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Alfa Romeo Arna

Alfa Romeo Arna Image

Governments really shouldn't mess with businesses that they don't understand. Historically they have only made things worse. The way that the Italian government made a total botch of creating a car is a case in point.

Back in the early 1980s the proud company of Alfa Romeo was in trouble. For political reasons it had been kept afloat by the Italian government; if it had folded the resultant unemployment could have caused civil unrest and, perhaps more importantly, a loss of votes for the ruling politicians! the company was still losing money however and substantial investment, which just wasn't available, was needed.

The Italian prime minister Francesco Cossiga hit on what seemed to be a cunning plan; why not help the Japanese in their aim to sell cars within Europe? European governments were eager to protect their own car manufacturers by discouraging imports, but the Japanese manufacturers had good engineering skills and plenty of money to invest. Why not have a joint-venture between Nissan of Japan and Alfa Romeo in Italy?

Sadly, this was not a marriage made in heaven.

Had the car been designed in Italy and built in Japan this project may have been successful, but the whole idea was to create work in Italy. So, a car with typically bland Japanese design was put together by an Italian workforce that was either unmotivated, unskilled or downright militant. Perhaps all three. The result was a disaster.

Stylewise the car was essentially a Nissan Cherry but with an Alfasud engine, gearbox and front suspension. As a small hatchback it was perhaps mediocre at worst but as far as the Alfa Romeo fans were concerned it was a betrayal of everything that the company once stood for. They thought that the design was ugly, and that the car handled and cornered like a typical Japanese car; in other words very poorly indeed. This was not an exciting machine to impress the Italian ladies with!

Fans of Japanese cars looked at the shoddy workmanship, which was such a far cry away from the high quality finish that they were used to, and they stayed away in droves. After just short of 62,000 of these embarrassments were built the project was abandoned in the face of owner dissatisfaction and tumbling sales. The partnership was wound up and plans to produce a jointly made off roader were abandoned.

Alfa Romeo was subsequently bought by Fiat and people who knew what they were doing were able to start producing proper cars once again.