If the automobile is a temple, the Alfistas are its guardians. Here are enthusiasts who, for decades, enact their rules. An Alfa must be designed like this, propelled like that and beware of sacrilege. Suddenly, any misconduct on the part of designers and engine manufacturers in Milan is severely sanctioned.
This was the case in 1990, when the Alfa SZ Coupe appeared, immediately named “Il mostro “. But what was not very serious for this exclusive coupe was much more dramatic for the brand when, ten years earlier, another UFO was born: the Alfa Romeo Arna. Because at the end of the seventies, the famine rages in Milan. Sales are at half mast, and the Italian public shareholder who must try to save the manufacturer is mired in the recurring political problems of the country.
An accident both visual and industrial
Alfa Romeo must find something to subsist at all costs. So we look across the Alps, in Germany. Since 1974, Volkswagen has achieved the hit of the century by democratizing the compact hatchback. The Golf is on everyone’s lips and in every street. In Milan, we want the same. Especially since the local rivals, Fiat and Lancia have found the answer: it is called Ritmo in the first, and Delta in the second.
In the boxes, the leaders of Alfa have a 33, not really on the same mold, but why not. Except that the one that is to replace Alfasud, the brand’s latest success, is far from ready. What to do ? Work with another manufacturer who has the good model already in existence, of course. It goes much faster and it costs a lot less.
That’s good, the Japanese Nissan intends to tumble into Europe with its Datsun brand and a car that fits perfectly. Is the Pulsar a compact hatchback? Bargain. Alfa signs a joint venture agreement with Nissan and the Arna is born. A baptismal name that did not require hours of brainstorming, since it is the acronym of the joint venture: Alfa Romeo Nissan Automobili. It will be enough to change two or three logos, a steering wheel, to insert an Alfasud engine and on the road to success.
Did Alfa executives sign the deal with the Japanese without even seeing the car, or even talking to their styling office? Still, the Pulsar has absolutely nothing to do with the Milanese label. Poorly proportioned in five doors, it is downright atrocious in three doors. Above all, its drawing dates. Marketed in 1978 under the Nissan badge, when it was 1981, the Arna already seemed old before it was even put on sale. In addition, it is not close to being. Because if those responsible for Alfa style haven’t seen the Pulsar, the engineers haven’t examined it either. The Alfasud’s engine does not fit under the hood. We must review the copy and the engine cradle. It was not until 1983 that the first copies were distributed, practically when the Germans launched the second Golf, much more modern than the first, itself already more successful than the Arna.
The most reliable Alfa Romeo of its time
To say that the Alfists are stunned when they see the new car is an understatement: they immediately hate it. To make matters worse, the same year released a “real” Alfa, the 33 with such a long gestation.
If the Alfists turn away from the Arna and only have eyes for the 33, the brand’s network does the same, selling off the first and putting the second forward. They will slowly sell 50,000 in the space of four years across Europe, not even being able to deliver the best argument in its favor, at the risk of denigrating the other Alfa: it is the most reliable in the entire catalog. And for good reason, since it is a Japanese, using sheets coated with zincrometal, much more resistant to corrosion than the Alfasud, in particular. In addition, the engines that ended up being housed under the hood of the Arna were the petulant 1.2l and 1.3l boxers, the specialty of the Milanese brand. Alfa engines in a reliable car? Everything an Alfist of the eighties could dream of. And everything an old Italian lover should dream of today, since the others have crumbled under the rust spots. So if only one Alfa will remain, it will be the Arna.