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Musings on the Past

Hartge’s BMW-engined Mercedes is an ode to a forgotten tuner

Did you know famed BMW tuner Hartge is no more? Don’t worry if you didn’t know, not many knew, in fact, the only mention of its demise to be found on the omniscient internet is a short uncited entry in its Wikipedia page, a Facebook announcement made by a Chinese importer of Hartge parts, and this, a one-off Mercedes-Benz W124 fitted with a bored-out engine from the BMW M635CSi. 

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”, according to RM Sotheby’s who will be tasked with auctioning it off at its Essen event in June. Strangely for an auction, 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

The Hartge brothers, presumably the founders of the company Herbert and Rolf, swapped the 134kW Mercedes 3-litre inline-six for BMW’s M88 straight-six engine, not before increasing its displacement from 3453cc to 3535cc, bumping power up to the lovely 246kW, pairing the engine with the same manual shifter from the same-generation 6 Series, and fitting a set of Bilsteins.

RM Sotheby’s lists no reserve price for the F1 and describes it as “a fantastic restoration opportunity” which basically means expect the cabin to smell like a mouldy sock drawer and a family of feral rats have taken residence in the engine bay.

Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Nevertheless, 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 but 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 too busy seeing how big of an engine it could cram 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 as 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

Rather strangely this isn’t the end of the Hartge name as Rolf Hartge, one of the “Hartge brothers”, who started the aftermarket brand Carlsson in 1989 with his brother Andreas, has made a return to the aftermarket scene, starting his own eponymous aftermarket company – dealing in Mercedes-Benz. 

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