Beretta, the Italian arms manufacturer, is suing General Motors Corp. for $250 million, claiming its centuries-old reputation for fine workmanship will be ruined if the carmaker continues producing a four-wheeled Beretta.

Fabrica D'Armi P. Beretta SpA, maker of firearms since the late 15th century, charged GM with trademark infringement and unfair competition in a federal lawsuit.Beretta, which calls itself "the oldest manufacturer of arms in the world," said its lawyers warned GM about using the Beretta name a year before the automaker unveiled the Chevrolet model in 1987.

The arms maker, based in the Italian province of Brescia, said the company had registered trademarks in this country for the Beretta name as far back as 1954.

In Detroit, GM spokesman James W. Crellin said his company had not seen the suit and would have no comment.

The Italian concern, which makes luggage, clothing, cutlery and optical equipment as well as target, hunting and military guns, claimed that for the past four centuries its products "have become synonymous with refined workmanship and the very highest quality."

The lawsuit contends Beretta pistols are the standard military sidearm in several countries. The U.S. Army signed an $80 million contract for 315,000 Beretta pistols in 1985, but has been forced by Congress to hold a new competition among pistol companies for its next order.

Other examples of the gunmaker's reputation can be found in literature, where the Italian-made pistols are the weapons of choice for numerous fictional spies and detectives, including Ian Fleming's Agent 007 James Bond.