Luxury automakers are typically the ones offering weird options for their high-end vehicles. Such is the case with BMW and its obscure solar roof for the E46. Yes, the 3 Series sold from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s could be had at an additional cost with solar panels in the roof. Although the tech had been implemented in cars before that, it was a bit different on the 3er.
Rather than being embedded into the actual roof, the solar module was placed within the sunroof’s glass. Consequently, retrofitting is possible by yanking off the E46’s standard sunroof and putting the solar setup. It carries part number 54130302926, and after a bit of digging, we’ve discovered it weighs 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds). The peculiar feature was not available in China and Hong Kong. The supplier ended production in late October 2009 or a little over three years after BMW built the last E46.
YouTuber Evan Goyuk has gotten a hold of the solar roof, one that has never been used and still comes in the original box. Made in Germany, the peculiar item takes about an hour to install and comes bundled with a separate panel with six small ventilators. You see where this is going, right? Yes, the energy harvested from the sun is used to power those ventilators and cool down the cabin.
Hooking up the ventilators is done by simply using a connector attached to the removable solar roof glass panel. An on/off button is flanked by three ventilators, and once they’re on, they’ll spin around the air inside the cabin to lower the temperature. You don’t have to make any changes to the headliner or wiring since it effectively replaces the regular sunroof.
For obvious reasons, it wasn’t available for the E46 convertible since the car had a folding fabric roof. In fact, our research shows BMW only offered it for the coupe, but details are a bit murky. This piece was manufactured on April 14, 2004, and judging by the size of the ventilators, it doesn’t look too effective. Then again, we haven’t seen it at work so maybe it’s bringing a noticeable improvement in terms of comfort on a hot summer day.
Either way, it’s a neat feature we’re glad an E46 owner has stumbled upon. Hopefully, the YouTuber will install the solar glass roof on his car to see those six little ventilators in action. In the meantime, below is an older video (from February 2015) that shows the solar-powered ventilation on a different car.