The Sabra GT Is The Sports Car From Israel You’ve Been Waiting For
Photography courtesy of Bonhams
Birdwatching is a form of avian observation in which the surveillance of birds is turned into a recreational activity. Similarly, trainspotting—watching trains (not injecting drugs)—and “carspotting,” where a person is typically interested in observing or photographing interesting and rare cars.
Find a truly rare vehicle, and the moment becomes one of celebration, like our subject car, a Sabra GT Coupe manufactured by Autocars between 1961 and 1968. I have only ever seen one of these rare models in the wild in all my years of car spotting, which makes the car pretty rare indeed. Ever rarer is the Sabra’s country of origin—Israel. To this day, the Sabra GT is the only sports car domestically produced in that country.
In the late 1950s, Yitzhak Shubinsky founded Autocars Company Ltd. as Israel’s first car manufacturer. Manufacturing might be a bit of a misnomer, as Autocars primarily assembled compact sedans and vans based on the Hino Contessa and the Triumph 1300. After a creative misfire at the 1960 New York Auto Show with a small, underpowered pickup truck, Shubinsky decided to go in a distinctly different direction. With initial help from the Reliant Motorcar Company, the British car manufacturer perhaps best known for the 3-wheeled Reliant Robin, Autocars would debut the Sabra the next year at the 1961 New York Auto Show.
Powered by a Ford 1.7-litre motor, the name Sabra was chosen because it means both “born in Israel” and cactus, which was its logo. Designers combined a fiberglass Ashley body on a Leslie Ballamy chassis, all products of England. While the vehicle identification number on the Sabra states “Autocars Company Limited, Haifa Israel”, in reality the first one-hundred cars were actually assembled by Reliant in England. The rest of the production was eventually shifted to Israel, with production ceasing during the Six Day war of 1967. Orders already placed were honored, but delivery was delayed until 1968–69.
The car, made in both convertible, and later, coupé form, was exported beyond Israel’s borders with some 144 going to America and 81 to Belgium. Today, over one-hundred Sabra cars are still traceable out of the total production run of 379 units.
Gooding & Company are to auction off this 1964 Sabra GT Coupe at its forthcoming Amelia Island auction on March 10th. Originally supplied to Belgium, it was purchased new by the wife of the Belgian Israeli Consulate General. It has been recently restored in a period pastel blue over dark blue leatherette, while its underpinnings have also been tended to. With only 61 horsepower emanating from the 1.7 Liter Ford Consul-derived engine, one might not think the Sabra worthy of the GT moniker, but with a lightweight fiberglass body the car has just enough oomph to keep up with today’s traffic, even without the optional “Alexander Kit” that used two SU carburetors instead of the single Zenith, and added stiffer valve springs to the motor increasing power to a claimed 90!
Just be prepared to row the 4-speed manual transmission frequently, which would also be your primary form of entertainment as Sabras were never equipped from the factory with a radio.
The only classic Israeli sports car
Former Belgian Consulate’s wife’s car
~61 horsepower, 1.7-litre SOHC Inline 4-cylinder engine with single Zenith carburetors. 4-speed manual transmission. Front independent suspension with Girling coil springs and dampers; live rear axle with Watts linkage, Girling coil springs, and dampers. Front disc and rear drum brakes
Engine no: S305658