Everyone loves the Dacia Duster, and it feels like they have since 2010, when the first model generation came onto the market. An SUV at favourable prices and a bestseller with over two million units is now built.

And with a view to the recently launched third generation, this figure is likely to rise significantly. What hardly anyone realises, however, is that the 2010 Duster was the first model in Dacia's SUV series, which continues to this day. But it was not the first car with the name Dacia Duster. From 1985 to 1993, the ARO 10 4×4 was exported to the UK under the name Dacia Duster.

Gallery: ARO 10 (1980-2006)

ARO? What is that? In 1957, the company "Auto Romania" (hence the abbreviation) was the first Romanian car manufacturer (Dacia followed in 1966) to start producing off-road vehicles. Initially, they built further developments of the Soviet GAZ-69, the best known of which was the M 461 from 1964, which was also imported into the GDR. As Eberhard Kittler and Michael Dünnebier write in the book "Kraftfahrzeuge der DDR", 4,150 units were produced from 1969 onwards. Worldwide, ARO sold 53,000 vehicles of the M 461 type and its further developments.

With the ARO 240, there was a new body in the early 1970s, again with a tarpaulin top. The rear axle was designed as a rigid axle with longitudinal leaf springs and inclined shock absorbers, while the front had independent suspension with double wishbones, coil springs and vertically arranged shock absorbers. Other features of the chassis included worm steering and a drum brake system.

The water-cooled 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produced 75 PS and was equipped with a downdraft carburettor under Weber licence. The payload was 680 kg with an unladen mass of 1520 kg, and the top speed was 70 mph. A good 4,700 vehicles, 2,000 of which were diesel-powered, are said to have been imported into the GDR.

ARO 10 (1980-2006)

ARO 10 (1980-2006)

The ARO 24 series was given a "little brother" in 1980, the ARO 10 series. The 10, which was between 3.91 and 4.81 metres long depending on the body, had components in common with the Dacia 1300, from the engine to the front axle, and was inspired by the Renault Rodeo and the Citroën Méhari.

The ARO 10 was produced in many body variants, was equipped with seven different engines (petrol and diesel) and was offered in both 4x2 and 4x4 versions. And now we come to the Dacia Duster:

The ARO 10 was also sold in the UK (where they were always open to Eastern Bloc cars) from 1985 as the Dacia Duster and in some international markets as the Dacia 10.

The name Dacia was chosen because the British were already familiar with the Dacia Denem, a licence-built Renault 12 that was introduced in 1982. An interesting fact: in Germany, an attempt was made shortly afterwards to sell the Renault 12-based Dacia 1310 as the ARO Familia.

Brochure ARO Familia

Brochure ARO Familia

Brochure ARO Familia

Brochure ARO Familia

The history of the Duster in the UK is plagued by problems with importers. Plans to introduce the vehicles during 1982 were halted when the first importers ceased trading.

There was a problem in the autumn of 1990 when the new importers made way for a third company, then in 1993 imports ceased, apparently for good. The last Duster was sold in the UK in September 1993, but the vehicle was still available in Romania and other European countries as the ARO 10 series. An open-top model derived from the ARO 10 called the ARO Spartana was also produced from 1997.

ARO 10 (1980-2006)

ARO 10 (1980-2006)

The final evolutionary stage of the 10, produced from 1999, was called the ARO 10 Super, had a slightly revised design and was based on the chassis of the larger ARO 24. The vehicle was available in many export markets, and in the UK it was available as the Dacia Duster until 2006, when it was discontinued. 

As Hagerty writes, the original British Duster was very reasonably priced at £4,995 (compared to a Land Rover 90 at £8,606). But as the colleagues go on to say: "Cheap, yes. But also ugly. The build quality was diabolical, the reliability highly dubious, and it was no pleasure to drive. With steering that was both imprecise and sluggish, and a sluggish gearstick, it lacked mechanical refinement. Perhaps more importantly, with its small 14-inch wheels and relatively low ground clearance, it wasn't particularly capable off-road."

More than a deafening 72 mph was not possible, and the British Duster needed a whopping 22 seconds to reach 62 mph.

ARO 10 (1980-2006)

ARO 10 (1980-2006)

The ARO 10 was not only sold as the Dacia Duster in the United Kingdom and some other markets, but also bore various names in Italy: The local company Ali Ciemme (ACM) assembled the ARO 10 there in the 1980s and sold it under licence as the "Aro Super Ischia" with the 1.4-litre Renault petrol engine built by Dacia. With 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engines from Volkswagen, it was sold from 1987 to 1989 as the Aro Enduro x4.

A turbodiesel was introduced at the end of 1988. The sales figures of the vehicles assembled in Italy were not very high, reaching 2500 units in 1987 and 1800 in 1988. 28 per cent of the Volkswagen-engined vehicles consisted of Romanian parts, the rest being Italian and German. The Volkswagen-engined versions were also fitted with a stronger differential to cope with the extra torque.

The end of the ARO company was ignominious. Due to the poor business situation of the former Romanian financial institution Bancorex, the company got into financial difficulties in the 1990s. However, several attempts to privatise the company were rejected by the Romanian government.

Gallery: Dacia Duster (2024)

In 1998, a Cuban-born American businessman, John Perez, offered franchise agreements to US car dealers. About 200 dealers paid 75,000 dollars each for franchise rights, totalling 15 million dollars. These rights were offered by a company called East European Imports. The ARO was offered as a surplus Warsaw Pact military vehicle.

After the franchise rights were sold, the dealers were pressured to send cash cheques or wire transfers to take delivery of the vehicles, which were allegedly stored at a port in Florida. The dealers refused and insisted on paying on delivery, which eventually led to East European Imports closing its doors.

In September 2003, the Romanian government sold 68.7 per cent of ARO to Cross Lander, a company owned by John Perez, for $180,000. The contract stipulated that the company had to invest 2 million US dollars, which allegedly never happened. Instead, all of ARO's means of production and equipment were sold off, in violation of the privatisation contract. The Romanian state sued John Perez in 2006 for falsifying documents in order to acquire the company.

The plan was to enter the US market with the ARO 244 as Cross Lander 244X, but the financing expired in February 2006. Cross Lander USA Inc. laid off all its employees, sold its headquarters and closed in February 2006. On 15 June 2006, the ARO plant filed for bankruptcy, after which the property was gradually sold to various companies.

At the 2009 Geneva Motor Show, Dacia brought the name Duster out of obscurity and showed a concept car with this name. We can still see what followed on the roads today.