E39 and E53, the reverse is not true and only E38 RHD units fit RHD E38s properly. X5 units are plentiful and work, but need the heater box modified to sit properly in the dash.  Ideally the viewing angle needs adjusted too.  I was preparing to make these modifications and we fitted the monitor in place.  It fitted perfectly. It must be an E38 unit. Result.



There are a couple of niggles.  Along the way, the boot remote release stopped working and I’m getting a “bootlid open” warning (both now fixed).  The coolant level sensor is playing up. There’s a foglight out and I can’t be arsed taking the undertray off to fit a new bulb and, and this always happens – because we have a couple of breakers, whenever you can’t find a trim piece, nut, bolt, screw, clip, or whatever, it’s easier and quicker to just go and take one off – we’ve a box of hundreds of wee bits left over.

I’m going to use and enjoy it for a couple of weeks and shake down any niggling faults, then it’ll get brought back in to have the wee bits and pieces done, oh, and the tank replaced.  How could I forget?

It drives just beautifully and overall, I am happy that we have turned a lowish mileage one owner, but dully specced car into a cracking well specced old Luxobarge.

It’s lived locally all its life, it has done a warranted 88000 miles and has a full service history. All three keys plus the plastic one are there. It’s on M Parallels, with clear lights. It has power fold mirrors. It has working PDC and a reversing camera.  It has DSP; 16:9 screen; Mk4 DVD Sat Nav; electric rear sun blind; sports contour 18 way front seats and heated electrically adjustable rears all in Individual piped two tone grey; M-Tech multi function wheel; headrest monitors; entertainment in the centre armrest, and, wi-fi.

I’ll consider offers around the £3000 mark, but only because I’ve seen a cracking facelift 750iL, I fancy.


Coincidence? Or Something More Disturbing?

Well, FrankenSeiben is off to what appears to be an appreciative, permanent new home in the London area.

I’m pleased with how we managed to save a car with loads of potential and turned it into a decent car. It isn’t by any stretch of the imagination original, with different paintwork, wheels, lights and interior from when it left the factory, but I think the black interior suits it very well and it looks and drives superbly.

Here it is on refurbished 19″ M Parallel replicas which set off the Mora paintwork very well indeed


It is very interesting that the interior that is now in it came out of a car – the silver car – with a VIN number only 15 earlier than this one.

So, these two cars would probably have been together on the production line at Dingolfing, on the boat to Britain and in BMW GB compound in the UK before going their separate ways in late 1999, only to be reunited at our premises 17 years later.  If only Cilla Black was still alive.

In what may have been a bout of separation anxiety, FrankenSieben shed its serpentine belt midweek. The idler and tensioner were pretty worn and both date stamped “1999”, so they were all replaced and the car prepared for its new owner’s arrival on Friday.

On Friday, on the way to the station to collect the new owner in the silver sister car, the silver one shed its serpentine belt!

Who says cars don’t have feelings?

Me.  All that can be deduced from this is that the expected lifespan of M52TUb28 belt idlers and tensioners is *exactly* 17 years and three months.

You have been warned.

The upgrading of its silver sister continues – this car is like the terraced council house with home cinema, sauna, jacuzzi, guest wing, wine cellar and motor house.

Recent additions are the E60 M5 instrument cluster (actually an E53 4.8 iS cluster)

and the famed, “porn lights” – the same as the ones pictured below.

We also finally managed to remove the supposedly good tank from one of the 735i breakers and, unusually, found a secondhand E38 fuel tank in better condition than expected. It has done a total of about five miles since being fitted and is a genuine BMW tank.

It’ll get fitted to the silver council house along with recently acquired rear air conditioning, an hydraulic soft close boot and a practice putting green.