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1953 Siata 208S Spider Competizione by Motto


1953 Siata 208S Spider Competizione by Motto

$2,250,000 - $2,700,000 USD


  • The first production example, and the first car fitted with aluminium coachwork; the third of 35 total examples
  • Personal racing and competition car first owned by the legendary Southern California-based importer, racing driver, and mechanic Ernie McAfee
  • Cover car of Otto Vu (Siata derivate Fiat), part two of Tony Adriaensens’ authoritative Otto Vu books
  • Cover car of the March 1954 issue of Road & Track
  • Documented period racing career, including participation in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana—affording its nickname from "Carrera Panamerica Special" configuration
  • Retains its matching-numbers Fiat Tipo 104 V-8 engine; and five-speed competition gearbox
  • Extensively researched body-off restoration by the renowned Quality Cars in Italy, with full rebuild of mechanical elements by Roberto Di Checchi of Motor Holding completed in 2014
  • Well-documented with period magazine articles, period photos, restoration photos, and significant discussion in Tony Adriaensens’ seminal volume Otto Vu
  • Invited to, and presented at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
  • Potential for Mille Miglia entry (subject to application)
  • The most historically significant 208S Spider ever built; beautifully presented in correct 1953 Carrera Panamericana livery

In 1952 the boutique performance specialist Siata was contracted to assist in the production of Fiat’s Otto Vu model, a flagship supercar equipped with a unique 70-degree V-8 that is now widely recognised as a mechanical jewel. Although approximately 200 examples of the 8V engine were built, Otto Vu chassis production only reached 114 cars, after which 50 drivetrains with motors were acquired by Siata for its latest sports-racing models, the 208 CS Coupe and the 208S Spider.

The latest evolution of Siata’s lightweight racing platform featured mechanical advancements like all-wheel independent suspension, offering stunning roadholding and driving capabilities and a perfect home for the 8V engine. The new chassis was clothed in breathtaking spider coachwork penned by Giovanni Michelotti and realised in aluminum by the Turinese carrozzeria Motto. Built in a sparing quantity of 35 examples, the 208S soon became a potent contender in SCCA competition, in no small part led by a shrewd wunderkind mechanic from Southern California.

Ernie McAfee was a well-known name in SCCA racing of this period. He opened his now-legendary sports car shop in Hollywood in 1950 with aspirations of importer status. Though he was weaned on the straight-line sprints of dry-lake racing, McAfee quickly learned the ways of sports car racing, and he finished in fifth at the 1952 Carrera Panamericana in a 4.1-liter Ferrari.

In April 1953, Siata introduced its prototype 208S Spider at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City. Not long after, McAfee and independent builder Bill Devin visited the Siata factory in Italy and attended the Turin Salon of late April/early May, where Devin was so impressed with the second prototype on exhibit that he bought the car on the spot. Both prototypes were bodied in steel (the second one equipped with traffic signals), and featured only one door.

McAfee saw potential in the American market, and he quickly arranged for the purchase of 25 spiders. Before long the first of these, chassis number BS 503, just the third example built, was delivered to him in Southern California. It was the first production example built, and the first car bodied in aluminum alloy. It was furthermore specified for high-speed competition with a five-speed gearbox.

This 208S was built with a number of unique features that distinguish it from the production examples that followed. The dashboard was uneven in form, making the right and left doors asymmetric, and the firewall was differently shaped, with the battery being mounted on the top right-hand side. Contrary to the second prototype, BS 503 was not equipped with traffic indicators, a deletion that was probably ordered by McAfee because he planned to race the car to promote the Siatas.

Chassis number BS 503 was Ernie’s personal (demonstrator and) competition car, participating in 10 Southern California-based races during his ownership over the following two years. Most of these outings were sponsored by Union Oil scion John Doheny, the Beverly Hills-based sports car enthusiast and petroleum company magnate. Soon after taking delivery, McAfee contacted Road & Track editor John Bond to offer a test drive, and BS 503 became the subject of a performance evaluation that later appeared in the November 1953 issue. The car also appeared on the cover of Road & Track’s March 1954 issue, commencing a new format for the magazine’s covers.

The 208S then made its first racing appearance at an annual gymkhana at the Oxnard, California, airport in August 1953, placing 2nd in the acceleration and braking test. Two weeks later it competed in two days of road races in Santa Barbara.

Ernie was so impressed by the driving capabilities of BS 503 that he and business partner Bill Doheny decided to enter the car in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana, the fourth annual staging of the legendarily dangerous eight-leg Mexican road race. Over the next two months McAfee modified the Siata into a true competizionelightweight, reducing weight by relentlessly drilling and perforating as many non-stressed members as possible. He also cut cooling vents into the rear wings, creating a very distinctive feature.

In November Ernie arrived at the Carrera with his finished product entered as race #165. The beautiful spider competed gamely over the first leg, managing 5th place in the Sports Class at the end of day one. On the second leg, from Oaxaca to Mexico City, Ernie briefly took a 1st place lead before being passed on the straight by eventual winner Jaroslav Juran in his Porsche 550 spyder. With the road getting increasingly curvy, Ernie was pushing hard on Juhan once more when he accelerated too quickly into a blind dogleg and brushed into a small cement marker post. The only damage, hardly visible, was at the steering and the front cross-member; nevertheless the car remained undrivable and out of the race. Ernie, however, had proved to be very competitive with the spider.

BS 503 only needed a short time for repair and was already ready to go for the 1954 Palm Springs Road Race in January, one of seven starts in the 1954 season. With its unique drilled appearance the Siata began to gain a fearsome reputation. Repainted in black and yellow, Ernie freshened up his spider for the 1954 Pebble Beach Road Race but retained his favorite race #165 whenever possible, eventually becoming known as the “Holey Terror” (as profiled in a feature article in the March 1954 issue of Car Craft). After competing in several SCCA races and a final race at Palm Springs in May 1955, McAfee sold the Siata to a college student named Hamilton Vose III, who returned the car to Palm Springs in December. Unfortunately a blown piston during practice prevented the car from starting.

Following the installation of a Buick V-8 (a reasonably common practice in 1950s American racing) and a repaint in metallic green, the 208S participated in the Santa Barbara races in September 1956, finishing 2nd overall in race number nine. The spider was scheduled to run Palm Springs two months later but never arrived.

In 1964 the disassembled Siata was sold to Peter Bluebaum of Kentucky. Please note that this transaction did not include the original chassis, which had been severely compromised by its racing activities, and was reported by Vose to have failed and been discarded. The rare 8V engine and factory-equipped five-speed gearbox were later sold to a New Jersey-based Otto Vu collector named Jean Hecht, and in the mid 2000s the esteemed Italian car historian John De Boer acquired both the drivetrain elements and the Motto coachwork (which reportedly remained in “astonishingly good condition”), reuniting them for the first time in decades.

In 2007, Mr. De Boer sold the Siata components to the consignor, a European collector of significant post-war sports cars. He commissioned the highly respected restoration firm Quality Cars of Italy to fabricate a correct replacement frame, and to repair and refinish the coachwork; while Roberto Di Checchi of Motor Holding was entrusted with a full mechanical rebuild of the running gear and engine. Great effort was taken to consult historic images of the car at various events, particularly the 1953 Carrera Panamericana. Those efforts have resulted in an incredible level of authenticity, from the proper Carrera Panamericana livery to details such as the secondary fuel tank with anti-roll bar (specially mounted for the long Carrera legs), the periscope-style cowl-mounted footwell vent, and proper stickers including the uber-rare “Ernie McAfee Foreign Cars” stickers.

Following completion of the authentic restoration in 2014, the Siata was privately enjoyed before being invited to, and displayed at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Now offered from 17 years of dedicated single-owner care, and continuing to benefit from the high-quality Italian restoration, this spider is almost certainly the most historically significant 208S ever built.

As the great Ernie McAfee’s personal lightweight racecar, with genuine period competition history including the mighty Carrera, and being the first production example built, BS 503 is also notable for being the first car bodied in aluminum and equipped with the ultra-rare five-speed competition gearbox. Furthermore, mechanical stampings matching Tony Adriaensens’ research show the car retains its matching-numbers engine. It is also worth noting that BS 503 is the cover car of Otto Vu (Siata derivate Fiat), the second part of Adriaensens’ Otto Vu, the two-part volume about the 8V-powered cars. The Siata would be an idea companion for the numerous historic events it is eligible to enter. Other examples of the 208S Spider from the same year of production have previously entered the Mille Miglia, suggesting this car could be used in the legendary Italian rally (subject to inspection and approval).

As worthy of museum display as it is capable of vintage racing performance, this painstakingly restored Siata spider is the benchmark example of the 208S model, offering a rare opportunity for any serious collector of significant Italian sports-racers.


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1953 Siata 208S Spider Competizione by Motto


Item Location: Monanco
Joined October 2019
  RM Sotheby's
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Company: RM Sotheby's
Country: United Kingdom
City: Richmond
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7851 7070
Condition Used
Trade or Private: Trade
Price: £POA
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Added: 29/03/2024
Views: 1582

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