Alfa Romeo Arna: the Alfista people pamper it

A MACHINE THAT MUST “HAPPEN” – With that slightly naïf line that seems to have been cut with a hatchet, it could only go down in history as the “ugly duckling ”of Alfa Romeo. Despite this, there are beginning to be those who go beyond appearances, while continuing to see the unfortunate result of an unfortunate industrial alliance between two geographically distant realities and at the antipodes for the “culture” of making cars. And then there are those who, for historical or affectionate reasons, have learned to appreciate it simply for what it is. To re-read the history ofArna – acronym which, for the uninitiated, stands for Alfa Romeo Nissan Car – and discover the lesser known aspects, we have been to Alfa Romeo Historical Museumthat to this eternal “misunderstood” subcompact of the 80s with an Italian-Japanese passport last Sunday he dedicated a beautiful day of study.

FROM “METEORA” TO OBJECT OF DESIRE – Before the conference, the ritual parade on the museum’s pistino is not to be missed. And here is the first surprise: eleven Alfa Romeo Arna one in a row, perhaps, only the workers on the assembly line had seen them. Yet, to our great amazement, we discover that for an as-new specimen of what, if you want to make it simple, is a Nissan Pulsar in N10 version with 80% of the mechanics ofAlfasudtoday in Japan there are those who are willing to shell out even more than 20,000 euros. Is this enough to speak of a “revenge” on a career which, on balance and thanks to a look certainly distant from the Alfista imaginary, has ended up relegating the Arna to the margins of the Alfa Romeo myth?

THERE ARE THOSE WHO GO REALLY MAD – The best way to try to understand it is to chat with whoever it is.Alfa Romeo Arna he really carries it in his heart. In the garage of Avellino Eugenio Avitabile (pictured below) there are even six, including of course the 1986 Venetian red 1.2 SL which, together with his friend the coachbuilder Franco Vinciguerra, accompanied him to Arese. A quick exchange of words is enough to understand that no, we are not at the limits of the pathological, but in front of a very rare example of pure passion. “More than for obvious geographical reasons (between 1983 and 1987 the Arna was produced in a factory built ad hoc in Pratola Serra, a handful of kilometers north of Avellino, ed), I approached the Arna out of curiosity – Eugenio begins -. I saw one about fifteen years ago and something clicked in me. Anyway, whatever people say, it’s a real Alfa Romeo “, he assures us, leaving us the wheel of his favorite for a small test drive in the museum parking lot.

THE MECHANICS IS ALPHA ALMOST 100% – The rhombus captivating of the Alfa boxer is unmistakable, and it is always a great pleasure to listen to it in full swing. And then the Arna is agile and agile. On the other hand, as he explained in detail in his speech at the conference organized by the staff of the Luciano Colle Museum, at the time in charge of the Alfa Romeo engine project, “the mechanics, starting from the engines, derive almost completely from that of the Alfasud , which at that time was evolving into that of the more modern Alfa 33 ”. Both machines fromindisputable sporting imprint, albeit more “popular” than the contemporary older sisters Giulietta, 75, 90 and Alfetta. “There were no particular hitches in setting up the Arna, because in fact there was no need for major interventions – says Colle -: some modification of the attachment points to the body of the powerplant was enough (the boxer of the Alfasud was mounted longitudinally, and not transversely like the Nissan engine, ed). The only real problem was the behavior on the roadwhich was a bit too oversteer: in the end we solved everything by moving the apex point of the rear suspension triangle by 20 millimeters, yes, those of Nissan origin ”.

OBSTACLES TO SUCCESS – To give the Arna the driving pleasure typical of an Alfa Romeo, the Biscione technicians worked on the details with obsessive attention. To the point of convincing the Japanese colleagues, for whom the car was fine this way, to increase the wheel camber from 1 ° to 3 °. The “problem” is that the same dedication did not concern the more upstream aspects of the project, which Alfa, with an expansion of the range downwards, should have made it possible to recover the market shares that have been progressively lost since the ‘ 70 and Nissan supplied the Trojan horse ideal for landing in Europe. On paper, it looked like a pioneering operation, as well as beneficial to both sides. Importing the Japanese body, at least in an initial phase of depreciation of the yen, cost Alfa much less than producing a new one in Italy. But there were two basic problems, both of which were insurmountable. On the one hand, the Pratola Serra factory: not very modern and not as automated as it should have been, it was built against all economic criteria, for exclusive political reasons (the Pulsar had dimensions compatible with the Pomigliano d’Arco lines, which Alfasud alone was not enough to saturate, but prevailed the pressures of the Christian Democrats, to which Alfa, at the time of state ownership, could not say no). On the other, the fear of Fiatwhich became a true national case due to the narrative packaged by televisions and newspapers, that setting foot in Italy, Nissan would have paved the way for a real Japanese invasion of our car market (which was also regulated by an agreement between the Japanese government and the Italian one for which the manufacturers of both countries undertook to export no more than 1% of the cars built at home).

BORN IN A TIME OF CRISIS – It should also not be forgotten that ladventure of the Arna he left in the midst of a historic moment of extraordinary difficulty for Alfa Romeo. The 154 billion euros invested in the new Alfa 33 weighed on the company’s balance sheets, while layoffs had begun in Arese and Pomigliano. “Kilometrissima Alfa soon became Cassintegratissima Alfa”, he recalls with a touch of bitterness, about the cute launch slogan with which the Biscione emphasized the low operating costs of the new model, Elvira Ruocco, who worked at Alfa for a lifetime and is a truly inexhaustible mine of memories and anecdotes. The result was that the target of 60,000 Arna to be produced annually up to 1993 immediately turned out to be a mirage (the total production stopped after five years ad just 58,894 units, just as the good intentions to sell it in Portugal, Spain, France and Austria remained. In England in the first year of production 30,000 should have landed, but the local dealerships said enough after the first 700 units. “From the UK branches they picked up the phone and complained why 80% of the machines did not work – says in a video message the then sales manager of Nissan in Europe, Shigamitsu Oka -. You hit the brake pedal and the courtesy light in the passenger compartment came on, and other things like that. The quality problem was evident and added to that of the lack of an adequate previous market survey. In essence, in order to sell the Arna well, the entire organization would have had to rethink ”.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY, NOT ONLY FOR THE ALFA – In hindsight, there is no doubt that the failure of the Arna – net of his market failure and the aversion he immediately won among the Alfisti due to his unattractive style – it was a great opportunity lost by the Italian car industry, as well as the peremptory seal on the end of Alfa Romeo as state company. The acquisition of the Alfa Romeo company by the Fiat group in 1986 canceled any future prospects for the Arna. And it was a shame, because the project was on many avant-garde fronts (the Arna, it is worth remembering, was the first Alfa equipped with a ventilation system worthy of the name, with air recirculation and a four-speed fan), as well as wide-ranging. From the first drawings, a second series was envisaged, but also practical versions with stationary bodywork and even mechanical layouts a four-wheel drive. Today it is strange to even think so, but an Arna with raised wheels would have allowed the Alfa to compete with the Mitsubishi Pajero and the other new generation Japanese 4x4s that in Italy began to become all the rage in the second half of the 1980s. .

AND YOU ARE IMMEDIATELY ALFISTA – Out of its time and disconnected from the “political” events that have marked its history, today the Arna breathes a new air. To see so many of them all together, Ronald Arts, a passionate Alfista, set off from Holland at the Alfa Museum: “It’s nice to see all this enthusiasm surrounding a car so little considered as the Arna”. He can’t help but spring to mind another very famous slogan – the one that said: “Arna. And you are immediately Alfista“- listening to the story of Marco Persico (pictured below), who together with his brother Andrea founded Alfa Roma, a club affiliated with the Italian Alfa Romeo Registry, and in the capital he repairs vintage Alfa Romeos: “If we are Alfists at these levels it is thanks to the Arna – he reveals to our surprise during our short chat at full speed on the pistino with the white 1.3 TI of the family, original from the first to the last bolt -. Dad bought one in 1985: I remember it very well, it was a 1.2 L. I was twelve, my brother eight. She stayed with the family for four years and allowed me to start doing the job I do, because I started working right in the authorized Alfa workshop where we took the car to do the servicing. Since then, only Alfa have entered our house… ”.

Images: Alessandro Vago and Alfa Romeo Historical Museum.

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Alfa Romeo Arna: the Alfista people pamper it


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