Turbo BMW Power! 1990 Bertone Freeclimber

A rare and truly international vehicle, the Bertone Freeclimber took the basic Daihatsu Rugger from Japan, added a German BMW engine, upgraded interior and more, all under the brand of Italian styling house and coach builder Bertone. This 1990 Bertone Freeclimber in Valrico, Florida may not be a museum-quality specimen, but it’s highly original and complete, and runs and drives well according to the listing here on eBay. The auction ended once before with no takers, and the only options are a $17,900 Buy It Now price and Make Offer. Thanks to reader Scott for finding this rare off-roader.

Vehicles (especially trucks and luxury cars) have used inherently balanced, torquey inline six cylinder engines for over 100 years. In good tune they give an almost imperceptible idle, low-end grunt, and cheaper and simpler maintenance than V-configured motors which have double the cylinder heads, exhaust manifolds, and so on. This 2443 cc (149 cid) BMW M21 turbo diesel I6 powered BMW’s 524td as well as a couple mid-’80s Lincolns! Thanks to Wikipedia for some details. Its 114 HP and 155 lb-ft of torque may not seem like much today, but should give satisfying performance with the five-speed manual gearbox. The owner reports no problems and relative comfort holding 70+ MPH on the highway.

Horizontal panels show sunburn from the Florida rays, but the sides retain a nice shine. With only about 2800 Freeclimbers built, exclusivity is guaranteed. Daihatsu parts may be a challenge, but BMW bits should be relatively easy to find.

The escape portal could use a respray. Though originally equipped with air conditioning, it has been disabled due to (at least) a missing compressor. Buyers anywhere near the Bertone’s Florida location should plan on some troubleshooting and repair costs before regularly enjoying this Freeclimber.

Since this is the best picture of our feature vehicle’s dashboard, check out a dashboard picture of a similar Freeclimber at Jalopnik. The 88k vehicle should have plenty of life left to give. Would you enjoy owning this BMW-powered, Italian version of a Japanese micro-SUV?


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  1. Car Nut Tacoma

    Awesome looking SUV. I’ve heard of Bertone Freeclimber. I’d go for a turbo diesel powered model if it were available here in the USA. Why diesel engines weren’t popular in SUVs here in the USA is beyond me. I think more should’ve been offered and a service network should’ve been made available for people to maintain them reliably.

    Like 1
  2. Howie Mueler

    Never heard of these before, what about non engine parts? The video is 24 seconds of them going up to 85mph?

    • SubGothius

      We did at least get the Daihatsu Rocky here, which was a rebadge of the Rugger that forms the basis of this vehicle, so there may be some left in junkyards to donate parts, at least.

      The motoring press also regarded Daihatsus highly for build quality during their brief stint here — some describing them as the sort of thing a Mercedes family might get as a grocery-getter or teen driver’s first car — so this may even hold up well enough to not need much more than routine maintenance.

      Like 1
  3. nlpnt

    I think I’d rather have the original Daihatsu (Toyota) engine.

    Like 1
  4. Jay McCarthy

    That BMW sourced diesel was horrible in the Mark 7 the 5.0 was a much more satisfying powerplant and easy to get even more power from

    • SubGothius

      Back then nobody bought diesels (turbo or not) for power or satisfying performance, only for fuel savings when diesels got better mileage and diesel fuel was cheaper than gasoline.

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