There have been many strange marriages in the automotive industry. None, though, has been as disastrous as that between Alfa Romeo and Nissan.
On paper, at least, it sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Surely it would produce a motor that had the flair of an Italian car and the reliability of a Japanese one. Err, no.
See, the whole point was simply to rush a new mid-size Alfa through to production, something that could compete with the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Escort. The result was godawful Alfa Romeo Arna.
The Arna combined the frumpy body and insipid handling of the Nissan Sunny with the temperamental engine and non-existent build quality of the Alfasud – the worst of both worlds. Fiat – yet to buy-out Alfa – feared the Arna would be a Trojan horse for Nissan to get around stringent European import quotas. There were similar concerns in the UK at this time, as Nissan planned to open a factory.
Those fears quickly evaporated, though, as it became clear that the Arna was simply, unequivocally terrible. In fact, it’s often cited as one of the worst cars ever made. Amazingly, 53,000 people were taken in by the Arna before it was put out of its misery in 1987, after just four years in production. Only a tiny number were sold in the UK and it’s thought only two are left, though neither is roadworthy.
Just to add a note of farce to the whole debacle, Alfa launched its own 33, a car intended to compete with Golf and Escort, in the same year as the Arna, a car intended to compete with the Golf and Escort.
Nissan learned the lessons – sort of – forming a very successful alliance with Renault after nearly going bankrupt in the Nineties. Alfa Romeo, meanwhile, was bought out by Fiat in 1986 and spent the next 30 years being pulled from pillar to post by management who didn’t really know what to do with it. It wasn’t until this year that Fiat laid out a coherent plan for Alfa’s future.
By Only Motors