The car was now officially mine but I needed to get the car insured. As soon as I got the car home, I called up my insurance. The first question AAA asked was what the odometer reading was and if the odometer worked. Unfortunately, the answer to these questions was that I had no idea how many miles were on the car and the odometer was not working. The previous owner told me that the cluster was exchanged with a working example since the old cluster odometer stopped working. To add insult to injury, the replacement cluster’s odometer stopped working sometime after the cluster was replaced. This left the car with unverified mileage and a nonworking odometer. AAA said that I could not insure the car until the odometer was working. Crap… So, the very first project on this car would have to be replacement odometer/speedometer gears. My experience with replacing the speedometer and odometer gears on my Volvo 240 wagon and my E36 M3 gave me the confidence to repair this cluster. Fortunately, after a quick internet search and a forum page read, I learned that the odometer gears often disintegrate due to age and material. It wasn’t incredibly difficult to fix.
The first step was to head on over to Pelican Parts and purchase a gear replacement kit. Pelican Parts is always my first stop since they are located in Southern California and shipping is fast. A quick search of the Pelican Parts website and I found what I needed. Please make note that there are two different types of clusters, VDO and Motometer. VDO was the US version and came in mph/miles. Please make note of this when ordering your gears. A complete set of cluster gears for the odometer. $65 seemed fairly high for a couple of gears but I wasn’t too bothered since this was an entire set and wouldn’t need to shop around. A few days later the gears showed up. The next step was getting the cluster out of the dash. It is a simple operation. There are several screws that hold on the trim pieces around the cluster. Those will need to go. Then there is a trim piece under the cluster that also has to be removed. All of this is fairly easy to do but I would recommend removing the steering wheel. I have since removed the cluster several times and have discovered you can remove and install the cluster without removing the steering wheel, but if you are unsure of what you are doing, I would remove the steering wheel to give you more room to work.
This YouTube video by Bimmer Zeit was a great help in figuring out how to remove the cluster from my E30. It shows in a step-by-step manner how to remove the cluster and the steering wheel. This was a lifesaver when I first started researching how to remove the cluster. Also, keep track of what screws go where because each screw goes in a specific location. I had to learn this the hard way.
As soon as I removed the trim and cluster, there were lots of wires that were connected. I took several photos in order to make sure I didn’t screw up the reinstallation. Hopefully, if anyone is walking the same path as me, this will be a helpful guide to show where each wire needs to go. I have gotten into the habit of taking pictures before I completely disassemble a part, which has saved me time and time again. I used to tell myself I would remember and then 6 months went by and then I have to scour Google and forums to find out where the wires go. I hope these photos can help someone along the way.
Bimmer Zeit also had a video of how to replace the gears for the odometer too. These two videos made the repair a breeze. Bimmer Zeit is a legend for making this and the cluster removal video. If you find yourself in this same scenario, check out his channel and give his videos a thumbs up. The video is great because it walks you step by step on which gears to remove and how to reinstall everything. I followed his process and it worked out perfectly.
When disassembling the odometer gears, the gears were brittle and felt as though they were about to disintegrate. The orange gear in the above pictures still had all of its teeth but the health of the gear was poor. This gear wasn’t the main reason the odometer had stopped working, but I am glad I caught it before it became an issue.
The other large gear wasn’t as bad as the previous gear but I still changed the gear for preventative maintenance. This isn’t a tricky job, but you must put everything back the way it was put together. I spent time documenting everything during the disassembly process and was glad I did. The culprit of the nonworking odometer was the smallest gear. I had to fish out the gear remnants inside the speedometer. After reinstalling all three gears, I put the speedometer unit back into the cluster and reinstalled the cluster into the dash. This is where I made a small error. During reinstallation, I might have screwed a longer screw directly into the cluster board on the bottom of the board because once reinstalled and taken on a shakedown drive, the odometer worked. Still, my gas gauge and speedometer gauges were acting up. I started searching the internet for a shop that repairs E30 clusters. the good news is I didn’t have to look very hard because I found one almost immediately.
After my quick search, I discovered Bavarian Restoration. This company specializes in repairing vintage/classic instrument clusters. I reached out via email and they quickly diagnosed the issue as being two things, I either drilled through the cluster with the longer screw or the SI board batteries were terrible which is another common issue with these boards. Based on the options they provide in the picture above, I agreed to fully restore my cluster and sent the board up to Northern California where their shop was located. The only drawback was the shop was booked for weeks. This sounds like a bad thing, but in reality, their skills are in high demand. I paid for the service in March 2021 and sent the cluster over in early May 2021 and didn’t receive it until late May 2021. It was worth the time and money spent. Once installed and tested the cluster worked perfectly. I would recommend Bavarian Restoration to anyone who needs their classic BMW cluster restored.
With the car’s cluster repaired and functional, it was time to dive into the manual swap. There were a ton of things to buy and prepare for. Since buying the car I have been chomping at the bit to do this conversion. There were also some electrical gremlins I needed to chase and fix. There was a switch on the center console to turn on the auxiliary fan which was quite concerning. Needless to say, there was a ton to do on this car, and had slowly begun to check off the projects as I discovered them. Next up, I’ll go into sourcing the manual swap parts and fixing those mentioned gremlins. Motor on.