1980s / 1990s / American / Future classic / Italian / LaForza

Is the LaForza 5 Liter a future classic?

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?

9 thoughts on “Is the LaForza 5 Liter a future classic?

  1. LaForza’s are friggin’ cool. I saw one in raleigh a few years ago with full Camo paint. Stalked the owner to a best buy parking lot, he said the car had been flooded up to the roof in a hurricane and totalled. He’d repaired all the mechanicals, painted it camo, and used it as a hunting truck now.

    Super bizarre? Yup!

      • This article it is written by some one that never seen one and do not know what it is talking about…..Tom Tjaarda was working for rayton Fissore in 1984 and he actually designed the original Magnum 4×4 from scratch! with a “blank slade”!
        The 5.0 V8 Ford engine was one of the best engine at the time and very reliable, cheap to maintain and in line with the American production in 1988. This engine has been used in Mustangs up to 1996, Ford bronco, Ford F250, 150 etc.
        Great vehicles, cheap to run, if properly maintained they drive for ever, interior is unmatched by most plastic fake wooden trim luxury suv of today. Plus, a popular Mercedes M buyer is for sure not the buyer of a Laforza also back then……Good off roading capabilities, especially in the 89-90 versions with low gears transfer case, very rugged frame and body on frame. Great external proportions (Tom Tjaarda did a great job in 1984 …. ) and incredible spacious interior also considering the dimensions, it is shorter then a series 3 bmw.
        Under estimated, but again, also Dino Ferrari were considered junk and cheap, not a real Ferrari. Buy one today if you can afford it……

        I recall other type of cars that had similar philosophy ( Italian designed body and interior with American engines and mechanicals)

        Detomaso (practically all the models, Pantera, Longchamp etc.) Bizzarrini, Iso Rivolta, Qvale, Inter Meccanica, Fornasari, Monteverdi, etc…

      • Couple of comments:

        – I’ve never seen a LaForza? I took the pictures for this article, so you know I’ve seen at least one.
        – Tjaarda designed the Magnum 4×4 from scratch, yes, but he did not design the LaForza from scratch. Read the article, it says that almost word for word.
        – The greatness of Ford’s 5.0-liter V8 is debatable, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.
        – In the late 1990s the LaForza was squarely aimed at the luxury SUV market so its competitors included the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, among others.

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  4. I have a Red one and it’s a head turner for sure. I keep it garaged, take it out to car shows and have driven it about 45,000 miles since 1999. I paid $9,500, I’ll never sale it, It will be in my family just like my 69 xke coupe..
    Captain D. Santa Barbara California

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