Autocars was an Israeli company that was founded by Itzak Shubinsky, with the help of Reliant Cars from the UK. The company started by building kits of Reliant’s three wheelers and then the Reliant Regent 4 wheeled van.
The first “true” Autocars model was the Sussita – designed by Reliant and shipped from the UK in kit form with a 1 litre Ford engine originally found in the Ford Anglia. After several years, the car was manufactured completely in Israel without the kits. The Sussita became the best selling car in Israel during its life. It was available as an estate car, van and pick-up.
In 1960, Shubinsky shipped a couple over to New York. He wanted to break the US market as there were large numbers of Jewish people in the US and he thought that they would be willing to buy an Israeli built car. He rebadged the Sussita as the Sabra and pitched it to consumers at the 1960 New York Motor Show. He took 600 orders and started to ship cars over to the States. Sadly the build quality was pretty poor and sales flopped.
This didn’t faze Shubinsky. He had been to the London Motor Show and seen a sexy sports car called the Ashley GT built by Ashley Laminates who made fibreglass hardtops for convertibles. The car sat on a chassis made by LMB and had a Ford engine. He did a Victor Kiam “I liked it so much, I bought the company!” Shubinsky bought the rights and moulds to build the Ashley and asked Reliant to update it for the US market. He saw the sports car as the real way to break open the American wallets.
The Sabra Sports, as it became known, was debuted at the 1961 New York show. Reliant built the first 100 and shipped them to the US whilst Autocars got their production facility ready. Reliant then enhanced and anglicised the name to the Sabre and sold it for several years as a Reliant before being replaced by the Scimitar.
Whilst Reliant made continual updates to the Sabre, the Israeli version continued to use the original design complete with the 1.7 litre Ford motor – Reliant were using 2.5s and 3 litres instead. Autocars made some bodywork changes in 1963 and called it the Sabra II. The Israeli cars were either STs (soft tops) or HTs (hard top) versions. Only 379 Sabra’s were made between Israel and the UK with 144 going to the US and 80 odd to Belgium! Visit this site to see the Belgian owners.
Also in 1961, Autocars released the Carmel, a Ford 1200cc engined Reliant based 2 door design. These cars stayed in production until 1965 when the Ford components were replaced by Triumph Herald based 1200cc motors and components. It appears that Leyland had taken a stake in the company as company documents from that time show it as an overseas associate with the name Leyland Triumph (Israel).
In addition, the company was building and selling Triumph 1300 saloons from kits imported from the UK and the Gilboa, a 4 door version of the Carmel. There is some confusion about whether the Triumph engines were in all the models as some appeared to have Ford motors as well. Autocars also took a couple of other Triumph designs and put them into production including the Dragoon that was based on the Triumph Pony, a 4WD utility that Triumph didn’t build because their parent company, Leyland, had bought Land-Rover.
Things started to slide downhill in the late 1960s when Leyland merged with British Motor Holdings. The Israelis had commissioned Marcos to build some fibreglass concepts based on the Austin Mini. By 1971, BLMC had decided that they didn’t need Autocars and had completely severed their ties by 1974.
The Marcos designs were taken by Autocars and on sold to a US based company making electric cars – this was the early 1970s remember. It is also possible that the work Marcos did was based on their Mini-Marcos kit car. After the split with Leyland, Autocars was bought by Rom Carmel Industries and the models were renamed. The Gilboa became the Rom 1300 with a Chrysler-Simca motor replacing the Triumph version.
Four years later, in 1978, Rom Carmel was bought by Urdan Industries and with sales sliding, production stopped in 1981. Frankly, Urdan were making too much money from the Israeli Government providing armaments and bullet proof steel for tanks and other equipment, to worry about a small scale car builder! Sadly that meant that another manufacturer left the market.