Jan 072013

Over the weekend I installed my big Christmas gift from my wife, new headlights for my 1999 E36 M3. The new set is actually the same kind of headlights from the manufacturer Hella I installed back in 2004, but in black rather than chrome.

For a little background, the stock headlights on the US E36 M3 were pretty crappy. They featured plastic lenses, simple reflector construction and lousy light output. M3s sold in Europe featured ellipsoid design with projector lens and glass construction, providing much better performance. Here’s an excellent video from noted E36 authority fiveigthandten if you want an incredible amount of detail on this subject.

When I first upgraded back in 2004 the black insert Hellas, or shadowline in BMW-speak, were not available. I liked the chrome insert headlights, they definitely grew on me over the years and were light years better than stock. That said, if I had the choice back in 2004 I would have chosen the shadowline.

I’ve looked at getting them recently, but had trouble justifying the cost. Turner Motorsport sells them for almost $800, and for that money you could get a quality HID setup.

Then I found that Schmiedmann, a company in Denmark, offers the same exact set of headlights for $400. Seeing them at almost half price changed the equation for me, plus I knew that installation would be easy since I already had the chrome headlights. So  I “helped” my wife discover this link and this weekend finally had the time to install these headlights.

Headlight removal is simple on  the BMW E36, just four 8mm screws. The left rear screw is more easily accessible if you move the corner lamps, and on the left (passenger) side the alarm siren. The wiring is plug and play thanks to a harness that comes with the headlights and matches up with the existing U.S. wiring. That was important to me in 2004 and still is today, since I’d rather not get into splicing wires.

It actually took me longer to apply some Lamin-x protective film to the headlights and to swap bulbs out than it did to install them. One thing I hadn’t expected was some dust and particles inside the glass lenses of the new headlights. The glass is easy to remove and clean, but I really shouldn’t of had to do that with brand new headlights.

Only thing left to do is properly aim the beams. Hopefully my neighborhood shop Hollin Hall has the machine that does this, otherwise I’ll need to follow these directions and do it manually.

These headlights really change the looks of the entire front end of the car. Better lighting can be seen as a safety issue, but I already had much better illumination from the chrome Hellas. This was a cosmetic gift for the M3. This spring the focus goes back to maintenance, finishing the suspension refresh and doing the brake pads and rotors.

Hella headlight delivery

A package from the Old World


Hella Shadowline headlight, glass removed

New headlight with glass removed for cleaning

Hella E36 Headlight installation

Old coming out, new going in


Hella BMW E36 Shadowline headlight

Finished Product

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  6 Responses to “Upgrading Headlights On My E36 M3”

  1. This sounds like a great option. And the black looks so much better than the chrome look. I assume there are angel eye rings in these housings as well?

  2. Great article and good info. Thanks. BTW, if your M3 is a ’99 then I believe it would be an E46. The E36 3-Series ran from ’92-98, if I’m not mistaken. Headlights look rav. Steve

  3. Thanks Mark. Yes, include angel eyes.

    Steve — thanks, and no it’s an E36. BMW introduces new models sedan first. In 1999 the E46 model did begin, but only sedans. Coupes and converts were still E36. Same thing last year — the new F30 3-series was sedan only. Two door won’t arrive until later this year.

  4. I like the look, especially since I just bought a Boston Green E36 for a commute car. Going from an MCoupe (2000) to a 318ti took some “adjustment,” but I’m having almost as much fun on the street and attracting less official attention.
    Chris: did you sell your old Hella’s or are you interested in doing so? I had upgraded the MCoupe, & my new E70 diesel has great lighting: the ti is kind of dim.

  5. I wonder if that could be an option for my 02 M Coupe….I have the original housings that prior owner took apart and baked in some Projector Z lamps, but I think the Hella look great. Currently using aftermarket kit, always seems to be somthing going wrong with them.

  6. Great write up. I have a 96 328i that the previous owner put some hack hid kit in a depo fixture. Constant issues. Is the part number you ordered from Schmiedmann, FL36HELSHA?

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