The specialists : Rapport Forte

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.

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

33 Comments

  1. “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.”

    Didn’t the american’s have retractable hard tops in the 50’s?

    • Yes, they did – and it’s the American folding hard tops that were Chris’s inspiration for the Rapport Forte; the American examples were typical, soft, lazy sedans and cruisers – the Forte really was the first sports car with such a roof. I was working for him at the time and wasn’t at all convinced his folding hardtop would work. I was wrong. I did the initial calculations for the hydraulic power required and we settled on a pretty powerful motor and set of rams to make the whole thing work. I also developed the original Forte logo, which I was rather proud of. Not sure if it survived the subsequent developments with Rapport…

      • @Greg Ferguson. Could you please get in contact? My details are stuart@3dengineers.co.uk or 07932 997996. Your knowledge would really help. Also researching the back story of Rapport International. Very lively! Many thanks. Stuart

  2. i was also thinking that stepped roof line only adds to the impression it’s two cars welded together.
    I suppose it’s a bit like that Yacht in one of the bond films where the first half can go off on it’s own, except i doubt this car has that excuse.

  3. Ford had the first retractable hardtop in the 1950s. It was the full-size 1957 Ford Skyliner land yacht. My dad worked on the project, which was originally planned for a convertible version for the Lincoln Mark II before that car was cancelled. The big difference between the Skyliner and other retractable hardtops is that the Ford’s top did not fold, except for the front 1/8 near the header. The trunk (boot) lid opened at its forward edge, and swallowed the top whole. As this was in the day before electronic controls, the process was handled by hydraulics and limiter switches. It wasn’t easy to get these things to work perfectly, making it a bit of a quality headache for Ford. A rectangular tub sat on the floor of the trunk (boot). This was the available luggage space when the top was stowed.

    • One of the things that induced Chris to employ me was my final year car design project at the then-Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University). I designed a quite modern-looking two-seat sports car based on the Panther Lima chassis. It had a folding hard top, but instead of the top folding backwards into the boot, with all the complications that involved, I designed it with a pop-out roof panel, and the two C-posts would fold inwards on hinges that were offset so the posts wouldn’t interfere with each other. Once folded flat, the roof panel would sit tidily on top. A bit clunky, but fewer moving parts and the benefit of simplicity. I argued with Chris to use this design on the Forte, but he went ahead with the design we know and love, and I have to say he was right.

  4. I think Peugeot beat Ford with retractable hardtops – I’m fairly sure they had one in the 1930s, and a vague memory prompts a quick Google…

    Peugeot 401 Eclipse – 1934-35.

  5. The notes about Peugeot are quite correct, and this car was utterly hideous. Stunning ? Yes, but not, I think, in the way Keith means !

  6. I think the coupe looks really good with a pretty well integrated top (better than a 206CC or Lexus SC430). The estate just doesn’t work, and manages to look quite small, which is a strange achievement for something based on an XJ.

    The headlamps are nifty, much better than the quasi pop-ups on the Isuzu Piazza, although nowhere near as good as the rotating covers on the XJ220.

  7. I amazed I’ve never heard of this. When you see some of the munters that appeared around this time that coupe looks fantastic. I’m well impressed. The lights look interesting as well. If only they had chosen to finish the coupe rather than that weird looking estate I’m sure it would have a much better known story.

  8. Update on the Rapport Forte. Have bought the folding convertible. It had been kept by the same owner for 38 of the 39 years it has existed. Very excited as having been fascinated by the car since seeing a grainy black and white picture on the school bus in Motor magazine, but thought it had been destroyed or in a collection. Restoration to start later this year. Not sure how to post pictures, but would love to do so to update car history.

  9. Anyone know where those taillights come from. I swear I’ve seen them before on something but for the life of me I I can’t think where. I’m thinking a bus or a van, and something you didn’t see many of.
    The looks are a bit Baldricks poetry – crossed with a Talbot Rancho in the case of the estate. The front end looks quite good but it declines from then on.
    Good that they’ve been saved though

  10. Do these things have engines ? I cannot conceive how either a V12 or an XK engine would fit under that bonnet line ( particularly the XK which is taller because of its long stroke )

    • Here’s a horrible thought for you – A gearbox in sump v12 ADO17. 0-understeer in 0.2 seconds. Interestingly the 1.8 diesel B engine will straight swap with the 1.8 petrol B series in the ADO17.

      Theoretically the 4.2 V12 should fit if it’s the same length as the 2.2E. And the front end of the ADO61 would give more longitudinal space.

      Incidentally – did they ever do a diesel E engine?

  11. From the same stick that hit the Reliant SS1, though the coupe has some nice angles, overall, it lacks cohesion. The Germans always kept the DNA of their previously successful cars but for some reason in the UK we were intent on reinventing each time, especially in the ‘futuristic’ penned cars of the 70s. Perfectly good ranges like the TR’s were speared in favour of the plat du jour style giving us the TR7 after so many pretty and able predecessors instantly killing the range.. Still they somehow managed to put together the SD1, a fine looking car albeit one that discarded its more stately leather & wood heritage, a shame as the yanks would’ve loved it otherwise.

    • SD1 was marketed in the US…….they hated it. The product bombed completely there – very poor build quality and extremely poor reliability were the issue. The damage done was so bad that the brand was withdrawn from the US market permanently. When the 800 was launched in the US, the Stirling brand was created for it because Rover was viewed so poorly there.

    • Largely agree, the TR7’s styling was basically borrowed from MG via ADO21 and in better circumstances could have been the 1970s styling theme for MG’s sportscars.

      As to whether SD1 (or P10) would have been better off with different styling that is difficult to say based on the larger P8’s styling still needing more development at best to get the desired refined British Bruiser look.

  12. Antonyob, I agree. The original Triumph/Michelotti design for its sportscars of the 70s seems much better than generic origami styling that actually emerged. If Leyland and BMC had never merged, maybe that styling heritage for Triumph (and Rover – the look of the P8 seems to suit the marque better than SD1) would’ve been preserved. The ‘look’ of the SD1 might have been better employed in a surviving BMC – perhaps on futuristic Austins, especially as some features of SD1 seem to have been inspired by the Pininfarina concepts of the late 60s. I can imagine a large Austin (or some other BMC marque) looking like an SD1, perhaps eventually to be accompanied by a smaller car that would like the Aquila concept. Meanwhile, Rover would keep its British bruiser aesthetic while Triumph would hold onto its sharp Italian clothing.

  13. I seem to remember not long ago a report on a Rapport Forté coupe being discovered in Germany there was a grainy picture of it , it also looked like it needed a full restoration .

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