We first came across Reliant's Sabra/Sabre Prototype in 2000 when it was brought to the RSSOC Millennium meeting at Harewood Hall by its then owner Hugo Holder. Hugo now runs race meetings for the Classic Sports Car Club so we have met up on various occasions since whilst watching the racing Sabres performing in that club's Swinging Sixties series. We also bumped in to him at the NEC Classic Motor Show in 2009 when he mentioned that he was thinking of parting with the car. Our ears pricked up. A few months later, March 2010, he made the decision to sell and we very quickly agreed to buy it.
A bit of history about the car. Reliant's products in the late 1950s centred on their utilitarian three wheelers. They were also in collaboration with Autocars in Israel resulting in Reliant designing a couple of 4 wheel economy vehicles to be manufactured by Autocars. In 1960 the boss of Autocars, Yitzhak Shubinsky, had a plan to make a sports car to sell in America and boost Israel's export earnings. Visiting the Racing Car Show he took a fancy to a body from specials manufacturer Ashley Laminates and a chassis from Lesley Ballamy. He then persuaded Reliant to cobble these two elements together to produce a single car. A prototype was quickly produced and this is the car that we have now purchased.
The car's first public appearance was at the World's Trade Fair held at the New York Coliseum in May 1961. An article about the car apeared in the American Cars magazine but it was not driven at that time. We suspect that it was never a full runner and once back in the UK it was dismantles and tucked in a corner of the factory.
The prototype led to the Sabra, meaning Israeli born and also the name of a cactus that grows in the Mediterranean area including Israel. Autocars were not yet ready for home production so the first 100 or so Sabras were made by Reliant and shipped directly to America. At this time Reliant's Managing Director, Ray Wiggin, thought it might be a good idea to sell the car as a Reliant in the UK. So a couple of early cars were converted to right hand drive, given a subtly different name, Sabre, and displayed at the 1961 London Motor Show. The car was not well received by either the press or the public and a mere 44 Sabre four cylinder cars were sold. 162 LHD Sabras were eventually made by Reliant and exported mainly to America and Canada. Autocars went on the make a further 171 Sabras in Israel. Most of these were exported, with Belgium being the biggest market. Production in Israel ceased in 1968 and Autocars went bust sometime later.
Initially Reliant chose the Ford Consul Mk2, 1703cc, 4 cylinder engine for the Sabra/ Sabre. Reliant then decided that more power would add to the car's appeal so they slotted in the Zodiac six cylinder 2553cc engine to produce the Sabre Six. Strangely, whilst nearly all of the four cylinder cars were open top roadsters, virtually all Sabre Six's were GT's. In fact only two Sabre Six convertibles were made and both survive today, one in our hands.
The unique prototype has had 7 owners since 1961. We have the car's original green log book and this confirms that it was first registered in July 1961 as a Sabra Special to a Mr Kenneth Bryan. We believe that Mr Bryan was a Reliant employee and that the car's chassis number, KSBOWN1, is based around his initials.
The next 3 owners were Ken Trickett (to 1978), Martyn Jones (to 1980) and Derek Ross (to 1984). The latter two were also Reliant employees. We have been in communication with Ken and Martyn who have kindly filled in some of the ownership gaps. At that time the car was changing hands for between £50 and £150 and was a muddy brown colour!
The car remained a bit of a wreck until Keith Healey of Walsall bought it in 1984. He undertook a thorough 3-year restoration.The car was re-registered in November 1987 by which time Keith had obtained confirmation from Reliant of the car's origin.
In October 1989 the car was sold at auction to Mr Morris Cohen who lived in Northwood, Middlesex and was a ladies lingerie manufacturer and apparently part of the family that owned the Tesco supermarket chain! The sale price was £10,000, a very large sum at that time. Mr Cohen kept it for about six years
In 1995 the car was sold at auction and spent the following few years in the hands of various dealers. Hugo Holder acquired the car in September 1999 in need of much work. He removed the body and thoroughly refurbished the chassis, engine and suspension. The steering was converted to right hand drive from its original LHD. It was not necessary, however, to repaint the car and the paintwork is still generally good after almost 30 years.
We bought the car in March 2010 when it needed a little bit of mechanical and electrical re-commissioning before we were able to get it MOT'd and taxed in August 2010. We have also smartened it up cosmetically with new transmission tunnel and side panels to replace ill-fitting or missing items, new seats and new carpets. Some body repairs were also undertaken, notable making good a hole in the bonnet apparently created to clear a once fitted carburetor installation.
In 2014 we decided that, after almost 30 years, the body and paintwork needed refreshing so we started stripping the old paint and repairing many bodywork blemishes. As part of this work we replaced the wiring. Although it was functional the wiring comprised numerous separate cables running from point to point. It looked a mess and was very difficult to trace because the cables were not properly colour coded or otherwise identified. Our friend and electrical expert Geoff Cooper offered to make a new loom and after many hours graft it is now successfully fitted. Associated with this job we have made a new dashboard, rationalising the layout of switches and dials.