In memoriam : Alfa Romeo Arna

Keith Adams

The first in a series of features about extinct cars in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.

1: Alfa Romeo Arna – died out in 2007

Alfa Romeo ARNA
Alfa Romeo Arna

Motor industry commentators often cite the Alfa Romeo Arna as a perfect example of how not to combine the talents of two manufacturers. The world sat up and took notice when Alfa Romeo announced its forthcoming partnership with Nissan in October 1980 – the combination of the two had the potential to build something special.

The Italian company had – during its post-war history – produced some of the world’s finest accessibly priced drivers’ cars, but many of them had been prone to succumb to rust and unreliability. The Japanese, on the other hand, understood marketing like no other and could build family hold-alls with Swiss watch-like mechanical precision in their millions. What rival manufacturers feared was that the Italian Government-sponsored partnership between Nissan and Alfa Romeo was about to start making Italian-designed cars built to Japanese production tolerances.

Imagine, then, the sighs of relief from Longbridge, Wolfsburg and Viry-Chatillon, when the Arna (for Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli) started rolling off the line at Pratola Serra, Italy for a world debut at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. What Alfa Romeo needed was an exciting ‘Sud replacement (in lieu of the fact the 33 had taken a step upmarket, leaving a vacuum below) but, instead, we were presented with a lightly restyled Nissan N12 Cherry/Pulsar.

Under the bonnet, it wasn’t all bad news, because there was a range of 1.2-, 1.3- and 1.5-litre ex-Alfasud flat-fours, guaranteeing eager performance. Unfortunately, the suspension set-up – the ‘Sud’s strongest point – was diluted. Disastrously… The front was a ‘Sud carry-over and the rear came straight from the Cherry/Pulsar. The body and dashboard were also Japanese, being shipped over from Japan – and alongside the tidy ItalDesign 33, it was a huge disappointment visually.

Thankfully, it retained Italian electrics. Well, when we say thankfully, we mean disastrously…

The Arna arrived in the UK at the end of 1983 but was actually sold as the Nissan Cherry Europe and that had Nissan buyers asking the obvious question – why buy an Italian-built Japanese car, when I can have a Japanese one instead? It bombed. In 1985, Alfa Romeo started importing them, selling the Arna through its own Dealer Network and, er, it bombed – not, though, before Autocar had tested the 1.5-litre Ti version, favourably comparing it with the Alfasud Ti of old.

That’s, in essence, the story of the Arna. The car wasn’t actually as bad as journos these days like to say it was but – and this is the important bit – it wasn’t good enough. Alfa buyers saw it as a Japanese car and Nissan buyers saw it the other way. In short, it was a car that no one wanted in the UK. In Europe, it fared slightly better and, in its four-year existence, the Arna sold just over 53,000. Mind you, to put that into perspective, the Triumph Acclaim did rather better (and it was a very similar concept), with 133,000 sold in a similarly brief run.

Fiat Group bought out Alfa Romeo in 1986, saving it in the process. The Nissan deal was brought to a swift end and the Arna was quickly forgotten. However, it was a warning for the future – globalisation was here to stay, but to do it properly, play on the strengths of the partners, not their weaknesses. One only needs to look at the Rover R8 200/400 to see what can be achieved.

Alfa Romeo ARNA
Alfa Romeo Arna
Nissan Cherry Europe
Sister car (in marketing terms) to the Arna, the Nissan Cherry Europe. It was sold here before the Arna, as this UK press shot shows – luckily there are two of these left in the UK...
Keith Adams


  1. The Alfa Romeo Arna was, as you say, not as bad as its made out to be nowadays. I recall CAR testing an Arna in the mid-80s and concluding that the best thing to say was that ‘the Italian parts seem to be in the majority’. I’m wondering how true that was?

    Actually, the Arna reminds me a bit of the CityRover in that it was probably the best Alfa could do on the resources available at the time (ditto Alfa 6 and Alfa 90 from the same period). That just shows how badly the company needed to be bought out.

  2. I think the thread on the wonderful Autoshite message board, shows two in captivity…

    Anyway, as a footnote, if it was damp and my mum’s orange 104 failed to start, I used to get a lift to school in a pale green Arna which was recycled before I left school in 1991. That Arna had replaced a navy blue ‘Sud Series 1 so, even twenty years ago, Alfa owners were gluttons for punishment!

  3. Ah, so they were never badged as the Arna over here but as the Cherry Europe? That’s a massive D’oh! on my part. I read all about the car in Stuart Bladon’s Observer’s Book of Automobiles back in 1985 (essential reading for a 10 year old). I was always puzzled as to why I never saw any of these “different” looking Alfas knocking about.

  4. I think that it’s a bit ironic that, prior to the Arna, the Italians saw the Triumph Acclaim as a Trojan Horse for the Japanese to set up shop in Europe but that Sir Michael Edwardes put them in their place and established that the future development of cars with the Japanese was here to stay. Italy also prevented the Acclaim from being unloaded in its dockyards some time in the Eighties even though it was better made than the Arna.

    I wonder whether the Italian Government would have caused such aggravation if BL’s badge-engineered Renault 9 had gone ahead? Who knows…

    However, as we know today, the main car manufacturers have expanded thier range line ups with a badge-engineered Japanese motors be it mini-sized up to big 4X4’s and Renault took over most of Nissan in Europe not the other way round as feared back then. Globalisation is, as stated in the article, here to stay.

  5. The How Many Left? website is a good one – even I was surprised by how few of some once popular models are left on the UK’s roads.

    Did the Arna’s last owner even know they were scrapping the very last one in 2007 or did he just hide it from Clarkson and company to prevent them from destroying it on TopGear or in his DVD shows?

  6. I’ve got bad news for you – there is still one Nissan Cherry Europe GTi taxed and on the road plus another one on a SORN!

  7. Martin Kershaw :
    Ah, so they were never badged as the Arna over here but as the Cherry Europe? That’s a massive D’oh! on my part. I read all about the car in Stuart Bladon’s Observer’s Book of Automobiles back in 1985 (essential reading for a 10 year old). I was always puzzled as to why I never saw any of these “different” looking Alfas knocking about.

    Martin, as far as I can recall both the Arna and Cherry Europe were sold over here. I worked for a Renault dealership at that time and the Used Car Manager bought two for the forecourt – I seem to remember they only had 10 miles on the clock. Anyway, needless to say, they stayed there for rather a long time rusting merrily away in the meantime!!!

  8. I remember both the Alfa Romeo Arna and the Nissan Cherry Europe. The Japanese-built Cherrys had better build quality than the Cherry Europe, which came in 1.2 and 1.5GTi version. The GTi had alloys and looked better than the base car.

    I recall Nissan Dealers saying they had more PDI remedy work to do on them than the Japanese versions and perhaps having Nissan Dealers working on Alfa engines didn’t bode well either.

    I believe the Arna was on sale in the UK but I didn’t see many – then again, I didn’t see many Cherry Europes either! A better proposition was the Cherry 1.5 Turbo ZX (115bhp?).

  9. The Alfa Romeo Arna and Nissan Cherry Europe were both DEFINITELY available on the British market. I’m relatively young at 34 and certainly remember seeing examples of both cars. They may have been a sales flop but they were still a fairly common site in the late 1980s to early 1990s.

  10. @Craig Tetlow
    Sorry if I didn’t make this clear, but I thought I’d said this in the story with the following paragraph…

    “The Arna arrived in the UK at the end of 1983 but was actually sold as the Nissan Cherry Europe and that had Nissan buyers asking the obvious question – why buy an Italian-built Japanese car, when I can have a Japanese one instead? It bombed. In 1985, Alfa Romeo started importing them, selling the Arna through its own Dealer Network and, er, it bombed – not, though, before Autocar had tested the 1.5-litre Ti version, favourably comparing it with the Alfasud Ti of old.”

    Hence, in a nutshell, the car was initially imported as a Nissan Cherry Europe and the Alfa Romeo Arna followed later.

  11. @Keith Adams
    Sorry, Keith you are right. I was just answering other readers’ comments. I’m looking forward to hearing of other cars which have disappeared or are about to. Yugo Sana, anyone?

  12. Martin Kershaw :
    Ah, so they were never badged as the Arna over here but as the Cherry Europe? That’s a massive D’oh! on my part. I read all about the car in Stuart Bladon’s Observer’s Book of Automobiles back in 1985 (essential reading for a 10 year old). I was always puzzled as to why I never saw any of these “different” looking Alfas knocking about.

    A great book that – I was just looking at it on my shelf the other day!

  13. Oh dear, as a lifelong Alfa Romeo fan and owner of two (soon to be three) examples – all of which I have been absolutely delighted with thanks to great looks, engines and handling – I’m so ashamed of the Arna.

    However, having read the article (which, by the way, was very good), I do now, at least, realise why Alfa Romeo needed to make the car – it couldn’t afford to develop a new small car. The thing that I can’t get to grips with – why Nissan? Could Alfa have gone to a more dull manufacturer of (okay, reliable and dependable) appliances masquerading as cars?

    Maybe a better match would have been Subaru (part-owned by Nissan at the time) – still Japanese, still built like the proverbial Swiss watch, but also interesting with generally a good chassis design and interesting styling, 4WD and even a Boxer engine. Subarus were not very common in Europe at the time (Impreza fever had yet to break), so the cars would have had a degree of exclusivity… Ah, the luxury of hindsight!

  14. Good Lord – the old Arna. A true horror story if you ask me…

    Here, in Italy, it comes a (very, very) close second to the dreadful Fiat Duna (basically a booted/estate Mk1 Uno if you’ve never heard about that), in the “Worst Cars of All Time” list.

    By the way, AROnline’s such a nice site – keep up the good work!

  15. My mam had a Nissan Cherry, B Reg and Red. I remember being wheeled around in it many, many years ago – there’s only two left? Blimey…

  16. I’d love one of these – they’re rare even in Italy. There are three for sale at the moment on but they’re €2500 each!!

    Am I right in thinking Alfa was state-owned when the Arna came to market?

  17. This was not a “real Alfa”. This scenario reminds me of a similar situation regarding a Triumph that wasn’t a “real Triumph”. Remember the Triumph Acclaim? The Acclaim was a Honda Ballade by another name and had a narrow audience of drivers who had driving gloves, barley sugars in the glovebox and Saga membership.

  18. @Mr_Bol
    Yes, definitely. Alfa Romeo was state-subsidised at the time. Actually, its story is so similar to BL’s and Austin-Rover’s, you’d think the Italians were looking at us for inspiration.

    That’s why Alfas feel right (to me) on this website.


  19. Car Heaven: Italian design with Japanese engineering.
    Car Hell: Italian engineering with Japanese design.

  20. That’s a good comment from Adrian! I owned two Datsun Cherries (1979-81 N10 models). Both were good cars, reliable and the first ones I was able to afford new. I fancied trying the Cherry Turbo ZX but other priorities like house purchase put paid to that.

  21. @Adrian
    I always blamed my Peugeot 306 Cabriolet’s poor quality on having gone out and bought a French car built by Italians…

  22. This was a perfectly desirable car so long as you got the optional hood ornament as illustrated in the photo of the silver five door.

  23. I worked as a Salesman for a Nissan Dealers at the time of the ARNA partnership. We were told of this new addition to the Cherry range which was to be made in Italy and thought it would just be 100% Nissan.

    We were shocked when the first examples exited the transporter and we saw the Alfa Boxer engine under the bonnet but the importer’s attitude was just get on with it and sell them so that’s what we did.

    I can remember the seats were too big for the car so access to the rear was not easy, the interior lamp kept falling off the headlining and the appurture in the floor pressing for the gear change mechinism had not been re-tooled for the Alfa engine and gearbox so some cars had problems engaging the gears but it was nothing that a heavy thump with a hammer could not cure.

    I can also remember that most breakdowns seemed to originate from the Italian electrics – our Workshop Foreman said they reminded him of his motorcycling days! Some customers were disappointed to find and Alfa engine under the bonnet but others embraced it and bought and Alfa badge to mount along side the Nissan name plate.

    However, in the end most were heavily discounted and loaded with extras to sell them at bargain basement prices as the public became aware of their origin. The Alfa Dealers were screaming at their importers to let them have a version of the car to sell in the UK (Cherry Europes were outselling the whole Alfa range) and weren’t we glad when they did start selling them – we could then, at least, direct customers to somebody who understood the Alfa mechanicals and they imported a five door which got over the problem of getting in the back.

    The 1.5 GTi was up against Nissan’s own Cherry Turbo ZX and didn’t really get the praise it perhaps deserved as it was the most credible of the two models.

    This was not the last of Nissan’s dubious partnerships – the Edbro van was the next but that’s another tortuous story.

    Anyway, at least Nissan’s later collaborations with Ford and Renault have turned out some extremely credible cars which have customer appeal.

  24. The Arna was also a very sad story for Alfa Romeo here in Italy – at the time the JV with Nissan was conceived they were running out of money but desperately needed an entry-level car to create fresh cashflow.

    Someone on the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction’s Board (the IRI was the Italian Government-controlled holding company which owned Alfa Romeo) had this “ingenious” idea: why don’t we buy those unknown cheap cars from Japan and fit them with our engines? Japanese cars were imported into Italy in very limited numbers during the 1980s – I think hundreds – to protect the national Automotive Industry.

    I was in my teens but I remember the advertising claim: “ARNA KILOMETRISSIMA ALFA” very well – that translates as something like “Arna: the Alfa that does many MPG”.

    However, nobody wanted an Alfa Romeo which looked like a Japanese car, nobody wanted an Alfa for the low fuel consumption and, at the time, nobody wanted a small Alfa. The Alfa Romeo marque was still synonymous with sports cars (much more so than today) and the Arna rapidly became the subject of jokes.

    Oh, and strange but true, Arnas rusted faster than Alfasuds!!

    I really didn’t know how Alfa Romeo had the courage to sell the Arna abroad and also in the UK… I thought that the car was just one of our many national disgraces which were better kept secret. 😉

  25. Actually, at the time, Alfa Romeo was state-owned, exactly like British Leyland was. However, Alfa Romeo had been acquired by the IRI in 1932 and so had been state-owned for much longer than British Leyland.

    I always enjoy the irony that the Italian Government blamed the British Government for making the Acclaim while they were making the Arna!

    I wonder whether any Arnas were used to preserve Alfasuds or 33s…

  26. The Arna was ugly in comparison to the ‘Sud but it actually handled quite well for the time and it was quicker. A neighbour had a both a normal Cherry and a Cherry Europe and, going by the few lifts I had as a kid, the Cherry Europe was a pretty nifty motor.

  27. @KeithB
    I have had a Triumph 1300, three Dolomites and two Acclaims but, as a daily driver, the Acclaim was vastly superior to any of the earlier cars.

    Mind you, I did miss some of the ‘character’ which the earlier cars had – in the case of both Dolomite 1850s that was displayed by head gasket failure on the A34.

  28. The Spanish/Japanese joint venture was with Ebro – not Edbro. They built vans badged as Nissan-Ebro.

    I can’t recall the power output of the Nissan Cherry Europe GTi model but think that it was about the same as the Cherry Turbo (115bhp).

    I agree about the Acclaim not being a “true” Triumph but, that model’s successor, the first Rover 200, was more appropriate.

  29. @Jerry Ford
    I can’t comment on how the Nissan-Ebro vans drove but I certainly remember seeing a couple of them around West Yorkshire in the late 1980s on D plates and they already looked dated and scabby with rust.

  30. Were the Cherry Turbo/Europe GTi powered by Nissan engines or turbocharged versions of Alfa Romeo’s Flat-4?

  31. @Nathan
    They were powered by different engines – the Europe GTi was the same car as the Arna and therefore had the Alfa engine. The Cherry Turbo was a traditional Nissan with a turbocharged Nissan unit.

  32. I remember my Primary School Teacher owning a Cherry Europe AND a normal Cherry at the same time. Most of the time he turned up in the silver five-door JapCherry – that was probably because the CherrySud was broken! I’m glad there are no more Arnas left – the poor buggers deserved to die.

  33. The Cherry Turbo ZX had the E15 series Nissan OHC engine as also fitted to the same era Sunny 1.5 Coupe – but with an added turbocharger.

  34. Jerry Ford :
    I’d love to hear about the Edbro van – were they as bad as they looked?

    The Ebro vans (no “d” in the name) were Spanish-built ugly boxes with Nissan badges on. I remember a couple coming to the dealership where I worked in 1988 – they were nasty things but were a bit bigger than the Urvan we were selling at the time so I suppose they had some use…

  35. One good thing came out of this: Nissan decided never to cooperate with the Italians again – instead they opted to build their new factory in Sunderland and produce their own designs with Nissan quality control.

    Had Nissan continued their relationship with Alfa Romeo, then I often wonder if they would have had their British Leyland moment and seen their reputation ruined by bad products.

  36. Breaking News!!!
    I was at National Alfa Day (the owners club annual get together) on Sunday 17th July and a recently restored, pristine Arna turned up and stole the show in the concours competition.
    So the Arna is no longer extinct.
    I am a half full, rather than half empty type of person and I feel that the Arna rather than being a dreadful car was a vast improvement on the dire boring and utterly dull nissan cherry.

  37. My godmother who was a longstanding Datsun/Nissan owner was one of those people who got talked into buying a Cherry Europe. It was actually quite nice to drive (I was 17 at the time and my only other driving experience was a Volvo 340) but it was much too sporty for her and she soon swapped it for a Micra.

  38. Thanks Ian – M. Yes indeed, the Arna lives! I share the car with a mate (who did all the oily stuff). Granted, it never was the best looking car in the world, but it is rare – although not quite unique 😉 I know of at least two other Ti’s – one in the UK and one in Switzerland. They’re not particularly well loved in the Alfa Romeo community but, until last Sunday, many would never have seen one. Second Overall and the Best New Entrant in the National AR Concours? Made me chuckle…

  39. Nissan style combined with Alfa reliability and rustproofing. A recipe for disaster if ever there was one. I learned to drive in a driving school Datsun 120Y. It was one of the dullest cars I have ever driven albeit incredibly reliable and easy to drive. I always fancied an Alfa but was put off by the number of breakdowns and cost of fixing / servicing.

    Now a reliable Nissan designed by Alfa might have been something. IMHO, the Acclaim was a much better car overall with a peppy engine, decent handling and good reliability.

  40. The Acclaim was a decent, if ugly and cramped car, as Honda at that time made much better drivers’ cars than Nissan (who produced dull to drive boxes on wheels) and mechanically it was pure Japanese, with little BL input, so very reliable…

  41. ^ More likely to be Lancias…

    There are at least two other Arna off the road. The editor of Practical CLassics knows where one is hiding out.

  42. I had an Alfa Romeo Arna 1.5GTi. It was great and reliable. I used to start work at 8am, getting up at 7:45, out at 7:50. The damaging rorty start of the Alfa, set me up for the day. It handled well and was always willing to do its best. It was replaced with a Alfa 164 3L. That was also willing to do its best. I have had a BMW since, although as fast, it does not have the spirit of the Arna or 164.

  43. Has anyone ever contemplated what a proper Alfa-Romeo Arna with Japanese built quality and Italian styling (though keeping the Alfa flat-4s) would have looked like?

    Would it have possessed styling elements of the 33, 75 and 90 as in typical Alfas of the 80s or would it have retained elements from the Alfasud?

  44. I collected the only known Arna Ti according to the V5 on saturday, 48k from new, never welded, needs no welding and I am moting it this week, fitting a 140hp race engine and will be hitting the shows in late 2013 in it.

    There are three known nissan cherry europes in the uk, richard rees car which is the silver one in the photo above came second at the national alfa day concours in 2011, two 5 door arnas in bits up north and rumours of an Arna Ti in london. These are the only ones I have heard of in the past 10 years

    I also own the 1993 Alfa Romeo owners club championship winning arna racecar ( msa motorsports licence and V5 say cherry europe , must be the only nissan to ever win the alfa championship ) and wait for it !!!! I will be setting up the Alfa arna and nissan cherry europe owners club at national alfa day this august 2013 at chatham historic dockyard, life membership is £1 and you get a free sticker saying we are the ARnafisti !!!

    I dare any of you to come along and join, it will be erm.. a pretty exclusive club !

    The build quality is far better than an Alfasud ( I own 8 ! ) and this arna I have just collected is virtually rust free, alfa had good and bad weeks when it came to batches of steel !!

    Then they asked mr tomato farmer and Stevie wonder to build them very late on a friday afternoon after they had 3 bottles of wine for lunch, often the spot welds would be far neater if your car was built in the morning !!!

    But, the alfasud and even the arna handle wonderfully and the 140bhp 1.7 race engine I am fitting is a joy so if you see what looks like a funny silver nissan cherry with no badges then be prepared for 750kg of power to weight ratio, I will be having fun in it !

  45. Not the best car, but it was still better than the 1990 Escort, despite being launched 7 years earlier..

  46. @59

    I used to have good banter on the Alfa Owners forums during my GTV days, though some dismissed it as being too Fiat…


    I like to think of Mazda as being close to a Japanese Alfa, the MX5 and new 6 are close to the spirit of the Spider and 156/159 of old.

  47. To be honest, Alfa are barely in a better shape now, only currently producing the Mito and Giulietta, with replacements for the discontinued 159 and 166 still not launched…

  48. @62

    Last I heard they were working on basing the 159/166 replacements on Chrysler/Dodge platforms.

    Guess that makes the Chrysler 300/Lancia Thema the spritual replacement to the 159… nice!

    They’re also working on the 4C for a re-entry to US market. Successor to the old GTV!

  49. The 4C will be a lot more expensive than a GTV, more a Boxer rival seeing that it will cost £50k! A nice halo model, like the MG XPower SV, but very low volume.

    The 159/166 replacements are drifting along into the distance, it’s a real mess.

  50. @59, Alfasudparts,

    Well, the ARNA (or its sibling the Europa) certainly don’t stir the soul with their drab styling, though I’m more than prepared to believe that once that wonderful engine starts up the driver will be having the last laugh.

    It is entirely likely that, unlike the otherwise wonderful Sud, it could be possible to drive one for more than five minutes without the appalling driving position causing actual physical pain.

  51. @66

    Bravos are a lot cheaper. I found 4 year old examples for £5k, not the poverty spec base model but the 1.4 T-Jet Dynamic.

  52. i have just found a datsun cherry on a 81 plate.
    it is in great condition with only 7250 mile on the clock, anyone know how much this would be worth ?
    or where i should go to get a true value or sell it ?

  53. That Fiat Duna looks OK… certainly better than the hellspawn Uno.
    it also looks suspiciously like the SEAT Malodorous aka Malaga – but I seem to remember that was based on a bigger car, the original Ibiza being based on the Uno.
    Odd that the UK didn’t get the Duna since we’ve a market for saloons even now.
    There was a couple of Alfas in the village but they never seemed to do anything other than sit on a driveway.

  54. Just an update on this for you. As far as I can tell, there are possibly six Arna/Europe models left. Two 5 door Arnas which are up near Durham. There is one ex-race car used in the AROC championship some years ago, which I believe to have been a Nissan originally (mentioned earlier in the comments). There is one white 3 door Cherry Europe 1.2 out there somewhere still on a SORN and the two Cherry Europe GTi which I own, one of which is only good for parts.

    The Silver Arna Ti picture earlier in the thread is of course a Europe GTi and is now mine. I have put it back to it’s original Nissan badging.

  55. I made the decision to track down and buy this car after taking a good long look at the rotten project car I already had and realizing that it’d actually be cheaper! Sadly, my other one really is past it’s best. Still, it’s very handy to have the parts.

    There were less than 1400 Cherry Europe GTi sold… 1082 were sold here and another 300 in LHD form in Spain. I’ve found one in Spain in a scrapyard near Toledo but not found or heard of any others. It’s possible that B660LCH is the last running Cherry Europe GTi left in the world! Even in Italy the Arna 1.5Ti may be extinct as I believe less than 300 were sold there… the bulk of Ti were 1.3. I have no idea how many Arna Ti were sold in the UK but I’d wager it’s a lot less than the Cherry version as by the time they hit the market the cars image was already tarnished.

    Here’s my parts car…

    It’s a bit grim!

    • Very interesting! Maybe you remember where the spanish Cherry was? I’m from Spain and I’m looking for one to restore, so if you can tell me where it was I would try to save it.

  56. CAR magazine was was absolutely right when they stated that the Arna was meant to combine Italien flair with Japanese build quality but regrettably it turned out to be the other way round…

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. The Worst Cars That Could Have Been Revolutionary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.