You’d be hard-pressed to tell that the stunning Rapport Forte was based on the Jaguar XJ…
And now it’s been rediscovered, and is about to be restored to sit alongside the estate that was also retrospectively completed and restored back in the 1980s.
Rapport Forte: the original folding Jag
Long before the likes of the Mercedes-Benz SLK and Peugeot 206CC had even been imagined, Chris Humberstone had developed this, the first sports car with a fully retractable hard top. Humberstone stated that, ‘once it was refined it worked very well and gave a real feeling of saloon car integrity.’
A sophisticated electro-hydraulic system was employed to stow the aluminium and steel roof within the boot space and, as if that wasn’t enough, the roof panel also featured its own electrically-operated ‘moonroof’.
The car also featured a sumptuous interior, upholstered in Connolly hide complemented by lambswool rugs. The standard specification included air conditioning, electric windows, central locking, automatic transmission, cruise control and a stereo hi-fi system. The electrically-operated aerofoil mounted over the headlamps – a typical Rapport touch – was designed to provide the benefit of a sleek bonnet line without incurring the airflow problems associated with traditional retractable headlamps when raised.
Response to a Californian idea
The story of the Forte began with the Californian dealer who wanted to sell an up-market British convertible at a time when there were no alternatives to choose from: Aston Martin were in financial difficulties, the Jaguar XJ-S was only available as a tin-top and the Rolls-Royce Corniche was not sporting enough.
Chris Humberstone recalled that, ‘…the Jaguar was regarded as the most attractive basis for such a car, particularly when the fuel injected 4.2-litre engine arrived. That generated new interest in the marque. We wanted a full four-seater, so we selected the regular XJ12 saloon as the standard base (rather than the XJ-S), with 3.4- and 4.2-litre engines optional. We offered turbocharging and, of course, with either of the “sixes” the regular five-=speed manual could be specified.’
Originally, the plan had been to take brand new cars from Jaguar in New Jersey and convert them into Forte specification, using Rapport parts shipped over from the UK. However, all this became academic when Rapport went to the wall in the early 1980s.
Ultimate shooting brake? PMG Rapport Forte estate
The stunning Forte may have been launched with masses of optimism, and appeared to have all the ingredients for success, but did not come anywhere near to achieving it. Back in July 1980, it was first shown at the British Grand Prix for a demonstration run with Mark Thatcher at the wheel. Fourteen pre-paid orders followed in the following fortnight and Rapport seemed set fair to make a real go of the venture.
Chris Humberstone recalls that, ‘management problems within Rapport’ destroyed the project – and, despite everything, within weeks, the company had fallen into receivership. Only a handful of Fortes were ever built, but the car never died: it simply went into abeyance.
The cars that had been completed, along with three partially-completed prototypes, were purchased by the Patrick Motors Group of Birmingham. PMG’s owner, Alexander Patrick was a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast – and, as grandson of the company’s founder, continued PMG’s association with the more exotic end of the car market.
Patrick Motors Group steps in
PMG started life in the 1930s as coachbuilders but, within a few years, was selling other people’s products. By the 1970s, these included the products of Lynx and Panther Westwinds. The group had also sold several Rapport Range Rovers after Rapport International went bust – and, realising that they would never receive these cars, they moved in…
Initially, what PMG purchased looked little more than a complex heap of bits but, ever positive, Alexander Patrick sought to make something out of what he had amassed.
At that time Patrick was having an Avon-Stevens XJ estate car specially built by Ladbroke Avon and casually remarked to Graham Hudson that he had acquired the remains of the Forte project, but no facilities to complete it. Soon, an agreement was reached between Hudson and Patrick that Ladbroke Avon’s Special Projects Department would build up one vehicle… as an estate car. By the spring of 1983, the car was complete.
Rapport Forté found in 2019!
It’s one of the most exciting motoring discoveries of the year. The original Rapport Forte has been unearthed, and an epic restoration on the car is about to be undertaken. Stuart Brown, owner of vehicle scanning company, 3D Engineers, has bought the car from its previous owner who had owned the car for 38 of the 39 years it has existed.
He says, ‘I’m very excited, as I’ve been fascinated by the car since seeing a grainy black and white picture on the school bus in Motor magazine back in 1980, but thought it had been destroyed or in a collection. Restoration to start later this year.’
Stuart adds, ‘My plan is to restore to standard condition, but as I want to have a different radio and interior colour coupled with the roof being an unknown quantity, the plan is to create a couple of interiors so my version can be swapped if required with original style to keep purists happy. I am purist so need to do that to keep me happy! If the roof works great. If not, will get it to work and then swap roof system for a more reliable one.’
We’ll keep you posted about Stuart’s progress.