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Musings on the Past

When Hartge created a BMW-engined Mercedes

Did you know that famed BMW tuner Hartge is no more? Don’t worry if you didn’t, not many are aware. In fact, the only mention of its demise is a short uncited entry in its Wikipedia page, a Facebook announcement from a Chinese importer, and this, a one-off Mercedes-Benz W124 fitted with a bored-out engine from a BMW M635CSi. 

According to RM Sotheby, this amalgamation of a Bavarian heart beating beneath a Swabian business suit is known as the Hartge F1 and is the handiwork of “the Hartge brothers”. The renowned auction house is tasked with auctioning it off at its Essen event in June, though not much is written about the car’s history besides the donor car beginning its life as a 300E-spec model. 

Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

It is said this car was the work of the Hartge brothers, presumably the founders of the company Herbert and Rolf. In creating the F1, the 134kW Mercedes 3-litre inline-six was swapped for BMW’s M88 straight-six engine. The engine’s displacement was also increased from 3453cc to 3535cc for good measure, bumping power up to the lovely 246kW. To complement the new engine, Hartge paired it with the same manual shifter from the same-generation 6 Series.

RM Sotheby’s lists no reserve price for the F1 and describes it as “a fantastic restoration opportunity”. This is auction speak for, “expect the cabin to smell like a mouldy sock drawer and a family of feral rats have taken residence in the engine bay”. Nevertheless, what a gem it is.

Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

It isn’t very often that you would see brand-specific tuners dabbling with cars from other brands, more so rival brands. The Hartge F1 is more than a one-off peculiarity. It serves as a testament to the origins one of Germany’s mad tuners.

Where Alpina tried to bring some sophistication and levity to BMW cars, and AC Schnitzer was busy slapping BMWs with wild plastic and paint, Hartge was the oily spanner monkey busy cramming in the biggest engine it could fit into the most unexpecting of BMW cars. 

Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Hartge can be best described as what Brabus was to Mercedes-Benz, a tuner known for creating unassuming tuned cars packing an unexpected powertrain. Handiwork such as an E36-generation 3 Series Compact with a 4.7-litre V8, which incidentally is also up for auction at the same event, a Z3 M Coupe with a bored-out 5-litre V8 from the E39 M5, and an E90-generation 3 Series sedan with the 5.0-litre V10 M5 engine, marked Hartge as one of the few tuners that played the Q-car shock and awe formula. 

Sadly, that is all in the past now. The upcoming auction seems more like the sale of beloved heirlooms to the Hartge name, rather than a collector cashing in their “investment”. According to an announcement on Facebook, it was with Herbert Hartge’s retirement in 2014 that ultimately saw the beloved brand shutter its operations.  

Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

In a poetic twist, this isn’t the end of the Hartge name. As it turns out, Rolf Hartge, one of the “Hartge brothers” and founder of aftermarket brand Carlsson, has made a return to the aftermarket scene, starting his own eponymous aftermarket company – dealing in Mercedes-Benz. 

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