Cars aren’t generally described as cacti, and there aren’t many similarities between the prickly desert plant and a car. Then how did one sleek-looking sports car earn a moniker that translates to “cactus.”
The Hebrew word “Sabra” means “prickly cactus,” however, the only sports car model produced in Israel also carries the name “Sabra.” Apparently the person he assigned the rare sports car its name thought it had a prickly exterior and a sweet interior or center.
Regardless of how the Sabra earned its name or whether it deserved it, the beautiful car has an interesting backstory, especially the 1962 Sabra Sport Roadster. A 1962 Sabra Sport Roadster fetched $40,700 (U.S. dollars) at the Bonhams auction on Thursday, January 18, during the 2018 Scottsdale Auction Week.
Sabras were the creation of Itzhak Shubinsky who worked with Autocars of Haifa, Israel, to bring the cars to life. The Sabra’s design wasn’t an all-original design though. Autocars borrowed the car’s body design from kit-maker Ashley while Les Bellamy granted them use of their chassis. The car’s body, which was fiberglass, was provided by UK-based Reliant, which ended up producing the first production run of Sabras due to complications at the Israeli factory where they were originally supposed to be built.
When the Israeli factory finally began producing Sabras, it gave Israeli residents an alternative to the more abundant import vehicles they had to rely on and which were heavily taxed.
Although production of the Sabras had shifted to Israel, Reliant had become impressed with the vehicles that they continued to produced them, changing their name from “Sabra” to “Sabre.”
Between 1961 and 1968, only 379 Sabras were produced with 144 of them headed overseas to the U.S. Belgium received 81 of them.
The 1962 Sabra Sports Roadster that crossed the auction block at Bonhams was one of the first 100 built to be exported. Due to the strong demand for thee model, Reliant was contracted to build the first 122 cars to fulfill orders from outside of Israel. This particular vehicle is only one 33 Sabras to carry a red livery with a red hardtop.
According to the car’s description on Bonham’s website, “This car, number 95, rolled off the Reliant line in Tamworth, England on January 11, 1962 and was promptly sent to Sabra Motor Company in New York 19 days later.”
Soon after arriving in New York, a Sabra dealer in Florida purchased the car for his daughter, but his daughter didn’t like it. Instead of trading it in, selling it or driving it, the dealer placed the car in storage where it sat for 38 years.
Thirty-eight years in storage in Florida were not kind to it, but after it was discovered in 2000 by the owner who consigned it to Bonhams the owner restored it to concours quality, maintaining its original appearance and parts wherever possible.
Two years after being rescued from storage, the 1962 Sabra Sports Roadster hit the show circuit, picking up numerous awards: AACA Senior, AACA Grand National Award, AACA National Award and AACA Senior Grand National Award.
Not only does it look brand-new, the mileage belies the car’s age. When the car was removed from storage it only had 40 miles on it. Eighteen years later, the mileage is less than 700 from new.
Cactus or not, this 1962 Sabra Sports Roadster is as rare and unique a car you could have in your collection. And, in our opinion, it’s definitely more sweet than prickly.
1962 Sabra Sports Roadster
Chassis No. S200100
Engine No. S216251
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
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As Prickly as an Israeli Cactus: The 1962 Sabra Sport Roadster was originally published in My Classic Garage on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.