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Autocars Co. Ltd. (Hebrew: אוטוקרס) 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-Frazer). Among their popular models were the Sussita (סוסיתא), Carmel (כרמל) and Gilboa (גלבוע) (a number of Carmels were also produced in Greece by Attica). They also assembled Hino Contessas and the superficially similar British Triumph cars from kits in the late 1960s. The Triumph lineup included at least the Triumph 1300, although originally only with a 1500 engine as the 1300 was considered too close to the 1.3 litre Contessa. 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 making company today is AIL.
The name "Sabra" was chosen because it means both "born in Israel" and cactus (which was its logo) in Hebrew. In 1960, Yitzhak Shubinsky launched an Israeli-made car at the autoshow in New York. It was a very small, underpowered 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 reached an agreement with Reliant (who had helped producing the "Carmel" and the "Sussita") to combine engine, body and chassis into a convertible sports-car. The engine was a Ford 1703 cc. Reliant was authorized to deliver the first 100 cars to the United States market.
In 1961, at the New York Autoshow, the first Sabras were introduced. Reliant produced the first 100 cars. Their VIN-plates read "AUTOCARS COMPANY LIMITED HAIFA ISRAEL", though they were actually made in the United Kingdom. The rest of the cars were produced in Israel, but only 41 of those were exported to the USA. One of these was entered into the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1963 but did not finish due to a drive shaft failure.
Between 1964–68, some 81 cars – a quarter of the Israeli production – were exported to Belgium. Production stopped with the Six Day War. Orders already placed were honoured, but delivery was delayed until 1968–69. Worldwide, over 100 Sabra cars are still traceable, over twenty of them in Belgium.
A common Israeli myth stated that camels found the fibreglass 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. The tiny population of camels still found in Israel in the 1960s could never explain this phenomenon, however.