How Often Do You Come Across A Hartge-Tuned BMW E30?
Photography by Denis Podmarkov
If you’re a casual BMW fan, you’ve likely heard of Alpina—a German tuning house that’s been fiddling with Bimmers since the early ’60s. Like Alpina, the officially-licensed automobile manufacturer called Hartge has been tinkering with Munich machines since 1971. Hartge, pronounced “heart-geh,” is a Merzig-based mod-house best known within the BMW community for its low-production special edition 3 and 5 Series models.
Scarce even overseas, this 1986 Hartge BMW H26SP is an exceptionally rare site in North America—even more unusual in California thanks to the state’s unnecessarily bureaucratic CARB emissions laws. So, when we found this old Bimmer parked amongst Alpinas at the Legends of Autobahn in Monterey, we had to get the lowdown.
Owner Gil Caravantes grew up in Guatemala where his father was a car dealer. Naturally, Gil took a liking to automobiles at an early age and when he moved to California, classic BMW caught his eye. After purchasing a 2002Tii, Gil was a sworn member of the Ultimate Driving Machine. As an active BMW CCA club racer, Gil has been regularly logging circuit time for years at many premier California tracks.
Over time, Gil upped his dedicated track car from a humble E30 to a monstrous V8 powered E92 M3. Despite the new power on track, Gil’s heart has a soft spot for older Bimmers, especially the universally-loved E30. One day while scouring the Internet, as enthusiasts tend to do, he stumbled upon the car you see here.
Andrew Golseth: Give me the rundown on how you got the car.
Gil Caravantes: I always look at Craigslist and eBay. One day I was on eBay and I saw this Hartge E30 for sale and thought I’d wait until the last minute to bid. I kept my eye on it. When I first found it, it was already up to, like, $10,000. Towards the end of the auction, it was up to $17,500 and for some reason I couldn’t push the “bid” button fast enough, and the high bidder won at $18,500. So, the next day I sent an email to the seller through eBay and said, “Hey, if the deal doesn’t go through, please let me know, I’m in Sacramento.” I wasn’t sure where the car was located exactly because the car had Arizona plates in the pictures. He said he’d keep me in mind if the deal fell through.
A few days later, I was racing at Buttonwillow. When I was there, I got a text from the seller saying the high bidder flaked. I asked him where the car was located and he responded, “Malibu.” I had race qualifying the next day, so I asked my mechanic and friend to take my truck and trailer to Malibu, look over the car, and give him a check if the car checked out.
By three o’clock that day, they returned to Buttonwillow with the car. I was so happy because the car was honestly the way it was described.
AG: So, you sent some friends down to pick up the car because you were too busy racing?
GC: [laughs] Yeah!
AG: That’s awesome. Sounds like some damn good friends.
GC: Definitely. But I didn’t want to risk it getting away like it happened to me on eBay. It’s so funny, the best part was all the guys at the track, with their new M3 and M4, you’d never believe everyone wanted to see the Hartge. It’s been so much fun having this little car. My wife and I went to a restaurant and the young guys in the parking lot just stopped, “Wow, what is this?” Meanwhile, my wife is in her Z06 and I’m pointing at her car telling the kids, “This? What about her 650 horsepower Corvette?”
AG: That’s great! So, do you know anything about the car’s history?
GC: Yeah, so the guy I bought the car from. His brother was stationed in Japan and he found the car there. He shipped it to Arizona, and then later sold it to his brother. I believe it was originally sold in Japan—Alpina and Hartge cars were really popular there in those days.
AG: That would explain why the car is in such great shape, the Japanese are pretty meticulous with their cars.
GC: Yeah, it’s pretty immaculate. The cloth interior is all-original, the only thing I really did was put new tires on it. It had some odd brand of Japanese tires and I didn’t know how old they were. So, I put on some new Michelins and had the car serviced because all the maintenance tags in the door jams are in Japanese, I had no idea when the last time anything was done with the car. I went through it and had all the fluids changed.
AG: Excuse my ignorance, but what all does an H26SP entail?
GC: Basically, Hartge took the standard 325i engine and bored it out to 2.6-liters with some headwork, a full header-back exhaust, lower suspension, and new programming. The body has the BMW M-tech package, which is the bumpers, side skirts, I believe the rear spoiler is Hartge, and the side vinyl and trunk “Hartge” badge. The inside is all standard cloth but came with the Hartge steering wheel and shift knob. The signature oval tip exhaust, I heard a rattle in there, so I took the exhaust to a shop and had them rebuild the Hartge exhaust because I love the style and the originality of it. It sounds great. Another thing is the paint. Diamantschwarz, I believe was only an M3 color, but this car came in Diamantschwarz originally.
AG: What’s your favorite thing about the car?
GC: The way it drives, it’s really surprisingly powerful. It’s amazing the torque it has, with the five-speed it’s such a great highway cruiser. I haven’t dyno’d the car, but I drove it from Sacramento to San Francisco to Monterey and, I’m telling you, the car performed flawlessly. Just in time for the BMW Centennial celebration in Monterey—it was the only Hartge car there!
People ask, “Why that car?” It’s so comfortable and the AC works great, too! It drives so well, just such a nice car and all original. I didn’t want to do anything to it to take away from that.
AG: So, no flogging the Hartge around Buttonwillow, huh?
GC: [laughs] No, no. It’s a little too special. It’s just a great street car and that’s how I want to keep it.