By on June 17, 2019

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]

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21 Comments on “Rare Rides: The SUV Oddity Which is a 1998 Laforza...”

  • avatar

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

    Is this even possible? I kind of remember these, but probably assumed they were Range Rovers. Very interesting SUV, but I’m sure was a total nightmare to own

  • avatar

    I would assume with a proven Ford and transmission, reliability in that department would be pretty good. So electrical gremlins? Or was the rest of the hardware not up to snuff?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the build quality and electrics would get ya. And perhaps the AOD.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the AOD was the best of the first overdrive automatics made by the Big 3… although the competition was pretty crappy. The GM offerings were so bad that they went back to three speeds, with direct drive for third and lockup torque converters to make up some of the lost fuel economy from not having an overdrive, and stayed with that for a few years. The Chrysler Ultradrives were also bad enough that the old Torqueflite got a new lease on life for a few more years.

        (Some of the Europeans and Japanese added a bolt-on two speed planetary gearbox on their tried and true three speed automatics to make them into four speed overdrives… that was a pretty conservative approach and it worked pretty well.)

  • avatar

    There’s an older, red one sitting abandoned in a long shut down gas station not far from where I live. It has been there for years.

  • avatar

    I cannot recall seeing any of these on the streets. I’m betting the engines and transmissions lasted a good long time, but the rest of the SUV…not so much!

    Love the Crutchfield catalog stereo – vehicles like this are supposed to have Blaupunkt or Alpine stereos only dammit! But real wood and acres of soft leather that probably still feels good today makes up fora lot of faults.

    And what exactly is that glovebox supposed to hold – only a small fraction of the binder that is called the service records?

  • avatar

    I thought it was dubious that the LaForza could be more unreliable than a P38, on account of the 302. That said, the Canadian Armed Forces ran a Western Star-built version of the VM 90 (which, today I learned that the Grand Theft Auto Range Rover and those ridiculously cheap surplus trucks are related), and apparently they were disastrous, so it might check out.

    Also, I don’t care for the revised front end, and had never seen it (although we’ve got an earlier LaForza or two running around Toronto), although the upgraded engine is neat.

  • avatar

    I can remember exactly my one and only Laforza sighting – in the middle of winter in downtown Minneapolis traveling eastbound on I-94, in the Lowry Hill tunnel. So someone is (was?) using a Laforza as winter transportation in the Upper Midwest within in the last 10 years….

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    When these were introduced I’d see a few in the NYC metro area. The horsey set who wanted something different than a Grand Wagoneer or Range Rover.

    One article at the time mentioned that Kevin Bacon owned one.

    Sold for $4,125, NP that’s used Explorer or half worn Range Rover money.

    • 0 avatar

      Half worn?!

      • 0 avatar

        Only six lit dash warning lights, one functional headlight, a stereo that works if you tap on the eject button at a 45 degree angle, and a sacrifice of a small farm animal in the hopes that it starts in the morning.
        But at least the paint and leather looks good!

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        There’s a 2003 or so Freelander for sale at a dealership not far from me for a mere $995. No shock it’s been advertised for a while.

        • 0 avatar

          Surprised they aren’t paying someone to take it away.
          Bring some jumper cables and a priest. You’ll need both.
          For five minutes, I was actually considering buying a Freelander. Then I drove one. Couldn’t toss those keys back to the salesman quickly enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      You hit the nail on the head with referencing the “horsey set,” as the only Laforza I’ve ever seen in person was on display at a Midwest AQHA show in 1989. Besides all the vehicle’s other problems the 5.0L/AOD was a truly lousy powertrain for towing.

  • avatar

    That looks like a badly-built kit car. The rear hatch is from a Fiat Uno, the nose is a misshapen mess of badly-molded plastic and bargain-bin chicken wire grille mesh, and to top it all off, it rides on an Iveco Daily delivery truck chassis. I’d rather own a Lada Niva 2131 than that unfortunate-looking lump.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen a handful of these things over the years, usually either in red or black.

  • avatar

    “US-bound examples were shipped from the production line in Cherasco, Italy, and finished in Brighton, Michigan.”

    The company that did the finishing work was Cars & Concepts – Dick Chrysler’s company. They initially made their name as an ASC (American Sunroof Company) competitor who won the Ford Tier 1 supplier contract to do all T-Tops on the Mustang in the early 80’s, then continued on with the Mustang Convertible until the end of the Fox chassis in the early 90’s. They also did finishing on the Hurst Olds S/C (the Cutlass chassis – C&C bought Hurst during this timeframe), Beretta GT convertibles and Indy pace cars, etc. I was an assembler on the Mustang Convertible line there during that era. When Mustangs were wrapping up, they brought in the Laforzas at a building just up the street. I recall seeing a bunch of the unfinished chassis and thinking at the time, “Who would buy that overpriced garbage?”

    EDIT: I forgot to add that the reason Mustang Convertible production was wrapping up by 1993 was that Ford had decided to take the production of convertibles in-house starting with the 4th generation (SN-95) chassis.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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

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