I pulled twice on the left-hand paddle behind the carbon-clad steering wheel and the transmission dropped two cogs. As the electronics blipped the throttle to match the revs, the driver's head swiveled in the grey M3 four lanes over. His gaze settled on our silver projectile, and he set a course to intercept several hundred yards ahead. The heat-seeking M3 would've found us too if the down-change hadn't unleashed the hounds of hell. With a stomp on the left pedal we were gone, heading towards the horizon at warp speed.
The pattern was the same wherever we went - people didn't see us arrive, but heard the metallic growl of the free-breathing V10, then they'd attempt to get closer.
Some followed us until we stopped at traffic lights or pulled over for gas, so they could inspect the machine at close quarters. The 5.0 badge on the trunk kept people guessing, but the V10 badges on the flanks were simply too ludicrous to believe.
Another M3 owner looked at us accusingly, and asked "What's under the hood?"
"A V10," we replied, as though it was an obvious answer.
"From the M5? Does it fit?" he questioned. "Seems to..." was our inevitable response.
He gazed at the car a little longer, waiting for us to light up the rear tires. We didn't want to disappoint, so dropped the SMG into first, hit the "Power" button to release the full 550hp, and aimed the rocket at the horizon again.
As he suspected, fitting a V10 into the E90 was no mean feat. It involved sheet metal alterations to claim extra space in the engine bay, and pushing the motor back as far as possible to regain weight distribution. The headers were custom-built to help lower the motor into the chassis and clear any obstacles they might encounter. In the rear, changes were made to the trunk floor to allow the quartet of tailpipes to pass through unmolested.
While fellow BMW drivers were blown away by the prospect of a 3-Series V10, it appeared to aggravate supercar owners. Its bold 20" wheels seemed to rile them, and the exotic exhaust note pushed them over the edge.
Numerous Porsches gave chase, but it was Lamborghini owners who really disliked the 325i. Possibly their egos are a little more fragile, but they certainly insisted on being the only V10 supercar on the block. Not today, sonny!
As we took one last 140mph run on a deserted stretch of highway, we asked ourselves the same question you're probably thinking: how did we get so lucky?
It's thanks to six degrees of separation: we visited the Essen Motor Show in '05 and reported on the new V10 conversion for the BMW E90 from German tuner Hartge. One of our readers saw the car, decided he had to have one and contacted Hartge in Germany. They referred him to Turner Motorsport (TMS) in Amesbury, MA, the US distributor for their products. A 325i was shipped out to Germany, the conversion was completed and the car returned. TMS shipped the car to the West Coast for its Bimmerfest debut (et 8/07). Learning of their plans, we offered TMS a safe place to store the car before the show. We then graciously offered to deliver the car to Bimmerfest and bring it back. They foolishly accepted our offer, so we were free to drive it like we stole it!
To be honest, it's been a while since a modified car gave me a grin this wide. But then again, the Hartge H50 V10 is the true definition of a tuner car.
We're not just talking about a set of wheels and a carbon intake here; this is an engine transplant and a fully-engineered car. You get a modified version of the M5's V10, with its seven-speed SMG gearbox, heavy-duty axle, brakes, bodywork, huge wheels, electronics to control it (including traction control, shift speed, etc) and a gear selection screen.
If BMW ever puts a V10 in the 3-Series, it'll be like this.
One of the biggest complaints about the stock M5 is its lack of aural ecstacy; it doesn't sound very good, especially at low speed. However, Hartge's taken care of that with its own intake and exhaust system. It's added a soundtrack to the car that's utterly infectious.
We undoubtedly burned gallons of gas by simply holding the V10 in lower gears, so we could hear it bellow every time we stomped on it. The motor sounds more like a Lambo Gallardo than even the Gallardo does - raucous, raw and addictive; think of a Lambo with open pipes.
Add Hartge's own software and bigger injectors, and the German tuner claims an additional 50hp over the 500 quoted by BMW. Flat-out, with my foot buried in the carpet, it was hard to determine whether this was the fastest 550hp I'd ever experienced. It certainly gained speed very efficiently. Hartge claims 4.3sec to 60mph and a top speed of about 200mph. It's helped by being 500 lb lighter than the M5, so should leave the M5 eating dust. It should leave anything eating dust, come to that...
The car hooked up so well, there was none of the drama you'd expect from 550hp. With super-wide 295/25-20 Continentals squeezed under the rear fenders, they almost never broke traction.
With a $200,000 insurance value and a $10,000 deductible, we were loathed to switch off the traction control. The excitement we missed was compensated by having peace of mind; nobody wanted to phone Will Turner, tell him the H50 was in a ditch with a pole-shaped dent, and could he come collect it?
The owner of the car lives in Maryland and had apparently thought about using the E92 Coupe body, but instead preferred the understated E90 sedan. He even rejected niceties like navigation; instead, he bought a regular 325i, then stumped up the additional $100,000 for the conversion. Currently, he owns the only Hartge H50 V10 in the USA, and one of only three in existence; the other two belonging to Hartge.
Visually, the car strikes a nice balance. The owner rejected the two-tone paint job and vented hood of the Essen show car. It simply wears Hartge's front lip and trunk spoilers, as well as 20" Hartge wheels.
All these parts are available for a regular 3-Series. Where the H50 differs is the front fenders, which feature deep scallops that seem to be cut into the stock fender and then folded.
The interior is equally cool: swathed in black leather and adorned in carbon trim, it was instantly appealing. Its cleverness was initially overlooked because Hartge predominantly used OEM parts. The gear selector, for instance, is stock M5, as are the paddle shifters behind the Hartge steering wheel. The only thing that looked out of place was the black screen to the right of the instrument binnacle.
Press the ignition button and the screen comes to life: red digits flicker through a test cycle before finally displaying your gear, oil temp and shift speed. Now, hit the start button a second time to fire the engine.
Snick the gear selector down and right, and you're in Sports-Auto mode. Push it again and you have it in fully-manual mode. Reach down and ramp up the gear shift speed, then hit the power button so the H50's entire 550hp can come out to play.
Even when stationary, the motor has a menacing rumble that intimidates you from simply driving off. You have to push down surprisingly far on the throttle to get the electronics to engage. And as you start moving, there's a resistance. Yet the rising noise means you don't want to make a mistake; everybody's watching and waiting for you to screw up.
Pull yourself together; the car was built for speed. Mash the throttle and it pounces forward so abruptly that you again freeze. The accompanying riot from the exhaust means you're momentarily paralyzed, forgetting to shift up. And everybody can hear your ineptitude.
Pull at the paddle and shift into second without lifting off. The power briefly hesitates, then explodes under your left foot with another cannon-shot from the exhaust.
You make staccato progress through several gears, your brain struggling to take it all in, until finally you ease off and take a breather. All the info is in front of you: there's fun under your foot but your brain isn't ready to play.
After a terrifying introduction to the H50, you simply hunker down in the seat and prepare for the ride of your life.
Bang, bang, bang! The gearbox slams into second, third, fourth instantaneously. You look down, the speedo's in treble figures, and there are three more gears left to go!
And all this time, there's that noise. Other drivers glance in their mirrors, pedestrians turn on the spot, even dogs stop and stare. In noise-regulated LA, the H50 makes a bold statement. Thank goodness for those MD plates!
I can't remember the last time a car was so exciting, not since the RS4 with its "loud" button. That offered a similar combination of noise/acceleration/grin. RS4 aside, there are few cars that can claim to be as entertaining.
On the downside, the exhaust was tedious on our three-hour highway journey and the car's hectic personality meant you couldn't relax. The H50 is definitely a weekend car; something you take out to clear the cobwebs and remind yourself why you work every day.
It's a shame there wasn't an opportunity to drive the canyons. We could've got the Hartge suspension working hard and pressed deeper into the 15" brakes. The lightning gear changes and that exhaust echoing off the canyon walls would've been ridiculous!
We're grateful for our time spent in one of Europe's finest tuner cars, and jealous of the man who calls it his own!
Sam's ThoughtsI've had the pleasure to ride and drive in several impressive automobiles - from 034 Motorsports' 800hp Audi 80 to VW's 550hp Jetta R GT, and even a modified Lamborghini Gallardo. But none of these had the "true tuner sensation" of the Hartge H50 V10.
At first glance, it almost has a factory aura; there's nothing over the top about it, even with the 20" wheels, subtle aerodynamics and elegant fender design.
Push the keyless ignition button, and the real magic begins. Just who in their right mind could imagine a V10 in a 3-Series?
The H50's sound is comparable to a supercar - maybe a Gallardo with an exhaust. But the Hartge still manages to sound cleaner, classier and more refined than most Italian cars.
Although conservative-looking , it draws attention like a bright red Ferrari, with its impeccable exhaust note and smooth facade. As for its exhibition of speed, it didn't have a problem reaching deep into triple digits on the freeway. Acceleration was strong, but linear and easily controllable. With that being said, this car is like no other. It's priced considerably lower than an exotic, but is full of power and class; a true tuner sensation.
Tech sSpec2006 BMW 325iOwner: Turner MotorsportLocation: Amesbury, CAOccupation: BMW tuner, racer and Hartge Importer
Engine: 5.0 liter V10 with Hartge air intake system, headers and exhaust, software and injectors
Drivetrain: Seven-speed SMG semi-automatic, strengthened axle
Brakes: 15" front rotors with Hartge/Brembo six-piston calipers
Suspension: Hartge/Bilstein PSS9 coilovers with Eibach springs, thicker Hartge anti-roll bars
Wheels & Tires: 20x9" front, 20x10" rear Hartge Classic 2 wheels with 245/30-20 front, 295/25-20 rear Continental ContiSportContact 2 tires
Exterior: Hartge front lip, front fenders, trunk spoiler, carbon mirror covers, modified rear valance, badges
Interior: Hartge steering wheel, carbon trim, pedals and e-brake handle, custom SMG console, 200mph speedo, gear selection screen, M5 gear selector and shift paddles
Contact: Turner Motorsport (turnermotorsport.com800/280-6966)