It’s not easy to find a marque that CC hasn’t covered in its twelve years of existence. I thought this obscure Eastern Bloc 4×4 would be it, but turns out there was an Aro post already. Minor victory: the vehicle Robert Kim found back in 2015 (in DC, of all places!) was the 244, i.e. the big Aro. But the one I happened to find was the Aro 10, the baby of the Romanian 4×4 range.
I found this survivor in southern France, where old cars (even Romanian ones) refuse to die. It does help that these were relatively solid chassis-wise and that the engine is a Renault Diesel, of course. But let’s dig a little deeper in the history of this vehicle and its maker.
The Aro story is pretty interesting, I promise. The birthplace of the ARO (Auto România) company is situated in the southern Carpathian town of Câmpulung (so not in Transylvania, but close), where a factory was set up in the Second World War to manufacture aircraft parts and propellers. Production turned to farming implements and auto parts in the early ‘50s, as well as a few motorbikes.
Full-fledged vehicle production began in 1957 with licensed Soviet GAZ-69 off-roaders, mostly for military use. The first in-house design was the 1972 ARO 24 series (the orange vehicles in the leaflet above), using relatively large (2.5 to 3,1 litre) engines.
In the summer of 1979, ARO launched a completely new and much smaller model 10, using the Dacia 1300’s Renault-licensed 4-cyl. motor and a much smaller chassis, initially with all-independent coil suspension, plus disc brakes front and rear.
This curious technological choice was pretty short-lived, as it became very clear that it was neither cost-effective, nor sturdy enough to fulfil the vehicle’s intended brief. By 1982, a leaf-sprung live axle became standard for the rear end (and drum brakes to match), but the double wishbone front end with discs was kept as was, Range Rover style. It seems to have done the trick, as very little evolved on the ARO 10 after that date, aside from engines and grilles.
The whole point of the ARO 10 was to provide the Ceausescu regime with as much foreign currency as possible. Whereas Dacia cars were not very easy to export to the West (though they did try), the market for cheap 4x4s was a lot more open to something like the ARO 10. This sometimes meant rebadging the vehicles to suit local tastes, though – hence the British market got these as the Dacia Duster. The ARO 10 was sold in many countries over the years. Nearly everywhere, in fact, but North America.
Not so for France, for some reason. The ARO was distributed by the Chardonnet network, historically one of the main private importers in France specialized in odd-ball marques, such as Autobianchi, Neckar, Veritas, Bristol, Lancia, Zastava, FSO, Maruti or Maserati. Alas, the Chardonnet company went under in 1992, leaving ARO to find a new importer for the pretty lucrative French market.
The new importer decided to rename the model as “Aro Trapeurs” – an odd name, since the French word “trappeurs” (which means, not surprisingly, trapper) is spelled with two Ps. A typo, or does the word mean something else in Romanian?
A revamped grille with quad headlights graced the ARO 10 from 1992 onwards. The rest of the body kept to its late ‘70s origins, though. There probably wasn’t a lot of impetus to change anything on this thing, body-wise. After all, people weren’t buying them for their looks.
But what they did do was to offer a pretty large array of body variants, including a soft-top, a pickup, a LWB crew cab (with an extended bed) and a panel van. In the late ‘90s, the French importer even pushed for a quirky Méhari-type “roadster” version called Spartana, which was offered as RWD only.
Diesel engines were usually 1.9 litre Renault units by the late ‘80s, but earlier export cars could also be fitted with 1.6 litre VW ones. The name of the game was always to be as flexible as possible and to opt for engines that were well-known quantities for whichever market. For example, Italian ARO 10s (which were assembled locally) had Fiat engines; others could have Dacia, Daewoo, Peugeot, Volvo or Daihatsu plants. All engines, Diesels included, were below the 2-litre mark.
This particular ARO’s interior seems to have weathered the decades with aplomb. Who’d have thunk it? Probably a very careful owner, though the exterior is certainly showing its age. It’s strange that the steering wheel has a Renault diamond. It might be a replacement for the original one, or did ARO get these along with the engines?
How many of these were made is anyone’s guess, given that a number (but not this one) were assembled locally. Depending on sources, ARO 10 production was halted in 2003 or 2006, take your pick. The company went into liquidation soon after, leaving Dacia as the sole Romanian carmaker. ARO 10s were cheap and not known to be very well put together, but this one is proof that a few must have escaped annihilation. Maybe a stake through the heart would do it.
Curbside Classic: ARO 244 — AROmanian 4×4, by Robert Kim