The Sabre was the modern sports cars for its era.

by Patrick Harlow
Sabre buck

Starting with the rear of a 47SC shell, work on the Sabre buck started.

Sabre buck2

There are just so many Cobra buyers in New Zealand. Believing that time was running out for this iconic car he decided to produce a modern New Zealalnd equivalent, ready for the new millenium.

By now Alex's family had grown up and his son Stuart had picked up his father's fascination for cars and would regularly doodle car designs on his schoolbooks and sketch pads. The two of them started work on a car which was intended to be a modern interpretation of the Cobra, but it would be all original. The first attempt went under the codename of 'Car' and would take some of its design cues from the MGB. While the buck was taking shape Alex became disenchanted with it and it was eventually consigned to the tip. It was back to the sketchbooks again. If it was going to be a modern interpretation of a Cobra, that is where they would start. Taking a Cobra boot and lots of bog another car started to take shape in the Almac factory during 1991.

Once again Alex was reminded just how complex a job it is to build a production kit car from scratch. It is a constant case of designing something and then redesigning it to see if it looks or fits any better. Following on from what Alex had learnt with the TG this would be based on a single donor car. The car he chose this time was the Ford Cortina, which had not changed mechanically from the 1973 until production ended in 1984. As with the TG it would have a chassis solely designed and produced in-house.

Designed to be a modern sports car with its own space frame chassis and a single donor car, the Sabre is the first totally original car to come out of the Almac Factory. The red prototype built by Alex originally sported the humble Pinto 2.0-litre motor which came straight out of the Cortina as did the front and rear suspension, dash, fuel tank and wiring loom. A Toyota Corolla provided the taillights, window mechanisms and side glass. Unlike the others it also came with a build manual to theoretically make the build job easier.

Made from 36 mouldings this car was easily the most complex car yet and it had all of the modern features that the others in the Almac stable lacked such as a heater, windup windows and doors of a reasonable size. The car looked good with its top up or down but the problem when you spend a lot of time designing a car is that you are never totally happy with it. It was constantly upgraded throughout its 16 years of production and nowhere is this more obvious than in the prototype.

The first big change was the fitting of a Leyland P76 alloy V8 which gave the car a performance that suited its looks. Numerous other changes occurred along the way in the fibreglass components. With this car there were at least two versions of the front and rear bumper and numerous changes to the interior. The headlights had undergone various changes as Alex sought to simplify what was a complex part of the car’s assembly. The external body tub remained almost unchanged due to the fact that it was such a large mould and very difficult to change. The floor pan was later changed extensively to fit a Sierra independent rear suspension, fuel tank and a larger boot.

The Almac Sabre was first featured in the Classic Car magazine in May of 1994 and Alex received a huge number of inquiries about the car. Unfortunately, between 1991 and 94 the kit car market had changed. Japan was now building sports cars and the MX5 had become a worldwide success story.

Sabre S1

Above the original 1994 Series 1 Sabre. Below, after it was given a facelift in 1996.

Sabre S1

Series 2c

Above: Alex McDonald with the Series 2 Sabre. A very different car to the Series 1.

Series 2 interior

When Alex started to design the Sabre the MX5 was over $40,000 but due to the invasion of Japanese imports, it could now be purchased for about $11,000 which was only a thousand dollars more expensive than what the Sabre kit was marketed at. Also, the Cortina was not seen as a good lineage to build a sports car from. Although magazines such as Driver (1995), Which Kit (1996), Classic Car again (2000) gave the car good publicity. Production of what is now known as the series 1 car ceased in 2001 after only nine examples had been made.

In 2002 the kit car market went through a mini revival. Alex started to redesign what would become the series 2 Sabre during 2002. Like the TC and TG, Alex has again looked at all the shortcomings of the original Sabre and improved them. The car was moved away from the MX5, further upmarket where although it would be more expensive to build, it was thought that it could compete more favourably. All the Cortina bits were gone apart from the windscreen and a Lexus V8 was the preferred motor. This car is an accumulation of all his building experience and shared the same body tub as the Series 1, but that is the only similarity only. The body has received a significant face lift and the car now resembles its predecessor in profile. All body panels have been changed apart from the front fenders and there is a completely new interior. Underneath the body he built a completely new chassis, 50% stiffer than the last one, and now with all-independent suspension. The reliable and strong Jaguar suspension was in the rear with Almac fabricated front wishbones and coil over shocks all round.

The series 2 was designed to take the Toyota V8 which was a very popular, light but powerful V8 and very easy to get hold of for a reasonable price. Taillights became round in the style of Corvette and Skyline. As many parts as possible were sourced from aftermarket manufacturers as these parts generally had a longer shelf life than parts fitted to production cars. The new interior bore no resemblance to the original and was quite modern looking. Changes were made to the floor pan which allowed the car to be driven by people over 1.8 metres tall.

The new Sabre was launched at the Hamilton Motor Show in March 2004 but by then the mini boom had ended and only five cars had been sold when production of the car finished in 2010. A sad ending to a car that was the closest thing to a TVR that New Zealand would ever have.

Contact Details

Postal address
2a Nicolaus Street
Upper Hutt, 5018
New Zealand