An exercise in beautification - BMW E39 by Mömus

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    • An exercise in beautification - BMW E39 by Mömus


      hope you don't mind me posting in English. I read and understand German just fine, but writing is a bit of a challenge.

      Finding the car.

      In order to promote our newly founded family business, we are building a demo car. We design and create automotive and road trip lifestyle goods, and want to build a car to show this off. Something we’d like to share with you.

      The car in question was to be a 2005 VW Mk5 Gti. It was my daily, and as both the designer and all round car-guy of the team, it was meant to be. Right up to the moment when the bolt on the camshaft sprocket decided it was time to let go. Heart broken, I put the Gti aside.

      I was in dire need of a new daily and so the hunt began. This time though, I wanted a bit more comfort and definitely more reliability. Not that the Gti was all that bad. It was a reliable daily that started on the button each and every time, it just needed a lot of maintenance to keep it that way. So the new car was to be easier on the wallet in terms of maintenance, a step up in comfort, and needed to have that coolness. It also needed to be a car I could build up to be something fresh, something that would stand out. Being a fanatic of cars of the German persuasion, I narrowed it down to the Audi and Bmw brands. Specifically the C5 A6, the E39 5-series and the E46 3-Series. Eventually, due to my passed experiences with both brands, I ruled out the C5, and went to look for the right Bmw.

      This new car was going to be used as the shuttle car for our company, and on top of that be my daily. I decided, even though I am a huge fan of driving a manual, that an auto-box would suit the use of the car more. Would it have fit my budget, a 330ia was the dream. Alas, I could not find the darn thing anywhere near my budget, let alone in it. Then a strange thing happened. I scoured the good old internet for some 5 series inspiration and came across a few of the older generations. Man, did I fall in love. Head over heals in fact. The E12, the E28, and the E34 were the new apples of my eye. I found a nearby E34 530ia. It’s the model with the smaller Bmw V8, and this was a model I had in fact driven years before, and really liked it. It was no surprise, as I love the V8 engine configuration in general. Just the sound alone… Don’t get me started.

      I called the dealer and a date to view the car was set. The day came, and right before I left, I rechecked the dealer's website to see the car again. Scrolling down I came across a pre-facelift, purple on purple, 528ia. Please, don’t get me wrong. This thing looked amazing. I had always wanted a really well executed, build-up E39. In my mind though, it was a 540i manual, and had to really entertain my optional-extras fetish. Why not an M5, you ask? To me the 540i manual had this whiff of rarity about it, like it was a special gem in the otherwise normal line-up. All M5’s were manual, so finding one was not that unusual. Scouring the listings for a 540i and finding a manual was. The value of the 540i’s were and are still much lower than the M5’s, and so a fully build up one would still end up owning me less than an M5.

      Optional extras such as a sun-roof, and electrically adjustable and heated sport seats were a must. Leather of course, and full size navigation, xenon headlights, and nice rims were too. This purple magnificence had them all, except for the sat nav.

      “Oh well, this would be nice thing to upgrade.” I thought. And became so enthusiastic about the the thing that I jumped on the phone to the dealer to arrange a viewing for this car too, next to the e34 530ia.

      “Are you a dealer or something?” he asked, not amused.

      “No, I just can’t make up my mind.” I replied, very much so.

      So, I get to the place, and see the cars. The spec of the E39 was obviously so much better. The E34 had no leather, no sun-roof, no sport seats, standard too small wheels, and not really much else to write home about. But the body was in good condition, and the engine ran great. We went on a test drive and the car was a bit disappointing. Again, engine runs smooth and strong, and the auto-box shifts are velvety. However, the suspension is knocking over bumps and the steering was the biggest let down: it was loose and vague.

      The E39’s mechanical condition was great. Really clean and well taken care of. However, the body was not. Both front and rear bumpers were scratched up and had several dings and dents in them. So there I am thinking: “Not too bad, you wanted to replace them anyway.” And so still smiling i walk around the car to the other side. And the smile is punched off my face in a cold and hard fashion: the “scratch” on the pictures on the front door turns out to be a nasty, deep scrape along the side of both doors.

      A little upset, we go on the test drive. The smile comes back. And how. This thing drives so nicely, so tightly, and so solidly, that only after a few turns I know there is no way back. The steering on this is so good, man! I open the negotiations with the dealer, but he does not come down far enough. I leave the place empty handed and with a few doubts.

      What about the V8? What about the doors? What about the older generations? However, over the next days, the car doesn’t leave my mind. Back on the good old internet, I look for replacement doors, and actually find a pair in the right colour, for a reasonable asking price. Than, I look at the various 540i vs 528i threads out there. And i finally read something interesting: the six cylinder E39’s had a new rack and pinion system, and the v8s retained the recirculating ball system of the previous generation. So than I tell myself about how much better the insurance rates, the road tax and the fuel economy will be (fully realising that the last one is a lie) and I’m back on the phone with the dealer.
      We reach an agreement and the purple one is mine. After a few difficulties at the registration and technical control, such the auto-leveling headlights (hello there, E39 community) the car was on the road and ready to go.

      Starting work.

      The plan for this car was to beautify it according to my dreams. Already as a young boy I fantasised about the type of car I wanted to drive: sporty, yet comfy and luxurious. A Grand Tourer. Now over the years, the taste has changed a little.
      So I want to give this car the appearance of the coolest cars of when I was younger, yet give it a bit of facelift to make the current taste happy.
      First off though, before any modification can start, the biggest bang for the buck upgrade: a full wash and light detail. Because as you can see, this thing needs it.

      The interior in this thing is already pretty close to what I'd like it to be. Like mentioned before, it's already pretty loaded. The colour combination is really growing on me, as it's something you don't see everyday, yet still quite tasty. After a little clean up, it came out great too.

      Now the second step, is to get this thing in better condition in relation to the bodywork. Having thought about replacing them altogether, in the end I opted for repairing them myself in our little self built tent-workshop. Because DIY is life. It might have something to do with the cost too.
      With the extend of the damage not actually requiring any panel beating, since it consists of deep scratches rather then dents, I went with the good old filler and spray can paint job. Yes, we have a compressor, but I wanted to see how effective this method could be.

      Being no pro at working with bondo, I began to become fairly nervous at the sight of the filler build not becoming smooth at all. But with some patience, some sanding, and some filler spray, it came out reasonably smooth. Not perfect, but I prefer it to looking at the smashed up panels that they used to be.

      The work done up to and including the glamorous process of applying the gloss clear coat can be seen in the video of the first part of the build:


      Currently we're working on getting the bumpers off and starting the facelifting, upgrading and modifying of our new E39

    • Part 2, Body and Bumpers

      Starting the mods

      Hello there! Got some more work done on the car:

      Right from the get go, I was set on replacing the bumpers with some M-package units. The reasons for this desire were manifold, but the two most pressing ones were as follows: To me, the E39 seems to be designed with and for the M-sport bumpers, as the lines flow so much better. And secondly, they freshen up the car enormously.

      As with most M-sport designs, they remained basically the same throughout the entire run of production, and do not receive a major facelift somewhere in the middle, like it's more everyday bumper-siblings. This makes the car look a lot fresher, as the design was still current in early 2004, instead of 1999 Also, the sport bumpers give the car a bit more edginess and sharpness that I have come to appreciate in contemporary designs.

      And so, the normal, pre-facelift bumpers came off and were to make way for the new ones. As i'm sure you all do too, I scoure the online-lisitings to look for upgrade parts for almost any car I think of buying. For the e39, it like hitting a gold mine. Endless pages of parts are available. However, trying to find original, good condition upgrade parts such as the M-bumpers, can present a real challenge. I therefore sprung for some replicas, made by a reputable company in Germany.

      At least, I though I did. The company I bought the bumpers from, informed me the rear units were out of stock. Next delivery would be in a month. So i scoured again, and amongst the many listings I found a matching rear unit. However, the company selling it was unknown to me. I did some investigating, and what a did I find? The bumper was on sale on yet another listings-website. I went ahead and ordered, and got this:

      It turns out the ad for the bumper with discount was not the same as the one I found earlier matching the front, but for a Chinese unit. Oh, well. In fact, after some doubts about how flexible this thing was, and how bad the fitment was at first, the bumper was easier to get sitting right then the German one on the front.

      I decided to fit everything up first, including trim, and see if they actually line up right, prior to any painting. With this step of the facelift complete, I turned my attention to the pre-facelift grills. Every small part seems to make such a huge impact, yet they only work when done all together. I therefore ordered some facelift grills, in a piano black finish. Not a huge chrome-enthusiast to start with, but to me these kidneys contrast a lot nicer with the Aspen Silver finish then the originals.

      I then turned my attention back to the rear of the car. Again, I wanted to give this car a bit more of the edginess and sharpness that i've come to like in modern car designs. The rear bumper and its diffuser already go a great way to achive this, but I felt more could be done. A modest spoiler lip would make a world of difference here, wouldn't it?

      The spoiler is awaiting its paint treatment, together with the new bumpers. Speaking of them, with the front now looking so clean and smooth without the plates ruining any of the lines of the car, the rear was attacked too. Sadly, I don't have the minerals to run without any, so I removed the frame to clean it up just that little bit.

      All of that can be seen in this video we made of our progress:


      We are currently doing something with these:

    • Lights and Quad Projector Mod!

      Have I been waiting for this! The old-style, dull looking, pre-facelift headlights have finally made way for some updated, clear lens units. The new headlights started life as original halogen equipped Hella's. Before I took command of them, some LED bulbs had already been installed to give the angel eyes some more brightness.

      That's a cute mod, but nothing like what was in store for them. I'm a sucker for projector headlights. They can really make or break a (modern) car for me, just like a set of wheels and springs can. The by now 30 year old BMW 325i E30 had these things fitted as standard, so why are reflector headlights still around today?

      I don't know either, but I can get rid of the dated look of these main beams by high-jacking the projectors out of the old units and refitting them right in here.

      Mocking up.

      After some struggling around, and getting everything to fit nicely, the lights were ready to be sealed and mounted back together.

      To me, this takes the car to a whole new level. Mind you, BMW chose to only offer quad projectors from the F10 5-series on.

      To match the front, some "facelift" replica tail lights were installed. Unlike the pro's of choosing originals for the front (such as the shroud and halo design), the con's of original facelift tails were mighty. To me, hammering out the body to make them fit, was not an interesting proposition.

      These replica's do look a bit plasticky in real life. I'm currently looking into a way to hide that, such as a tint spray or foil. The side markers were also swapped for some clear ones, to match the clear indicators in the headlights and taillights.

      Finally, the license plate lights were updated too. I went with some LED versions that have a relatively subtle blue-whiteish hue to them.

      To see the modding of the headlights and the installation of all these parts, we made this little video:


      I started work on getting the wheels off and to see how we can get this thing to sit a bit nicer.

    • Dialing in the stance! And some much needed wheels

      Having always been a stance enthusiast, the wheel gap on our E39 has annoyed me from the start. Even though the car was equipped with the factory sports package, which offers a modest 20 millimetre lowering, the wheel gap is so immense it seems like the car is riding around on a lift kit (had a look, none was found).

      In my original vision for this car, the replacement rims were a multi-piece set with a nice staggered lip. Somehow this fits incredibly well on the E39. However, refining the end results more and more in my head, the wheels were to be of a more modern design, in an anthracite or gloss black finish. This decision came along to tie in with the rest of the mods that were installed to give the car a bit of a facelift.

      A set of original BMW Style 238`s in 19 inch were found. The wheels came with the winter tyres still mounted, in a for an E39 rather oversized 245/45/19. This was great as the nights over here still reach and exceed freezing temperatures. The gearbox has not yet thrown any faults, and apart from the occasional rubbing in tight turns, they are actually not that bad.
      However, I'd like to save my fenders for once, so come the warmer weather they will be replaced for some 245/35/19's in summer attire.

      On to the suspension. Through time my preference for cars that sit so low, the belly scrapes during normal driving, has changed a little. In this case, a set of lowering springs will suffice just nicely. The chosen springs were designed for the E39 with the sports package, and are supposed to lower the car another 30mm, for a total of 50 milimeter compared to a standard, non-sport 5 series.

      Unfortunately for us DIYer's, the E39 has multilink suspension with Mcpherson struts, so the spring replacement has a little more to it than average. Especially in the rear, where half the interior has to be dismounted, the job presents a bit of a struggle. However to me, once everything was back together, the results were certainly worth it.

      Due to the e39's odd centre bore, some hub adapters were needed. They also nicely space out the wheels 15mm.

      We made a little video capturing the work we put in to this part of the build:


      And so it finally time to attack those bumpers and a few other bits with some paint!

    • Paint and re-finish, the e39 reborn!

      Paint and re-finish, the e39 reborn!

      After a lot of work the exterior of our beast is finished! The m-sport style bumpers have been repainted, and a whole lot of body trim was refinished to match the general facelifting that has been happening.

      Starting with the mirrors, these were masked off together with the window trim to receive a fresh coat of gloss black. In my opinion, the e39 has aged rather beautifully. But the mirrors didn't. They look big and clunky. Gloss black should make them disappear and blend in with the side windows nicely.

      The window trim was already matte black, as part of the sports package, from the factory. However, a fresh coat of gloss black will give them a nice update and will make the car look and feel more modern and upmarket.

      Sticking with the gloss black as our new design theme for the car - gloss black on aspen silver - the rear diffuser and exhaust tips were attacked next. The exhaust tips themselves are actually adapters for toilet piping. However they fit really rather nicely and DIY is life. I love little mods and adaptations like this.

      The facelift style tail lights were chosen, as explained previously, so that no modifications to the body were necessary, yet still updating the look. However, I wasn't very pleased with the way they look: a bit plasticky. Looking for a solution, I decided to go with a black tint. First of all, it would match the rest of mods nicely, and on top of that hide some of the plastickiness that was going on inside the tail light housing.

      The side markers were matched to suit. Then on to the big job. The bumpers needed to be painted. Unlike the experiment on the doors, these needed to be done properly. So without thinking "They're replaceable anyway", I got to work. We're talking compressor and spray gun here. The rear bumper of Chinese make was unfortunately not primed, so it was thrown in with the batch of side and bumper moldings to receive various coats of primer.

      "Side and bumper moldings?", I hear you ask. Why yes, this car is getting facelifted and how! Color coding these will make the car look a lot younger. After the primer, a couple coats of base went on.

      To seal them off and achieve factory levels of shine, three coats of clear were blasted on top of the base.

      And after a curing time of 2 days, they were finally reinstalled back on to the car.

      Along with all the trims.

      Quite the transformation:

      We made a video of how we went about tackling all this work:


      Currently we are working on taking the interior apart to go through a bit of a facelift too:

    • Chapter two: The interior of our E39! Intro & Clean

      It's finally time to start on the interior of our beast!*But before we commence with any of the mods, a thorough cleaning is in order. Now, the previous (and first) owner of our e39, specced the car particularly well, with electrically adjustable, heated Aubergine leather sport seats, sport steering wheel, sunroof, and rear sun-blind. It is truly a joy to be inside the cabin.

      However, as with many cars that are acquired second hand, the interior is covered in a thick layer of years and years of use. Especially the steering wheel is a real eyesore, and looks very greasy, grimy and slimy. It also appears to have some harsh skin oils induced damage.

      In my experience, the most (cost) effective way of cleaning leather surfaces like these are with a magic sponge,*a very dense, soft foam sponge that only requires*lukewarm water. No soap is needed, unless actual oil has to been cleaned of the surface. Softly wipe it (not rub) over the leather, and dry it off with a microfibre towel. The transformation is unreal!

      Especially the colored stitching is popping again.

      Gone is the shiny, nasty grime. The leather once again has factory like, matte finish and looks and feels soft to the touch. Of course, the damages have not been repaired using this method. But they are way less visible, having removed the dirt that was filling the low spots, and the greasiness on top of the high spots.

      The rest of the leather interior parts were also cleaned with the sponge, to match the now clean steering wheel. The seats were then gently cleaned, again using only lukewarm water, and soft bristle brush. This way*the cleaning was not to abrasive on the top coat of the leather, since the last time these seats received any care or protection was unknown to me.

      Here the front of the seat has already been cleaned, and reveals a more matte surface. Even the color pops more. *After all the of leather surfaces were cleaned, a natural care product was applied. *

      Now in my opinion, vacuuming the carpet and the over mats are one of the biggest transformation to the cars interior.*Especially with Harvey, our cocker spaniel, leaving white hairs all over the place.*

      We made a*little video introducing the interior and thoroughly cleaning it:


      We are currently working on refinishing a whole lot of trim, and taking headliner and pillars out.

    • Interior trim & headliner upgrade!

      High time to update the interior of our E39! Being pretty pleased with how the exterior came out, the interior of the car looks a little standard in comparison. Since I can remember, I could never leave anything alone. From “re-shaped” toy cars (read: bashed up) to completely overhauled bicycles to cars. I have never left anything standard that I had in possession.

      Every car I see or enter, my mind already starts: This could be lower, wider, or this could be painted that colour, let's see if this grille would fit… And so, the aubergine cabin of our Mömusmobil was the next victim. From the get go I was never a big fan of the wood. Even though the wood pieces don’t look like the usual plasticky nonsense found in most cars, I still thought it could be improved upon.

      With those out of the way, my attention shifted to the headliner. I actually like light headliners, as they improve the spacious feeling of a cabin, but having a silver-grey headliner in an otherwise purple and black interior does not tick any boxes. I shortly thought of color matching it to the aubergine leather seats, before coming to my senses and deciding on black. I feel like it would blend in more, with the top of the dash and door cards being black too.

      For the dying process, I used spray cans for textile dying. It’s a slow process that needs many layers to build up to a even, black finish. But it’s a fairly simple job, that leaves the factory, soft finish of the headliner intact.

      Next up were the now removed wood pieces that were sanded, primered, and then painted in a gloss black base coat with spray cans. To bring out the maximum possible shine and deepness to the paint, the compressor was used for several layers of clear coat.

      During the time that the trim pieces were drying, I attacked some of the trim found in the headlining of the car. I wanted these to match with the now piano black trim, and so they given the same treatment.

      After all all the painting and dying was done, everything was re-installed. The headliner can be a bit of a pain to get in and out of the car. But with some flexing of the headliner itself and laying the front seats all the way down, it will go through one of the rear doors. Just about.

      I love it, two relatively small changes in the cabin, just the wood and the headliner + pillars, and the interior is just like I want it to be:

      Here is a video we made of all this process:
      Next time, we are taking care of that little would pieces that remains in the centre console!

    • Installing an Android Head Unit!

      The last little wood piece remaining in the centre console since the last update got whipped out to make place for an Android based head unit! It may seem just a small change to the car but is has got me excited as a little kid. There is just something about having that screen there.

      Wether it's the fact that it still has this "exclusive option" appeal to it (especially in this 90s cabin), dresses up the interior, or just plain gives me something to do whilst sitting in traffic or waiting around for something: it all makes me very happy.

      The install was easy enough once I figured out the wiring. Luckily all the cables and adapters were properly labeled. The head-unit came with a back-up camera, but I chose not to install due to the seemingly shoddy quality. The head unit itself though, looks and feels really rather nice.

      The backlit buttons match wonderfully to the orange hue of the standard BMW ones, the design looks right, and even the knobs sound like the ones on the original unit. It looks right at home:

      But instead of the tape deck monstrosity that was there before, I've now got Bluetooth, Wifi, GPS, DVD, and all the other modern goodies you can think of. I can't stop playing with it.

      We made a tasty little video for you to enjoy the install:

    • Very interesting, I converted a 97 528i Tourng to complete Facelift look - the difference is extreme, especially when I see Pictures from the day I bought it :D

      How are the Long time results with the coloured headliner?
      What exact product did you use?
      I am quite interested, because the early 97 models did not have head-airbags and black headliners weren't available in these early models. The >9/97 ones will fit more or less, but 4 holes for the luggage rack (?) will remain - and I won't drive like that ;(
      Döner macht schöner

    • Hey Mömus,

      nice project you've got there. :)
      I was following the progress of it silently on youtube before you even made a thread about it here.

      Now that you have painted the decor trim pieces and dyed the entire headliner along with the pillars, I wonder why you left the seats and door inlays in this dark wine red color they have.
      It's just an opinion, but you might aswell change the looks of these to something more interesting/sporty while you've already changed so many things in the interior.
      Geld macht nicht glücklich...
      Man muss es schon besitzen.