And you thought the crossover craze was a new thing?
Actually, that's not entirely true, as the Freeclimber is a good, old fashioned, body-on-frame SUV.
There was another craze that hit the automotive scene that started with a few upmarket, semi-bespoke SUVs like the Monteverdi Safari and Laforza—designed to compete (or at least take some of the pie away from) the Land Rover Range Rover.
The only high-end SUVs that have come close to being as iconic as the Range Rover land on either side of its abilities—the bigger, brasher Cadillac Escalade and the sports car that hauls (to hell with going far off-road), Porsche's Cayenne.
During a time when the word globalization was still a new concept, automakers sought to compete in every segment they could—even if they had to use someone else's vehicle to do it.
A little bit of badge engineering goes a long way, and the Bertone Freeclimber is, like someone on Interpol's watch list, also known under multiple aliases:
The first six (!) names are from Daihatsu, who provided the mechanicals for the vehicle. Toyota gets the final name on the list, Blizzard, as those versions received Toyota engines in certain markets.
Ready to have your mind blown? The Bertone Freeclimber was one of three series production vehicles ever sold under the Bertone name.
Surprising, considering this is the same place that styled the Fiat 8V Spider, the Alfa Romeo BAT concepts, Lamborghini Miura, and Lancia Stratos…among others, of course.
It was assembled in Italy using parts from Daihatsu. It had a high-end interior and options, and was marketed to those well-heeled drivers who would today likely be driving around in the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.
Don't be aghast yet: the Freeclimber had your choice of a Toyota gasoline—or BMW diesel engine!
Japanese engineering, Italian design and assembly, German engine…I can't tell if that's the perfect mix or would be terrible.
That said, I'd rock the Freeclimber. With its quad headlights and a full-width sunroof panel that integrates nicely with its Rancho-like raised rear roof section, it's like a fancier Chevrolet Tracker.
If I was going to get one, I'd try to find a special edition only sold in France. It was offered with an Alcantara interior and named "Blue Lagoon"—after a perfume.
There were two model generations, and you can easily spot the Freeclimber II by its larger fender flares.
Like many before and many after, Bertone realized that it's quite difficult to find success in the luxury SUV market. Fewer than 2,800 Freeclimbers were made.
Those other failed luxury SUVs? Stories for another day.
* The other two? There were Bertone-badged versions of the Fiat Ritmo Cabrio and Fiat X1/9.