Ultimate Detail: 2005 Interlagos Blue ZCP E46 M3

posted in: 2005 IB E46 ZCP M3 | 5

Ultimate Detail

Every time after we acquire another BMW, I perform what I call an ultimate detail. This includes removing the head lights, tail lights, side mirrors, bumpers, all down to the last bit of trim. I do this to clean up any spec of dirt and to very accurately correct the paint for easier maintenance in the future. I had never documented this before but decided that I would do it for the M3. This detail spanned well over two weeks, 200 hours and 1,000 pictures. I have chosen the best images here. I also performed some small upgrades throughout the detail to break the monotony.

3.3.15 – 3.4.15

Over the course of two days I detailed the exhaust tips. This was a major job in of itself as the exhaust tips had never been polished. The carbon buildup was extremely hard to remove on the inside of the tips, especially at the edges.

In these two images the right tip has been completely cleaned and polished and the left tip has only had the inner edge cleaned and polished where the most carbon buildup was.

The thick carbon buildup can clearly be seen here on the outer edge of the right tip.

Flitz polish was used on a Dremel felt polishing cone to make the removal of hard carbon buildup quicker and easier.

The right tip on both sides has been polished while the left tips have not.

This is after the exhaust tips were completely polished. The exhaust tips had never been polished since the car was new and as a result the carbon buildup left discoloration on the edges of the tips. There is also heavy pitting on the chrome finish of the outside of the tips which is probably due to past road brine.

The tips do look many time better than what they did and it helps bring up the appearance of the rear end of the M3.


After recovering from the monotonous job of polishing the exhaust tips, I decided that I would go ahead and do a small mod that I had always wanted to do if I ever owned an E46 coupe. Make the rear vent windows one touch close. This involves removing both window switches from the console, disassembling them and removing the physical block that prevents the switch from moving to the one touch close position.

The switches pull out from underneath the console so the SMG cover had to be lifted up. It easily unclips, similar to a manual boot.


Underneath the cover at the back are two screws that hold the shift surround trim in place. After these two screws are removed the trim easily lifts up as seen in the picture above. The switches can then be unclipped from underneath and removed from under the shift surround trim.

After removing the switch, the electrical portion of the switch was carefully removed by using a small tool and unclipping the four clips near the bottom of the switch. There are two on either side.

This is the top of the electrical portion of the switch. The two amber leds are what light the window switches.

This is the plastic casing of the switch. The physical block can be seen for the rear switch where there is a little bar sticking out from wall of the rear switch location. Compared to the front switch location, the wall is smooth.

Using a Dremel, the small plastic ridge was carefully removed on the wall of the rear switch to make it smooth like the wall area of the front switch. This allows the rear switch to click an extra step and activate the one touch close operation.


There was some kind of grease applied from the factory where the window switch buttons snapped into the electrical switch. I decided to add a little bit of Sil-Glyde to lubricate the window switches.

Since I had the switches out of the console, I also removed the window switch buttons so I could clean underneath them and protect the whole switch with 303 protectant.

After reassembling the switch and putting the console back together, I coded the GM5 module to allow one-touch closing of the rear windows to complete this small project.


To test how effective my leather cleaner was, I taped off half of the center armrest and used a damp hog bristle brush to agigate some liquid Gliptone cleaner. It produced excellent results.

This shows how dirty the leather was. The side that has been cleaned has the perfect satin OE finish while the side that has not been cleaned is glossy from embedded dirt and oil.


I decided to clean and paint the rear license plate mount since a new one was $20.

It was slightly warped and the metal parts were rusty, but since it is never seen I figured I could clean it up and make it work.

This is after sanding with 400 grit sandpaper.

This after a couple coats of SEM Trim Black. It is not perfect, but it will do.

3.18.15 – 4.22.15

I finally pumped myself up and decided to begin the long arduous task of correcting the paint. While the paint was in good shape overall, it had clearly not been cared for properly in the past. Holgramming, RIDS and swirl marks were all over the car. The trunk was the worst and had many random isolated deeper scratches from what I assume too many automatic car washes. The thought sends shivers down my spine.

Interlagos Blue is a really nice color, but it was extremely difficult to capture swirl marks in a picture. This is one of the few that I took that clearly show swirl marks near the Hofmeister Kink to the left side of the trunk. The RIDS were a little easier to capture.

I clayed each panel before I polished. The paint had more embedded contaminants than any of my other vehicles that I have polished, but it was not as bad as some that I have seen. This is after claying the top of the trunk.

I began polishing with the least aggressive polish to see what it would do. Menzerna SF4000 Super Finish Polish didn’t touch it.  Menzerna SI1500 Super Intensive Polish did remove the swirls and some of the smaller scratches, but it left many RIDS. I wasn’t able to capture it in photos, but there were over 20 RIDS on the trunk which required sanding. It took many hours and was very disheartening at the amount of work that it took to correct the paint. The rest of the car was not as bad as the trunk, but it required the same kind of work. This picture is after compounding with Menzerna Power Gloss. Even after a couple passes with compound, there were still scratches left which is why sanding was required. The clear coat on the M3 is definitely harder than the clear coat on my other BMWs.

This angle shows the hologramming left from compounding.

I used a small square of 2500 grit wet and dry sandpaper that fit on my fingertip to carefully wetsand out the RIDS, all the while using a paint gauge to keep a check on the thickness of the paint.

This shows one of the tiny scratches in the left of the reflected light that required wetsanding.

After wetsanding, I used my Flex PE8 rotary to remove the wetsanding marks. I ended up using the PE8 on the entire vehicle. I used my Flex XC3401VRG to finish up in some places.

Priming the pad with compound.

I checked for heat buildup every few seconds with my hand. If it is too hot to touch, the paint needs to cool down so it doesn’t burn through.

Here is another RID that I was able to capture in a photo. These stuck out like a sore thumb in person.

Here are a few more RIDS. Four can be seen in this photo.

This is after carefully wetsanding the RIDS. I knew when the scratch was gone when there was an even dull appearance.

Yet another couple of RIDS that required wetsanding.

Keeping an eye on paint thickness.

Even after wetsanding and heavy compounding, there are still many RIDS to go back over and work on.

Here is a scratch that goes right over the edge of the trunk. This required very, very careful sanding and polishing.

RID wetsanded. I wetsanded in a soft cross hatch pattern, making sure to constantly change direction.

Compounded out and the RID is gone!

I started using a Sharpie to mark all of the deeper scratches that required wetsanding. It worked kind of like blocking. Once the Sharpie marks were gone, I knew the scratch was gone.

A few were still there after wetsanding and compounding.

Wetsanding again.

Slowly alternating criss cross.

Excuse the interruption, but I had already been working on the trunk for two days and I needed to do something else to raise morale. Since I don’t like oiled air filters, I decided to remove the oiled BMC air filter and replace it with an aFe Pro Dry S air filter that I had.

Top of BMC filter.

Bottom of BMC filter. It wasn’t too dirty.

aFe Pro Drys S filter.


In place. Now back to the trunk.

All RIDS removed and final compound.

Final polish before being wiped down with isopropyl alcohol and sealing with Klasse Sealant Glaze.

Beautiful imperfection free Interlagos Blue paint. The way it should be.

After working on the top of the trunk for three days, it was finally finished. I was hoping the rest of the car would be a lot easier. I then began working on the bottom portion of the trunk.

I removed everything from the trunk including the lights, trunk handle, BMW emblem and lock.

Swirl marks can be seen in this picture near the M3 emblem.

Everything removed.

Taped up all openings to prevent dust and debris from getting inside of the trunk lid. I also taped around the M3 emblem.

In this up close shot swirl marks and hard water stains can be seen on the paint underneath the license plate.

I put a piece of tape over the VIN sticker on the trunk lid to keep from damaging it. The paint was rubbed through on two spots on the top and bottom where the plastic license plate mount had warped and rubbed for many years. Thankfully, it had not gone down to the metal. After looking at the parts diagram for the E46, I saw a part that was supposed to go under the license plate mount. Two small strips of foam on the top and bottom. I am not sure if this was added to the parts diagram after the end of production or not, but I bought two of the foam strips and added them to the plastic license plate mount when I put the license plate on. This will keep the plastic license plate mount from rubbing on the paint in the future. The BMW part number for the foam strip is 51181944116.

The is the right half after polishing with Menzerna Super Intensive Polish. It cleaned up easily and came out real well.

This is the only picture I have showing the back portion of the trunk after it was completed, but there were several places that required a little wetsanding. Overall, it was a lot easier to correct and came out looking as good as the rest of the trunk.

After finishing the trunk, I corrected the roof.

After completing the roof, I began removing more parts of the M3 to achieve a better detail. I started with the side mirrors.

I removed the outer part of the mirror and quickly realized that the interior door panel needed to be removed to completely remove the side mirror from the door, which I did.

Earlier, I had removed the side finisher trim to repaint with SEM Trim Black and replace the rotted weatherstripping. Swirl marks can be seen on the rear C pillar.

Here is a closeup of the C pillar showing scratches and swirl marks.

This is one of the reasons I like removing all of the trim. Even if a car is completely detailed, when it is rained on or washed, it will cause the dirt under this trim to streak down on the paint.

Carefully wiped clean.

The outer window weather strip was carefully removed. BMW actually has a special tool for this trim as it bends very easily. All of the dirt can be seen that was under the weather strip. This dirt was also embedded in the felt on the weatherstrip and this can lead to scratches on the glass.

This is all of the dirt that was underneath the taillight.

After the C pillar was polished there were some RIDS that remained that needed more attention.

After spending many hours on the driver’s rear quarter panel, it was finally completed.

While I was taking a break from correcting the paint, my brother did something about the horribly faded rear parcel shelf.

It had faded to a dark blue.

The fading is evident is this picture, especially where the Sirius antenna was located. The parcel shelf was brushed and vacuumed. Painter’s tape was also used to get any dust and hair that was embedded in the fibers.

Duplicolor Vinyl & Fabric coating was used to recolor the rear parcel shelf. Light, even coats were sprayed until a uniform color was achieved while brushing in between coats to keep the fibers as soft as possible.

Several more coats were added until the the parcel shelf was solid black. Extra padding was added underneath to prevent any future rattles.

This was a lot cheaper solution than buying a new rear parcel shelf and it came out great.

I then began correcting the paint on the driver’s door.

Close up on the driver’s door of swirl marks.

The multitude of scratches underneath the driver’s door handle.

Swirl marks on the edge against the window.

Removing the driver’s door handle.


After removing the door handle gaskets.

After cleaning underneath the door handle gaskets.

Like magic, after many hours of work, the driver’s door is completed.

Getting ready to put the door handle back on.

After cleaning the door handle gaskets with soap and water and soaking them in 303 protectant for a day they were ready to be reinstalled.

Door handle reinstalled.

Yes, it was completely polished and sealed inside and out.

The lock cylinder was polished with Flitz to shine it up.

The lock cylinder cover was also polished and sealed.

I figured out how I was going to clean the dirt from the glass.

I wrapped a trim tool with a microfiber cloth.

Sprayed it with isopropyl alcohol.

And carefully wiped the dirt away.

All clean.

This is the side grille that was removed from the driver’s fender. Everything was washed with soap and water. The plastic portion was soaked in 303 protectant for a day, the chrome slats were polished with Flitz and the M3 emblem was polished with Menzerna Super Finish to remove the yellow oxidation.

Reassembled side grille.

After completing the driver’s fender (which I slacked on taking pictures of) I began working on the hood. Some of the deeper scratches can be seen in this photo. Thankfully the hood required no wetsanding at all. Just a little extra work with the rotary and they were gone!

Up close of the hood after polishing.

The hood completed and sealed. It looks great even with rock chips!

I also polished the kidney grilles.

Built up crud on the inside of the kidney surround.

Nice and shiny.

I actually completely documented the removal and mini restoration of the side grille in the passenger fender.

These two bottom tabs have to be released.

Two tiny flat tips will work.




These are the two tabs that needed releasing.

Up close with one of the tabs.

This is how they are released.

Passenger fender side grille ready to be disassembled.

Back of the side grille. Using small needle nose pliers, the retaining clips were released and the chrome slats were removed.

Up close shot of one of the retaining clips.

Top slat removed.

Everything removed.

Grungy chrome slats ready for polishing.

Grungy yellow M3 emblem.

Backside of M3 side grille emblem.

Before polishing.

After polishing with Flitz.

Before polishing.

After polishing with Menzerna Super Intensive polish on a white pad.

Everything cleaned, polished, protected and ready for reassembly.


Passenger fender and door completed.

Passenger rear quarter completed.


Since I already had the side mirrors removed from the M3, I decided to retrofit power folding mirror motors from an E39 M5.

I started by removing the glass.


Removed the adjustment motor.

Removed inside plastic cover.

Removed outer mirror shell.

Removed mirror base.

Removed mirror bracket.

This is the manual spring loaded mechanism that locks the mirror in place when manually folded.

Removed the spring loaded mechanism.


Inside of the mirror bracket. The manual spring loaded mechanism and the electric motor can only be installed one way.

Installing the electric motor into the mirror bracket.


The two wires were pulled through the small rectangular indention.

This shows where the two wires easily fit.

The hook that is seen slides into the mirror base.

This is where the hook attaches.

Reinstalling the metal bracket to the base.


I pulled the two wires through the rubber grommet so everything would be sealed properly when the side mirror was put back on.

The two wires needed to be clipped into this connector so the mirror module could fold them.

Removing the cover.

Cover removed. The two blank spaces are where the power folding mirror motor wires clip in.

Wires installed.

Installing the cover back on. After the side mirrors were polished and protected, they were reassembled. The mirror modules were coded to allow the mirrors to fold and the general module was coded to allow the mirrors to fold when the lock button on the key fob was held. I also installed the euro E46 power mirror switch so the side mirrors could be folded from inside of the vehicle with the press of a switch.

The taillights were extremely dirty, so they were disassembled, cleaned, polished and protected.

Taillight side trim removed.

Underneath the side trim.

The taillight gaskets were also replaced with new OE gaskets.

Old gasket.

New gasket.

Old gasket removed.

New gasket installed.

Gasket removed from inner taillight lens.

Old worn out gasket.

New plump gasket.

New gasket installed.

All of the taillights had visible and distracting swirl marks.

Before polishing.

The lens on the left has been polished.

Passenger taillight before polishing.

Passenger taillight after polishing. What looks like swirl marks is polish residue.

New trunk emblem after being sealed and protected with Klasse Sealant Glaze.


Old damaged emblem compared to new emblem.Trunk lock cylinder grommet was cleaned and protected before reinstalling.

The area underneath the taillight was cleaned, polished and protected before the taillights were reinstalled.

Taillight reinstalled. The improved clarity of the taillight lens greatly enhances the look of the vehicle while at the same time also enhancing safety.

Inner taillight lens with new gasket ready to be reinstalled.

Nice and clean.

Since I had removed the side skirts, I decided to clean them inside and out.

I am not sure what these streaks are, but they were almost impossible to remove. Tar X didn’t even touch it. If it was tar, it had been on there since the car was almost new. It took a combination of gasoline and scraping with a plastic razor blade to remove it.

After the outside of the side skirt was clean, it was time to clean the inside of it. It was full of rocks and dirt.

Soaked down with Meguiar’s D101.

Agitated with a soft hog bristle brush.

After rinsing away the all purpose cleaner it still needed more cleaning, so I soaked the side skirt with Iron X. There was an immediate reaction.

Even the sticker began to turn purple.

After soaking for several minutes.


Pretty clean.

A lot cleaner than it was.

Side skirt done.

The passenger side skirt was also completely cleaned.

The passenger rear air foil was also replaced as the one on the car was broken.

The plastic mesh and reflectors were removed from the front bumper so it could be cleaned as well.

The inside of the front and rear bumpers were completely cleaned like the side skirts.

The front reflectors were cleaned up and polished.

The areas under the front and rear bumpers and the side skirts were cleaned with all purpose cleaner.

When reinstalling the side skirts, a little bit of Sil-Glyde was added to the clips so they would be easier to install and remove in the future.

The front turn signal lenses were also cleaned, polished and protected. They were heavily covered with swirl marks. This is the passenger lens before polishing.

Driver’s lens before polishing.

Passenger lens after polishing.

Driver’s lens after polishing.

Passenger lens after sealing.

Driver’s lens after sealing.

The side markers were also replaced as I did not see restoring them to be possible.

New compared to old.

A lot better.

New rear bulb carriers were also bought as I retrofitted rear fog lights.

Used, but perfect condition rear fog light switch. The only difference is the addition of the rear fog light button.

A new cabin filter cover was bought as the old one was far too faded to be restored. Old on top and new on bottom.

When the rear bumper was removed, the rear fender liners were cleaned. They were covered in the similar stuff that was on the bottom of the side skirts.

It took a mixture of all purpose cleaner, gasoline, an old piece of clay and a plastic razor blade to get the rear fender liners clean.

Cleaned and protected.

Cleaned and protected.

All of the wheels were removed and completely cleaned with all purpose cleaner and Iron X. The wheels were then sealed with Klasse Sealant Glaze and new BMW and M emblems were installed.

Old M emblem being removed.

Wheel soaked in Iron X. Even though the front of the wheel looked clean, there was a lot of iron particles embedded in the paint.

Inside barrel completely reacted with Iron X.

Wheel cleaned, sealed and reinstalled.

New emblem sealed and ready for installation.

New BMW emblem and M emblem installed. This drastically improved the look of the M3.

This is how the wheels looked before. The emblems were old and tattered.

I tried to remove the old wheel weight residue on all of the wheels.

Some of it, like this white foam adhesive, would not budge whatsoever.

Inside barrel being cleaned.

New M emblem on another wheel.

Inside barrel on another wheel.


The exterior of the M3 was pretty much done now with a few more small things to be finished.


The front cowl piece had faded to gray so I felt it was in need of replacing.

It was filthy underneath, so it was completely cleaned.

The majority of the dirt was near the fender areas underneath the rubber covers.

Leaves had been here so long that they had composted into dirt. This is what causes cars to rust.

Cleaned front cowl area.

Some of the dirt that was removed from the cowl area.

Since the front cowl piece was removed I figured it would be a good time to polish the windshield.

It cleaned up pretty well.

Cleaned and protected rubber cover reinstalled.

Reinstalled on driver’s side.

Before installing, these dots were put at the bottom so they would not be seen.

Protected with 303 protectant and ready for installation. The engine bay was already detailed, but that post is for another time.

Installed and looking as good as new. Now I think the exterior is pretty much finished.

Oh yeah, I didn’t know where to fit this in, but remember when I said that I repainted the side finisher trim with SEM Trim Black? Here is a picture of the trim installed on the car and it looks factory perfect.

Now we are done.

Oh wait, I forgot. The same day the front cowl trim was installed I also decided to replace the M3 trunk emblem.

Taped around M3 emblem to protect paint and ensure proper installation of new emblem.

Heating emblem with a heat gun to soften the adhesive backing.

M removed.

3 removed.

After picking away most of the leftover adhesive.

Polishing the area under the emblem.

Nice and clean.

Ready for installation.

Installed and sealed with Klasse Sealant Glaze. Looks as good as new.


5 Responses

  1. John

    Awesome detailing and great write-up of the process. I just purchased an Interlagos Blue Z4M Roadster and found your site searching for recommended compound/polish for this color. Thanks for sharing! I learned some new things.

    • TC2

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! If you have any questions about anything please feel free to contact me.

  2. Kevin

    Unbelievable! I guess I can add another project to keep you busy. Try removing the headlights, disassembling them and clean the individual parts. It would be very gratifying.

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