Just the classics

The Keren Sahar Classic Car Museum at Kibbutz Eyal offers automobile lovers the chance to see the rare models of yesteryear.

classic car 88 248 (photo credit: Jerrin K. Zumberg)
classic car 88 248
(photo credit: Jerrin K. Zumberg)
Israel's automobile manufacturing heritage is unremarkable, other than the story of the defunct Sabra Autocars Co. Ltd. The Sabra Company's Itzhak Shubinsky tried for nearly two decades - from the 1950s to the mid-1960s - to make car manufacturing a viable local industry and break into the lucrative US market. The lasting star of the company's production line was the Sussita (called the "Sabra" internationally); a weak-engine pickup truck and van series that briefly previewed and then flopped in the US and Canada. The Sabra Company's cheap, unstable cars - some even had plastic or fiberglass bodies - didn't make the cut for auto afficionado Uri Sahar's classic car collection. Every Saturday, Sahar pulls up to his warehouse on Kibbutz Eyal with a rust red 1967 Citroen 2CV - a young car, by his standards - to open his antique automobile hobby house to the public. The packed garage is full of cars dating from 1930 and shining with the love and care Sahar has devoted to them for the past 20 years. The island of early and mid-20th-century memorabilia is situated between an enormous dairy cow barn - stench included - and two wineries, Saslove and Avidan. Old suitcases, cameras, oil cans and miniature model cars fill dusty display cases. Sahar fingers through a stack of papers showing design layouts of the cars he's currently reconstructing and the history of those he already has. The collection of automobiles is the result of thousands of hours Sahar has put into rehabilitating the cars, both as a hobby and to help mend his broken heart over the death of his daughter, Keren, from a rare heart disease two decades ago. He says her death was really the reason he got into collecting cars, and the museum idea became a way "to commemorate her life." In 2000, Sahar opened the museum's doors to the public, calling his collection the Keren Sahar Classic Car Museum. The part-museum, part-mechanics shop has drawn curious visitors and the rare car enthusiast ever since. Many of the cars are popular English models from the 1930s to 1950s. The assortment on display now numbers some 20 classic cars, including a blue and black saloon-style 1946 Jaguar and his oldest automobile, a British ice green MG sports car from 1930 with a wooden boat tail body. At the front of the garage is a brilliant fire-engine red 1935 Morris 8 two-seater convertible that hums quietly after the motor revs up. The car, one of the oldest in Sahar's collection, can hit 80 kilometers an hour on the road if you "really push it," he says, but admits he doesn't take the cars out very much. Sahar says he tries to collect the same model car from different years of its production, focusing especially on the Morris 8. He has about seven of them lined up in a row, ranging in year from 1934 to 1949. Remarkably, all of his cars and their parts he finds in Israel, working from dusty ancient car engines and spare parts to remake the guts and structures of ailing automobiles that look a million years from ever running again. Sahar charges no admission, earns no profits and has no financial backers. This non-profit status was something he was adamant about, saying he wanted no dependence on anyone. The car museum is solely his project, a labor of love for a reclusive mechanical engineer who worked many years in the defense establishment. The bearded, soft-spoken 63-year-old answered Metro's questions briefly and refused to be photographed. Sahar says he does what he does "simply for the sake of collecting." And in a society where people are more interested in buying cars than in their history or mechanical makeup, Sahar's collection is a rarity - one of perhaps half a dozen car or transportation-related museums in Israel. Sahar says the Israeli Mo'adon Hachamesh (Club 5), a classic cars group, boasts only 1,000 members. He begins the restoration process by searching the country for old cars, which he often finds as burnt-out shells. He then brings them back to life, buying and collecting expensive parts over many years to make them whole again, usually taking five years to finish a project. He uses old pictures and yellowing workshop manuals to put the cars back together, manuals he inherited from closing engineering offices. "I took the books that otherwise would have been left to the rats," he explains. The volumes make up only a small part of the museum's dusty library of car enthusiast magazines, history books, manuals and picture books. Photo albums rest on the hoods of many of the cars displayed, showing the process of restoring rusty brown shells with missing doors and engines to shiny convertibles and four-door classics. "The goal of the museum is that people who are interested in cars can have a place to see something," Sahar said. The museum is on Kibbutz Eyal, a 10-minute drive from Kfar Saba. Opening hours: Saturdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Coupled with a visit to the wineries, a stop at the kibbutz can make a pleasant half-day outing. Tel: (09) 749-3628 Web site: http://saharcarmuseum.com; E-mail: nsahar@zahav.net.il