Rapport Ritz

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 to bodies for motorcars. It's OK if you're not familiar with the early days of motoring and the interplay between coachbuilders and carmakers, but you'll need to remember the point form from now on: 

  • Before mass production (and even for many, many years after), a customer would approach an automaker for a chassis
  • Most chassis constructors supplied just the engine, transmission, suspension, wheels, tires, and brake system
  • As the radiator—grille—was often the only mechanical part of the chassis visible, its design was 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 has a horseshoe opening on the front of the Veyron supercar.
  • The customer would then contact a coachbuilder to either pick a body style from a brochure—sedan, coupe, etc.—or 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 their existing vehicle to taste

But as mass production put the world on wheels, it made complete customization impossible for all but the rich…and the talented DIY-er. As more savvy marketing met with credit cards, mass production made for the type of modern coachbuilding that is often the most hated among enthusiasts today. Why? In the the 70s and 80s especially, designs both dubious and glorious would be executed in often tragic fashion—on top of a common vehicle.

Mass production meant that these cars, the Rapport Ritz included, couldn't be significantly different from their donor car, in this case, the Honda Accord. Because the styling couldn't be very different, companies differentiated themselves in often the only way possible: features.

To the scores of modern-day auto reviewers who have to be experts in how to pair Bluetooth devices and who fill their notebooks with quips on plasticky-ness, it may be difficult to understand a world where compact cars were—at best—shitboxes. There was so little content in most vehicles that I remember being amazed at the overhead clock fitted to a Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer that my father had taken on a test drive.

My Fiat 500 Abarth will crackle and backfire while pumping out Japanese dub music streamed from the phone in my pocket through its speakers. With the seat heater on. But it wasn't always this good: in the early 1990s, luxury was a sunroof, leather, and CD player. In the '80s, most drivers were lucky to get a power seat. 

To get more stuff in your car, you had to order something like the Ritz. A weedy Honda Accord at its core with either a 1,602-cc or 1,750-cc 4-cylinder engine—turbocharging optional—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. So kitsch. 

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 "coachbuilt" specials like the Ritz and Triumph Avon Acclaim Turbo ended up blazing a gizmo-laden trail for car buyers who now enjoy the sort of luxury and features that previously only a coach built special could provide. 

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