Rapport Ritz

Car of the Day #107: 1980 Rapport Ritz

Rapport Ritz
Rapport Ritz 'FORTE' front movable airfoil…on a 1980 Honda Accord • via AROnline.co.uk

Don't worry, I'll get to the terrible-ness in a minute.

First: could something so groundbreaking have been made in any other country? British craftspeople evolved from making cabins for horse-drawn carriages and seafaring vessels to dashboards and bodies for motor cars. 

It's OK if you're not familiar with the early days of motoring and the interplay between coachbuilders and carmakers ’cause here’s the point form:

  • Before mass production, a new customer would approach an automaker for a chassis
  • Most constructors supplied only the engine, transmission, suspension, wheels, tires, and brake system — think of a modern ‘cutaway’ Ford E-Series
  • As the radiator—grille—was the most visible mechanical part, its design was often retained by the coachbuilder. To help identify the mechanical parts underneath, most carmakers quickly adopted a unique grille design. 
    • Many generations removed, this is why Bugatti, for instance, has a horseshoe-shaped opening on the front of its cars.
  • New customers would then contact a coachbuilder to either pick a body style from a brochure—sedan, coupe, etc.—or to pay even more to design and construct a full custom body
  • Sometimes, coachbuilders and manufacturers would work closely on both chassis and bodywork design—the Ghia-Chryslers are a good example
  • Sometimes, buyers would have a coachbuilder modify an existing vehicle to taste, or to ‘rebody’ it into something new…

There was so little content in everyday vehicles, even in the mid-'90s; I remember being amazed at the overhead digital clock fitted to a Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer that I once sat in as a kid.

As mass production put the world on wheels, it made complete customization impossible for all but the rich…and the talented DIY-er. 

With more stringent regulations and the proliferation of unibody cars, to name only two factors, traditional coachbuilders were struggling.

Why? In the the 70s and 80s especially, designs both dubious and glorious would be executed in tragic fashion on top of increasingly mainstream vehicles.

Mass production meant that these cars, the Rapport Ritz included, couldn't be significantly different from its donor car.

Here? A Honda Accord that cost about as much as a Mercedes Benz 280E.

To the scores of modern-day auto reviewers who have to be experts in  rebooting infotainment systems, it may be difficult to understand a world where compact cars were — at best — shitboxes. There was so little content in everyday vehicles, even in the mid-'90s, that I remember being amazed at the overhead digital clock fitted to a Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer that I once sat in as a kid.

Today, I wouldn’t look twice at an entry-level Korean car if it didn’t have cruise control, Apple CarPlay, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats (they often have all of the above).

In the early 1990s, however, luxury was a sunroof, leather, and trunk-mounted CD player. In the '80s, most drivers were lucky to get a power seat. 

Back then, if you wanted more things in your car, you had to order something like the Ritz from a real coachbuilder. 

Rapport began with a weedy Honda Accord fitted with either a 1,602-cc or 1,750-cc 4-cylinder engine — turbocharging optional — an automatic transmission, power steering, and air conditioning. Even better, the Ritz was trimmed in Connolly leather and synthetic Dralon fabric, walnut veneer dash, and leather-lined door panels.

I like the Ritz for three reasons.

First, it's rare, with fewer than 40 said to have been completed—with some saying fewer than 10. 

Second, to disguise its Honda origins, Rapport fitted what they called the FORTE: an electrically-controlled aerofoil that partially covered the headlights during the day and was raised at night so that the lights were no longer obscured. Kitsch, not cringe. 

Third, I like this car because it's exactly what carmakers are now doing: filling their normal vehicles with more and more features because extensive body or mechanical customization is far too costly. 

Like it or not, but niche cars like the Ritz and Triumph Avon Acclaim Turbo ended up blazing a gizmo-laden trail for buyers who now enjoy the sort of luxury and features that previously only a coachbuilt car could provide.

Also read: AROnline.co.uk, below-the-radar.com, rapport-forte.com, TheAutopian.com


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Drew M., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam G., Sam L., Wiley H.