Rare Rides: The SUV Oddity Which is a 1998 Laforza

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Which SUV looked like a 1995 Range Rover at its debut in 1984, but was less reliable and more expensive?

Why, it’s a Laforza of course.

The Laforza story began with Magnum. The Magnum was the idea of Italian coachbuilder Rayton Fissore, a brand created in 1976 as an offshoot of the Fissore coachworks that built things like the Monteverdi High Speed. One of the brothers who founded Fissore had an enterprising daughter who wanted to go her own way and create her own car firm.

Rayton Fissore’s donor platform was a spartan utility vehicle designed for military and police purposes. The chassis the Magnum used was a shortened version of a military truck eventually known as the Iveco VM 90. Rayton handed the project to automotive designer Tom Tjaarda at Pininfarina. Tom filled the Magnum to the brim with fine leather and wood, and large engines for luxury customers. In what surely was a cost-saving ploy, the front and rear differentials, suspension, and braking system for the Magnum were pulled directly from the Iveco truck. Rayton created a new construction technique for the Magnum: UNIVIS. A square tube structure was bolted to the chassis with 10 rubber mountings. Engines were various, and sourced from Lancia, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ford, General Motors, and VM Motori. Displacement ranged from two to six liters.

Displayed in Europe for summer of 1984, the Rayton Fissore Magnum began production in 1985. Slowly but surely, Magnum thrust toward the United States. By the time it arrived in 1988, it was called Laforza.

United States versions utilized reinforced cross members in the frame, and an engine familiar to domestic buyers — the 5-liter Ford 302 from an F-150. Paired to an AOD automatic transmission, selectable four-wheel drive was present on all examples. US-compliant lamps front and rear meant there was a slight restyling to the bumpers. American versions also received a different dash, and revised seating surfaces.

Changes to Laforza were slow (just like sales). In 1995 a GT version was available, with the 5-liter V8 from the Mustang GT. Some examples had a larger 5.8-liter under hood, and a supercharger was added here and there. A refresh in 1998 updated the visuals and added additional modern niceties inside, but the body remained the same. The final run of vehicles sometimes used a supercharged 6-liter GM Vortec V8, and were known as the Magnum Edition. US-bound examples were shipped from the production line in Cherasco, Italy, and finished in Brighton, Michigan.

Today’s Rare Ride is a refreshed Laforza from 1998. Featuring the supercharged GM 6-liter V8 and 52,000 miles on the odometer, it sold at Sotheby’s in Fort Lauderdale in April 2018. For $4,125.

[Images: RM Sotheby’s]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 21 comments
  • ThomasSchiffer ThomasSchiffer on Jun 17, 2019

    Someone suffered through 52,000 miles in that interior? They have my utmost respect and admiration.

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jun 17, 2019

    it looks like this GM motor has a supercharger because that's a Vortec aftercooler setup I remember reading the Car&Driver article on the Laforza in the mid 80s.I really liked the interior styling then and still do now. Very Maserati

  • JK I grew up with Dodge trucks in the US, and now live in Turin, Italy, the home of Fiat. I don't think Italians view this as an Italian company either. There are constant news articles and protests about how stalantis is moving operations out of Italy. Jeep is strangely popular here though. I think last time I looked at stelantis's numbers, Jeep was the only thing saving them from big big problems.
  • Bd2 Oh yeah, funny how Trumpers (much less the Orange Con, himself) are perfectly willing to throw away the Constitution...
  • Bd2 Geeze, Anal sure likes to spread his drivelA huge problem was Fisher and his wife - who overspent when they were flush with cash and repeatedly did things ad hoc and didn't listen to their employees (who had more experience when it came to auto manufacturing, engineering, etc).
  • Tassos My Colleague Mike B bought one of these (the 300 SEL, same champagne color) new around June 1990. I thought he paid $50k originally but recently he told me it was $62k. At that time my Accord 1990 Coupe LX cost new, all included, $15k. So today the same car means $150k for the S class and $35k-40k for the Accord. So those %0 or 62k , these were NOT worthless, Idiot Joe Biden devalued dollars, so he paid AN ARM AND A LEG. And he babied the car, he really loved it, despite its very weak I6 engine with a mere 177 HP and 188 LBFT, and kept it forever. By the time he asked me to drive it (to take him to the dealer because his worthless POS Buick Rainier "SUV" needed expensive repairs (yes, it was a cheap Buick but he had to shell out thousands), the car needed a lot of suspension work, it drove like an awful clunker. He ended up donating it after 30 years or so. THIS POS is no different, and much older. Its CHEAPSKATE owner should ALSO donate it to charity instead of trying to make a few measly bucks off its CARCASS. Pathetic!
  • RHD The re-paint looks like it was done with a four-inch paintbrush. As far as VWs go, it's a rebadged Seat... which is still kind of a VW, made in Mexico from a Complete Knock-Down kit. 28 years in Mexico being driven like a flogged mule while wearing that ridiculous rear spoiler is a tough life, but it has actually survived... It's unique (to us), weird, funky (very funky), and certainly not worth over five grand plus the headaches of trying to get it across the border and registered at the local DMV.