Hartge was set up in the German district of Merzig by two brothers with a mission. A mission to relocate the big engines from large BMWs into the small chassis of little ones. Commonly, 5-series engines were swapped into 3ers and then tuned in tandem with chassis upgrades to birth some truly special – and rare – creations.
In its heyday Hartge was effectively a more left-field alternative to Alpina. A typical conversion embraced physical engine tuning, like better cylinder heads and freer-breathing exhausts, higher compression ratios and uprated oily bits. Forged pistons and stronger crankshafts were common to most of Hartge’s models right from the start in the 1970s. Common-or-garden BMWs were turned into sports cars.
Then along came this. Hartge had heard good things about the Mercedes W124’s chassis and wanted to see what would happen if they shoved a tuned BMW M88 inline-six into it. This bizarre hybrid creation took the standard 3453cc six-pot and bored it out just a whisker to 3535cc before fitting it with new pistons and raising the compression ratio for more power. Bilstein supplied lower sport suspension.
It created a W124 with power bumped from a very respectable 180bhp or so to about 325bhp. Some have described it as a Frankenstein car but that kind of adds to the charm of what eventually proved to be a one-off. The contemporary press apparently went bananas for it, lapping up every ounce of information on this forbidden mating of two sworn enemies (although they’re a lot friendlier these days), but for whatever reason the F1 just couldn’t work commercially.
Hartge itself stopped trading as recently as the last decade and was officially wiped from commercial existence in 2019. That this F1 is now being placed on the market is no coincidence; the seller hoping to capitalise on nostalgia for a company that was so much classier than some of the outfits that tune BMWs today. The auctioneers, RM Sotheby’s, say the completely original car could do with a little restoration.
However, due to Covid-19 concerns the auction, originally scheduled for a date early in the new Formula 1 season, has been postponed to at least mid-June. We’d be spitting in the wind to guess whether this will affect the price will sell for, but there’s no reserve. Tempting.