E24 center console refurbishment

I had a few loose bits in the center console, so I decided to take it apart and see what’s gone wrong. There were a lot of missing fasteners, and a few of the components are damaged. I figured a quick repair would help hold it all together until I find a spare to comprehensively rebuild.

The console is an old-fashioned design, made up from pressed wood, plastic spacers, carpeting and a few small steel brackets. In my opinion, it is under-built for the tasks it’s designed to perform. That’s a pretty common criticism of BMW design, so I won’t go into it further here. This assembly is subject to pretty harsh usage and tends to degrade over time, especially with minor water incursion. Unfortunately, the E24 chassis commonly leaks at the HVAC cowling seals just above this assembly, so water damage is an all-too-common complaint. I won’t get too judgmental about this; my car has just celebrated its 34th birthday. For a car of this age it’s well-made and serviceable.

I’ve always felt that the E24 was the last semi-handmade “coachwork” BMW. That’s not surprising, considering that it was a fairly low-production car designed in the early ’70s. Later models like the E28 & E30 have large sub-assemblies clearly designed for cheap & rapid mass-production. Ease of maintenance was also a primary consideration for the designers. On the other hand, there are many parts of the E24 that are problematic to even dismantle, let alone rebuild. Contrast the outstanding design of the E28 injection-molded dashboard & center console to the piecemeal hand-built E24 assembly if you don’t believe me. Or take the deep dashboard bezel on the E24 – it’s flocked! A throwback to the Bavarian luxury of the E3/E9 & E23. Later BMWs inevitably got plain black plastic, no matter how prestigious the model. Sure, it’s more durable; yet far more pedestrian & ordinary.

The E24 cockpit was designed in a time where dealer-installed A/C systems were common, so the integration is a little on the complex side. There are basically two completely separate units for heating and A/C, including a dedicated A/C cage fan. You can see how the center console is carefully wrapped around the A/C blower. It’s a relatively difficult task to remove the console assembly without damage, and several of the mounting points are in pretty bad shape. Remember that this car was built in mid-86, so it’s a mid-production model with a manual transmission center console. There are several different  versions of the E24 console, but they are all broadly similar.

  1. Taking the console apart is a delicate & somewhat frustrating job. Start off at the back. The parking brake trim plate has a horsehair brush, it’s secured by a screw concealed in the top and two tabs in the front. Remove the upper screw, then flip the brake brush forward toward the front of the car. Disconnect the power seat & memory controls (keeping in mind that they’re always powered, even with the key out), then remove the upper cover and set aside.
  2. Next, push the seat heater blanks (covers) out of the rear console. Use an extension with a 7mm socket to loosen the two rear retaining bolts, then slide the entire rear console back slightly until it clears those bolts. Lift the parking brake lever slightly for clearance, then remove the lower rear console and set it aside.
  3. Next, pull up the shift boot/gaiter to expose the shifter mechanism. I prefer to remove the shift knob and shift boot completely; it’s annoying but definitely saves time later. The BMW shifter has a plastic retaining clip in the bottom of the shifter knob designed to be both incredibly annoying and easily broken. Just pull it straight up to remove. Pro tip: stand over the shifter and pull it up into your gut with both hands. Yes, I know it’s incredibly tight in there. Yes, I know it’s hard on your back. Mine too. DON’T sit in the driver’s seat and pull it toward your face! You’ll seriously punch yourself in the face with a fistful of BMW shifter knob. Please take my advice – I’m being totally serious here –  this is the voice of wisdom talking. You’ve been warned!
  4. After removing the shifter boot, I like to carefully push the power window switches up and out of the console before unplugging them. Tilt them slightly so the connectors can clear the openings. Pro tip: it’s always best to push switches out of mountings with their connectors still plugged in. These connectors tend to be fairly delicate. BMW usually leaves enough slack in the wire harness to pop them out first. Disconnect the switches & return the connectors back under the console, out of the way.
  5. Then I like to remove all the console fastening screws. You’ll have to drop the driver’s kick panel since it’s in the way, attached to the center console by a bracket. It’s OK to leave it connected, just let it dangle down. There are six screws you’ll need to get out: two under the dash, pointing up; two in the middle of the console sides, pointing toward each other, and two more in the front of the console, near the firewall, also pointing toward each other. Those two are usually tucked into the trim carpeting. The center two screws aren’t required since they fasten the upper cover to the lower console, but I find it’s a little easier to do this without them installed since they tend to snag on the A/C fan case.
  6. Next, I like to remove the stereo head unit & unplug its harness. I don’t believe it’s possible to remove the console with the stereo still installed. Pulling the head unit will also allow you to push out the console controls from the rear (usually the window breaker switch and stereo fader). Pro tip: Never pry these switches out from the front, you’ll mar the console plastic.
  7. The center console is now loose, put the shifter rod back into 4th and start sliding the console assembly rearwards. It’ll need a little persuasion, but be careful…it’s a delicate & expensive assembly.
  8. I was lucky with mine, there were enough fasteners missing that I could remove the stereo & OBC panel once I slid it back a little. You won’t be able to do that if it’s still put together properly, since there are two screws retaining the bottom of the stereo panel. One is pretty easy to remove, but the other one is virtually inaccessible.
  9. Now that you have the console slid back a bit, lift it up to clear the shifter. Unplug the lighter and the OBC connector. The OBC connector has a black retaining clip in the middle. Pry it straight down (I like to use a small flathead screwdriver). It should move down slightly, less than a half-inch. Now continue to pull straight down, using it as a handle, to remove the entire green data connector.
  10. The console should now be clear and free of entanglements (but double-check in case I’ve forgotten something).

Onto the repair! I’ve attached a bunch of pics below. There was a lot of damage, many missing fasteners. So I turned to my big box of spare BMW fasteners (because we never throw anything away, do we?) and rustled up a few extra screws. Some were a perfect match, a few were just compatible. Replaced a few missing fasteners for the stereo panel, removed all the non-standard screws & replaced them with a matched set. Reinstalled one of the top flanges, repaired the OBC mounts (pressed an insert back in, it needed a little cyanoacrylate to stay where I wanted it). Tightened up the rest. I reluctantly decided to skip the other repairs to the lower console. It needs a lot of work, but that’ll require a little fabrication & a large investment of time. Frankly, I really want to spend more time driving this heap than fixing Every. Little. Thing. So I reversed my procedure above…after a few misadventures and readjustments it was all installed. The annoying floppy stereo panel is now nice & solid. After resetting the OBC, I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out. Here’s some closeups:

Since there aren’t a lot of pictures on the ‘net with E24 consoles, here’s a few for your edification & viewing pleasure: