Old Gold Top Gear: Alfa Romeo Arna

Alfa Arna

It’s 8.30pm on Thursday night, which means it must be time for PetrolBlog’s Old Gold Top Gear. It’s all thanks to you that it’s making a return, as many of you requested it during the recent survey (more on this soon). So here it is, on what will hopefully be a regular Thursday evening slot.

And what better way for Old Gold Top Gear to return than with the Alfa Romeo Arna? As any PetrolBlog reader will know, the Arna was the dubious love child created by the marriage between Alfa Romeo and Nissan. In 1980, when the partnership was announced, shockwaves were sent around the motoring world. On paper it looked like a match made in heaven. Japanese reliability and efficiency mated to Italian style and design. What could possibly go wrong?

For nearly three years, the world waited in anticipation as to what would emerge from Italy. And then, when the Arna did finally arrive, the world sank back into its chair through utter disappointment. It was as though someone had entered the kitchen and mixed up the ingredients. Too heavy on the practicality and not enough dollops of flair and imagination.

It all seemed so promising. The engines were sourced from the brilliant Alfasud, so performance at least wasn’t an issue. Sadly they also took the electrics from the Alfasud, which was just about the last thing they should have done. Taking the electrics from a Scalextric car may have been more effective. Then, to make matters worse, they housed it all in the dull but worthy Nissan Cherry. And all this after nearly three years of development. What’s the betting the management team spent two years sunning themselves on the Amalfi Coast before finally springing into action a couple of weeks before the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1983?

Alfa Arna brochure

Initially sold as the Nissan Cherry Europe, the Arna actually arrived in Britain in 1985. Both of them were a monumental flop and were quietly removed from sale in 1986. The end of a brief yet high profile cock-up.

But I think history has been a little unkind to the Arna. The passing of time presents the Arna as well proportioned little car. Viewed alongside Alfa Romeo’s rich and illustrious past then yes, it’s a horror story. But as a single entity it deserves to be cut a little more slack. I mean, just look at that glorious steering wheel. Okay, so you might need to gloss over the afterthought bolted on to the rear window, but it really isn’t the worst car ever created. And so what if the dodgy electrics would occasionally leave you stranded at the roadside as you made your way home from the office. You were driving an Alfa Romeo and could wear your petrolhead badge with pride. Ish.

Not that Jeremy Clarkson was willing to cut the Arna any slack, proclaiming that there were only 341 Arnas left in the UK, before proceeding to take the figure down to 340. And you thought it was just modern Top Gear where cars were wantonly destroyed in the name of entertainment. Regardless of your views on a car, none of them deserve to be killed off in such a way.

Fast forward to the modern day and the Arna is effectively extinct. According to How Many Left? the last recorded sighting on the road was back in 2007. No obituary was written and nobody attended its funeral.

But fear not, the site also suggests that three are currently off the road awaiting some form of resurrection. After a brief bit of Schofield style internet research, this appears to be the case, with a couple being mentioned on retro forums. Good news. The Arna simply cannot be left to spiral into oblivion forever. Even if it’s to remind us of how not to forge a relationship, it simply has to be preserved.

More exciting is the fact that a couple of Nissan Cherry Europe GTIs appear to have survived. In the words of Will Smith, I have got to get me one of those.

Brochure image courtesy of GoldScotland71 on Flickr. Featured image courtesy of Charles01.


About author

Gavin Big-Surname

The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. So you can blame him. Has an unhealthy obsession with cars of the 80s and 90s. The more rubbish, the better. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. John 29 November, 2012 at 20:37 Reply

    If there’s one thing I hate about Top Gear, it’s the way they destroy cars and pretend it’s funny. As you say, no car deserves that. Great post.

  2. roadwax 29 November, 2012 at 22:08 Reply

    Now you have got me thinking. If the Fiat 500 and the Mini can be ‘reborn’ as modern cars, why not the Alfasud? The gorgeous styling…ahhh… the rorty exhaust note…

  3. gordon 30 November, 2012 at 10:00 Reply

    Many moons ago I almost bought an Alfa GTV but the chappie I was having it off write it off the night before….
    maybe done me a big favor?

  4. Graeme Thomas 30 November, 2012 at 11:28 Reply

    A first class report, as usual,got me thinking back to 1987,when i owned an Alfasud Geen Clover Leaf,now that, was one of my better buys,the only real competition at the time was seeing off XR3’s,but strangely enough i didnt regret selling it at the time,however if i put my rose tinted specatcles on now,i do seem to regret it,the ravages of time no doubt,ah well,i’ll stick to me Focus

      • Graeme Thomas 30 November, 2012 at 13:13 Reply

        Hi Gavin
        I sold the ‘Sud due to logistic’s,my daughter was 2 at the time,and the ‘Sud being a 2 door. was mighty difficult to get the carrycot & all the paraphanlia,{out of the car without much swearing and cursing},associated with a toddler,i swopped it for a Volvo 360GLS 5 door,which i must admit. was another good car,certainly better than a Ford Escort of a similar vintage,happy day’s

  5. M. A. di Leonardo 3 December, 2012 at 23:19 Reply

    I am Italian and despite I appreciate this article, I can tell you that nobody here owns or loves an Arna. Seriously, you got all the Alfas and the Fiats you want restored and loved, but the Arna is a different thing. They might be restored or preserved to let it live a bit, but in Italy it wasn’t even close to what Unos, A112, Pandas Mk1 etc did. It was a soulless utter failure. The Alfa Arna does not match any criteria which make all the other Alfas famous.

  6. simonpownall 4 December, 2012 at 13:08 Reply

    I remember having a blast in a Nissan Cherry Turbo. It was my first experience of catastrophic torque steer! Good fun though :)

  7. Kiki 4 December, 2012 at 19:36 Reply

    Incredibly harsh to blow it up like that, no car deserves that. I just tell myself it must have been a hopelessly rusty/knackered/otherwise dead example……

    Also sorry to be pedantic, but it wasn’t ‘Top Gear’, it was ‘Clarkson’s Car Years’.

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