1,701cc, SOHC Inline 4-Cylinder Engine
61bhp at 4,400rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension by Coil Springs
Front Disc Brakes, Rear Drum Brakes
*Fewer than 700 miles from new
*The only production Israeli sports car model
*A multiple award winner
*Among the first 100 export models produced
Autocars of Haifa, Israel, can lay claim to being the only true car manufacturer that Israel ever produced and was the brainchild of a Itzhak Shubinsky. Naturally proudly using a Jewish metaphor he chose to call his car the 'Sabra', a term appropriated for Jews that are born in Israel, and Hebrew word for a prickly cactus. It is said that the analogy is that it reflects their prickly exterior and a sweet center!
Autocars bought the Sabra's body design from kit-makers Ashley and the rights to its chassis from Les Ballamy, having seen both exhibited at the 1960 Racing Car Show. Their aim was to market these cars here in the United States and in fact they were to debut a prototype at the New York Auto Show in 1961.
Shubinsky contracted Reliant in the UK to supply the fiberglass bodies, and as it turned out since the Haifa manufacturing plant took a while to set up, Reliant ended up building the first batch of Sabras in its entirety, using the four-cylinder 1.7-liter Ford Consul engine. Reliant were clearly convinced enough by the car themselves that this led to them building their own version, under the name 'Sabre'.
Once production was fully under swing in Israel, they were able to sell their cars locally as an alternative to imported cars which were taxed heavily. Despite this logical business plan it turned out that many were sold beyond the country, some 144 arrived in America and the car proved particularly popular in Belgium, where 81 arrived, significant proportions when viewed as fractions of a total production run of 379 between 1961 and 1968.
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
This early Sabra Sport is unique both as one of the first 100 Sabras built for the export market and as one of, if not the, lowest mileage examples on the planet with fewer than 700 miles from new.
Debuting in the spring of 1961 at the New York Auto Show, Autocar—the Israeli company that was to assemble the Sabra in Haifa—found demand exceeding production capability so they subcontracted assembly for the first 122 export orders back to Reliant in the UK. This car, number 95, rolled off the Reliant line in Tamworth, England on January 11, 1962 and was promptly sent to Sabra Motor Company of New York 19 days later. Finished in Red with a Red hardtop, it was one of only 33 Sabras to be produced in that color scheme.
Originally delivered to a Florida Sabra dealer, he intended to give the car to his daughter but she was less keen on the car than he was. As a result, the car was never sold and kept in storage for the next 38 years before being discovered by its next owner, a Sabra enthusiast who has owned a number of these rare cars who found the car in 2000 with only 40 miles on the clock. 40 years of storage in Florida had taken a toll on the cosmetics of the car, however, and the decision was made initially to refresh the paint a bit but that later morphed into a full blown, concours-quality restoration. Nonetheless, originality was retained wherever possible and most of the car was simply cleaned up rather than restored.
Following its refreshing and restoration, the Sabra hit the show circuit where it was a consistent winner. Starting in 2002, it took home an AACA Senior, AACA Grand National Award, and AACA National Award and AACA Senior Grand National Award.
Covering just over 600 additional miles since new, a bit over 650 miles now show on the odometer. Now fitted with both a hardtop and folding softtop, the Sabra is about as close to a new car as you can get. Complete with a copy of its Israel Motor Industry Production Record Trace Certificate, as one of only 208 ever produced—with the American market receiving 153 of them—it is a rare find and a unique addition to any collection.