Photo: Jozef Neefs, Wikipedia.com

 

Sabra (Autocars Co Ltd.) of Haifa, Israel was founded in the 1950s as Israel’s first car manufacturer (there was an earlier manufacturer, Kaiser Frazer, which assembled American cars in Haifa Bay). 

Among the popular models were the Sussita, Carmel, and Gilboa, all proudly wearing badges with Hebrew lettering.  (An effort to produce the Carmel in Greece by Attica had no success).

Chic for its day . . . a Sabra open-top sports car

Sabra also assembled British Triumph cars from kits in the late 1960s (including the Triumph 1300). 

The company was bought by Rom Carmel Industries in 1974, after Autocars was placed in administration in 1974 and the owner Mr Yitzhak Shubinsky was forced to resign. 

It was bought four years later by Urdan Industries. The last full year of production was 1980.

Autocars Ltd made fiberglass-shelled cars which were made popular in Israel during the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps because government agencies were forced to buy them.

This released onto the market thousands of low-priced second-hand vehicles.  Although their style and finish left something to be desired, Autocars’ incorporation of Ford and Triumph engines made them reliable cars which kept their value for years. 

The manufacturing of these cars ceased during the 1980s and Israel’s only remaining car making industry today is AIL.

Autocars also produced a sports car derived from Reliant: the Sabra Sport.

Sabra sports cars and Carmel 12 passenger cars

The name “Sabra” was chosen because it means both “born in Israel” and cactus (which was its logo) in Hebrew. 

In 1960, Yitzhak Shubinsky launched an Israeli-made car at the Auto Show in New York. It was a very small underpowered pick-up truck. At the show, Shubinsky realized that it was a futile attempt, and set forth on a new project.

He bought the rights to use an Ashley body on a Leslie Ballamy chassis. He reached an agreement with Reliant (which helped produce the “Carmel” and the “Sussita”) to combine engine, body and chassis into a convertible sports car. 

The engine was a Ford 1703cc Consul unit and Reliant was authorized to deliver the first 100 cars to the United States market.

In 1961 at the New York Auto Show, the first Sabras were introduced. Reliant produced the first 100 cars and their VIN plates read “AUTOCARS COMPANY LIMITED HAIFA ISRAEL”, although they were actually made in the United Kingdom. 

The rest of the cars were produced in Israel, but only 41 of those were exported to the US.

From 1964 to 1968, some 81 cars – a quarter of the Israel production – were exported to Belgium. 

Production stopped with the Six Day War. Orders already placed were honored, but delivery was delayed until 1968-69. Worldwide, more than 100 Sabra cars are still traceable, over 20 of them in Belgium.

(Above) Cars produced by Sabra over the years

A common Israeli myth stated that camels found the fiberglass used in the car’s body appetizing, and would often gnaw or eat away parts of the car, explaining why these cars are often seen with chunks missing from the exterior. 

However, the tiny population of camels found in Israel in the 1960s could never explain this phenomenon.

 

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