The history of Aro (which name means "Automobil Romanesc"), like others Eastern factories, starts from the war: formerly, his production was of airplane equipments, and the previous name of the factory was IAR Brasov. The name of Aro is well-know in the off-road scene; this brand was also exported in several countries during the '80s, with a good success.
The beginnings (years '60-'70)
The first 4x4 Aro is the IMS-57 (pic below the title of the page): the name derives from the year of construction, the 1957. Inspired to the Soviet 4x4 GAZ, was equipped with a 3300 cc.engine, 50 hp, 80 km/h of max speed. The following version is the M-59 (above, first pic), with 56 hp and some improvement of the equipment (the electric wiper-washer was adopted, replacing the previous wiper, with manual shift!). In the 1964, the M-461 (second, third and fourth pics above) cames into production, also this car was very similar to the GAZ, with a 70 hp engine, 100 km/h. This car, very good in the off-road, was the first model exported in other countries, and was produced until 1975.
In the 1972, a totally new model enter in production, after 6 years of project: the Aro series "24" (six pics above, with round or square headlights; in the sixth pic, there is a special version for the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu). The Aro "24" was equipped with a Renault four-cylinder engine, 2500 cc. with 83 hp, 120 km/h of max speed (these were good performances for the period). This car was very excellent in the off-road: in an hard test of Ford Europe, realized in the 1972, the Aro "24" took the second place, after the Range Rover, and before Jeep-Willys and Ford "Bronco"!
The Aro "24" (in the first, second and third pics, the station-wagon and the canvas-roof versions; the several versions are denominated "243", "244", etc., according to the type of coachwork) was a very modern off-road for that period, without the spartan layout typical of the old jeeps, and with a much more comfortable car body. Also several diesel engines were mounted: Tractorul Brasov 3.2 with 68 hp, Aro 2.7 with 71 hp, Andoria turbodiesel 2.4 with 87 hp (Andoria is a Polish engine factory), and Peugeot turbodiesel with 90 hp, all four-cylinder; all these engines are still in production. The car obtained a good success, and was assembled also in Portugal (with the PORTARO brand) and Spain (HISPARO); moreover, it also won the Pharaon's Rally (fourth pic), one of the hardest races of the world. Still today, the Aro "24" runs in some national rally (fifth and sixth pics above).
Moreover, on the Aro transmission/engine components, also a minivan/truck was realized: the T.V. (from Tudor Vladimirescu, an ancient Romanian warrior), recently renamed Rocar ("Romanian Cars"). The brand was founded in Bucharest in the 1956; the early versions of this vehicle were equipped with the same 2500 cc. engine of the Aro "M-461" (80 hp, 100 km/h), subsequently the newer engines from the Aro "24" were adopted (for example, the turbodiesel Andoria 2.4 with 90 hp). There were also 4x4 versions, mainly reserved to the Romanian army. In the three pics above, there are a minibus, a pick-up, and a recent ambulance version.
The years '80s
In the 1980, a new model enter in production (after 5 years of project: this is a very short time for an eastern factory...). The Aro "10" (above) is a small 4x4, equipped with Renault 1.3/1.4 engines (produced by Dacia), the sames of Renault "5". The power is 63 hp, the max speed of 120 km/h. There where the transfer box and the manual blocking of the transmission. During the mid-'80s, the Aro "10" was exported to several countries, with a great success: this is a good period for the market of the off-road, and the "10" is not different, teorically, from the Suzuki "Santana" and others similar cars. But this success was short: the car had problems about the reliability, and the little dimensions of the wheels (the sames of the Dacia/Renault 12) limits the performance in the off-road practice.
The "10" was also assembled in Italy by the Italian importer Aro-Ciemme (with the ACM brand), in order to resolve the problems of bad assembling. A plant was builted to assemby the Aro in Italy, and the "Enduro x4" model enter in production (first pic, above), substantially an Aro "10" improved, and equipped with Volkswagen engines, 1.6 turbodiesel. On an Aro platform, also a prototype of fun-car was realized: the "Scorpion" (second pic, above), with the particular "wing" doors. This vehicle is very similar to the Suzuki X-90 (born some year after), and unfortunately it never was produced. The success of the Aro "10" assembled in Italy was unfortunately low, although it was a reliable car, because the fame of the first Romanian model was bad. In the early '90s, the ACM was closed, and the Italian production of the Aro was stopped.
About the "24", this model was slightly restyled during the '80s (four pics above), with four round headlights and Peugeot turbodiesel engines. Although the success of the off-road vehicle was high during the years '80, the number of Aro "24" sold in the Western countries was little, because the Japanese 4x4 were much more refined and modern. A shame, because the car was a good project (also the look was not bad for the period), penalized only by a typical Eastern construction, too poor for our markets.
In the meantime, in Romania, a new 4x4 was realized. The vehicle in the three pics above was realized in the 1989, the year of the end of the Ceausescu's regime. The production of this vehicle never started (the car body in the pics has been badly painted, before the definitive stop of the project), for the well-known economic difficulties of the post-Ceausescu years.
The current production is still based on the previous models. The "24" series (first and second pics above), called "Hunter" or "Cross Lander" in the different markets, was progressively updated with new bumpers, new grille; moreover, also new engines (Toyota, Ford e Daewoo) are available. But the rest of the car is totally unchanged. The version in the third and fourth pics above has even a Ford Cosworth engine (!), perhaps too powerful and too advanced for this spartan car...In France, the "24" series is still imported, but it's sold for almost 15.000 EU, a very high price, considering the poor construction, the old project and the cost of production (the salary of a Romanian worker is 75 EU per month!!!). The Aro are currently assembled also in Brazil, and equipped with International 2.8 turbodiesel engines. In the fifth and sixth pics, the Aro "Dragon", a recent military version of the "24".
Also the "10" is substantially unchanged, with very slight modifications to the bumpers and the grille. Now, the "10" is available with the old Renault engines (1.3 and 1.6), with a Daewoo 1.6 (105 hp), and with new Renault diesel engines (1870 cc, 92 hp for the turbocharged version). Now there is the 5-door version (first pic, above), and also an open-roof version, without windows and with flexable windscreen: the Aro "Spartana" (the name is very good for this car...), in the third and fourth pics. This last car (available also with only rear wheel drive transmission) could be a good "fun-car" like Citroen "Mehari" or the Austin "Mini Moke"; unfortunately, the construction is not yet good for the Western markets.
The last evolution of the Aro "10" is of the 1999: the Aro "10 Super", based on the "24" chassis! This car resolves the main problem of the "10": the little wheels...In the first pic, the three-doors version; in the second pic, the five-doors version; in the third pic, the pick-up version. On the base of the "short-wheels base" pick-up, the German importer produces the interesting "Super Rally" version in the fourth pic.
And...for the future? It seems that there are two new prototypes, station-wagon and pick-up (non-definitive name: Aro "266"). In the first pic above, an image of the mock-up (not very explicative...), and, in the second pic, a drawing that shows an interpretation of the look of these two new cars (the blue car is not bad, the commercial pick-up seems a Peugeot "806" cutted!).
Unfortunately, the Romania now it's considered only as a place to produce Western products with low costs, without interest for the people and for the chances of local developement. I hope that this brand, that realized 4x4 vehicles with good features, will produce a new and competitive off-road, not becoming a simple assembler of Western cars where the workers have ridicolous wages. But, probably, it's only an hope; anyway, we will see during the next years.
Some pic taken from ROMANIAN CARS SITE (http://www.geocities.com/motorcity/downs/4582/)