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Sabra (Autocars Co. Ltd.) (Hebrew:צברה) of Haifa, Israel, was founded in the 1950s as Israel's first car manufacturer (there was an earlier manufacturer who assembled American cars in Haifa bay, Kaiser Fraser). Among their popular models were the Sussita (סוסיתא), Carmel (כרמל) and Gilboa (גלבוע). They also assembled Triumph cars from kits in the late 60's (Triumph 1300). The company was bought by Rom Carmel Industries in 1974, after Autocars was placed in administration in 1971 and the owner, Mr. Yitzhak Shubinsky, was forced to resign. It was bought four years later by Urdan Industries. Their last full year of production was 1980.
Autocars Ltd made fiberglass-shelled cars that 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, Autocar's 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 industry is AIL.
The name "Sabra" was evidently used because it means "born in Israel". In 1960 Yitzhak Shubinsky launched an Israeli-made car at the autoshow in New York. It was a very small, low powered 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 agreed with Reliant (who had helped producing the "Carmel" and the "Sussita") that Reliant would bring body, engine and chassis together in a convertible sports-car. The engine was a Ford 1703cc. Reliant agreed and was authorized to deliver the first 100 cars to the USA.
In 1961 at the New York autoshow, the first Sabras were displayed. Reliant produced the first 100 cars, their VIN-plates marked "AUTOCARS COMPANY LIMITED HAIFA ISRAEL", though they were actually made in the UK. The rest of the cars were produced in Israel, but only 41 of those got exported to the USA.
In 1964-1968 some 81 cars—a quarter of the Israeli production—were exported to Belgium; no one knows why. Production stopped with the Six Day War, though cars that were already ordered were delivered with some delay until 1968, and probably 1969. Worldwide, over 100 Sabra cars are still traceable, over twenty of them in Belgium.
A common Israeli myth stated that camels found the fiberglass used in the cars' body appetizing, and would often gnaw or eat away parts of the car, explaining why these cars are often seen with chunks missing from their exterior. While many would swear they personally know a friend who has seen a camel dine on a Sabra, the tiny population of camels still found in Israel in the 1960s could never explain this phenomenon.