RM Lot 255     
Chassis number: BS 523    
Engine number: BS 070
Gooding Lot 121
Chassis number: BS 514
Engine number: BS 071

Siata 208S BS 523/RM Auctions

Siata 208S Spyder BS 523 was sold new in Los Angeles by Ernie McAfee. Circa 1956, it was acquired from McAfee by the young acting sensation Steve McQueen, who attached Ferrari badges on the car and referred to it as his “little Ferrari.” By 1958, he sold the car via McAfee Engineering to Bruce Sand, then a graduate student at UCLA Medical School. At that time, the car was liveried in its original gunmetal grey. The Siata placed 3rd in Custom Italian Coachwork at the 1994 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The car’s current owner purchased the car in October 2000. It was promptly entered in the inaugural Mille Autunno Rallye, ran in the California Classic Rallye the following June, and was awarded Best Italian Car at the 2001 Concours on Rodeo (Drive).

Later, the Siata was comprehensively refreshed under the expert guidance of Ivan Zaremba at specialist shop Phil Reilly & Co. in Corte Madera, CA. The car was sorted the car to ensure that it performed as well as it looked. Upon completion, it was entered in the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, after which it was displayed at the Quail Motorsports Gathering in 2006. From there it was part of the “Cars of Steve McQueen” exhibition at The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

In 2007, the owner commissioned a full rebuild at Epifani Restorations in Berkeley, CA. The original distributor and generator were replaced with more-modern reliable components. (All the original items are offered with the car.) Further references on chassis BS 523 are to be found on pp. 1,152 and 1,153 of the exhaustive monograph on all the 8V-powered cars, Otto Vu by Tony Andriaensens, and in other books, including the recently compiled McQueen’s Machines by Matt Stone.

Siata 208S BS 514/Gooding & Company

The 208S Spyder offered here carries a rich history and close connections to some of the most passionate Siata advocates. One of the leading Siata and 8V specialists, Anton Krivanek, recalled that the 208S remained with its original owner until 1965, at which time it was sold to Dale Koppe of the Los Angeles area. The next owner, Barry Silverman, began his love affair with the jewel-like Italian sports cars and, over the years, he went on to acquire a 208CS as well as two other 208S Spyders, including the second prototype, BS 502. During the early 1980s, BS 514 was the only Spyder in his stable, and it was actively campaigned in vintage races. In addition to track events, the 208S was his go-to car for five California Milles and several Colorado Grands. In 1998, the Blackhawk Collection acquired the rare Siata, and it remained on museum display for the better part of seven years.

The current owner commissioned Epifani to restore the car to its former glory and a concours contender. Fortunately, the 208S had been a California car from new and was complete and healthy, even retaining its correct matching-numbers engine. Of the 35 examples built, fewer than half can lay claim to this noteworthy quality. In 2008, BS 514 made its debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it earned a First in Class award. Excluding its performance at Pebble Beach, the 208S has not been shown.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:Siata 208S
Number Produced:35
Original List Price:$5,700
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on firewall and on chassis plate
Engine Number Location:Stamped on cylinder block, distributor side on boss
Alternatives:1953 Aston Martin DB2 1953 Pegaso Z-102 1953 Ferrari 166 MM

Siata BS 523, Lot 255, sold for $946,000, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Auctions Monterey Auction on August 20, 2011. Siata BS 514, Lot 121, sold for $1,567,500, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company Pebble Beach Auction on August 21, 2011.

This is a tale of two Siatas — or why for two owners selling cars in Monterey, it was the best of times for one and, if not the worst of times, not exactly a celebration for the other. Thirty-five Siata 208S Spyders were built, and two of them — both former Pebble Beach prize winners — were offered for sale at auction seven miles apart on consecutive days on the Monterey Peninsula.

I won’t repeat here the story of the Siata marque and the Fiat 8V-powered 208CS and 208S, but the cars, especially the Spyder, are among the most sought-after sports cars of the mid-1950s. Values have reflected that popularity as well, with the SCM Price Guide upper range for the 208S going from $350,000 in 2006 to $950,000 in the 2011 mid-year update.

Not only do these cars have a considerable reputation in period competition — and are eligible for virtually all top-level vintage race, rally, tour and concours events — they are also incredibly beautiful. A well-prepared Siata 208S with a good history should command a handsome price.

Dueling Advantages

I’ve often written about the attributes of value. They are what we appraisers identify in an object to best compare them to similar items to determine value. Of course, the identification of attributes is only part of what it takes to determine value. Value is the current worth of future benefits deriving from ownership, which does not require a transaction. Price refers only to an actual transaction — what two parties were willing to give and receive at a very specific time and place.

Let’s consider the attributes of value of our pair. They have both been restored to a level that allowed them to be invited to Pebble Beach. Chassis BS 523 was restored in 1994 and then “comprehensively refreshed” in 2005. The restoration of chassis BS 514 was completed in 2008. So here, the advantage goes to BS 514, as its restoration is significantly more recent.

BS 523 won a Third in Class at Pebble in 1994 and was invited back and shown in 2005, along with showings at Concorso Italiano and other major events. BS 514 won First in Class at Pebble in 2008 — advantage BS 514 again.

While it boasts FIVA papers, BS 514 has seen little use since restoration and was seen to require the sorting typically needed to turn a show queen into a reliable event stud. BS 523 is a more recent veteran of a number of vintage rallies and has FIA papers. As these Siatas are best enjoyed on roads rather than parked on lawns, advantage BS 523.

The true heart of these cars is the unique Fiat/Siata 8V power plant. 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 put into their own cars.

It’s also documented which 8V engines were first installed in Fiats and which in Siatas. As the 8Vs were not originally designed to be competition units, they had a number of durability issues in period. All have been sorted and solved by now, so they can be reliably run with more power than when new.
Since they had such capable chassis, it was not uncommon for a Siata 208S to have its original engine yanked out in the early 1960s, usually to be replaced by a small-block Ford V8. Fortunately, almost all the units removed were kept. So it is possible to locate a proper unit, or in some cases, the original one.

Here lies another of our attributes of value. Least desirable would be a car without an 8V engine; next up one with any 8V engine, whether originally fitted to a Fiat or a factory spare. Next higher in value is an engine originally used in a Siata but not the matching one. The most desirable car would be one with its factory 8V engine.

As BS 523 has a correct Siata — but not original — 8V engine, and BS 514 retains its factory lump, the decision goes to BS 514.

McQueen Magic versus class winner

Now on to provenance. BS 514 has an unknown first owner, but from the 1960s, its history is continuous, with much active use in vintage rallying before being put on museum display at Blackhawk for a number of years.

BS 523 has been identified by a number of sources as having Steve McQueen as its first owner, and five since then. One owner removed the 8V and replaced it with a small-block Ford. It regained a proper engine in 1991.

BS 523 has been restored twice and displayed at Pebble, Concorso and the Petersen Museum, in a “Cars of Steve McQueen” exhibit. Since everything automotive McQueen touched seems to have been sprinkled with magic dust, advantage BS 523, right?

Well, apparently not. The discussion about whether McQueen in fact owned BS 523 has swirled for years.

Most, if not all, of the doubt seemed to flow from the memories of his son Chad, who was born two years after his father was said to have sold the car. The absence of California DMV records also plays a part. RM advertised BS 523 as McQueen’s car. Finally, BS 523 had been “shopped” on the market for a while.

So what happened here? Clearly, the $1.5m paid for BS 514 has given its buyer a Pebble Beach class winner, in superb condition, with an original engine. However, the car will need considerable sorting before racing.

The new owner of BS 523 has an event-ready car, which will gain entrée to any rally, tour, race or regional concours. The owner also have a piece of the Steve McQueen legacy. And the market compensated for the “shortcomings,” such as they were, with a $500k discount. When you add it all up, the “King of Cool” connection should, I repeat, should, have made up for the advantages identified for BS 514. But sometimes shiny with no stories just sells better.
For a purist, BS 514 was clearly the “value buy.” For a user, BS 523 gets the nod ­— and the new owner will have an extra $500,000 to spend on other goodies. BS 514 was well sold, and BS 523 was well bought.

(Vehicle descriptions courtesy of Gooding & Company and RM Auctions.)

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