What it's like cramming a 4.7-litre V8 into BMW's worst car
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It turns out the Driven office has a reasonably diverse range of opinions on the now well defunct BMW 3 Series Compact.
For two generations (E36 and E46), the snub-tailled Beemer was the German manufacturer's entry-level car underneath the rest of the normal-sized 3 Series range. While (thanks to the success of its 1 Series replacement) the idea of a cheap small BMW is fairly standard today, at the time both Compact generations were met with a lot of criticism for cheapening the brand's heritage.
On the flipside, as pointed out aggressively by Driven's resident E36 fan — Andrew 'Goose' Sluys — the Compact represents something very different today. It's now considered to be a cheap and unique way to get into slidey slidey rear-wheel drive motoring, and it's also prime for a raft of very intereting engine swaps thanks to its ample engine-bay.
There was one 'big block' 3 Series Compact, being the 2.5-litre inline-six powered 323ti and 325ti. But, even in the era in which they were produced, there were other options out there for people that wanted to jam even more power in the maligned coupe.
One of the main brands behind this was tuning firm Hartge. Although it sadly folded last year, Hartge was considered a leading BMW specialist for a long time. And among its more odd projects was this slightly innocent looking 1997 323ti.
It's currently on sale with auctionhouse RM Sotheby's, who are set to offer it at the upcoming Essen auction on March 26–27 with no reserve. It's done a tiny 37,500km, comes with swish looking Recaro buckets, adjustable Bilstein suspension, and a raft of Hartge-built bits — like the wheels.
For a Compact, it does look rather nice. But the kicker is what sits rumbling under the bonnet.
Yup, as per the headline, this little 3 Series comes fitted with a 4.7-litre V8 engine.
Specifically, it's based on BMW's 4.4-litre M52B44 unit — an engine that featured in the E39 BMW 5 Series 540i, as well as in the 7 Series and 8 Series. The build was conducted in 1999, and wasn't cheap. It reportedly totaled 146,000 Deutsche Marks, which equates to around $135,000 today.
Naturally then, the build wasn't some alleyway botch job. This swap was carried out by Hartge; electing to increase displacement and tune the engine to produce an extra 47kW of power and 80Nm of torque — making for roughly 250kW and 500Nm total. Plenty in something with such a tiny wheelbase.
Hartge claimed at the time that the little V8 Compact could hit 100km/h in less than five seconds, with a top speed of 270km/h coming if you had enough runway to play with. One imagines it would've been a glorious pig to bomb down a twisty road.
In order to help with taming the beast, Hartge also threw the six-speed manual from a BMW M3, a Hartge's-own rear axle, an on-board computer, and a larger tyre set at the little brute — along with those aforementioned upgrades to suspension.
According to RM Sotheby's, it's believed that this is one of just two examples that Hartge put together. This makes it one of the rarest builds of its kind on the planet.