Regardless of vintage BMW lists only one part number for the sunroof crank — BMW Part Number 54121859594. I’m not sure if BMW has developed a universal part or if this is an error: forum posts and personal experience indicate there are 2 styles of handles and they are not interchangable. The photo below shows the two different handle stlyes (without knobs).
The crank I’ve identified as “early model” is on the left. It’s wider and the knob post is taller. The “late model” crank is on the right. It’s important to get the right handle for your car.
There are essentially 2 styles of knobs and usage depends on the knob post design, again divided by early and late model e30s. I would illustrate the differences with photos but I destroyed most of the knobs trying to separate them from handles (more on that later). I can’t even find any pictures on the internet so we’ll have to make do with my 3D render:
Early Model Crank (Left) 1987 and Earlier
The early model sunroof handle has a plain knob that does not spin when you turn the handle. This is a poor design and I’m not surprised BMW engineers changed it. The knob is pressed onto a tall post and will crack if you try to remove it, even more so if it’s hot. If you are missing the knob you will likely need to replace the entire crank because the knobs are just not removable.
Late Model Crank (Right) 1988 and Later
The late model sunroof handle knob spins when you turn the handle and has a 2 part construction that manifests with a button-like depression on the top of the knob. The knob can be removed from the handle using warm or hot water. I’ve never cracked one of these knobs though there is some kind of glue inside the knob that can be messy and crumbles under heat. If you have a knobless late model crank you can probably find another one.
The crank attatches to the sunroof gears via a post. My old handle slipped on and off the gear post easily but when I finally found the appropriate replacement handle it was a very snug fit and required wiggling and pushing to install. I’m never taking it off now!
The hole looks identical between early and late model cranks but I believe they are yet again different. The hole and gear post are subtly keyed: one side of the hole / post is shorter than the other. You must align this to the gear post or it won’t fit.
The two styles of crank combined with this sneaky keyed design have stymied lots of people, according to forum threads I’ve read.
That’s it. I haven’t done a step by step removal / install because it’s just not that complicated (assuming you have the right parts). And now you know what the right parts are.
ECS Tuning sells a budget handle for $12.00
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