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Reliant Sabra, Sabre and Sabre Six (1961 - 1964)


The Reliant Motor Company had been making 3-wheeler cars since 1935, however on one particular day in 1960 that was all about to change.  At a racing car show Yitzhak Shubinsky from Autocars Ltd (Israel) had been looking around the show to get some ideas for producing a new sports car.  Yitzhak Shubinsky had become impressed by Ashley's fibreglass bodied special and saw Leslie Ballamy's new ladder type chassis which was fitted with an unusual independent front suspension setup.   A deal was struck with both Leslie Ballamy and Ashley Laminates, so that Yitzhak Shubinsky could produce both.

As Reliant had previously helped Autocars produce the Carmel" and the "Sussita", Yitzhak Shubinsky approached them again and asked them to put together a prototype using the Leslie Ballamy chassis and a modified Ashley 1172 body.

In less than nine months the Reliant engineers had successfully modified the chassis, bodywork, suspension and had come up with their first prototype of the sports car which was powered by a Ford Consul 1703cc engine.  The car was named the "Sabra" and Mr.Shubinsky was delighted with the result.  The idea being that the Autocars Company could build the new sports car and sell them to America.  The Sabra sports car made its first appearance in the U.S.A  during the World's Trade Fair held at the New York Coliseum in May 1961. Reliant produced the first 100 Sabra Sports cars to give Autocars time to prepare their workshop in Haifa (Israel) and also shipped them to the USA on behalf of Autocars.  Reliant would then send the rest of the cars in kit form to Autocars, who would then assemble them ready for sale.

Western importation for the firm was handled by Sabra Motors Inc. of Beverly Hill, California and the US press reported it as being a "VERY limited production car".  Reliant saw the opportunity to market the Sabra in the UK and quickly converted two left hand drive Sabra sports cars into right hand drives and changed the spelling of "Sabra" to "Sabre" to indicate the British version. In 1971 Autocars went into liquidation, thus ending the partnership between Autocars and Reliant.  Some Sabra body kits were left over and were held by the government.  These were eventually sold off some years later.

Sabre 4

Reliant launched the new Sabre 4 at the Earls Court Motor Show in London in 1961.  The Reliant Sabre was a two seater open top sports car which was moulded in glass fibre.  The Sabre received a mixed reaction by the public and dealers alike due to the unusual elongated nose with boomerang style chrome over-riders.

Under the bonnet the Sabre used the Ford Consul 375 engine, which was available with stage 1 and stage 2 tuning modifications (at extra cost) made by reputable tuners "Alexander Engineering".   Stage 1 was mildly tuned with a single-choke Zenith downdraft carburettor.  The compression ratio was 8.9 to 1 , as compared with 7.8 to 1 on the the standard consul engine.  At an extra cost of 52 & 10 shillings you could have a Stage 2 engine, which included twin SU carburettors, which would give more top end power and could make the Sabre achieve speeds over the magic 100 m.p.h.

At first the Les Ballamy independent front suspension system seemed overcomplicated, but on the road it worked well and in conjunction with the rear Girling combined coil springs and shock absorbers, plus the modified live rear axle located by a Watts linkage the car was praised for its virtually roll free cornering at high speeds.

Infornation courtesy of Dave Poole at Sporting Reliants

Sabra Sport prototype

Sabra Sport prototype

Sabre 4

Sabre 4

Sabre Six

Sabre Six

Reliant entered the Sabre 4 in various rallies including the 1962 Tulip Rally, 1962 RAC Rally, 1963 Ilfracombe Rally and the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally with some success. Towards the end of the production Reliant introduced the fixed head version of the Sabre 4 and a new short nose version was also available after much criticism of the long nose cars. At 1,128 the car was not the cheapest sports car, fundamentally the Sabre was safe, fun to drive and economical to run. 

Sabre Six

In October 1961 a new more powerful version of the Sabre was on display at the London Motorshow.  The bodywork had been improved to accept the short nose bonnet and rounded rear wheel arches gave a much neater appearance.  Among various chassis modifications to help improve road handling, the Reliant Sabre 6 was fitted with Ford's 2,553cc straight six engine, which was mated to a Ford 4 speed gearbox instead of the German ZF gearbox.  This helped push the car to a maximum top speed of 110 MPH.  The first 15 cars produced retained the original "flailing arm" front suspension, but Reliant then started using the double wishbone and coil set up derived from the Triumph TR4.
The Sabre Six went on sale to the public in 1962.  Autocar Magazine praised the Sabres driving position and visibility and said it was a fine grand touring car.

Poor sales led Reliant to only ever produce 75 Sabre 6 GT's and 2 Sabre 6 convertibles.  Once again Reliant took Sabre Six works cars to compete in international  rallies and had some success.  Sadly Reliant were at the time only a relatively small engineering company who didn't have a fraction of the money to spend on development that any of the bigger motor manufacturers had and the Works cars were later sold off. 

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