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Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

December 4th, 2011

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

From the time I purchased my coupe, my shift knob has always been pretty loose; I have even pulled it off a couple times on fast shifts. I got used to it after the first few drives, and it has not bothered me recently (although it has surprised some test drivers I forgot to warn). In any case, it was still a great excuse to upgrade. The three most popular shift knob upgrades for M Coupes seem to be the OEM ZHP that I purchased, the custom Whalen Shift Machine, and the UUC RK5. All are slightly shorter and heavier than the stock knob and all have their strong supporters. While I love the look of the Whalen knob, the direction I’m taking my coupe in is OEM+. I’d like to subtly upgrade everything but in such a way that the average person would not even know it has been modified. The ZHP shift knob looks very similar to the stock knob besides it’s size and the chrome ring on it’s base, so it fits my criteria perfectly. And what’s a little more chrome in an M Coupe interior anyway? I had more than one person guarantee I’d like it so much that they would reimburse me for the price I paid if I didn’t like it. Sold.

If you are pretty familiar with BMWs, you probably know where the ZHP shift knob originates from, but for those that don’t, here you go. ZHP is the identifier for the Performance Package offered on the E46 3-series from 2003-2006. It’s original intention was to make a quasi-M3 sedan in the E46 model as it was never offered, but the package later spread to 3-series coupes and convertibles as well. The entire package was nice, but the shift knob is becoming widely known as the best ever OEM BMW shift knob. It’s become a popular upgrade on models across the range including M3s and M5s.

The stock M Coupe shift knob illuminates the shift pattern and the M when the interior lights are on. The problem for me was that an illuminated version of the ZHP knob was never offered by BMW. Several companies out there have corrected this oversight by modifying the knobs with color-matched LEDs. The largest and best known supplier of Illuminated ZHP shift knobs is LeatherZ. They give you a choice of shift pattern inserts and wiring connectors to make the install as easy as possible. Tommy at Dorkfest alerted me to a German Ebay seller who also sells illuminated versions quite a bit cheaper. I went with that option. The downside is the connector it came with did not match up with my 2001+ connector. It was as simple as snipping off the connector from the wires on the old shift knob and splicing it onto the new one.

If you are not as picky as me and can live without the illumination. Non-illuminated ZHP shift knobs can be picked up a number of places including your local dealer for $55-65.


Installation is actually a pretty simple process partly thanks to talking to others who have done it recently.

Step 1 – Remove the Old Shift Knob
This was especially easy for me as mine was pretty much already detached. All you have to do though is pull the knob straight up from the shift lever with a firm even pressure. Eventually it will slide right off but be careful no to hit yourself in the face (it has happened).

Step 2 – Remove the Shift Boot
What worked best for me was to just pinch some of the leather in front of shift lever opening and pull straight up until the front clips detached (note: the chrome trim around the shift boot does not need to come off). I was then able to get my fingers under the front of the shift boot base and used even pressure to disconnect the rest of the clips and it popped off. (see photo below for clip locations)

Step 3 – Disconnect the Wiring Connector
Not too much explanation required – just get a firm grip on each side of the connector and pull apart. (see photo below for the 2001+ connector)

Step 4 – Clean Up
Every time I disassemble something in my coupe, I take the opportunity the clean out the nooks and crannies I don’t usually have access to. In this case I cleaned and conditioned the shift boot and vacuumed out the now gaping hole in my center console.

Step 5 (if necessary) – Switch Connectors
This may not be necessary depending on where you buy your ZHP knob (or buy a non-illuminated one). I just snipped off the connector from the old shift knob and used twist on wire connectors to attach it to the new knob.

Step 6 – Install New Shift Knob
If necessary, run the wires through the shift boot then reattach the wiring connector. Turn on the car and lights to make sure you have it wired up correctly. If everything works, reattach the shift boot them firmly press your new shift knob onto the lever, and you are done!

Step 7 – Drive
Go for a drive and try it out. I guarantee you’ll love it.

M Coupe Shift Boot Clips

Shift Boot Clips

M Coupe Wiring Connector

Wiring Connector


M Coupe Stock vs ZHP Shift Knob

As you can see in these photos, the ZHP shift knob is a significant 3/4″ shorter than the stock knob. It also weights 5.4 ounces which doesn’t sound like much, but it feels like a lot more.

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Stock M Coupe Shift Knob

Stock Shift Knob

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Stock M Coupe Shift Knob

Stock Shift Knob


I’ve only driven a couple miles with the new shift knob because of our recent weather here  in Colorado, but I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite upgrades so far. Such a seemingly small change impacts the shifting action so completely that it almost feels like a new transmission. All of my shifts seem smoother, and I literally removed the short shift kit from my list of future upgrades. I just don’t see the need any more. The ZHP short shift knob has lived up to all the hype.

  1. Warren R
    December 5th, 2011 at 18:01 | #1

    Cool Jon, same experience as me (except mine is non-lighted). I’ve had ZHP knobs in all my BMWs – e46 M3 for 3 years, and all my M Coupes. Love them!

  2. Quash
    December 6th, 2011 at 11:15 | #2

    After seeing this simple mod, checking your sale listings, I cant look at that stock knob anymore, its like a nightstick that thing. First mod I’ll be doing for sure

  3. Ken
    April 3rd, 2012 at 14:06 | #3

    If you want to get rid of the old shift knob please let me know.


    • April 3rd, 2012 at 16:32 | #4

      Thanks for the offer Ken, but I’ve decided to keep all my original parts just in case I change my mind someday.

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