Having a special edition named after you is normally something of a compliment. But there’s an exception to every rule.
The world of Formula One is brutal and uncompromising. Few make it to its pinnacle, fewer still achieve greatness. Double World champion, Mika Häkkinen appears to have been one of Grand Prix’s more pleasant individuals – famously taciturn when fixed in the camera’s glare, but said to have been considerably better company once they were turned off. Quick too – perhaps the only driver of his era who gave seven-time champion, Michael Schumacher a genuine run for his money.
Mika attained motorsport’s ultimate accolade in 1998, when he took his McLaren Mercedes MP4-13 to the World Championship – the Swabian’s first since the fabled ‘Silver Arrows’ era. This was a matter of some historical significance to the Stuttgart-Untertürkheim car giant, so what better way to commemorate this event than by producing an appropriately performance-oriented limited edition model.
If the W168 A-Class was very much the wrong answer to a question that really shouldn’t have been posed in the first place, this special edition magnifies the elk-fearing wheelie bin’s failings to levels both unprecedented and grotesque. What Mr Häkkinen made of it remains unrecorded, but one can imagine the expletives that issued from his lips.
Basically a standard 1.6 litre A-Class with a fancy red leather interior, a full-length sunroof and a set of AMG wheels, painted in a similar livery to that of the contemporary grand prix McLarens, the A160 Formula Häkkinen Edition to all intents and purposes resembled nothing so much as a four wheeled packet of West cigarettes. It’s difficult to imagine exactly who this cynical device was aimed at, because lets face it, even the most ardent Häkkinen fan would have baulked at driving something as tawdry as this – especially at the prices Mercedes were charging.
250 commemorative Mercedes-Benz A160’s were produced in total, but you may be interested to note not all were to ‘maximum attack Mika’ specification. An undocumented number had David Coulthard’s name emblazoned on both driver and passenger doors. As Häkkinen’s team mate, sidekick and second violin, it’s likely the Scotsman is perhaps the only person alive who knows how many bore his name – (or cares for that matter).
Everybody wants to be remembered for the right things. Doing well by doing right, acting with integrity; hopefully, with a modicum of grace. Mika Häkkinen seems to have been a decent individual in a world of sharks, one who attained the highest accolade in the ‘sport’ on two occasions before walking away to get on with his life. Surely he deserved a more fitting accolade than this?
Mercedes’ Jurgen Hubbert was also said to have been a man of some integrity – a modest individual who reputedly put the interests of others above his own, so perhaps it’s not entirely charitable to take cheap shots. But the A-Class is nevertheless hard to absolve – as indeed is the direction he took the business. Dieter Zetsche, (Mercedes’ then head of marketing), on the other hand was directly responsible for this monstrosity, so it’s just as well he isn’t running the show now… Oh crap.