Steve Smart - BMW Enthusiast

Ernie Peters – Door Handle Ninja

My E36 M3 is known to be one of the nicer examples in the St. Louis area, despite having 109,000 miles on the clock. In reality, it shows its age in ways that sometimes bugs me.

Such is the case with a few pieces I’m replacing these days. The cracking door handle gaskets and a piece called the windshield wiper cowl cover are at the top of my list.




I read up and watched some videos on the door handle gasket. I’m somewhat mechanically inclined, but my skills are limited. Frankly, I’ve found that my interest in wrenching has been diminishing as I age. These days I pretty much keep it simple and stick with what I know. Not as “game for adventure” as I used to be. Kind of a shame, but there it is. Having done my my research, I figured out that I would need help with this.

Now about the cowl/cover thing. This should be a different story. This topic came up one day in conversation with my friend Ernie Peters. Having replaced the cowl on my ’96 328 sedan, I thought it would be easy on my ’97 M3. Nope, not the case. It’s not the same part, not the same installation procedure. And I would need a ‘windshield wiper puller.” Yeah, like I keep one in my left pocket. I do have a few (very few) BMW special tools, but this ain’t one of ’em. Turns out, Ernie has one. To  boot, he replaced his Z3 door handle gaskets, so he’s got the mojo. As a generous friend, he offered to help me with both items.


Windshield arm puller with windshield washer adjuster

We set a date to do the work in my garage. As I eagerly anticipated Ernie’s arrival, I started the disassembly process for the wiper cowl. Pretty simple, really, except that I would have preferred to have a thin screwdriver with a much wider blade to remove some of the plastic “screws.” Dunno if that’s what you call them, but I was careful not to mess them up.  I then removed the windshield wiper nut covers.



I like playing in my garage. What makes it more enjoyable is the powered speakers I have set up, complete with subwoofer. They’re no big deal, but it makes a difference. I simply plug in my iPhone and play my favorite Pandora stations. In case you’re curious, they are Todd Rundgren and Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. Because Ernie shares my interest in classic rock, I turn it up a little when he arrives. Another cool thing about Ernie; he works at the Wildey Theater in Edwardsville, where several old bands play for audiences who enjoy the intimate setting and great acoustics.

Because I had started on the wipers, we got out the wiper arm puller and soon realized that it would have been good for me to have soaked them overnight with WD-40.  I gave them a few squirts and we turned our attention to the door handles.

The door handles aren’t supposed to be all that hard, but they are. The idea is fundamentally simple. First, pull back a rubber cover in the door to reveal an access slot. Then, using a special tool or a screwdriver with the blade bent in an “L” shape, find the metal piece to push on to release the door handle cover and gasket.




As it turns out, Ernie has that tool too. But finding that certain metal piece is the tricky part. None of the videos or photos I found online were very helpful. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the release pin. Good thing Ernie was there, having drunk his morning ninja juice. He found the magic spot like a BMW leprechaun and released the first handle within minutes. Handle number two was a little tougher, but we had that done in short order. Before installing the new parts, I cleaned the areas of the the dirt that had accumulated over the last 20 years. I finished off the areas with cleaner wax. I was pretty happy with look of the new gaskets.




On to the wiper cover. This turned out to be tougher than we’d hoped. Cranking on the wiper puller yielded no results. Zip. Nada. Ernie figured that we could beat on the tool with a rubber hammer. I was a little nervous, but it ended up working just fine. After removing the wiper arms, we realized the big challenge in replacing this part. Apparently, the hood hardware has to be loosened and shifted. The hood has to then be properly aligned when the hardware is tightened down. Because I could see that going all kinds of wrong, I elected to take it to a dealer. “Hang it,” I said, “Let’s watch Adrenalin.”


For those of you who don’t know, Adrenalin is a recently produced movie about BMW’s involvement in touring car racing, particularly in DTM, otherwise known as the German Touring Car Series. It features many past drivers who brought their own ninja skills to the track behind the wheel of cars like the iconic E30 M3. The film does a wonderful job of capturing the adventure and emotion related to one of our favorite forms of motorsports. It’s just the kind of movie you want to see with a good car buddy.

The day ended with a real sense of satisfaction. Happy that my door handles now look great, but more happy that I got to spend the day with a good friend. Makes life in the club really worthwhile.

I thought I was fast, until…

Many of my friends know that I’m a great fan of arrive-and-drive kart racing. Indoor, outdoor, gas or electric, I’ll take it any way I can get it. Most of the time I’m at or near the top of the charts, but I have to admit that I don’t often compete against the fastest guys in town. Such was the case at my recent visit to the Gateway Kartplex with some friends from the St. Louis BMW Club.

In the first race I was gratified to get the jump on my friend Wayne, the guy in front of me, at the green flag. I lapped most of the pack and took second place. Oddly, the winner of the fastest lap was the guy I passed right out of the box. “Yeah, I think my fast lap was when you passed me and I followed your line,” he said. Maybe that was it, or maybe he’s just faster. I did, however beat Wayne in race #2. We had some great back-and-forth between us .

The second race was also rewarding with lots of passes. I thought I was doing really well. Indeed, the time sheet would show a great improvement; about 1.5 seconds over the first race. That’s a sure sign that I’m on the early side of the learning curve at this facility.

What surprised me in race 2, delighted me in fact, was to see three other guys pass me (at 7:52 and 9:16) like I was a turtle. Sure, I like being at the top, but it was great to see these guys working on a whole different level. I noticed the way one leaned forward in the kart, presumably to add weight to the front, thus reducing understeer, and increasing speed through the turns. A true artist indeed. I’ll be sure to try that next time.




2016 IMSA Race with the BMW Club

One of my favorite places in the whole world is pit out at Road America. I’ve attended several sports car races there, starting in the days of ALMS. I miss that series, but still enjoy going there for the IMSA races. Being a member of the BMW Car Club of America makes the experience even better.

Clay Filson on the Rahal Letterman IMSA Team

I’ve often been impressed to see the highly choreographed efforts of the Rahal Letterman Team when the BMWs are pulled in from a session on the track. They work like a finely tuned machine. I had the opportunity to talk with Clay Filson about that when I was at the 2016 IMSA race at Road America.

Clay provides support from the BMW factory to customer teams like RLL. He shares his observations on why the team works so well together, along with some challenges related to working with a car that’s in the first year of its development.

IMSA Hot Lap in a BMW M3 at Road America

Of the many things I enjoyed about the IMSA WeatherTech sports car race at Road America this year, the hot lap was certainly memorable. I’m glad I got it on video. IMSA has a Hot Lap program, designed to get fans on the track in cars represented by the racing field. The drivers of the 2 BMW M3s, were instructors at the BMW Performance Driving Center in Greer, SC.

I have to admit; It wasn’t the all-out, change-your-underwear mind blower I thought it might be, but it was still great to have that rare experience. I got my ticket (very limited in supply) through the BMW Car Club, of which I’ve been a happy member for over a decade.

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Motor City Roots and the Making of a Car Guy

When people ask where I’m from, I tell them, “I rolled off the assembly line in Detroit.” Although it’s my city of birth I haven’t lived there (Harper Woods, actually) since 1969. I’m sure my appreciation for the automobile has something to do with those roots.

What goes into the making of a car guy? Something in their DNA? Social influences? Does it happen gradually or in the blink of an eye? Some remember that one single match that started the flame burning. In my case, it was a slow progression. But I think the ball got rolling, however slowly, when I was a little boy.

After decades of having been away, it was time to vacation in Detroit. I visited my boyhood roots, and the seeds that were planted that eventually turned me into a car guy. I returned to Belle Isle, Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe and toured the Edsel Ford Estate and the Henry Ford Museum. Tons of stuff to see at the Henry Ford. Finally, I stopped by the world’s biggest tire on my way out of town.

Check out the video, with a tour of the Henry Ford Museum –  Run time 8:13

Spring 2016 Detailing Clinic

Spring has arrived in St. Louis. It’s time for us to get our cars cleaned up and ready for the driving and car show season. Mark Parafiniuk of Clear Auto Bra and Saul Davidson of A&G Auto Spa hosted a detailing clinic for the St. Louis BMW Club and the Porsche Club. Clear Auto Bra has a great facility and the perfect venue for an event like this. Mark has installed the clear bra on several of my cars. I’ve been impressed with the quality of his work.

Lucky Winner

A Porsche owner was the lucky winner of the drawing for a free detail. His beautiful 911 was pulled into the work area for inspection. Saul talked with the owner about some areas that could use a little work. To me it looked like the car was in great shape. But Saul has an eagle eye and works at a much higher level of perfection than I’ll ever achieve.

The A&G crew then washed the car outside while Saul talked about some of the fundamentals of detailing and related products. They then used detailing clay to fully prepare the 911 for closer inspection.

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Karting at Pole Position with the St. Louis BMW Club


Anything with four wheels and a motor sounds good to me. Add racing and you’ve got my attention. Add a few friends and I’m all in.

Our April karting gig was a blast at Pole Position, the indoor karting establishment here in St. Louis. We pulled together about a dozen people for some friendly competition and pizza. Not sure which I like better. OK, I lied. I like the karting better. But pizza was in there… somewhere, I think.

The gang started trickling in shortly before noon while I got busy setting up my video cameras. One thing that’s nice about a car club is the instant camaraderie easily felt among fellow enthusiasts. It felt good to see some old friends, a few people I’m getting to know better, and several new acquaintances.

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