Photos courtesy Bonhams.
Apparently, when your daddy’s the local dealer for unusual cars like the Israeli Sabra, you can afford to be choosy regarding which cars daddy gets to gift you. Or, at least, so goes the story that explains how the world’s lowest-mileage Sabra, set to cross the block in Scottsdale later this month, came to be so little used.
One can’t exactly blame the daughter. In 1962, hardly anybody knew about the Sabra in the United States, a market that Haifa-based Autocars Ltd. pinned much of its hopes on for expansion. Up to that point, Autocars had built Reliant automobiles under license as well as a Reliant-based utility vehicle of its own design, the Sussita. But, as Autosavant pointed out, Autocars faced a near-impossible task of expanding to its neighboring countries, so it looked abroad – specifically to North America – for new markets.
Rather than focus on selling the Sussita in the United States, Itzhak Shubinsky, the company’s managing director, decided to introduce a new car, a fiberglass convertible, with manufacturing assistance from Reliant. And rather than develop this new car from scratch, Shubinsky instead bought the rights, designs, and tooling from Essex-based Ashley laminates, maker of the Ashley GT. He then mated that to a sports-car ladder frame from L.M.B. Components in Surrey and powered the car with the British Ford Consul’s 1703-cc four-cylinder engine (reportedly not the best-performing combination).
The resulting Sabra – named after a desert cactus as well as the Hebrew term for an Israel-born Jew – debuted at the New York Auto Show in 1961 and, with Reliant’s assistance while the Haifa factory got up to speed, began to sell in the United States in early 1962.
According to the Bonhams description of this particular Sabra, chassis number S200100, it came together on Reliant’s assembly line in England in January 1962 and made its way stateside before the end of the month. It eventually made its way to Florida where the aforementioned dealer who’d signed on to distribute Sabras intended to give it to his daughter. Her refusal meant the car would then sit for the next 38 years, until a Sabra collector uncovered it with just 40 miles on the odometer.
Nor was she the only one who turned the Sabra down. After a couple years of poor sales – 185 cars total – Sabra gave up on the U.S. market. It carried on for a few years more in other international markets, most notably Belgium, before withdrawing to Israel and, ultimately, calling it quits around 1980.
Decades of disuse and storage rash heaped upon S200100 warranted a complete restoration which, two years later, netted a car that took home a number of trophies and awards, among them an AACA Senior Grand National Award. The process, however, did not net many more miles under the car’s tires: To date, the odometer shows just 650 miles total.
The pre-auction estimate for the Sabra ranges from $50,000 to $70,000. The Bonhams Scottsdale auction will take place January 18 at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. For more information, visit Bonhams.com.