It was with the remarkable Daina series, launched in 1950, that Siata introduced their first in-house chassis. The timing was ripe for the company’s fortunes when Fiat management made the decision to produce a limited number of high-end sports cars powered by an innovative, all-alloy V8 engine. With this power plant, Siata saw the opportunity to create a car that could be homologated for the prestigious two-liter class. The chassis was mated to a tuned 8V engine, a 5-speed gearbox, fully independent suspension and sensational, low-slung aluminum coachwork fabricated by Stabilimenti Farina. Boasting retractable headlamps, an exotic engine, competition-oriented cockpit and waist-high roofline, the first 208 CS stunned the crowds during its debut at the 1952 Turin Auto Salon. The Siata presented here, CS073, is one of just nine examples bodied by Balbo and one of only 15 208 CS models completed. Although the exact build date of this car is unknown, according to Fiat factory records the original engine, CS072, was invoiced to Siata on April 3, 1953. While little has been recorded of the Siata’s earliest years, it is believed that the car arrived in the U.S. fairly early, as it was owned by Cornelius “Kim” McFadden of Philadelphia during the 1960s. During the summer of 1966, McFadden replaced the original Otto Vu engine with a Ford V8 in an effort to extract more performance. While he initially retained the original rear end, it was soon replaced with a more robust unit sourced from a Corvette. In 1986, the current owner discovered the rare Siata coupe. By that time, the car was in a state of general disrepair. Nevertheless, the original Balbo bodywork was intact, the tubular chassis was largely untouched and many of the distinctive, original details were present. An agreement was struck and Jarl de Boer, the respected Italian car aficionado, collected and subsequently stored the car in California for its new owner. After 15 years spent gathering original components, an 8V engine (000026) and a genuine 8V gearbox were sourced through de Boer. In addition, a genuine—albeit incomplete—rear-end housing was found to complete the driveline. A comprehensive restoration was begun several years ago, largely the responsibility of David Tourlotte of Denver, CO. The jewel-like V8 was rebuilt and subtly upgraded with a modified oil supply, improved water pump and an electronic ignition system—in preparation for extensive road and rally use. Today, the Siata remains in excellent overall condition and would make a wonderful, dual-purpose sports car.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Siata 208 CS Berlinetta
Number Produced:15 (208CS Berlinetta)
Original List Price:$6,000
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on firewall as well as on chassis plate
Engine Number Location:Stamped on cylinder block, distributor side on boss
Club Info:None
Alternatives:1954 Maserati A6G2000 Coupe 1953 Fiat 8V Zagato 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900SZ

This car sold for $605,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company Amelia Island auction on March 11, 2011, in Amelia Island, FL.

Siata had been one of the earliest companies established to provide speed parts for Fiat cars—beginning a relationship in the 1920s. Through the decades to follow, with Fiat officially out of racing, Siata-modified privateers held the company banner high on the circuits and road courses of Italy. If you consider the relationship of Siata to Fiat in the same vein as AMG to Mercedes or Gordini to Renault, their role as a tuning company which turned to development explains the Siata 208CS in a different light.

While other tuners entered the market, Siata held a place close to the heart of Fiat’s managers. In several instances, the Turin giant adopted Siata-developed parts and cars for factory production, including an OHV head for the 508 and the streamlined CS Berlinetta Siata built for racing in the 1930s, showing the depth of the relationship.

The fullest expression of that relationship was the Fiat 8V and Siata 208CS. Siata had begun to manufacture complete cars at the end of the 1940s, and with both Fiat- and Crosley-powered cars made a mark in the under-1-liter categories. Siata worked closely with Fiat on engine and suspension development for the 8V, and as a result, a third of the 8V “groups”—a package consisting of the engine, gearbox and suspension—went to Siata to build cars under their own name.

Those cars became the Siata 208CS.

Drive to the track—and back home

Our subject car illustrates a number of interesting points about GT class racing cars, their survival, restoration and use.

In the day, cars such as this Siata could be driven to the track, raced, and driven back home or to the works. This is a strong part of their appeal to today’s buyer, as they can be enjoyed on the long-distance vintage rally and tour events in a way that the pure—usually open—sports racing cars cannot.

Who wants to spend upwards of $10k in entry fees and expenses to swelter, freeze or drown during a week-long vintage car event like the Colorado Grand or the California Mille in a raucous, straight-piped circuit wonder? Well, of course there are those hair shirt, flagellant types who do. And this car was restored for one of them.

When these coupes were built, they were undoubtedly Spartan in their finishing. After all, weight is the enemy of speed, and just about every creature comfort one can imagine costs weight. Carpets, headlining, seat padding, inner door panels and soundproofing all come with a penalty which can cost minutes in competition.

Spartan finish, Hades hammer

With a catalog hammer price estimate of $650,000 to $850,000, our car was knocked down at $550,000—a hundred large south of the low side. The total sale price was $605,000 with the buyer’s premium.

It’s interesting to compare this sale with a similar Siata at the August 2009 Bonhams Quail Lodge sale. An earlier Stabilimenti Farina-bodied coupe, chassis 052, was bid up to a $1.2m no-sale against a very aggressive $1.6-$1.9m estimate. Chassis 052 was the 1952 Turin show car, 1952 Works Mille Miglia entry and had an extensive recorded period race history through the mid-1950s, after which it was sold to the U.S. As was almost inevitable, the car lost its engine in the effort to extend its competition shelf life.

Many years later, reunited with its original 8V powerplant, it was restored to a very high level in Europe. Chassis 052 was finished with full front mats, rear carpeting, door panels, and headliner.

Our subject car here—according to both the catalog description and the excellent two-volume magnum opus OttoVu by Tony Adriaensens—has no known early history on or off the track. In addition, when it lost the 8V engine, the original was not retrieved when the time came for resurrection. Both cars spent a long period of conservatorship with the great “Etceterini” maestro Jarl de Boer, who spent decades sourcing mechanical components to allow them to be restored.

Chassis 073, the car sold by Gooding, also was restored to a very high standard. However, it was built to what might have been its initial trim as a racing car. Other than the minimal padding on the close-fitting shaped leather chairs and thin rubber mats on the floor, no other concession to civilization was made.

The bare surfaces inside our subject Siata, combined with the seemingly straight pipe exhaust, made the interior a very effective steel drum. It was loud outside and even louder inside. It was missing some details, including the interior door release strap, and it rode on four alloy-rimmed wire wheels with a steel rim spare.

Nevertheless, the paint was very well done, the panel fit was excellent and the car presented itself quite well. For running the Mille Miglia in 1953, it might have been preferable to save every kilogram of weight, but for surviving the 2011 Copper State 1000 or the New England 1000, most would not turn their noses up at a bit of creature comfort. I think that lack of creature comfort held the price of this car down.

Further, as stated in the catalog, the consignor had not used the car much since the completion of the restoration. The effect of this was seen in a drive Publisher Martin was able to take in the car during the preview. (I had the opportunity to drive this car at the auction for a segment of “What’s My Car Worth,” and found it to still need some work, which may also have held the price down. It idled poorly, the tach read at least 2,000 rpm high and the brakes were suspect. In sum, it just didn’t feel like a “sorted” car.—KM)

Fortunately for the lucky buyer, the seller had set a very reasonable reserve which, in my opinion, leaves plenty of dollars available for refinement and sorting. I’ll put this one squarely in the well—if noisily—bought column.

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