Siata 208S Coupe by Balbo

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208S Coupe by Balbo





Fiat Otto Vu remaining 8V engines were given to Siata which seized the opportunity to put them in the very chassis from which the Otto Vu had been developed, calling their V-8 sports car the 208S (2 liter, 8 cylinder, Sport). Benefiting from Siata-designed camshafts and better-breathing heads, the 105hp Otto Vu was cranked up to a claimed 115hp, resulting in a top speed of 110+ mph. The advanced Siata tubular frame chassis featured a fully independent suspension with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers at all four corners and was a marvelously sophisticated platform for its time, with supple and predictable handling that amazed drivers accustomed to the rigidly-sprung, ‘flex-framed,’ live axle sports cars of the time.

Clothed in a variety of coachwork styles including coupes by Bertone, Vignale and Stabilimenti Farina, the all-alloy 208S Spyder penned by Michelotti for Stabilimenti Farina is regarded by many as the most elegant. A clean and refined design with extended rear fender peaks that brilliantly define the body line, its modern appearance complements its excellent chassis dynamics. Attractive from every angle, it is the very picture of a lithe yet purposeful open sports car. Indeed it is unquestionably a pioneering design with proportions adapted by automotive stylists through the present day. About 35 examples of the Spyder were produced.

Nearly eight years before Carroll Shelby’s Cobra set the racing world afire with a mass-production V-8 installed in a lightweight aluminum roadster, Siata created a giant killer in 1953 with the alloy-bodied 208S Spider equipped with a high-torque V-8 mated to an advanced five-speed transmission. The open coachwork was penned by Giovanni Michelotti and built by Carrozzeria Motto, a freelance coachbuilder in Turin. Motto had built one-offs for Ferrari in 166 Spider form and 212 export coupes, among others. They received the contract to body the new 208S to Michelotti’s design. With upright rear shoulder flares and a long front deck, the coachwork was a breathtaking evolution of the classic barchetta.

Despite being produced in such a sparing quantity (Motto built just 33 spiders along with the two prototypes by Bertone), the 208S was a marked disruption to the SCCA competition establishment. It surprised more established Italian brands at the races while demonstrating that a small tuning company could deliver cutting-edge chassis specifications, like four-wheel independent suspension and connected steering, at a competitive price.

Many, if not most, of the 208S Spyders were sold by Ernie McAfee, legendary SoCal hot-rodder turned distributor of Italian exotica, via his dealership on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, where he also represented Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Moretti and Osca, among others. McAfee himself raced a 208S in the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana (BS503).

Production of the 208S ended in 1954 when the supply of Otto Vu engines ran dry. At $5,350, it was half as pricey as a new Cadillac or Porsche and approaching the costly 12-cylinder Ferrari. Expensive and glamorous, with fabulous press reviews, interest was high but sales were slow; McAfee was reportedly still selling new 208Ss through 1957. The car rose to prominence after actor and race car driver Steve McQueen purchased model BS523 from Los Angeles based Siata importer Ernie McCaffe in the mid-1950s.

Sold for: 1627500 USD
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