Fitting US market cup holders to an Australia BMW E36

John Avis by | February 12, 2013 | E36

Aside from some cup holders inside the glove box lid that are only really suited to a picnic, the Australian market 1991 to 1997 3 series (E36) is bereft of any way to safely transport drinks.
Aside from some cup holders inside the glove box lid that are only really suited to a picnic, the Australian market 1991 to 1997 3 series (E36) is bereft of any way to safely transport drinks.

You may have seen the cup holders that were available in the US, the ones that attach to the centre console, and wondered whether these fit local models too.

There are two types of US cup holders. One type which I will refer to as the older type has coin holders, cup holders and an ashtray all in a fixed position. The other type (the "newer" type) has removable coin holders, cup holders and an ashtray which can be positioned according to your own taste (well, to a certain extent).

Older type BMW E36 cup holders
Later type BMW E36 cup holders

I only have a little experience with the older type but as left hand drive models have the handbrake on the opposite side of the console you need to turn these around the opposite direction to make the fit and look attractive as at one end they have a little curved piece that sticks out to match the console. If you don't turn them around the opposite way to the way you would in a US car then that piece sticks out the passenger side and looks odd.

I recently bought one of the newer type units and found there were a few issues in fitting to an Australian car. Firstly these units must go around the same way as the US as they have some tabs which stick out the front and hold it in place. The first problem is that the unit has some plastic tabs which I guess are meant to lock it in to place about three quarters of the way along. You have the option of drilling some holes in the console for these tabs to go through or just cutting them off like I did. Otherwise the back of the unit sits up about 1cm higher than the console.

The next problem is that although the unit has a friction type tab that should hold it in place at the back, it doesn't always work very well and the back can pop up. There is a hole at the back for fixing with a screw but again this will require drilling a hole in your console. So aside from drilling, the options are live with it popping up occasionally or using some double sided tape to hold it in place.

Aside from those problems the newer type unit looks good once secured.

I checked fit in both my standard console and another console I have which has an armrest and fitting seems identical.

There are usually a few of each type available on eBay (use eBay Australia and search International listings) but be warned that the units made for the E36 Compact models won't fit the sedan and coupes (sedan and coupe units are the same).

Now to try some various sized cups, bottles and cans to see how well they work.

13-Feb-2013: 7-Eleven $1 coffee cup fits perfect.

Cup holder sits too high
Where to cut
Armrest up
Armrest down
7 eleven coffee fits

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by Jack | April 23, 2013

I agree it looks great!! I've seen a few comments that these cup holders are too small and cannot fit regular-sized drinks. Is this true? This is something I've wanted to do to my car for ages.


bill fritzler

by bill fritzler | April 5, 2015

I have a 2000 z3 m roadster with the Fixed position drink holders. Will the newer style, (where you can switch around the cup holder position) snap/fit right into my z3M roadster?


John Avis

by John Avis | April 6, 2015

I found this post online and it seems to suggest that the later style E36 cupholders do fiT the Z3 models too. It still might be worth a bit more research though...


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About me

I am a bit of a 3 series fanatic, having owned a couple of E30s and a few E36s, plus a few parts cars. I like the combination of the compact size, good performance and handling, and that they are more sports sedan than an impractical and extrovert sports car. This blog is a place to share my experience and knowledge.


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