1953 Siata 208S
Classic European Sports Car
1953 Siata 208S Spyder #BS509 - The Siata Ford:
SIATA (Società Italiana Applicazioni Trasformazioni Automobilistiche) was the acronym for a company that opened in 1926 to produce speed equipment for Fiat and other Italian automobiles. After the war, Siata started producing its own sports cars, including the 208S which was introduced in 1953. Just 35 208S cars were produced, including both a Coupe and Spyder body styles. The diminutive, all-aluminum, 1,800 pound, four-wheel independent suspension 208S was built with Fiat's two liter "8V" engine. Competing against other exotic sports cars, the 208S was priced accordingly at nearly $6,000 in 1953. One famous 208S Spyder owner that was not deterred by the astronomical price was Steve McQueen, who called his 208S his "baby Ferrari." The Fiat 8V produced 120HP, and even though free-revving and heralded as "glorious" by the motoring press, it was also a famously fragile powerplant.
This 208S Spyder is chassis #BS509 and known as the "Siata Ford". Purchased new from Ernie McAfee in Los Angeles by the Doheny family. In 1962, Los Angeles cinematographer Kent Wakeford, a friend of Carroll Shelby's, purchased it from the Doheny's and hired noted LA custom car builder (and aerospace engineer) Alan Johnston to Cobra-ize #509 using a 260 CID Competition Cobra engine and aluminum Comp Cobra T-10 transmission obtained directly from Carroll Shelby. Not wanting to upset the near 50/50 weight balance of the Siata, Johnston mounted the 70 pound heavier Ford engine 4" back than the 8V. Numerous brilliant engineering solutions seamlessly integrated the Cobra drivetrain with minimal clearancing having to be done to the stock Siata chassis.
The original differential was retained, but changed from a 4.11:1 ratio to a 3.62:1. The result was a net weight gain of roughly 50 pounds and perfect 50/50 weight balance! So impressive was the conversion that Sports Car Graphic featured the car and its build in their November 1964 issue, in an article written by Robert J. Burbridge, where he stated "From any standpoint, this Italo-American marriage is a most satisfying product."
In 1967, Lyle Kenyon Engel dedicated a complete chapter of his "The Book of Ford-Powered Performance Cars" to #509, entitled "Siata Ford," also penned and photographed by Mr. Burbridge.
Wakeford kept his cherished Siata Ford until 1974, at which point it passed through two interim owners before being purchased by then 23-year old Dan Rowen of New York, who drove to California in his 911 Porsche, traded it in on the Siata Ford, and proceeded to drive the Siata the 2000+ miles home! In the 33 years that followed, #509 was Dan's prized possession. A world renowned architect (see link below), Dan's sense of style clearly transmitted through to his choice in cars. After my good friend Dan's untimely passing in 2009, I purchased the Siata Ford from Dan's family. Al Johnston is still deeply involved in the car world and has been a wealth of information of BS509, the car he considers his favorite car after all these years of playing with exotic machinery.
Recently, after being separated for over 50 years and presumed long gone, BS509's original numbers matching (BS073) 8V engine was located, verified, and purchased with the assistance of 8V expert Paolo Epifani. While not running it is undamaged and in exceptional shape and currently being cosmetically prepared by Epifani as a display piece to sit along side BS509. Subsequent owners may very well wish to install it but I can't give up the Cobra power!
Private Collection - Not For Sale
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