Sold for $946,000 at 2011 RM Auctions at Monterey.
Designed by Michelotti and built by Bertone in 1953, the Siata (Chassis #523) was equipped with the Fiat 8V 'kit' including 2-liter engine, 4-speed transmission, and independent suspension. Its stunning clean design provided many styling cues seen in later cars. Less than 35 of the Spiders were ever built, with most finding their way to the West Coast. This car, #523, was originally sold to Steve McQueen and spent most of its life in California. It is the only one to have been shown at Pebble Beach twice, as well as many of the other Northern concours events. It participated in the inaugural Mille Autunno and the California Classic rallies.
Always considered very pleasing to the eye, the Siata 208S Spyder could only really be appreciated when it was allowed to bear its soul. Its soul; however, had almost been stolen from it before it had even taken its first breath.
Everyone has their niche. The Ambrosini family had great talent and craftsmanship in high-performance modifications. After World War II, the Societa Italiana Auto Trasformazioni Accessori (SIATA) company would become part of Fiat. Fiat would bring on a brilliant Porsche engineer by the name of Rudolf Hruska. Hruska had been involved with Piero Dusio and his grand prix project. This made him of very great interest to Fiat as it decided to begin to branch out into high-performance automobiles.
Fiat conceived their path into the high-performance market with a 2-liter V8 that was known as the 'Otto Vu'. The new V8 engine was something different. It had an unusual square design made so by its 70-degree arrangement and wedge-shaped combustion chambers. The high-revving engine with its dual-throat Weber carburetors turned out an estimated 132 bhp at a little over 6,000 rpm.
Fiat would direct Hruska to oversee the new engine design and Siata would serve to develop the engine. To fully develop the engine a car needed to be designed for the new powerplant. A tubular frame chassis would be built that would also utilize fully independent front and rear suspension with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers. This would give the car very amiable handling qualities compared to many other cars at the time still utilizing stiff-sprung live axles.
Coachwork for the car was done in a number of different styles including Bertone, Vignale, and Stabilimenti Farina. Simple and clean in its design, the car's bodywork is attractive for just about any angle. The more rare Spyder design begs its occupant to find a winding road and let it rip. The independent suspension and top speed of around 120 mph makes the small sports car a truly impressive performer.
For many people, the more than $5,000 price tag was enough for many to admire the car's lines, and yet, walk right on by. But there were others that could look into the soul of the car and see so much more than the price tag. One such 208S that would be allowed to bear its soul would cross the RM Auction block at Monterey on the 20th of August.
Sold by Ernie McAfee in 1956 to a young actor by the name of Steve McQueen, the car would become something of an obsession that would plague the actor's mind and even cause him to 'commandeer' it once again after he had sold it in 1958.
Changing hands a couple of times, the car would end up in North Carolina. While east, the car would go through an extensive restoration by the prestigious Knute Kollman. Upon completion, the car would earn a third place in the Custom Italian Coachwork class at the 1994 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and numerous other awards throughout the years.
In 2000 the car would be sold again and would move back west where it would take part in the inaugural Mille Autunno Rallye, as well as, the 2001 Concours on Rodeo, where it would be awarded 'Best Italian Car'. After a number of other gatherings and revitalization, the car would become part of the 'Cars of Steve McQueen' exhibition at The Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
The car was intended to run in the Colorado Grand in 2007, but it would be discovered by the Epifani Restoration firm the engine was sorely in need of some attention. And unlike when the car first went on sale during the 1950s, the car would get a lot of attention. A full rebuild was commissioned through Epifani. Almost everything had either come to be modified or replaced. Many parts, like the generator, would be replaced with more modern and reliable components. Others, like the head gaskets, would be fitted with brand new and state-of-the-art designs.
The interior of the car boasts of elegant Oyster-toned leather with red piping and a dashboard laden with Jaeger instruments. To top off the elegance of the interior, the wood steering wheel had been professionally restored.
Topped with a deep Ruby Red finish, the car looks as elegant as it drives. In the words of Winston Goodfellow, 'In many ways the Siata is a better car than its contemporaries such as an XK120, a Ferrari 342 and even a California Spider because of its superior balance, refinement and agility.' Because of such reviews, its history, documentation, and extensive restoration, chassis #BS523 was expected to garner anywhere between $875,000 and $1,175,000 at auction.
The soul of the Siata 208S was found in its engine. Upon first glance, the car appears something of a simple small sports car. But the car's soul screams, 'There is so much more to me than what you can see. Give me the opportunity to show you.' Road and Track would be touched by the car's soul and would be surprised by what they had found saying it 'was the silky smoothness of the relatively small V-8 engine.'
Looks can be deceiving. This would be one car in which the even the beautiful lines didn't complete the whole picture. But when combined with the incredible performance and handling, the driver is left with something that just will not easily leave the mind.
At auction, the lot was sold for the sum of $946,000 which included buyer's premium.Sources:
'Feature Lots: Lot No. 255: 1953 Siata 208S Spyder', (http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO11&CarID=r109). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO11&CarID=r109. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
'Manufacturers: Siata: 1953 Siata 208S', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z10303/Siata-208-S.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z10303/Siata-208-S.aspx. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
'Siata: 1953 Siata 208S', (http://www.supercars.net/cars/2634.html). Supercars.net. http://www.supercars.net/cars/2634.html. Retrieved 16 August 2011.By Jeremy McMullen