The annals of automotive history are full of dual-citizenship cars that mix an American heart with an unmistakably Italian flair. One of the most offbeat ones is the LaForza 5 Liter, introduced in the United States in 1988.
LaForza hired Tom Tjaarda to design the 5 Liter. Enlisting Tjaarda was a smart move as his illustrious portfolio included the DeTomaso Pantera and the sleek Ferrari 365 California but there was a catch. The 5 Liter was based on the Rayton-Fissore Magnum, a Tjaarda-designed heavy-duty 4×4 that borrowed its platform from an Iveco truck that was initially designed to be used by the Italian army. Tjaarda wasn’t starting with a blank slate when he took on the LaForza project, he had to make a Fiat Uno-like utility vehicle look and feel like a Range Rover, a daunting task by most means of measurement.
Tjaarda gave the Fissore a new grille, more aggressive bumpers and slightly different lights on both ends. The treatment was extended to the interior, which was luxuriously appointed and featured authentic wood trim and leather upholstery.
When it was first introduced in the United States the LaForza was powered by a Ford-sourced V8 engine with a displacement of 4.942 cubic centimeters, making it more of a 4.9-liter than a 5.0-liter. With only two valves per cylinder the engine wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art but it sent the 4,900-pound SUV from zero to 60 miles per hour in a respectable 8.1 seconds. Power was sent to all four wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission.
The package was not convincing enough and sales were dismal in the United States. 20 years ago the Chinese market couldn’t be relied on for a sales boost so LaForza quickly stopped production of the 5 Liter. An updated version of the model was introduced again in the middle of the 1990s but in spite of a light redesign it undeniably looked like it belonged to a different era. The SUV soldiered on until the early 2000s but newcomers such as the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class put the final nail in its coffin and it was phased out without a successor.
Will the LaForza 5 Liter go down in history as the true predecessor of today’s ultra-luxurious SUVs or will it be remembered as a Fiat Uno on steroids with a big American heart?