When “Large and Luxurious” Just Isn’t Large Enough or Luxurious Enough

The E38 was BMW’s range topping luxury saloon from its introduction in 1995, when it took over from the E32. It continued until 2001 when, slap bang in the middle of the Bangle era, it was replaced by the E65.

As the top of BMW’s range, it was always a large, luxury saloon and was only available as a four door saloon. No factory 7 series Touring has ever existed.

Its specification, in contrast to other models in the BMW range which were known for their miserly standard specification – in UK market models at any rate – was always generous. Towards the end of production, the standard spec included:-

Electric memory seats;

Wood trim, leather;




Cruise Control;

Park Distance Control;

IIluminated interior and exterior door handles;

Soft close boot;

Remote central locking; and, much more.

It’s always amusing to see basic “taxi spec” models advertised as, “fully loaded” or “high specification”, while the truth is that while they are highly specified in comparison with normal models, they are just not highly specified for an E38.

Take front seats as an example.

The standard electric leather seats with three driver’s memory positions could be upgraded to :-

Sports seats – with the extendable thigh bolster;

Comfort seats with the adjustable backrest and four way lumbar support;

Comfort Sports – so called “Contour”  – seats with both adjustable thigh bolster and comfort options;

These possibilities ignore Individual trim and leather options and  heated and massage options.

Even the rear seats were available heated and electrically adjustable.

We built the “council house” 728i into a pretty highly specced thing with Individual two tone contour seats, electric rears, electric rear blind, DSP, SatNav and loads of other good bits like the so called “porn lights”, inlaid trims, folding mirrors, reversing camera and WiFi router. It’s a fabulous daily drive, and we’ve got some other bits collected for it too – rear air-conditioning, hydraulic boot and leather grab handles are all sitting waiting to be fitted.  But even with all that stuff, it’s still a bit ……well……basic.

So, to keep it company, we recently picked up a pretty late 2001 X 740il.

It’s Cosmos Black and the “740” bit indicates a 4.4l V8; the “i” bit designates fuel injection and the “l” translates into four inches longer. All of that four inches is in the rear passenger compartment.

But this one isn’t just longer. It has:-

Hydraulic soft close boot

picnic tables and vanity mirrors with rear blinds, electric sun blind, footstools, chromeline trim, double glazing, rear air-conditioning, Sat nav, electrically adjustable steering column, folding dipping mirrors, PDC, Self Levelling Suspension,  DSP, comfort seats, comfort climate heated front windscreen with top tint and  a rain sensor, electric rear seats, multifunction rear armrest,  sunroof, and loads more that I can’t think of

When it arrived, I started to sort out its little foibles when I had some spare time and a week on and the non working sunroof had been fixed; a window regulator had been replaced (and another has since been done); a (double glazed) quarter glass fitted; the hydraulic soft close boot fixed; the pre facelift bonnet jettisoned; the slam panel that had been butchered to fit the pre facelift bonnet swapped for the correct one; the bonnet cables and catches replaced/adjusted/lubricated; a broken air intake replaced; one PDC sensor housing replaced; front bumper replaced: headlight washers repaired and swapped into the other bumper; cluster whipped out and pixels repaired; rear bumper replaced ; a set of M Parallels sent for polishing , and, all the external trim removed and the car was prepared for paint.

In the process of being painted.

And now back from paint with its wheels fitted, we need to get the interior completed to turn it into a pretty special, very late, very highly specified E38 which I’m really looking forward to driving.

Now all we need to do is find a 750ixl – and unusually for BMW, the “x” here has nothing to do with all wheel drive, oh, and a rear mounted fridge, bullet proof glass, fax machine and a drinks cabinet.

“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.