In green land far across the ocean, where the roads are smooth and the corners flowing, where you can sometimes drive as fast as you dare and no one cares, and where you can eat great bread without being French, live the Hartge brothers. They spent their youth in and around racing cars. As their fame spread, the brothers began selling BMWs and shortly thereafter racing legendary cars like the 1602, 2002 and 635. Their customers took notice and the Hartges began modifying Munich's sportier offerings and turning out more performance-focused machines. Imagine their joy when, in 1986, staid, stodgy, button-downed Mercedes joined the DTM touring car fray with a muscular be-winged sporting machine of its own, the 190 2.3 16V, and opened a whole new box of toys for the Hartge boys.

In 1989, after several years of trying to support both BMW and Mercedes projects, the Brothers Hartge pursued separate paths. Herbert continued to concentrate on BMWs under the Hartge name, while Rolf and Andreas left to fill the needs of the perhaps less flashy-but no less discerning or demanding-sporting-minded Mercedes owner.

Rolf (pictured left) and Andreas Hartge now run their operations from Gut Wiesenhof, an impeccably restored historic 19th century manor house and farm (circa 1835), where original owner Baron Constantin von Briesen once raised thoroughbred horses. When the brothers started the restoration of Gut Wiesenhof in 1995, the buildings were a shambles-a tree was growing through what is now the main office staircase. By the time the work was finished, the brothers had been awarded a prize for the preservation of a historical monument and Gut Wiesenhof was granted official 'protected' status.

Watching their technicians install a supercharger kit is a double treat. Grow weary of modern machines (as if) and you can contemplate a long-dead mason's skill in the rows of herringbone brick barrel vaults that form the old stable's ceiling. Until the slightly menacing exhaust note of a Carlsson-tuned Merc brings you back to the present.

With the name Hartge already strongly associated with BMWs-and ungainly to pronounce in most languages-the two brothers named their fledgling company after Swedish rally and racing star, Ingvar Carlsson, at the time a factory Mercedes driver. Carlsson had previously won the Swedish Rally Championship in a Hartge-prepared car and has long been an invaluable development partner. Now in his 50s, he still shares driving duties in Carlsson's CK35RS (SLK) in the demanding and fiercely-contested BF Goodrich Langstreckenmeisterschaft (Long Distance Cup), a series of four-, six- and 24-hour races around the Nrburgring's Nordschleife. Its 14.1 miles and myriad turns make it a favorite test site for many major manufacturers and tuners.

"We love racing," says Rolf Hartge, managing director-whose staff warns to snug the belts even for the shortest trip with the boss. And at Carlsson Autotechnik, racing really does improve the breed. Unlike the barely-disguised race cars fielded by factory-supported teams from BMW and Porsche, many of the CK35RS performance parts are destined for the street package.

And unlike the rest of the field, the CK35RS stands alone; Carlsson is the only Mercedes tuner racing a current-model Mercedes anywhere. Nikko even produced a radio-controlled model of the car.

One of the most difficult problems Carlsson has is getting products to market quickly enough. A typical customer rarely keeps his Mercedes more than two or three years before buying a new model. So the engineers generally concentrate on one project at a time in excruciating detail. Case in point: during my visit the engine management wizards (tucked under a shed dormer supported by 300-year-old hand-hewn timbers) were looking for more power in Mercedes' new diesel engines. Diesels respond well to changes in injection timing but, afraid the piezo-electric crystal that controls the injectors might overheat, they built in two rest periods of 10 and 60 milliseconds during the extra 300 milliseconds the injector remains open. Now that's attention to detail.

Then there is the pressure to maintain near-stock reliability. These are new Mercedes, after all, not a turbocharged 1995 Jetta VR6 looking for a 500-hp dyno pull before the engine lets go. It takes between three and six months to develop a program with a full guarantee, according to the electronics department's Matthias Locher: "It has to be safe. We think it is better to have power that lasts." Not only that, but by using OE ECU connectors to plug between the wiring harness and ECU and piggy-back programming rather than permanently altering the board, the electronic changes are invisible to factory service computers. And the hardware can move to another car with no modifications.

Though most installations are performed through a well-supported dealer network, Carlsson still converts about 200 cars a year at Gut Wiesenhof, especially more extreme cars and trickier supercharger installations, and complete interior refits. "Anything can be realized," says marketing guru Stefan Mueller. "Though sometimes we have to say 'No' if we can't stay with our heart behind the request. Earning money is not everything." And despite the company's emphasis on individuality, a signature Carlsson look carries across the line from A-Class to S-Class: stainless steel mesh grille inserts, a new front spoiler and new rear diffuser. "Carlsson customers prefer understatement. The car looks good, but you don't know why," says Mueller.

While a Carlsson package is visually restrained, that attitude certainly doesn't carry over to performance. Spend a day in a 430-hp, CM50K (based on the ML500) doing 0-62 mph in 5.8 seconds and you'll forever wonder what the factory was thinking with its original, now boring-by-comparison specification. The supercharger conversion is unnoticeable at part throttle and moves the big rig with authority at full chat. Add some 22-inch lightweight wheels and the C-Tronic suspension lowering system and you won't be able to write a check fast enough.

Better yet, try a CK50. Even though the engineers were concentrating on new diesel engines during my visit, they had found time to work up exhaust and software upgrades good for a noticeable 40 bhp. The C-tronic lowering module (30mm max, though in nearly imperceptible steps) is smart enough to realize the Mercedes engineers programmed in a 15mm drop at speed and the Carlsson version (unlike some other programs) takes this into account while it does its magic. Just sitting behind the wheel of this mainstream flagship brings a quiet exhilaration, knowing that with the performance upgrades and a complete interior refit there is not another in the world exactly like this.

As Rolf Hartge likes to point out: "There is always a little bit more than enough.

Carlsson CK50
Battling with a bureaucracy gone mad
Some governments are worse than others and we don't have to worry about secret 'police' banging the door down in the middle of the night and wiring our genitals to a car battery. But they all metaphorically kick us in the nuts given half the chance.

So it is in Europe, as emissions regulations strangle the tuners' best efforts and force Carlsson to start from scratch with the S500. Standing in minus-five degrees, the case against global warming never seemed so flimsy.

See, the new S-Class is Euro IV compliant and is increasingly difficult to tune without kicking it back to Euro III regulations, which wouldn't sell in Germany. So Carlsson has had to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new set-up for its supercharged five-liter V8. They'll make it work, but it's going to take time.The ML500 still benefits from the old kit, but the S-Class was barely out the cellophane wrapping by the time I arrived at Carlsson's Merzig factory. So they'd only had time for a basic boost, mainly from a new manifold, a remapped ECU and a new air filter. So the fact they've massaged the power figures up to 433 bhp from the 388 bhp and the torque up to a heady 443 lb-ft isn't bad going at all.

This gives a new top speed of 183 mph-once the artificial limiter has been ripped from proceedings-and the car will now hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. For a machine that weighs well in excess of two tons, it's still physics-defying stuff, but even as Carlsson's Stefan Mueller talked me through it, the bitterness about the new rules made itself felt.

The car is still silent, from inside the well-damped interior at least, but pedestrians risk being blown from the pavement when the engine is revving towards its top end. As for the handling, the S-Class has always been admired for being comfortable without getting sloppy. Carlsson's C-Tronic suspension system lowers the car by 30mm, crisping up the handling and giving the car a slightly more sporting feel. It's still a cushion, and will raise back to the standard height when the roads get rough, but on smooth tarmac it helps rein in the understeer and, let's face it, the car looks better.

That's largely down to massive 21-inch 11-spoke wheels filling those bulging arches, clothed in nine inches of Dunlop SP Sport Maxx at the front and 10 inches at the rear. These new designs were launched at Essen last year and are subtly different to the standard spec, an S-Class isn't the right environment for grotesque spinners, despite what the rap community might think.

Aero mods have been kept subtle too. A front lip spoiler and new rear apron help this leviathan at speed, and the flush-fitted lip spoiler will further press the rear to the deck at 180 mph and beyond.

Thankfully the grille is far more stylish than on previous models. The huge Carlsson medallion has been replaced with a straight-cut number and reflective inserts. It's far sexier than the old set-up; elegant, as a Mercedes should be.

Inside, it's pretty hard to go more over the top than Mercedes as there simply isn't space for more pointless technology. So Carlsson opted for its quilted leather-and-Alcantara seats, combined with the piano black varnish trim for the opulent approach. There's an optional sports steering wheel to complement the kickplates and aluminum pedals.

It could have been faster, and it will be. But we shouldn't blame Carlsson, just the Eurocrats. -Nick Hall

Carlsson CK50
*Layout
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

*Engine
5.0-liter V8, supercharged and intercooled, Carlsson intake manifolds, sport exhaust, software

*Suspension
Sport lowering kit

*Wheels and Tires
Carlsson 3/11 UL, 21-inch
Dunlop SP Sport Maxx

*Exterior
Carlsson front lip, grille and rear apron

*Performance
Peak Power: 424 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.1 sec.
Top Speed: 183 mph

Carlsson CM50K
Subtle as a sledgehammer

Carlsson let rip with the full conversion on this machine: 100 new components under the bonnet and full-bore sound effects. A Wankel supercharger, unlike the screw-type favored by AMG, gives a more progressive surge of power. That's not so important in a car like this that weighs 4410 pounds and has four-wheel drive, but in an E-Class it can mean the difference between a perfect set of black lines around a corner and a trip to the accident repair shop.

A new air intake with an integrated intercooler that comes with its own radiator, water pumps and expansion tank form the centerpiece, together with new injectors, air filter and a sport exhaust system with four oval tailpipes-all combining to provide a monumental shove for a car this, erm, monumental. It feels vaguely ridiculous to get pushed so violently back into the plush armchair and hear all four wheels desperately trying to grip cold tarmac, but this machine will still hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and top out at 165 mph, although an emergency stop from such speeds would burn the brakes faster than napalm.

The car benefits from the sport kit, lowering the car by 35mm on to 20-inch Brilliant Edition wheels while a front lip and new rear apron complete the look. The nose sports Carlsson's oversized badge, but it's a rampant machine in any case and therefore doesn't look so out of place. It works.

SUV tuning is becoming big business, thanks to the ostentatious folk that veer towards them, and the slick new ML is a potential star of the boulevard scene. Carlsson's mods have toughened it up and the noise alone is almost worth the 17,440-Euro ($21,878.47) price of the engine conversion. -Nick Hall

Carlsson CM50K
*Layout
Longitudinal front engine,all-wheel drive

*Engine
5.0-liter V8, supercharged and intercooled, Carlsson intake manifolds, sport exhaust, software

*Suspension
Sport lowering kit

*Wheels and Tires
Carlsson 1/11 BE, 20-inch
Dunlop SP Sport Maxx

*Exterior
Carlsson front lip, rear apron

*Performance
Peak Power: 424 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.8 sec.
Top Speed: 165 mph

SOURCE
Carlsson Autotechnik GmbH
  • Page
  • 1
  • /
  • 2
  • /
  • 3
  • /
  • 4
  • /
By Tim McKinney
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!