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By Ben Selby
There have been many occasions when two car manufacturers, sometimes from different parts of the world, will come together to create something truly special. You only need look at the Ford GT40, De Tomaso Pantera, McLaren F1 and Pagani Zonda to get the drift.
However, one car in particular sadly didn’t make that list. The idea of two great titans of the motoring world joining forces to build this car sounded good on paper, but the end result was, shall we say, underwhelming. This is the story of the Alfa Romeo Arna.
The Arna story can trace its roots back to the much loved front wheel drive Alfasud hatch of the 1970s. With the popularity of this fine handling urban Italian car assured, Alfa were keen to capitalise on its success. What was needed was a new hatch for the eighties.
Alfa could see the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Lancia Delta flying out of their respective showrooms. They were keen for a piece of the pie. There was only one snag. Alfa Romeo weren’t exactly rolling in dough during this time. Therefore, they began to consider other options to give their project the green light.
Then the lightbulb went on. How about approach a large successful Japanese company and partner with them? So, the decision was made and Alfa Romeo approached Nissan with the option of joining forces in car production.
Nissan agreed, seeing this deal to have potential increasing their presence in Europe. This was also at a time where the reliability of Nissan, Toyota and Honda were starting to make contemporary European car makers nervous.
The deal was signed and the new joint venture, named Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli, began in earnest with a new factory built in Naples for the new car. It would be called the Arna, an acronym of the new company name.
Now you would think that the following would happen. Nissan would provide the mechanical running gear like the engine, transmission and drivetrain with Alfa responsible for some beautiful styling? Sadly no, in fact, the Arna was completely the other way around.
The body panels were shipped from Nissan to the factory in Naples and Alfa Romeo would fit their own boxer four cylinder from the Alfasud and five speed manual transmission. The end result was the car which looked almost identical to a Nissan Pulsar. The only difference was added rust and mechanical problems.
The Arna was marketed in various countries as an Alfa Romeo or Nissan. However, in 1986, the partnership came to an abrupt halt after Fiat bought Alfa Romeo. The new owners dissolved the agreement with Nissan and the Arna was swept away into the forgotten pages of history.
It makes you wonder what could have been if companies did what they did best. Maybe the Arna could have been as highly sought after as the Alfasud today?