Although not available in the US, the smaller compact Mercedes-Benz A and B-Class cars a spacious, innovative, safe and practical. They have found favor with more than 2.5 million customers as a result.
However, a unique example was built at the Rastatt plant in Germany that shows the B-Class in a completely new light: it's a B 55 with a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive.
The idea came from the Rastatt plant manager, Peter Wesp. He gave some of his staff the task of creating a special B-Class - allowing their creativity to decide what and how.
Andreas Wurz, a foreman in the technical vocational training department, immediately took up the challenge. He took a close look at the compact model and came up with an idea that it should be possible to fit a V8 engine.
Together with foreman Matthias Rieger from the electrics/electronics installation section, he assembled a team of 12 second- and third-year trainees specializing in production mechanics and automotive mechatronics.
HR manager Martin Spicale promised financial support, which made the project feasible in the first place. And a "victim" for the conversion was soon found: a B 200 CDI, which had been delegated to the training workshop for training purposes.
While the trainees disassembled the car, Wurz went in search of a suitable engine and found a 5.5-liter V8 developing 388hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. It was transplanted into the B-Class with a seven-speed automatic transmission and the engine control unit. The latter proved to be quite a headache because it had to be reprogrammed to process signals from the driven rear axle.
"The V8 fitted surprisingly well," said Wurz, "and we were even able to use the original engine mounts."
There were problems with the steering, but here too, harmony was restored with a number of modifications. The exhaust system was a clever combination of various replacement parts, and took the form of a twin-pipe system emerging from the center of the car.
Intensive perusal of parts catalogues also solved the second major problem, namely the rear axle. It emerged that the axle of an older W 210 series E-Class would be a good fit. Plant manager Wesp gave the go-ahead to obtain one, and Wurz and his colleagues designed a subframe to fit it into the B-Class bodyshell. Elegantly concealed within the sandwich floor, the E-Class driveshaft also fitted with no further modifications.
For the brakes, the team struck gold in the parts catalogue with the C32 AMG listing. Drilled 345x34mm disc brakes were implanted at the front, with 300x30mm discs at the rear.
The system was combined with striking 18x8.5" AMG sports wheels in a five-spoke design shod with 235/40 ZR18 tires at the front, and 18x9" wheels with 255/35 ZR18 tires at the rear.
The team then used a typical item from the tuner's toolbox for the suspension, installing a KW coilover system to lower the car.
Where the interior was concerned, friends from the training workshop in Sindelfingen, Germany were able to help, providing Alcantara linings for the A, B and C-pillars, as well as a headlining. The seats were covered in a leather/Alcantara combination provided by Johnson Controls in Rastatt.
The finishing touches were added to the B 55 in the Rastatt paint shop. White paint with dark radiator grilles and smoked headlamp lenses means the B-Class looks imposing.
The project team is proud that at 3570 lb, the B 55 is only around 400 lb heavier than the original car. And this means impressive performance figures should be expected. Wurz: "We have not taken any measurements yet, but we hope to sprint to 62mph in under six seconds."
Plant manager Wesp is equally proud of the result: "The team of trainees has done a superb job, and placed a spotlight on the sporty genes of the B-Class that nobody could have imagined."