Alfa Romeo Arna (1983 – 1987)

Alfa Romeo Arna -1988

Erm… where can you possibly start?

Everything about this car is completely the wrong way round, why would you deliberately take talented companies and have them do things they’re completely untalented at?

The Alfa Romeo Arna is symbolic of how a breakdown in communication can result in something absolutely hideous!

So, if you’re looking for a place to start talking about this car, you need to look to history. In the 1970’s, Japan first began to take hold of the European and UK motoring markets by way of cars such as the Toyota Celica. What was found was that Japanese cars were not only mass-produced at a rate that far exceeded that of the European manufacturers, but at the time they produced cars which were much, much more reliable. In Europe, car builders were strangled by Industrial action, with Trade Unions being funded by nations of the Soviet Union to cripple Western manufacturing. British Leyland, Citroen, Alfa Romeo, everyone, they all suffered from this bitter part of European history.

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The boxy and overall humdrum styling of the car was one of many sins.

To try and stop their market from being completely gobbled up by the much more admirable Japanese inventions, the European Community (the forerunner to the European Union) set extortionate import taxes on cars being sold by countries outside the Common Market. As such, the likes of Toyota, Nissan and Honda had no chance of possibly making a profit on the European market.

However, desperate to get back into their game, European manufacturers couldn’t do without their new Eastern rivals. British Leyland were the first to strike a deal between a Japanese and European manufacturer, with Japan and its efficient and reliable mechanics being married to stylish European cars. In the case of British Leyland, parts and components were provided by Honda, while the cars were put together in the UK, the result being the pioneering Triumph Acclaim, which, ostensibly, was just a rebadged Honda Ballade.

Seeing that the Acclaim went on to become British Leyland’s most reliable car, Alfa Romeo wanted in on this action, and signed a deal with Nissan to create a car that would get this Italian builder back into the forefront of car-building, this being dubbed the Arna, or Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli. However, this is where all sense of logic ends…

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The hatchback design of the car was one of its few endearing features.

Instead of Alfa, which was renowned for its handsome and stylish cars, designing the exterior, and Nissan, famed for its reliable and trusty mechanics, designing the interior, they did it the other way around. The result was a not particularly pretty Nissan Cherry being coupled with rust prone, faulty Alfasud electrics.

In the words of Jeremy Clarkson when he reviewed the Arna: “Can you imagine anything worse!”

The result was that this car and its weedy little Alfa 1.2L or 1.5L flat-four boxer engine was hopelessly unreliable, and just to add insult to injury, the same unionised workforce who had scrubbed Alfa’s resume back in the 1970’s were building them! As for the styling, I know that Japan can design a pretty car, just look at the Toyota 2000GT and the Honda S800 (though it can be argued that those two examples are ripped-off from the Jaguar E-Type and the MG Midget), however, they so rarely do it! When it comes to their conventional family cars, there seemed to be only one style that these companies chose to go for in the 1980’s, the Box-on-Wheels style, and that’s literally what the Arna is, a

AlfaArna
Performance was tepid at best, not helped by wishy washy suspension that would roll and lurch at speed.

box, like a coffin. For an Alfa Romeo, it has no flare, no styling, and while practical, it wasn’t exactly worth the price that the Alfa badge added to it. You could’ve just as easily bought a Nissan Cherry or Toyota Corolla for much less and have gained twice the car!

As such, upon entering sales in 1983, the Arna was despised from the start, and when it left sales in 1987, it remained unloved, being replaced by the home-grown, Pininfarina-designed Alfa Romeo 33.

Today, the Arna is cited as one of the biggest mistakes in motoring history, and a clear example of why certain artists should stick to their trades. Because of this, no one really wants to save them and thus they are incredibly rare. Indeed no one shed a tear when Jeremy Clarkson famously blew one up with a grenade during his show Clarkson’s Car Years back in 2000. A recent check in July 2015 found that there were only two Arnas left in existence in the UK, but both were untaxed and thus couldn’t be driven on the public highway. A few more may roam the roads of Italy, and this car may have a fanbase (somewhere!), but as is, the Alfa Romeo Arna truly is a cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t allow a Celebrity Chef to design a skyscraper!