This Hartge-Customized BMW E23 7-Series Is a 1980s Luxury Land Yacht, And A Family Heirloom
Photography by Naveed Yousufzai
Growing up in Norway, Bengt Kolnes’s parents drove BMWs, good ones. His mother had an E9 2000CS, and his father chauffeured the family around in his E3 2800 sedan, while Bengt and his brother would scour the local area for cheap cars to have some fun with—but these were far from dream cars.
Playing around with cars at a young age set Bengt on a path of lifelong appreciation for them in general, but his formative years in the ’70s and ’80s riding around in the family BMWs also imparted a bit of favoritism. Today Bengt is something of an aficionado when it comes to the Bavarian brand, for which he credits his childhood; “Driving around in my parents’ BMWs is what helped spark my interest in these cars from a very young age. I knew back then that when I grew up, I too would own a BMW.” It’s not an uncommon statement for a kid to make, but these proclamations of footstep-following rarely last beyond the next youthful infatuation.
Years later, Bengt made his voyage to California, and after settling in the golden state, he managed to catch a few sharks of his own, including a 1974 2002, and an E9 coupe—which he still owns—before discovering his uncle Lars’s 1986 E23 745iA. As he recalls, “I didn’t know of that 745i until later in life when I saw it parked in my uncle’s garage. He told me that he lost interest in the car when his wife passed away, as he shared many of his greatest memories with her in that car over the years. He purchased it brand new in 1986 though a friend of his that was working for BMW at the time, and it was sent directly to the modification shop from the factory to receive its Hartge kit and paintwork.
“Uncle Lars proceeded to drive it all around Europe, including my home town of Sola, Norway, before shipping it back to California.” In love with the car and moved by its place in his family’s story, Bengt offered an opportunity to resurrect the dormant E23 and continue its legacy in the Kolnes family, with the stipulation of never offering the car for sale. Uncle Lars happily agreed, and the car’s second life began.
To this day, Bengt makes it a point to drive the Hartge-customized sedan as frequently as possible. He often finds himself taking it for visits to Uncle Lars, where the two are able to share stories of their respective memories behind the wheel. As he shared some of these with me, Bengt said that his favorite part about the 7 is not only the underestimated driving experience of this big BMW luxo-cruiser, but the fact that the car’s managed to become a family heirloom.
As such, he’s made a point to ensure that the BMW is not only enjoyed often, but carefully maintained in its original form—one might be tempted to swap in a five-speed or play around with some aesthetic personalizations, but it’s ultimately going to remain in the spec that it was in when it first became part of the family in the 1980s.
Bengt will eventually pass the car down to the next generation of Kolnes so they can add their unique experiences to the car’s long and full story, but for the time being he’s still busy with his own chapter.