As potential performance cars go, the first generation Mercedes A-Class is not a vehicle that immediately springs to mind.
After a Swedish magazine famously rolled one performing the elk test in 1997, chucking one around a corner at speed never sounded like a great plan. Mercedes AMG had other ideas though, ideas that revolved around doubling the A190’s horsepower by doubling the number of engines. Meet the Mercedes AMG A38.
Disappointingly (or maybe thankfully?) Mercedes AMG didn’t go mad with the engines, ignoring the fact that there are two of them. The engines were lifted straight from the A190 so only developed 125 bhp each giving a total of 250 bhp and 265 Ib ft of torque, figures now dwarfed by the Mercedes AMG A45. Look under the bonnet of the A38 and it was standard A-Class, the other engine being mounted Smart style under the rear floor. This still allowed a surprising amount of luggage space albeit without any sort of spare tyre.
Mercedes may have tweaked the suspension and fitted stability control as standard but the clever sandwich floor would always ensure a high centre of gravity. To combat this, track widths were increased at both ends and the suspension lowered. Attractive 18 inch 5 spoke wheels sat under subtle wheelarch extensions while braking up front was dealt with by discs and callipers from the E55 super saloon.
The A38 would actually drive on the front engine only with the second being kicked into life with a switch oddly by the electric window controls. A fly by wire throttle and automated clutches made the engineers lives easier although having both gearboxes cable operated from one gearstick may have been a bit of a nightmare. Once both engines were running, performance was actually pretty rapid with 60 being dispatched in 5.7 seconds, not far off a Ferrari F355. The van like shape meant top speed was not quite as impressive at 143 mph.
Driving impressions for the A38 are unsurprisingly scarce considering only 4 were allegedly built. 1998 F1 world champion Mika Häkkinen comes to the rescue here having been interviewed driving his new company car by a German magazine. Assuming he wasn’t just being polite, Mika reckoned the car felt screwed together like a Mercedes should keeping all of the luxuries you’d expect. The steering was said to be direct with seemingly some feel although ride quality suffered from the uprated suspension.
Even with all the extra effort, you still can’t change the laws of physics. You’ll notice precisely no photos of the A38 sideways because like the standard car, it had to have stability control that you couldn’t turn off. You get the distinct feeling that the extra grip of those wide tyres might be enough to overcome the 10mm lower stance and widened track should an elk wander into your path. However potentially life threatening it might be however, Mercedes should be commended for the wonderful insanity of this little project. If there’s one thing the world needs its more cars with two engines.
by Alan Taylor Jones | Reviewed August 2015