Ebay Watch: Be as cool as Steve McQueen

1953 Siata 208/S Spider

Purchased new by Steve McQueen

s/n BS523 engine no. BS070
Red with Tan Interior and Red Piping

Another illustrious recipient of Fiat’s glorious two litre 8V engine, the 208S came from the enthusiastic and capable SIATA (Società Italiana Applicazioni Trasformazioni Automobilistiche) company, which had begun in 1926 producing speed equipment for Fiat automobiles. After the war, the company was producing its own cars, and in 1953, they introduced the 208S, which was available in both open and closed versions. It was an extraordinarily fine car with sophisticated chassis design (including independent suspension all around) and stunning bodywork to complement the all-alloy short-stroke eight cylinder engine. Priced at $5300, just 35 examples would be built, but the cars have always enjoyed a tremendous following thanks to their combination of so many ideal characteristics.

This particular example, BS523, is currently in outstanding order and was sold new to Steve McQueen by Ernie McAfee. McQueen subsequently sold the car when his film studio expressed its disapproval, via McAfee Engineering, to Bruce Sand, who was then attending UCLA Medical School.

'McQueen was told his new-found career would be in jeopardy if he persisted in racing cars'

Sand recounts that McQueen had removed the front nose badge, put a Ferrari shield on it, and called it his “little Ferrari”. In episode recounted in the May 2009 issue of Octane Magazine, Sand reports that McQueen commandeered the car, and took Sand for “the ride of his life”.

Driving down Sunset Strip after midnight, “A Ford convertible came roaring up and forced [the Siata] to the kerb. Out popped McQueen. ‘There was no “Hello!” or “May I?”…he just walked up and said he wanted to drive the Siata.’ Sand moved to the passenger seat…McQueen got in and went tearing off, heading up Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive… ‘Steve drove the Siata flat-out,’ Sand continued. ‘I was glued to the seat and didn’t even have the time to be frightened.’ At the end, ‘Steve pulled in behind his car. He hadn’t uttered a word but got out of the Siata and returned to his own vehicle.’”

Tim Considine, an actor friend of McQueen, corroborated this ownership, having seen him in the car at his home. At that time, the car was its original gunmetal grey with yellow California plates MTY 906. Further, BS523 is the first car listed in the book “McQueen’s Machines” by Matt Stone, and was also the subject of a 6-page color feature article in the May, 2009, issue of Octane magazine. Lastly, the car is referenced on pages 1152 and 1153 of the incredible book "Otto Vu" by Tony Andriaensens, with history and confirming the McQueen ownership. Thus, BS523’s McQueen provenance has never been in question. Every book or article that references BS523 indicates it as having been the property of McQueen, and the car’s second owner, Dr. Bruce Sand, provided a notarized letter attesting to its previous owner, as well as describing the episode in which McQueen commandeered the car.

The car subsequently went through the hands of a number of owners, eventually finding its way to the East Coast. Larry Frye found the car in North Carolina around 1983, and finally succeeded in buying the car from Lee Dart in 1991. Frye then began an extensive (over $175,000 in receipts) restoration by renowned expert Knute Kollman, with body and paint by Brian Hoyt of Perfect Reflections. When Kollman built the engine, he performed his famous oiling modifications to the block, installed 2.3 liter pistons/barrels, etc., which yielded 137 hp on the dyno! FIA papers were secured in 1999 in preparation for an intended Mille Miglia entry. Frye showed the car at the 1994 Pebble Beach Concours (3rd in Class, Custom Italian Coachwork), various other local/regional Concours events, usually coming in first in class (Hillsborough, Lafayette, San Jose, etc.).

The car’s current owner purchased the car directly from Mr. Frye 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]. He then had the car taken to Phil Reilly’s shop, where, under the guidance of Ivan Zaremba, the car was gone through very comprehensively.

Upon completion, it was entered in the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours, and then the Quail Motorsports Gathering in 2006. From there it was part of the Cars of Steve McQueen exhibition at The Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles. It was shown at Concorso Italiano in 2007 and was accepted to run the Colorado Grand in September of 2007. A trip to Epifani Restoration for event preparation revealed that the engine required attention, so it was fully rebuilt at Epifani, including new pistons, rods, valves, tappets, and bearings. The camshaft was hard faced and the lifters hard chromed. The water pump was modified, and new state-of-the-art head gaskets fitted. The original distributor and generator were replaced with more modern, reliable components (all the old, original items are with the car). The carburetors were rebuilt, and the heads “flowed”. The engine rebuild was completed in the Fall of 2008.

The car is currently in outstanding cosmetic condition. The paintwork was completed to the highest standards and has been carefully looked after so that it remains exceptional. The metal trim and wheels are excellent, and the wheels wear the correct Michelin X tires. The glass and lamps are also excellent, and a pair of auxiliary driving lamps has been fitted behind the grille.

The interior is functional, elegant, and beautiful. The upholstery is mellowing nicely, and the floors have the correct black diamond rubber matting. The painted dashboard and Jaeger instruments are excellent, and the wood steering wheel beautifully restored. The carpets are in excellent shape as well, as is the soft top. The car has been fitted with a pair of modern safety harnesses.

The engine compartment is absolutely stunning, having been fully detailed when the engine was rebuilt in 2008. The engine compartment is extremely correct in appearance and the 8V engine is a work of art with its shapely exhaust manifolds and unusual airbox. The underside is equally nice, being extremely clean, very well detailed, and exceptionally dry. The sophistication of the chassis is evident and is truly remarkable for having been conceived in the early 1950`s.

This is also evident when driving the car. The car feels light and nimble, with very precise steering, and a lovely refined and sophisticated feel. The engine is a true gem with gratifying power characteristics and a surprisingly torquey feel, no doubt helped by this car’s extra displacement. The brakes and transmission are also a pleasure to use, and the brakes are very effective thanks to the car’s low weight

Among the surviving examples of the Siata 208S, BS523 is considered to be among the finest examples extant. The car’s condition and history are both exceptional, and no other example can boast both the superb cosmetic condition, and the fascinating history of BS523. With the car are the four impossible to find original manuals: McAfee original operating instructions, 8V engine manual (original and with Ferrari stampings from their archives), 8V engine parts book (original), and a 8V specifications listing. There is a limited group of spares and the original items that were taken off the car for more modern, reliable substitutes. The current owner designed a unique tonneau cover; the top and side curtains are supplied, as well as a tool kit (replicated from that of BS529), and a very rare set of original Heuer Rally instruments (watch and stop-watch), which are affixed to the dashboard.

This is an outstanding opportunity to acquire a completely irreplaceable car. A historically significant, rare, and technically interesting example, this car has been beautifully restored and enjoys excellent history, including of course its illustrious first ownership history with Steve McQueen. McQueen ownership imbues cars with a tremendous mystique above and beyond the car’s intrinsic appeal. In the case of his Ferrari 250 Lusso, this resulted in the car selling for about four times the value of any other Lusso in similar condition, and in the case of his Porsche Turbo, the result was similar. This car is not priced as outlandishly, but is a superbly sorted and event-ready example with numerous subtle upgrades to improve its functionality and performance.

This Siata 208/S is an ideal entry into any world-class driving event such as the Mille Miglia.

[Source: eBay Motors]