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Curios: Rapport Forte

Published 14 February 2014
  
  

You’d be hard-pressed to tell that the stunning Rapport Forté was based on the Jaguar XJ…


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.

The story of the Forté 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, Jaguar’s XJS 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 Forté specification, using Rapport parts shipped over from the UK.  However, all this became academic when Rapport went to the wall.


PMG Rapport Forté estate

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 in Brands Hatch with Mark Thatcher at the wheel for a demonstration lap… 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 Fortés 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. 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. The group had also sold several Rapport Range Rovers when 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.

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