Rayton-Fissore Magnum

You may recognize this as a Laforza, the Italian-American SUV that was first fitted with a 5.0-litre V8 engine from the Ford Mustang and aimed at icons such as the Land Rover Range Rover.

It's not exactly a Laforza, however. 

That model was an evolution of this one: the Rayton-Fissore Magnum, a rare pioneer in the luxury SUV market. As 2015 unfolds, you'll be able to see the first models from luxury brands like Maserati and Bentley as the carmakers are drawn (cautiously) to the premium SUV market. Now, of course, the SUV market is large enough to support that niche. When new, the Magnum was more of a mid-level contender—think Land Rover Range Rover—with a few bespoke touches.

After studying some photos of the Magnum, I can relay that buyers got an interior fitted with a wood-faced dashboard and centre console, with a nicer stereo, an air conditioning system, leather, and second gearshift for the 4WD transfer case. 

Using an Italian Iveco chassis the company put into production as the first-generation Daily, the Magnum's development and mechanical attributes are also related to the VM 90, a more robust military variant of the Daily. 

On top, the company used technology called Univis. The Magnum's shell is supported by a backbone of square tubes mounted to the chassis with 10 silent rubber mounts, to which the body panels are bolted. The frame itself added rigidity beyond a standard body-on-frame SUV, but the construction method hasn't been developed since.

The engines that powered the Magnum were chosen for their fuel efficiency and durability. Three diesels were offered, two from VM Motori and one from Sofim. Small gasoline engines were also used, with the two most interesting a 2.5-litre Alfa Romeo V6 (badged as the Magnum VIP) and a supercharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder Fiat/Lancia unit. Revised models from 1988 could even be fitted with a 3.4-litre BMW straight-6! 

When developed into the Laforza for North American buyers, the largest engine fitted was a supercharged 6.0-litre V8. But of course.

What you're really paying for, though, is the Magnum's unique blend of off-road equipment and forward-thinking construction. Underneath, its drivetrain—including the 4WD system, front and rear differentials, suspension, and brakes—came from the heavier-duty Iveco Daily.

Unveiled at the 1985 Turin Motor Show, the company had the SUVs noted designer—and frequent #bcotd subject—Tom Tjaarda on hand to lend the small 40 person operation some credibility. Over its 18 year run, Magnum production included more than 6,000 units built, with a number sold to government agencies like regional police forces and park rangers. The most rare variant has the 2.5-litre Alfa Romeo V6—just 120 left the factory.

With engines from various manufacturers, body fittings, trim, and other components borrowed from other production cars, and production that was completed by Rayton-Fissore and Pininfarina, Magnum ownership must be a complex and sometimes-infuriating prospect. As far as maintenance is concerned, classic Land Rover Range Rover owners have it easy.

Looking for the ultimate Magnum—the Laforza Magnum Edition, fitted with that General Motors-sourced supercharged 6.0-litre V8? It was, incredibly, built by special order until 2003.