ARO M461 C (1969-1975) – A new star

The vehicle was already being exported in several countries, but the commercial name did not seem entirely appropriate, as it seemed more a code name than a make. It was decided to name the vehicle ARO, derived from abbreviating “automobilul romanesc” (Automobile from ROmania). At present, it is not known what the “C” in “ARO M461C” signifies. The new model was launched in 1969, embodying a series of modifications when compared to the M461.
At the end of the 1960s, the norms relating to automobile production were not uniform across Europe. For example, Italy demanded white indicator lights at the front, and so the M461 models exported there were fitted with the indicators from the FIAT 500/850. The new regulations, however, demanded even larger indicator lights, and so the front wings of the M461C was lightly redesigned to hold rectangular front indicators. For the Italian market, those from the Fiat 1100/1300 were used. For other markets, the factory preferred to import indicator lights from the former East Germany; these were the same model as those used on the Trabant. The Ruhla make sent an older, chromed model, and later on an new model with an incorporated plastic edge. Other imported parts solved many reliability problems: windscreen wipers and wiper motors from East Germany, ignitions from Poland, and dashboard instruments from France.
The new model benefited from a new dashboard, architecturally similar to the previous one, but with the rectangular instruments produced at the Balanta plant in Sibiu replaced by four round dials and a new type of speedometer. Meanwhile, the Electo-Precizia factory in Sacele started producing Jaeger instruments (speedometer, oil level, pressure, water temperature and fuel level) under licence: eventually, these found their way on most Romanian-made vehicles. The tail lights, too, were replaced with larger ones made by ELBA in Timisoara. The dynamo was replaced by a modern alternator produced in Sacele.
To comply with further new regulations, a lockable cap was placed on the fuel filler located on the right-hand side of the bodywork. The starter was activated by an ignition key as opposed to a button. The envelope-type pockets on the interior doors were black vinyl, not cloth. The lateral windows in the tarpaulin disappeared, while the rear screen became much larger, made either from plastic or from 6mm glass. The door windows received a new opening mechanism from the Dacia 1100. The export models had four side windows on the tarpaulin and a large plastic rear screen: in Czechoslovakia, there was also the option of a hard tarpaulin with an opening tailgate. It is fair to say that all these modifications, combined with the perfection of production methods, produced a very high level of quality, which was reflected in the continued demand on the export market.
For tax reasons, many models, depending on the market, were exported with the 2495cc, L-25 engine, which developed 80HP at 4200rpm with a compression ratio of 8:1. The cylinder capacity was obtained through decreasing the piston’s range of motion by 0.6 mm. The old M207 engine which had powered the M461 and the early models of the M461 C was, in 1973, itself modified and named M20. The main modifications were to do with the lubrication system: the oil pump was redesigned and repositioned more centrally. The oil filter was also moved from the left to the right-hand side of the engine. The carburettor remained the same as that of the M461: W 207/42 DSR1 made in Brasov under licence from Weber. The two models also used the same electromotor, D 1,2-12 made in Bucharest.
ARO M461 C was presented and often won trophies at the world’s most important motor salons: Paris, Hanover, Lisbon, Birmingham, Vienna, Geneva, Brussels, Bogota, Budapest, Nicosia, Khartoum, Barcelona, as well as the international trade fairs of Brno, Plovdid and Zagreb. The export market, which had started in 1965, also flourished: the main markets were China, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Colombia, Chile, East Germany, Poland and Bulgaria. The two models found their way into over 50 countries, however, including West Germany, Britain, Belgium, Italy, France, Canada, Portugal, Finland, Syria, Zaire, America… Both M461 and M461 C had a worldwide presence; over half the production was for export markets. The Greek, Egyptian, Czech and Syrian armies used the M-461 C, and there were dealer networks in Germany, Belgium Italy and America. These dealers knew very well the slogan “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday”, and many efforts were made, often with private financial backing, to enter the ARO M461 C into various competitions or comparative test.
The most well-known of these was the test done by the influential West German motor magazine Hobby in 1972. ARO M461 C took part in a gruelling test against many other off-road vehicles, many of them from very well-known makes: Range Rover, Nissan Patrol KL 60, Land Rover 88, VW 181, Citroen Mehari, Swiss Buggy… and trounced them. Albert Buscher, the official importer, managed to get an ARO on at the last minute. The car was one of the first series of 200 imported in West Germany; in the first month, he had managed to sell only 18; it was necessary to put the ARO in the public eye. Over six days, the cars were tested to the limits, exploring a stone quarry near Zurich, the ski slope at Vohrenbach (it proved impossible to get the cars down, so an alternative route down had to be cut among the trees), the French army’s training ground at Villingen, and the flooded caused by the river Brigache bursting its banks. The ARO test driver, Tudor Fatuloiu, had one of his proudest moments winning the competition in a stock car against other vehicles specially prepared by their factories; from then, West German sales of the ARO, hitherto seen as an obscure make with an outmoded design, exploded.
It should not be forgotten that the drivers trained by ARO on the slopes of the Matias mountain were super-professionals at the top of their career who daily risked life and limb for the sake of the manufacturer’s prestige. They merit complete admiration, and their results and their consistent dedication to developing ARO models earn them a place in Romanian automotive history. In Italy, M451C was entered in numerous competitions: on 23 April 1972, when, in a field of 66 competitors at the Prato rally in Florence, the ARO took first place; among 55 teams taking place in another rally in Rome, the ARO team also got a place on the podium. Another ARO, recently returned from a 25,000km trek to the Himalayas with a Czechoslovakian scientific team, was entered by Ion Irimia, who was in charge of several dealerships in Czechoslovakia, for the Pardubice autocross – the first televised autocross in Czechoslovakia, and one which, one day, we hope to be able to watch. In America, on Independence Day 1972, an ARO M461 C took part in the Sons of Beaches rally in Oregon and, at the wheel of local plot and VW dealer Hans Skacel, took first place. Later, Skacel travelled to Campulung to present the trophy to the factory, declaring “My friend listened to me!”.
The most impressive adventure behind the wheel of a M461 C was undoubtedly the trans-African rally organised by a group of Romanian scientists in 1971. The scope of the expedition was to collect materials and data to complete the collections of Romanian museums of natural sciences. Organised under the aegis of the United Nations, the technical assistant for the exploration was Ion Cataranciuc, an engineer at ARO in charge of the prototype workshop, who is currently Honorary President of ARO M461 CLUB Romania. Also present was the trials pilot Costica Ludu. Three Romanian-built vehicles were used: an ARO M461 C and two TV vans, produced in Bucharest using ARO mechanicals. The ARO towed a chassis-based trailer based on the rear end of an ARO 240, which, together with its load, weighed over a tonne. The short A-frame and considerable height of the trailer (christened the “ARO-style trailer”) led to occasional unhappy accidents en route, overturning and sticking in the sand several times.
The white civil ARO M461 C was registered with the number 1-AG-3904, and had a series of minor modifications prior to the rally: a twin filter and cooling system, stronger rear suspension, a strengthened towbar to be able to tow more than 800 kg, headlamp shields, and extra canisters. The trailer, meanwhile, also had a supplementary 90 l reservoir. The car was equipped with Danubiana tyres. 20,507 km in length, from Dakar to Mombassa, the trip crossed twelve countries: Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Zaire, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya. The car proved extremely reliable; the only items needing replacement were some plugs, two fanbelts and six tyre chambers – after a total of 32 punctures. The other defects of the car were slight loss of brake fluid after a tube burst, a broken wing mirror stalk, and a blown indicator light bulb. After this trip, a series of modifications were introduced to production models, such as more comfortable seats and a new system of attaching tubes to the chassis. It should also be mentioned that towards the end of the expedition, ARO representatives gave away many of the spare parts to Romanian oil workers in Africa, all of whom were exclusively using AROs; this was a friendly gesture from the two ARO workers, the cost of which, sadly, was deducted from their pay packet at the end of their extraordinary adventure.
As has already been mentioned, the ARO M461 C was represented – and competed – by dealers worldwide. It is worth recording some of their names as testament to the exceptional efforts which they made in promoting these cars: AUTOROM ITALIANA Srl (Italy); S.A. BOSSIMPEX N.V. (Belgium); ARO LAND CARS Ltd (Great Britain); M.A.M. (France), REMARK S.A. (Spain), ALBERT BUSCHER (Germany). In Romania, the vehicle cost 80,000 lei; in West Germany, 10,500 DEM compared to a Range Rover at 23,000 DEM or a Land Rover at 19,000 DEM; in Italy, 2,100,000 lira. The vehicles’ warranty was 6 months or 10,000km, and, interestingly, they could be ordered with a package of spare parts straight from the factory.
The production of ARO M461 C stopped in 1975; already, the ARO 24 series, much more modern and better performing, was being produced in parallel. The ARO factory explained that production had stopped due to their having sold the licence to Bulgaria; sadly, this is as yet unconfirmed by the Bulgarian automotive historians with whom we are collaborating. With over half of the production exported and the vast majority of examples in Romania being owned by the State, ARO M461 C and its previous versions are today rare vehicles in Romania. Thankfully, several hundred vehicles in perfect condition escaped the scrap yard and were auctioned off to private owners after 2000. We hope that they will remain in the same condition, and that the legend of the “Carpathian Bison” will remain alive for many more years.


ARO M 461 C
Perioada de fabricatie : 1969-1975
Unitati produse : 80.233 (impreuna cu M461)
Motor : patru cilindri in linie, patru timpi, benzina, supape in chiulasa
Capacitate cilindrica : 2512 cmc
Ordinea de aprindere : 1-2-4-3
Diametrul x Cursa (mm) : 97x85
Putere : 77 CP la 4000 rpm
Raport de compresie : 7,2 :1
Dimensiuni (lungime/latime/inaltime) : 3854/1710/2050 mm
Cutie de viteze : manuala, cu patru trepte din care sincronizate III si IV
Masa totala : 1550 kg
Sarcina utila : 650 kg
Consum mediu : 14 l / 100 km
Panta maxima admisibila : 32 grade
Anvelope : 6,50X16
Numar de locuri : 8
Viteza maxima : 100 km/h