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DIY: Do It Yourself
Post here to share or improve your wrench turning skills! All BMW E46 DIY tips, tales, and projects discussed inside. Learn to work on your car and know the right BMW parts you will need!

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Old 02-19-2017, 03:01 AM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2013
Location: California
Posts: 76
My Ride: 2004/03 330ci
Making a triple gauge pillar (Warning: Lots of pics!)

Hi, I really want to install oil pressure, oil temp, and coolant temp guages in my car. After searching through different options for mounting guages, I stumbled upon a few I liked.

1. The steering column mounted guages

PROS: within driver's prereferral vision, seems like it works for many people, install is probably simple

CONS: to me it looks funny having guages in front of your instrument cluster, when steering visibility of the guages can get bad, only fits two guages (with original instrument cluster still being visible)

2. Guage pannel (Under radio)

PROS: Probably the simplest method (make a plate, wire and install gauges)

CONS: Visibility (far away from driver's eyes), my sunglasses liked it there, and it reminds me of boat

3. Pillar Guages

PROS: Visibility, Looks great (some say it looks rice), adds 50hp to any car

CONS: Can't find one that fits E46 coupes

Because I wanted to add 50 hp to my car, and have some guages of coarse, I chose to go with the pillar. I looked online and found one that claimed to fit e46 coupes, so I ordered it. I thought I would be simple, just unbolt my original pillar (already have a couple pillars off to get redone) and install this new one with guages and the job is done!

As you can see there is no bolt hole for this pillar, how does it stay in place without one?!

It doesn't fit with the airbag underneath so I pushed it with my finger to give you guys a sence of the fitment.

So taking it back to compare it with the original pillar you can see the shape difference...

Seems like the original is larger inside (to fit the airbag of coarse), and has a rounder profile. In addition the edges are longer and dont expose gaps between the pillar and the mouldings.

So having concluded that I couldn't use the pillar I bought I tried to return it. Unfortunately I found out it would cost me almost as much as the pillar itself to return it. What can I do? I still wanted to have a tripple guage pillar, so I decided to make one.

The plans are to make it work with 52mm guages (theyre very common), create a nice shape that looks good and makes installing a single piece of upholstry fabric possible, and most importantly hold the guages close to the driver's eye while unaffecting the visibility through the windshield. As you may or may not know, a fat A pillar makes seeing things infront of you that much more difficult, So placing the guages in precise locations is vital to achieve this.

I got a spare guage from my buddy. An old air fuel ratio guage that happened to fit perfectly into the pillar

So I found a PVC pipe laying around that happened to fit the guage perfectly. I cut it into 3 sections that were approximatly the guage dept of the old ARF guage my buddy let me barrow.

I didn't want the guages sticking out too far, in fact I wanted them seat the guages as deep as possible without pressing into the airbag too much. I wanted the guages to appear integrated into the pillar as much as possible. I also wanted the pillar to match the interior style of the car without being too dramatic. First, I sat in the car and approximated where to place the guages using the 3 PVC pieces I cut earlier. After marking, I took the pillar and cut groves for the PVC pieces to make sure the gauge sits as close the the airbag as possible. I cut, measured, cut, measured until I was satisfied with the depth of the guages.

Once I cut enough to seat the guages to the depth I liked, I sat in the car adjusting them and secured the guages using duct tape then super glue.

Overall, It fit perfectly (Oem pillar fits nice) and it will hold three guages like I wanted. So now To secure the PVC pieces further, I used epoxy glue and glued all around where the pipes met the pillar.

I wanted to sculpt the shape of the pillar, but didn't know how. I was thinking bondo (would be messy, lots of work and effort to develop the right shape), foam (not sure its the best), or fiberglass. Well, I got some stretchy fabric (like book cover or thick pantyhose fabric) and wrapped the pillar with it.

After seeing how wonderful the shaped turned out, I knew I wanted to preserve it before the tape lost its hold. I fiberglassed the only bottom portion because I still didn't know how to get the gauge faces to be flat and fiberglass them at the same time.

Soon enough I found an idea: Take a piece of the same PVC pipe, smooth it out, apply plasti dip (prevent it from glueing to the fiberglass resin) and put weights on it. This seemed to work!
In addition, the shape it produced was exactly what I was hoping for.

Moving on the the next guage location, I had to cut the fabric to get the PVC pipe with all the weights on it to sit flat.

The next issue was the one screw I wanted to preserve.

I ended up making a metal oval piece to substitute the screw head. I made sure to secure it in place of the screw as the fiberglass resin cured. It was secured using magnets on the inside of the pillar. This resulted in a nice area that fit the screw perfectly!

Well, the shape wasn't perfect this time. One side of the guage face warped just a little bit, but that's no big deal, nothing bondo cant fix right?
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Old 02-19-2017, 03:04 AM   #2
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Join Date: Nov 2013
Location: California
Posts: 76
My Ride: 2004/03 330ci

Compared to the first guage face:

As you can see, the bolt head fits very well, and has room for fine adjustment.

So far, so good

Next up was the last guage face and the rest of the pillar. Had difficulty stabilizing the whole thing with all the weights on the PVC pipe but I managed.

After letting it dry, I cut the excess fabric from the inside of the pillar, sanded away excess resin and walla!

Lets see how it looks on the car...

Now Its time to sand and shape. Im pleased with how it fits, how it looks, and where the guages are placed. Plans are to make a split mold, and make a pillar using pre preg carbon fiber!! Its just an idea for now, but we'll see how that goes...
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Old 02-25-2017, 05:52 PM   #3
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Location: Vancouver, BC
Posts: 51
My Ride: F10 528i, E46M3
Awesome! Can't wait to see more updates!

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Old 02-26-2017, 11:35 PM   #4
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Posts: 76
My Ride: 2004/03 330ci
So with the sand and shape, Im realizing how time-consuming and tedious this process is. Being a perfectionist, but a newbie I'm finding myself learning the most with this process. First off, Ive sanded what I could and shaped the pillar till all the high points were cut as low as possible. The lower two gauges had a wrinkle, so it was necessary to fix this. I sanded, to the point it cut through the wrinkle. I pinched the edges of the cut together, and used hot glue to keep the cut in place. I sanded the hot glue residue carefully and surprisingly the shape was much better than what I expected. I then cut small pieces of fiberglass to rienforce the cut areas and used resin to recoat the pillar, making sure to give a generous amount in the area where the fiberglass was.

Once it cured, I sanded and shaped what I could, cut through some of the resin and found that fabric and sandpaper fluffs up If you continue sanding it. I had some sections of fluffed fabric I should have coated in resin before moving on, but the shape was so nice, so I used filler primer instead.

Resin builds faster and cures to sandable finish faster than primer (its still cold where I live so primer take about a day), but its so much harder and requires more sanding time. I should have used resin for where the fabric fluffed up, but got the primer to work (depends how fluffed it is) you need to heavily coat it, to the point it most likely will have runs.

Plans are to get this thing perfect using primer, then apply gloss black to really see the curves. If Its not ideal Ill go back and correct it with primer. I want this thing to look great naked or wrapped in fabric!

Here is the first coat of primer:

After about 2 hours of careful sanding using 250 grit:

Added another coat of primer:

The pictures make the pillar look better than it does in person. There are fine details cameras just can't capture. I want this thing perfect, so It might take some time. Hopefully soon I can start making the mold and hopefully cast of couple pillars!! That's a whole new process though so I can't gaurentee anything yet...

Last edited by Russianpegs; 02-26-2017 at 11:40 PM. Reason: Pictures didn't upload
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Old 02-27-2017, 01:30 PM   #5
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Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: Tulsa, OK
Posts: 36
My Ride: ZHP 6MT
Nice progress!
2003 ///ZHP 6MT - Silver Gray on Alcantara - 3.46 rear - Style 197's
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Old 07-03-2017, 11:57 PM   #6
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Location: California
Posts: 76
My Ride: 2004/03 330ci
after battling with paint, and experiencing a problem with the tooling resin. I'm not sure if I will complete this project.

I purchased 2 cans of the same brand paint: black and clear Krylon auto paint, to get a really nice surface on the pillar. I sprayed about 5 coats of black paint on the pillar, waited a week for it to cure, then sanded the orange peel before applying the clear. While I applied the clear the black paint underneath started wrinkling. Paint job destroyed

I sanded the clear off, and started again with black. I applied it like I normally do, and again it wrinkled. Then I sanded and carefully shot a full can light misty coats untill I could shoot a wet coat to finish it off. Success.

I tossed the clear, and jumped right into buffing. After sanding the orange peel out and finishing off with 2k sandpaper, I used rubbing compound, then fine cut polish and then a wax. turned out beautiful. There is something about a nice deep black finish that's so mesmerizing.

To help the pillar release from the mold when its all done, I applied 5 coats of chemical release agent and then 5 coats of meguires #8 mold release. I figured it wouldn't hurt. It would be horrible if the pillar stuck and get got destroyed in the removal process.

I prepared the pillar for molding and built a more proper pillar stand. Since it will be necessary to do a split mold, I needed to get the split in the right place. Using plasticine clay to seal and fill in any gaps with the split I got the pillar ready for the first coat for the mold: the tooling resin. I followed the directions carefully and catalyzed to 1.5% but after applying the resin I saw wrinkles in the job. The chemicals in the resin apparently were a little too abrasive. Even the plastic cup I used to mix the portions bubbled and melted at the bottom. Just my luck.

So this is where I stand, I might take another stab at it, I may just toss it in the trash. We will see.
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Old 07-04-2017, 12:12 AM   #7
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 photo P1010337_zpsevhv3o8k.jpg
 photo P1010338_zps2uzulzhk.jpg

Last edited by Russianpegs; 07-04-2017 at 12:42 AM. Reason: Pictures needed to be re-formatted.
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coupe, interior, supercharger, tripple guage pillar, turbo

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