Siata isn’t a company that a whole lot of people have heard of, but this is really pretty understandable, as it was really more of a tuner than car maker. It got its start making specialized parts for Fiat in 1926, but after WWII it would produce a few of its own models in very limited quantities. These cars won a lot of races right from the start, but in 1953, Siata was able to build something really special. That car was the 208S, which was available as both a hardtop and as a convertible. The car was a very small and light two seater with a V-8 engine supplied by Fiat.

The car could be said to be something of a trendsetter, as the idea of putting a bigger, more powerful engine into a smaller car for the purposes of going fast was still weirdly in its infancy at this point. The 208S predates the Shelby Cobra by 9 years and the muscle car craze by even more than that. But it would prove to be the last dedicated model produced entirely by Siata up until the firm went bankrupt in 1970. Production was extremely limited, but Steve McQueen still managed to buy himself one.

Continue reading to learn more about the Siata 208S Spider.

  • 1954 Siata 208S Spider
  • Year:
    1954
  • Engine:
    V8
  • Transmission:
    four-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    125
  • Displacement:
    1996 cc
  • 0-60 time:
    7 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Exterior
- image 651896
1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Exterior
- image 651894
1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Exterior
- image 651892
Siata wanted a lightweight car, and the way that keep things light is to keep them simple.

Siata had no in-house coachbuilding, being such a small firm. So this part of the car was handled by Carrozzeria Motto, which like Siata, was located in Turin. Motto had done some special one-off coachwork for a couple of early Ferrari models and was more than up for the task. This design is a very simple one, and a very inside-the-lines approach to a roadster. Not that there is anything wrong with this, Siata wanted a lightweight car, and the way that keep things light is to keep them simple.

In addition to the production units of the car, there were also two prototypes made in 1952 with bodies made by Bertone. These were hardtops and featured a very different sort of a design. The grille was much wider, and it had pop-up headlights integrated into a much more sloped hood. The Bertone body is generally more curvacious, but Siata ultimately decided that simplicity was the better route to take.

Interior

1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Interior
- image 651891

The interior of the 208S is very spartan, even by the standards of the day. It doesn’t even really have door handles, and there is only the barest minimum of padding inside the doors. The dash is bare metal and it almost comes as a surprise that there is carpet. It is also most certainly not a car that you would want to take on a road trip, as the seats seem to offer very little in the way of padding, and there is essentially zero luggage space. But the payoff for this is lightness, as the car came in weighing just 1,960 lbs. That’s pretty damn light.

Drivetrain

1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 651890

The engine found in the 208S is whole reason why the car exists at all. The story starts back in 1950, when Fiat developed a new V-8 powered sports car to bring the firm back to the forefront of motorsports. That car was the Otto Vu, and Fiat made a special 2.0-liter, 132-horsepower V-8 engine, just to go into these cars. 200 of the engines were built, but Fiat ended up only building 114 units of the actual car, so since Siata had helped in the development, it was offered the leftover Tipo 104 all-alloy engines.

This particular 208S was bought in Italy, but taken shortly thereafter to the U.S., where getting spare parts was essentially impossible. So the second owner ended up swapping the Fiat engine with a Ford V-8. Though understandable, this was a tragedy, as the engine was the whole reason for the car in the first place. Fortunately, a later owner, as a part of a restoration of the car, tracked down the original engine and put it back into the car. That by itself is quite an impressive thing, especially given that it was done in 1982, before the internet could have helped with the search.

Drivetrain Specifications

Type OHV 70-degree alloy V-8 engine with twin Weber 36DCZ carburetors
Displacement 1,996 cc
Output 125 HP
Transmission five-speed manual

Prices

1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Exterior
- image 651889

The 208S sold for $5,300 when it was new. That’s about $47,000 in today’s money, so although that’s not as expensive as a lot of the sports cars that were coming out of Italy, it’s not exactly a bargain bin car either. The engine alone was a big part of the reason for this, but there is also the fact that Siata only built 35 units (including the two Bertone-bodied prototypes) of the car. These same reasons are why the car is so valuable today. RM Auctions didn’t release an official price estimate for the 208S, but the same auction house did sell another 208S (the one that had belonged to Steve McQueen) back in 2011 that went for just under $1 million. Most have gone for a little bit more, although chassis #BS 514 sold for $1.5 million in 2011 at Pebble Beach. We should expect this one to go for at least $1 million, and possibly a bit more.

Competition

Shelby Cobra

1965 - 1968 Shelby Cobra
- image 14500

Siata might have done the whole big engine/small car thing first, but Shelby was much higher profile about it. The car has some serious racing credentials, and let’s not forget that the engines under the hoods of the Cobras were a lot bigger and a lot more powerful than those found in the 208S. Then there’s all of the continuation cars, replicas, etc. that have been made over the years. While these might be of little interest to hardcore collectors or those looking to make an investment, those that just think the Cobra is cool and want to drive around in one have that option.

Read more about the Shelby Cobra here.

Maserati A6

1953 Maserati A6GCS/53 Spyder by Fantuzzi Exterior
- image 520243

Like the 208S, the A6G had a 2.0-liter engine and was available in either hardtop or convertible forms. Some competition-oriented versions of the car were also a lot more powerful than the 208S. And unlike the 208S, the A6 had several different versions and coachwork by seven different coachbuilders, so there is a lot more variety to choose from. This means a wide variety of prices as well, and some have sold for quite a bit less than the 208S. Of course, there was one that sold for $4.5 million a few years ago, so don’t expect all of them to be cheaper.

Read more about the Maserati A6 here.

Conclusion

1954 Siata 208S Spider High Resolution Exterior
- image 651898

There are cars out there that are even more rare than the 208S, including any number of one-offs with exotic Italian mechanical workings and gorgeous coachwork. But this uniqueness tends to be only skin deep, for all of the rarity of certain varieties of the Ferrari 250, the engine and chassis were really used for quite a lot of cars over its 11-year production run. But, the 208S is a different kind of rare, a rarity that extends to the whole car. And on top of being rare, it’s a seriously cool car that won races in its heyday. It deserves more fame than it has.

  • Leave it
    • * Good luck finding parts
    • * Rare=expensive
    • * Utterly devoid of amenities

Source: RM Sothebys

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