You’d be hard-pressed to tell that the stunning Rapport Forté was based on the Jaguar XJ…
Designed as a folding-hardtop cabriolet, years before they were fashionable, the project failed before it got off the ground – but not before it sired a rather appealing shooting-brake version.
Rapport Forté: the original folding Jaguar
In a world that had moved on from the original folding hardtop cars of the 1930s-1950s and before they made a brief comeback in the 1990s and 2000s, Chris Humberstone developed this, the Rapport Forté. It came with a fully-retractable hard top and looked as striking as a coupe or in al fresco cabriolet mode. 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 Forté began with the Californian dealer who wanted to sell an upmarket 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-litre 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.’
What about that folding hardtop?
Greg Ferguson worked on the project with Chris Humberstone. He recalled how the idea was Chris’s, but tried to persuade him to adopt a technically-simpler solution: ‘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 Forté, but he went ahead with the design we know and love, and I have to say he was right.’
What happened to the Rapport Forté?
Originally, the plan had been to take brand new cars from Jaguar in New Jersey and convert them into Forté specification, using Rapport parts shipped over from the UK. However, all this became academic when Rapport went to the wall in the early 1980s.
The stunning Forté 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 (top of the page). Fourteen pre-paid orders followed in the following fortnight and Rapport seemed set fair to make a real go of the venture.
Chris Humberstone recalled that, ‘management problems within Rapport’ destroyed the project – and, despite everything, within weeks, the company had fallen into receivership. Only a handful of Fortés were ever built, but the car never died: it simply went into abeyance.
Ultimate shooting brake? PMG Rapport Forté estate
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 Forté 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!
The original Rapport Forté was unearthed in 2019 by Stuart Brown, owner of vehicle scanning company, 3D Engineers. He bought the car from its previous owner who had owned the car for 38 of the 39 years it has existed. He said, ‘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.’
He ended up selling the car to the same Swiss collector who owns the PMG Rapport Forté estate featured above – expect Stuart’s restoration to be completed, and the car reappear on the show circuit soon…