A Sabra by Any Other Name…

My brother John called me from his home in New Jersey. It was in the fall of 2006 and weather was starting to turn cool in anticipation of winter. Me, now living in the South Florida sunshine for the past 12 years, chided him for living so long with the raking of leaves and shoveling of snow.

He asked me if I wanted a project. (He was involved with his ’41 Plymouth Hot Rod.) You see, if you live in Florida, you must be on vacation and have oodles of free time. I said, “Sure, what is it, and what will it cost me”?

It’s a Sabra Sport and it’s free. Being that cheap is good but free is better , I said SWEET! But what’s a Sabra?

He explained that it is a small fiberglass bodied sports car that a friend has had in his garage for 10 years and the wife said “fix it or get rid of it.” He decided to get rid of it. All I needed to do was to arrange transportation from New Jersey to Florida and it was mine.

A few weeks later, a car carrier arrived with a pitiful looking pile of junk filled with boxes of parts that had been previously removed and were stuffed into every cavity of its being. When it was pushed off the carrier and into my driveway, pieces of rust and rat nests fell out from underneath. I wondered how much of this debris had blown off during the 1100 mile trip.

My wife asked what I was going to do with this rust bucket.

I said. I’m going to fix it. I can fix (almost) anything. Always be positive when assessing a disaster.

Thus began my quest for knowledge about all things Sabra. I found the ID plate made of brass on the left firewall extension. AUTOCARS COMPANY LIMITED, Haifa Israel, SN# S200041, ENG.# S216739 and it listed all engine / chassis lubricants by brand and specification.

It was number 41 off the production line and one of approximately 148 imported to the US. The distribution was through 2 US dealers. One in New York City and the other in Los Angeles California.

As I pulled parts from the boxes I found that the electrics were Lucas. The gauges were Smiths. The timing cover was ENFORD. A pattern developing here led me to the world wide web. A few articles mentioned a Sabra and had photos of my car. Subsequently, I found a website www.sabra.be. It was here that I was able to find information on my Sabra and I was able to communicate with a very helpful gent by the name of Jef Neefs in Belgium. He told me where to look for the numbers on the chassis / engine / transmission and differential. With his fellow enthusiasts’ knowledge base, he was able to tell me that my Sabra was a matching number car built on 04/07/1961 and delivered to the USA on 12/07/1961. It was built in Tamworth, UK. An Israeli sports car made in England, how…original?

The fiberglass body was a modified version of an Ashley from Ashley Bodyworks and the chassis was from Les Ballamy. The 1.7 liter single Zenith downdraft carburetor engine is from English Ford Consul mated to a fully synchronized ZF 4 speed transmission. The differential and rear brakes are an early Triumph model and the front brakes are early Austin Healey. Other parts are sourced from the various British cars of the era. Reliant, Woolsley etc.

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By 2011 I had this British made Sabra Sport road ready (not completely) thanks in large part to the readily available electrics and sundry parts from whom else but Moss Motors. Their knowledgeable staff helped me wade through the minutiae to determine the correct parts for this project. My local “go to” lifesaver is none other than Dean Houston, owner of British Sports Car Works in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I’d ask, What’s this? He’d tell me. I had never heard of “burning in” a dry water pump with a carbon seal prior to installing it. I found out the hard way.

As some parts were not available at all here in the US, I had to find and purchase them in Europe. The non-existent items I had to fabricate or improvise with similar parts. A local metal shop was able to fabricate frame rails and body supports. I welded them in place, cleaned, metal treated and painted. Then disassembled, cleaned, inspected the engine and drive train. Replacing the worn items and all seals. Replaced the rear wheel cylinders, rebuilt the front calipers, brake master, clutch master and slave cylinders. I learned how to repair fiberglass (rear quarter and front bonnet damage). My good friend Ed painted the body for me and then I glassed in a new marine plywood floor. I fabricated new seat rails and a local upholsterer made the seat pads, covers and carpet. I covered the original door trim panels with vinyl and wrinkle painted the smooth fiberglass dash panel to give it some character.

It took me 3 years to find a real craftsman that was able to make the convertible top from scratch. Many said that they could make it, but when they realized that there was no original pattern and no close match available, they opted out.

The original front bumperetts are non-existent. They would prove to be extremely expensive to have made and I think that they are just plain ugly. As for the rear bumper chrome trim; repair and rechrome will have to wait for me to hit the lottery.

As anyone who has undertaken a project knows, this is the Readers Digest version.

There have been many bumps in the road as I worked through this fun project. I learned a lot about the idiosyncrasies of “British” automobile assembly. Get parts wherever you can. Some Smiths and a Lucas guage on the the same dash. Completely normal.

As we know that “No good deed goes unpunished,” I shipped a 1974 VW Super Beetle (basket case) to my brother John. C’est la vie.

–By Bill Graepel, Port. St. Lucie, FL

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'A Sabra by Any Other Name…' have 11 comments

  1. February 24, 2015 @ 10:21 am Larry Martz

    As a New Jersey relative of Bill’s wife, I have watched this car come together over the past decade through annual winter visits to Florida to get a break from northern cold. And Bill has done a wonderful and impressive job of bringing this zombie Israeli/British concoction back to life. I have been both passenger and driver of this Sabra, and it is the purest, most elemental sports car I’ve ever experienced. All the sights and sounds and smells from the world around you are magnified as you ride so low and firm through the Florida sunshine. I was laughing out loud for most of my time in the car – – this thing just makes you feel good. I wish I had the talent and knowledge and experience that Bill has to put an old sports car back on the road where it belongs. Fine job!


  2. April 15, 2017 @ 7:25 pm Walter

    I have 3 Sabra . I don’t know if you are aware with jef help we succeeded to have the bumpers rebuilt and the soft top can be ordered in england as I provided the model. Thry fit perfectly. The bumpers are as well a perfect fit on the car. Just to let you know. My 3 cars are in toronto and one was purchased in Italy one in portugal and one in canada. Rgds


    • October 27, 2017 @ 10:20 pm Zohar

      I’m Zohar from Israel, I’m looking for very long time to buy sabra project car,
      Do you know any one that wants to sell?


    • October 27, 2017 @ 10:22 pm Zohar

      Hi Walter
      My name is Zohar from Israel, I have been looking for very long time to buy sabra project car,
      Please tell me you still have the 3 cars and you want to sell me one of them to rebuild it


    • June 9, 2022 @ 10:32 pm Jonathan T

      What company did you use to get the convertible top from? I have a 1962 that is in very good condition and now just needs some cosmetics. The top being one.


  3. July 31, 2017 @ 9:00 pm Ronald Schanfish

    I have #20033 in Ohio. Looks just like Bills only with wire wheels and the overriders! Ron Schanfish


    • October 21, 2017 @ 5:52 am Zohar

      I’m Zohar from Israel, I’m looking for very long time to buy sabra project car,
      Do you know any one that wants to sell?


    • January 18, 2018 @ 6:53 am Yossi Assayag

      Hi Ron ,
      Can you help me with parts for my SABRA ?


  4. January 16, 2018 @ 11:46 am Yossi Assayag


    My name is Yossi Assayag and I have A Sabra 1963 in Israel..i would like to know if anybody have an idea were can I get part to my car ,I need 2 front sets and back lights


    • August 10, 2021 @ 5:47 pm Ronald Schanfish

      Back tail lights are from an Alfa Guilleta. Cant help on the seats. I am in need of a speedometer drive gear fo mine if anyone has one!


  5. April 3, 2018 @ 9:10 am Krieg

    Bonjour, j’ai 2 Sabra GT à vendre de 1964 a restaurer, elle sont en Suisse. Si vous êtes intéressé vous pouvez me contatcter nicauto@bluewin.ch


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