By Tom Tjaarda


How on earth does a body shop with about 40 employees scrape up enough money to tool up and manufacture an entire vehicle. This was the situation in 1985 when Rayton Fissore made a prototype of a 4x4 vehicle which was based on a very rugged military chassis. This prototype was shown first to Iveco, which employed their chassis, but was rejected because they made trucks, not cars. Then it was shown to FIAT, where it was yet again rejected because Fiat made cars, not trucks! This was obviously a new type of vehicle, and did not seem to fit in the scheme of things, back in 1985. The name "SUV" was not yet invented, so the only alternative was that the small carrozzeria in Cherasco had to either abandon the idea or go it alone. They decided to go it alone.

Giulio Malvino had married one of the daughters, Fernanda, of the well known Carrozzeria Fissore family located in nearby Savigliano, thus the name fissore, the name Rayton was just made up. Malvino was a wheeler and dealer and often found himself in legal trouble, but he also had some rather ingenious automotive ideas. One of these concepts he came up with was given the name UNIVIS and it was quickly given a patent. It was a very simple and basic concept where essentially the body of the vehicle consisted of a square tube structure with the outside body panels welded to this rigid frame. The square tubes were formed by an automatic roller forming machine, giving the tubes just the right curve and twist then jigged up and welded together. The outside body panels were pressed out using the conventional dies then trimmed and welded to the space frame. The chassis of the prototype was a the modified military truck frame, "C" in section and therefore not as strong as a boxed section used on most frames today. But now we come to the astonishing aspect of this concept. When the square tube structured body was mated by 10 rubber mounts to the chassis, it was the body which kept the chassis rigid! These two units interacted to produce an amazing structure, so strong that it was practically impossible to damage or crush this vehicle. And the cost to produce all the necessary dies and jigs was a fraction of the expense to design and tool up for a normal body. With this in mind, the body shop in Cherasco went ahead and completely tooled up for the production of the Magnum in less than a year.

As all this was going on my part was to design the vehicle, to come up with a styling theme that would distinguish this new vehicle as something special. But what was this vehicle. I did not want to create a passenger carrying truck or on the other hand a bloated sedan. I was working alone, it was just me in that small building, so I could get away with not producing hundreds of sketches and passing through many meetings to get go ahead approval. Actually I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. It was to be a vehicle with pleasant lines, proportions and surfaces, not truck like in any way. But it would be a big vehicle so the best way to keep everything in proportion was to make it look smaller than it actually was. This was done by rounding off the "corners" that is the hood was soft and rounded, the four corners of the vehicle were also given this treatment as were the bumpers and anywhere that could be softened up and rounded off. This was back in the summer of 1985 when rather edgy design was still the vogue.

The design was first drafted into a full-size construction drawing to make a foam model, to see first hand how this design was going to evolve in a practical three dimensional model. The foam model was made in the shop, in the extreme heat of July 1985, and I not only was closely following this work but actually physically worked on the model myself. I remember at one point my wife asking why I was getting so thin. It was a long hot and humid summer in Cherasco!

When the metal prototype was completed and the testing began, their was still some aspect of the design which was not yet correct. Watching the car manouver and being driven everyday Malvino pinpointed the defect. One morning he came into the office and simply said that the vehicle was too long, that it would have to be shortened by 10 cm! This 10 cm. was taken out in the middle of the vehicle, and actually sawed in half and welded back together again. It was now a compact design and had a much more pleasing overall proportion, not to mention better handling. In fact the steering radius on this car is amazing, almost turning into its own length like a London taxi.

When the Magnum 4X4 was launched onto the market, Italy was just emerging from a rather severe economic slow-down. The timing was just right and as it turned out the small Cherasco factory was having a hard time keeping up with orders. People seemed to like this concept, a large and roomy vehicle that could be used in snowy roads and dirt trails. These vehicles could be seen driving around Torino and became a status symbol, parked in places so that people could see them and go over to ask what it was.

Also the interior was not stark or truck like, rather it employed comfortable leather seats and a well appointed instrument panel with wood inlays. This was definitely a new approach to vehicle design, and it caught on immediately. It was a vehicle al right, not a truck. And it could go into territory not normally attempted by a car. It had a versatile utility and sportiness. The name Sport Utility Vehicle or SUV had to wait a number of years before becoming a common household name. But this little company in Cherasco, Italy somehow, maybe through instinct and/or the lack of a full fledged budget, created an ingenious mode of transportation, and in this case also a new method of engineering an automobile.



Tom Tjaarda