B-Class: revisiting the original Mercedes A-Class

Mercedes A-Class - tracking front

"As innovation, no mass production of cars started in the past 20 years can not come close to it"

The Mk1-class is a hero that served Andrew Frankel and his family for over 10 years until it was sold. Now he bought it back

A little over 20 years ago, my wife and I started a family that was something of a body shock for a number of different reasons. One of which was that I, a motoring journalist, would have to spend my own money on a car. Oh God. By that time, I had already spent 10 years in this business, advising others on what they should buy, more than once I had the opportunity to practice what I preached. Like the rest of my colleagues, I just went to test cars.

But it doesn't work anymore, because even if I could keep up with the supply of cars, I could hardly guarantee that they would all be big enough to carry what would soon be both of my children and all the clutter associated with having young people around but still compact enough to park in a crowded London terrace outside. In fact, to be honest, none of them will. Except for one.

The decision to buy an A-Class is not a decision at all. When I entered all the data we needed into what the computer passed off between the ears, the choice was (A) buy an A-Class or (B) sell your kids.

It was so easy. The class was short but spacious, small but strong. And if I bought a poor-manufacturer who had just pulled away from the Mercedes-Benz press park, spending the first 10 miles of my life fighting to the death, well, people like me, I could just about myself too.

How the R130 ONH entered our lives. To be honest, I was not very happy about his arrival. I'm not as comfortable with ride and handling as some of my peers, but it looked far from cool, went pretty slow, and although I'll fly in the face of public opinion and say it was pretty good, put together by class standards like some materials are not selected very benz. For everyone.

But then I did not understand that these cars are miracles. Okay, I would say that in terms of packaging, they were the smartest things to come on the market with the original mini and I learned about the layered construction and how the engine hangs almost under the car and how it absorbs almost all the forces in a frontal collision, sliding back under you; but I didn't study the benefits, because until I bought it, I wouldn't really need it.

It does not take much time. At the time I had a Jaguar Age Rating salon long term test car which was full to the sides with everything we needed for a weekend away in Wales until, at the very last moment and for reasons I no longer remember, we had to take a class . I remember thinking that if we could fit half the XJ that the kit costs on board, I would be happy. In fact, he swallowed with space to spare. And provided more space for the rear legs. The A140 is just over 3,5 meters long. With XJ? Good, round five meters.

But there is more. The A140's rear seats not only fold down as you'd expect, but they can also be individually slid back and forth, reclined or removed. How can the front passenger seat, which would enable the inclusion of A-class in a single. This car, which is less than the length of a thumb more than a Volkswagen, can, if you so choose, give the impression of a small van tolerably well.

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It's what you think about when you ride it. It doesn't have to have the dynamic prowess of a Caterham seven or even a Volkswagen Golf GTI in order to be a great car. When the list of the world's greatest cars is pulled up, the Citroen DS always pops up somewhere, but no, trust me, because the way it drove: it was slow, bulky and boring. But it was innovative and beautiful, and that was enough. Now, I admit that the A-Class can't even play prettiness cards, but as an innovation, non-mass production of cars started in the last 20 years can't come close to it. Indeed, extend the trawl to the last 60 years and I would really put it there, with the original Mini.

But unlike the Mini, the A-Class didn't stay in production for over 40 years. He managed 15 in two very different series (W168 and W169, both Benz geeks will tell you) but the second series, while more robust than the first, wasn't all that smart. While the W168 was available in two wheelbases (longer, providing more rear legroom than a Bentley Arnage in a car even shorter than a Ford Fiesta), the W169 has only one that splits the difference. And its rear seats just fold down like any other hatchback. Cheaper to manufacture, no doubt, but in all other respects, a serious step backwards.

And I think there's now some feeling that the original-class was a failure even though it was nothing of the sort. It was a difficult start after the Swedish magazine inverted avoiding the imaginary elk, but with different suspension settings and standard stability control seating, he conquered that. Build quality was more of an issue, not because it was particularly terrible for its class and price point, but it's not what people expected from a Mercedes-Benz. Even so, for a hatchback from a brand with no track record in the class, it actually sells well: over a million W168s in seven years it was on sale.

So why not stop it? Why is the third generation of the A-class as ordinary as the original was revolutionary? The answer is all in the hatchback, that's the word'. As intended, a hatchback could have it all, and it just doesn't work these days. This meant, for example, that the car would never be sold in North America.

Today, the in-class is built on the modular Mercedes MFA2 front-wheel drive platform. It's built as a five-door hatchback and four-door sedan, as well as an MPV, although it's called the B-class. Change outfit again in that four-door coupe and you have CIA or, with five doors, CIA shooting brakes. Jump into another suit and it will give you a GLK crossover or GLB compact SUV. Really stretch the points and you'll find class underpinnings under the Infiniti Q30 and QX30, too. Against such an opportunity, the modest hatchback has no chance, but its design is innovative. The irony is that one of the most versatile cars of its era was killed by the lack of its versatility platform was not lost on me.

But for us, the R130 ONH was perfect and stayed that way (if figuratively, not literally) for another 10 years. My children grew up in it. He took the dogs to the beach, rubbish to the board. But even we managed to eventually outgrow it, so about 10 years ago, we sold it back to Mercedes. At that point, Mercedes had built a small fleet of historic models, and wanted the A140 because, as far as anyone could work, it was the oldest B-class in the country.

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And over the years, Mercedes has restored it to its original condition. Apparently, the biggest problem was getting rid of the pervasive smell of damp Labrador. The car was on display whenever a new A-Class model was launched, and every so often, a journalist wanted to take it to work. But last year Mercedes decided it had done everything it could do and felt it was time to move on. I want her back?

The answer was clearly no. We have a family boat, and while the class may have a role to play, like a car for my older kids to ride, the reality is that the moment I pointed it out there was no air conditioning, no way to connect to a smartphone, the noses turned north. I was going to tell them it was an A-class or a bus ticket, but then I looked at the cost of insurance specifically for them and realized that it would cost much more than the car cost to cover them for one year.

So no, there is no reason to buy it back. So of course I did. In all 22 years of his life, he's only ever owned a Mercedes-Benz and me, and I just don't like the thought of losing touch with the cars that have played such an important role in most of my family's formation over the years. So he entered a 1950s 2CV in a 1960s Fiat 500 and a 1970s Land Rover in my little stash of stupid old cars where I expected it to stay for another 10 years. After that Mercedes can have it again.

How to pay for a used Mk1 (W168) A-class

£2000: this is absolutely the top end. Expect full history, low mileage and perfect condition. The long wheelbase versions are worth a look, too, because they're even shorter than the Ford Fiesta.

£1000: A mass of low mileage cars are available for the big one. But watch out for signs of rust. The W168 A-class is not as good as the later Mercier at tin worm resistance. Make sure to recall the work has been done and there are not too many broken pieces inside.

£500: even 500 bills can buy a perfectly normal A-class, and quite late, too. It's probably done a few miles and look pretty shabby, especially on the inside, but if it's been in good condition, it could still be a bargain.

Little miracles

1949 Citroen 2CV in: more than 70 years ago, the car from the ground hugged with a flat-forming engine, McLarenstiel interconnected emerge and interior, the seats can be removed in seconds. So much smarter than he looked.

1956 car Fiat 600 Multipla by the author: think the class is space-efficient? The original Multipla's was even shorter, still and provided seating for up to six people, albeit at the expense of luggage space. And probably not a big accident, either...

1959 BMK mini: a transverse motor, rubber springs, one-skinned doors, exterior hinges and even an inside-out body-stitching all contributed to making the mini-wrap wonder. A masterpiece of smart ideas.

1963 Hillman imp: the imp was abrim with innovation. Britain's first rear-engined car, it also featured independent suspension and synchromesh in all gears. The design was great. Build quality, Unfortunately, was not.

1999 Audi A2: Audi must have been crazy trying to make an all-aluminum mass market car, but the result was a spacious five-door hatchback that, at less than 900kg, weighed no more than today's Smart ForTwo. Expensive, but a brilliant failure.


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