The Weirdest Car Manufacturer You've Never Heard Of - Fornasari
It all began two days ago.
Two days ago i went on a family trip to one of the country’s biggest lakes. We visited some ancient ruins and looked at a massive statue of a saint… but that’s not important, is it?
The reason i was so excited about this trip was that, this time, i was the one driving. For the first time in my life since i got my license i drove for more than 30 minutes, while also learning to tackle things such as hairpins and a ridiculously tight bridge.
But that wasn’t the only reason. I was also hoping to see some cool cars there. And i did see some cool cars.
A couple of vintage Fiat 500s, a couple of Renault 4s, a Citroën 2CV Charleston, a modified Mk1 VW Caddy, a blue Mk3 Ford Focus RS with lime green wheels and an MG TF. Those are all nice cars, but the best (and the whole reason i’m writing this) has yet to come. What i saw on the way home took me completely by surprise.
While we were waiting for the right moment to pass at an intersection, a mysterious coupé, with a low roofline, wide fenders, a long hood, and a sleek and elegant body painted in a beautiful shade of metallic red passed right in front of us. I had never seen that car before, and i had no idea what it was.
For the rest of the drive i couldn’t get that red car out of my head. So, once i got home, i started doing some research on the Internet, hoping to find out what car it was. It wasn’t an Irmscher, it wasn’t a Wiesmann, it wasn’t some kind of one-off Alfa Romeo, it wasn’t made by Zagato, ItalDesign had nothing to do with it either. But then, i finally found it. And the story surrounding it is, in my opinion, quite interesting. And obscure.
Let’s start from the beginning.
In the early ‘90s, Giuseppe Fornasari began importing Corvette C4s and modiying them with the help of famed Corvette tuner Callaway, and then raced them in the Italian GT Championship, with some success.
In the late ‘90s, however, he began designing his own custom cars. His cars were something that was completely unheard of at the time: High performance SUVs.
At the time, SUVs had just started getting popular, and no one wanted them to be fast. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the first well-known performance SUV, was still several years away from being presented.
Fornasari S.r.l. was officially founded in 1999, in Vicenza, Italy, by Giuseppe Fornasari and a group of supporting friends. The first model offered by the newborn brand was the RR450.
The RR450 was a three-door SUV, also offered with an LS V8. Later on, the RR450 was replaced by the more powerful RR600, whose power output ranged from 500-700+ bhp, coupled to either a manual or an automatic gearbox, both 6-speeds. A turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel V6 was added as an option in 2010.
It was available with either 4WD or 2WD.
The RR450 also took part in various offroad and Rally Raid races, with some success.
After the RR450, Fornasari launched the RR99, an interesting hybrid between an SUV, a sedan and a sports coupe.
It was equipped with an LS V8 with a power output that ranged from 650-835 bhp, which was mated to either a manual or automatic 6-speed gearbox. A turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel V6 was added as an option in 2010. Additionally, it was available in both 4WD and 2WD form.
The RR99’s performance figures were (and still are) outstanding: The latest versions were capable of launching from 0-100 km/h in just 3.2 s and its top speed was electronically limited to 320 km/h (198 mph).
The interior was made using aluminum and leather inserts.
The Gruppo B was a ‘hot hatch’ version of the RR450/RR600, meant for road use. It had a much lower ride height than the SUV it was derived from. As its name implies, it was inspired by Group B rally cars from the ‘80s. It was mechanically identical to the RR450/RR600.
The Tender was also based on the RR450/RR600, of which it represented a two-door pickup version. The tender’s styling is a lot more elegant compared to the vehicle it derived from, and was inspired by luxury yatchts. It was mechanically identical to the RR450/RR600.
The Racing Buggy is also mechanically identical to the RR600, but it has a completely different design and is considered a street-legal buggy made for racing, without, however, sacrificing luxury.
Fornasari also sold the LM, which was based on the Callaway LeMans cars.
And finally, the car that sparked my interest in this obscure brand:
In 2012 Fornasari announced a brand-new model: the 311 GT “Gigi”.
The “Gigi” was first presented, as a non-running mock-up, at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show.
This new car was completely differen from what Fornasari had built until then; it was a retro-styled coupé, inspired by classic Italian GTs from the ‘50s. Its nickname, “Gigi”, was an homage to Giuseppe Fornasari’s father, Gigi Fornasari, who won the 1956 Mille Miglia car race.
The development of the “Gigi” was, however, interrupted in 2015, when Fornasari went bankrupt and closed down.
Things are changing, though.
In 2018, a completely functional, running prototype of the 311 GT was finally made.
Then, at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, said prototype was shown, indicating that the defunct brand may be about to make a comeback.
The 311 GT “Gigi” is built on a custom spaceframe chassis made of special chromium-molybdenum steel tubes, while the drivetrain is derived from the Chevrolet Corvette C7; this means that the car is powered by a 6.2-litre LS V8 engine with up to 641 bhp and 800 Nm of torque, while the gearbox is either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.
Fornasari claims the 311 GT can launch from 0-100 km/h in 3.5 s and its top speed is 340 km/h (211 mph).
The interior is also sourced from the C7 ‘Vette, but is finished in much better materials.
The starting price is estimated to be around €150,000 ($170,000), but there has been no definitive confirmation yet, with some claiming the price to be actually around €300,000. In fact, nothing has been heard from Fornasari since last year’s Geneva Motor Show.
But there’s one thing i’m sure of: The weird red car i saw two days ago was, without a doubt, the Fornasari 311 GT. All the details match: the Mini headlights, the characteristic roofline, the MiTo-sourced tailights, the overall proportions, everything’s the same.
The car was likely being tested, and i think it’s fair to assume that the long-awaited production version may be almost ready to be shown. It’s just a matter of time.
Spotting a prototype being driven on the road is always a great experience, especially when it’s a car you’ve never seen before and know nothing about. My normal Saturday family trip turned into something unforgettable thanks to that red car.
I sincerely wish the best for Fornasari, and hope that their new GT will turn out to be successful. And who knows, maybe they’ll start selling weird and quirky SUVs again, one day.
I hope you’ve found this article interesting. Tell me what you think about this obscure manufacturer and its products in the comments!