The M59 model launched in 1959 had been a great leap forward, both in terms of modernity and quality, but the factory at Muscel did not stop developing its product. There were still reliability problems, especially in the steering and braking systems. Beginning in the winter of 1961, a new product began being tested. The road tests happened only at night, which led to the nickname of the “nocturnal wanderer”. In parallel, engineers studied other 4x4 models, especially the Land Rover. The new prototype performed encouragingly and in 1964 another was produced which very quickly entered mass production. The new model, christened M461, benefited from a completely redesigned technical platform. Its name derived from M, for Muscel, the region of production, 4, the fourth prototype produced, and 61, the first year of development.
Within the first two years of production, the M461 incorporated 81 design differences when compared to the M59, its predecessor. The new M-207 engine, developing 70 HP, was crucial to the model’s success: it combined higher performance with significantly better fuel economy: more and more M 461s would cover 100,000 kilometres without needing major work. This was a deciding factor in the 1965 decision to begin export. The first country in which Romanian-built automobiles arrived was China; it was followed by 32 other countries across 4 continents. The export tally increased from 502 units in 1965 to approximately 10,000 in 1973. The factory quickly became too small and unable to keep up with demand, so it was extended.
The combined total production of M461 (1964 – 1969) and its successor, the M461C (1969-1975), was 80,233 units, out of which 46,548 (58%) were exported. Columbia imported over 2,000 units. In Cairo, 2,000 were assembled from CKD kits sent from Romania; these were used by the Egyptian army under the name of RAMSES. Even today, many are still used, and their reliability is something of a local legend. The Greek and Czech armies also used many M461s. One of ARO’s best clients was the Romanian Ministry of Defence. The military models had specific equipment depending on the sectors using them (communications, chemical warfare, or command): they were khaki, with tricolour markings on the doors, camouflaged lights, curtains behind the front seats and at the tarpaulin’s windows; telecommunications devices; a pickaxe; antennae; two 20 l canisters. The design was also modified to include a larger fuel tank (90 l as opposed to 70), a special dynamo, water protection for starter motor, a special electrical system, etc.
According to the brochure, the M461 can drive up 32 degree inclines and negotiate obstacles 50 cm tall. Of course, this depends on the skill of the driver; the car itself has excellent off-road capabilites and can even exceed the manufacturer’s claims. Export models also had a diesel option, either a 2112cc Indenor unit developing 62HP, or the 2523cc Perkins diesel developing 71HP. The fctory workers nicknamed the car “the rock flower”, while the foreign press called it the “Carpathian bison”. In Romania, the M461 was sold almost exclusively to state institutions at a price of 80,000 lei. Abroad, the prices were $3,600 or 10,500DEM, with an extra cost for the diesel-engined versions. One interesting detail is that in the tencnical specifications for 1965, the make was given as UMM, the abbreviation of the producing factory, Uzina Mecanica Muscel, the Muscel Mechanical Factory.
Compared to the previous model, the M461 had the following modifications: three central holes in the grille for towing, a fixed, one-piece windscreen, the battery and fuel filler on the right hand side, windows on the doors as opposed to tarpaulin, and a steering box in a different position. As well as these exterior modifications, the engine, gearbox, chassis, steering, and suspension were completely redesigned. In parallel with producing the M461, the factory at Muscel produced the mechanics for the TV (Tudor Vladimirescu) light trucks, vans and minibuses produced at the Autobuzul factory in Bucharest. In 1969, the M461 was updated to comply with European norms, and the M461C model was launched.