My 94 325i had a grey crinkled finish below the doors that had faded
and looked especially terrible because parts had faded more than the
rest so the color was not only much lighter than originally but also
uneven. I saw some old posts about removing the grey to reveal body
color underneath, and some other old posts mentioned good results with
a $60 kit of cleaner and brush-on paint, but I never tried either.
When I was throwing out some old spray cans off a shelf in my garage,
I just happened to notice that the color of the cap of an old can of
Nu-Life Color Spray that I bought to refinish the leather steering
wheel of my 87 Sterling was a pretty good match with the color of the
front and rear valances on the BMW. I think the rocker panels matched
the valances when the car was new. The old can was twelve years old,
and all I could get out of it was a little glob of the stuff when I
tried to spray it, but I smeared some on the rocker with my finger and
it seemed perfect. So today I went to a shoe repair shop and bought a
new can (it's only $6.00). I cleaned the surface, masked off the area,
and sprayed on one coat. It seems to absorb into the old grey stuff
and seal it. I don't know if it will last, but I have high hopes
because when I used it on that steering wheel, it lasted for the three
years I kept the car even though the car was parked in the Texas sun
and the steering wheel was also subjected to my sweaty hands. Time
will tell what things like road tar and gravel will do to it, but I
think it would be easy to touch up.
The stuff is called Nu-Life Color Spray, which says it is to "renew or
change the color of leather, vinyl, or plastic." The color is number
950. It is called charcoal grey, and you would think from looking at
it that it would be too dark, but it matches the valances pretty well.
It is much darker than the rocker panels were, but I think they just
got lighter and lighter as they faded. If you wet a finger and rub it
onto the faded rocker to give it a "wet look," that's about what the
rockers will look like after being coated with the Nu-Life. The only
downside is that the finish is pretty high gloss, and I would have
preferred it to be a bit less shiny. They only place I could find it
was at a shoe repair shop.
I still see plenty of e36's with faded grey rocker panels, so if
you're one of the remaining people like me who just lived with it,
this is a really easy way to make them match the front and rear
plastic valances. My wife also has this problem on her 92 325i. I work
in Texas and she's in Albany NY, so after I do hers I'll have two
pretty different climates to see how it holds up, and I'll try to
remember to post a follow-up after I see if it lasts.