Car of the Day: Alfa Romeo Arna (1984-86)

Recognize this? If you thought it was a Nissan Cherry, you’d be right… and partially wrong as well.

In fact, it was the Alfa Romeo Arna, which was on sale for 4 years (18 months in the UK), making it one of the shortest-lived Alfa Romeo models in the UK.

Launched in 1983 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, it would last until 1987, but it wasn’t available everywhere in Europe – the Dutch certainly didn’t get this one, and I think some others didn’t.

Also sold as the Nissan Cherry Europe or Nissan Pulsar Milano, it was available with the Alfasud’s 1.2, 1.3 and 1.5 flat-4 petrol engines; no Nissan engines were used.

Despite being a Nissan design, it was built in Italy, at Alfa Romeo’s factory in Pratola Sierra, and Alfa supplied 80% of the components.

Buyers got a choice of SL or Ti versions; the SL trim was a mid-range, comfort model, Ti was the sporting only variant, available as a three-door only with the 1.5 engine.

Nissan buyers were suspicious of Alfa build quality and engines, Alfa buyers of Nissan’s styling. Thankfully, the idea was laid to rest after 18 months or so.

The Nissan version was available only as a three-door (as far as we know), and had only the 1.2 and 1.5 flat-4 engines. It was, and still is, pretty rare today.

From ratdat.com:

Whilst the car may look much like an ordinary Nissan Cherry N12, it’s actually more Alfa Romeo than it is Nissan. To comply with local content rules, Alfa Romeo had to supply at least 80% of the components, with only the body panels, rear suspension parts, dash and bits of the seats coming from factories in Japan. The understructure of the body at the front is absolutely nothing like the equivelent N12, mainly because the longditudionally mounted flat four and 5 speed transmission are so different from the ordinary N12’s transverse E series. Headlights, grilles, tail lights, bumpers and most of the interior is unique to the car and even the glass is marked Alfa Romeo, despite being the same as it’s Japanese counterpart.

As of July 2011, only 3 remain (in the UK), according to the DVLA, but back in 2000, there were only 340 left. But globally, how many remain?

But the Cherry design didn’t just wear an Alfa Romeo badge, General Motors also took the design to Australia, where it became the Holden Astra – no relation to the Vauxhall Astra, for that matter. It had Nissan engines, and this continued into the next generation. More on this to come later…

It was a surprisingly weird car for its day, but there’ve been other rebadging bodge jobs; this is one such example.

What next? FIAT and a Chinese maker producing a clone? Or an Alfa Romeo-badged version of the Dodge Caravan MPV? Let’s hope not…

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