The class were rebuilt from B class locomotives originally constructed in the 1950s, as part of the New Deal reforms of passenger rail operations in Victoria. The rebuild contract was let in January 1983 to Clyde Engineering, Rosewater with the first locomotive entering service in May 1984, but the project was abandoned in mid 1985 after rising costs due to structural fatigue, with the 11th rebuild delivered in August 1985. It was decided to instead built more of the N class locomotives, mechanically similar to the A class. The major difference was the addition of head end power generators, as it was believed this was a more efficient way of supplying power for air-conditioning and lighting than power vans or individual generator sets under carriages.
Four locomotives were named after Australian rules football players in September 1984, while A60 was named after former railway commissioner Harold Clapp. In July 1986, A85 was regeared for 160 km/h (99 mph) operation, and tested between Glenorchy and Lubeck, to test an H type carriage set fitted with high speed bogies, but was returned to the standard 133 km/h (83 mph) gearing soon after. In preparation for the privatisation of V/Line, four were allocated to passenger services and seven to freight services.
V/Line withdrew their fleet with A60 operating the final service, the 16:15 Southern Cross to Bacchus Marsh on 24 April 2013. V/Line subsequently returned A66 and A70 to service, with the latter since withdrawn. Pacific National withdrew its last examples in May 2014.