There has long been talk of an M-powered 1 Series. But while Munich's motorsport division has worked feverishly on the headline-grabbing big models, Hartge Engineering has taken the smallest Roundel in the family and beaten the factory to the punch. What they have produced is more than a boosted little car, though; it's a successor to the classic M Coupe. It's not a modified 1 Series, which has not been launched over here in any case. It's a ground-up rework, a new car utilizing the 1 Series chassis that comes with a Hartge registration, an entirely different attitude and that oversized, E39 M5-sourced V8 under the bonnet. The H1 V8 5.0 is a borderline racing car. But if you've got the disposable income to splash $80,000 on top of the price of the 1 Series for a weekend toy then you won't have more fun outside the bedroom.
Hartge has spent decades forcing oversized engines into small BMWs, but even they could have bitten off more than they could chew with the biggest engine available to them at the time and an entry-level hatchback with no traction control. So what I really didn't want was a wet test, but we were greeted by a downpour at the track near Metz. A French magazine was there with an M6 and didn't venture out all day, but the English are made of sterner stuff. At times like this one of two things happens: You either hate the car after spinning more times than is good for the owner's heart rate or bond with the machine to an irrational level as it dances with you on the ragged edge of adhesion. My H1 drive was a love affair from lap two.
It had already impressed for different reasons on the way over. Of course it's got power to burn and will leave almost anything in its wake as it races to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and keeps going all the way up to 188 mph, despite the bread-van-like aerodynamics of the base car. But the E39 engine, with its double-Vanos valvetrain, is a master in the art of powerplant schizophrenia and nowhere is it more graphically illustrated than in this machine.
Kept beneath 4000 rpm this car is a pussycat, and apart from the inimitable V8 rumble emanating from the twin-exit exhaust you'd never guess it was quite this mad. Of course, it pulls like a train in any gear with a snap of the right foot, but driven conservatively it's a civil experience, giving the occupant time to settle into the bucket seats and enjoy the carbon fiber liberally splashed over the wheel, dashboard and center console.
Past the 4000 rpm watershed this 3,200-pound machine takes off like a rocket. It will slide all the way through the first four gears, even in a straight line, and it shimmied on me down the main straight at this short track at speeds up to 140 mph. Fishtailing in a straight line as it hit the puddles, before squatting down and lunging forward once again without ever threatening to spin once, was a mightily impressive achievement in its own right.
Out of the hairpins the H1 is perfectly happy at 45 degrees, with half a turn of opposite lock and the rear wheels spinning up a treat. On a dry track we'd have cooked the tires in a few laps, but in the wet the sheer balance and adjustability of this 450-bhp go-kart defied belief. The car always wriggled out of line with a hefty boot of power, but it was always by the same amount, corrected with exactly the same amount of opposite lock. In short, even in the wet, this car is a driver's dream.