During the ‘50s and ‘60s, several developing countries that had never been known for automobile manufacturing took a stab at making cars. Israel was one of them. It produced a car called the Sabra Sussita from 1959 to 1961 and then changed to the Sabra Sports model for 1962 to 1964. The name Sabra meant “born in Israel” and “cactus” in Hebrew. The car’s logo was a cactus.
It all traced back to 1954 when an Israeli company called Autocars, Ltd. formed an association with Reliant, a British firm that made three-wheel cars and marketed them in kit form. Autocars Ltd. tested the fiberglass bodied three wheelers to see how they would survive in Israel’s climate.
It took five years for serious production to start in Israel with a model called the Sussita. It was a four-wheel car that came as a station wagon, pickup truck or van. All models used a 39-hp British Ford Anglia engine. Prices were set at under $2,000 The wagon accommodated two people and 880 lbs. of cargo.
The Sabra Sports Car was born when Autocars Co., decided to build a sports car and introduce it at the 1961 New York Auto Show. The company mated an Ashley fiberglass body with a Leslie Ballamy chassis. A 1703cc Ford four cylinder engine was under the hood. It was attached to a four-speed manual transmission. The Sabra Sport’s top speed was an impressive 100 mph.
The Sabra Sports had an independent front suspension with disc brakes. A total of only 203 were produced from 1961-1967. It was available as a roadster for $2,995 or as a GT Coupe for $3,595.
The featured car here is a GT Coupe that belonged to collector Lou Natenshon of Chicago. Any Sabra is a rarity. Only one car was imported from Israel to the United States in 1959. Only 75 were sent in the following year and sales dropped to 21 in 1961. Some cars trickled into the U.S. as late as 1981 and the later versions used a Triumph engine.
Some sources say that only five Sabras survive in the United States, but we don’t think that count includes Mr. Natenshon’s car or a convertible owned by a man from Stevens Point, WI, that has been offered for sale at the Iola Car Show on several occasions. And considering their unusual looks and rarity, there’s probably a few of these cars around that nobody knows about.