Turin Type Transformation

Abarth is not the only fruit

Image: ferrariexperts

Lasting forty four years – 1926-70, Siata, originally the Societá Italiano Applicazioni Trasformazioni Automobilistiche, started out as engine tuners but would become manufacturers of lauded machinery, available postwar from the via Leonado da Vinci, Turin.

Giorgio Ambrosino started out as an amateur racing driver, but before long developed an ambition to extract more power from stock engines. As with so many contemporaries based in and around Italy’s northern powerhouse, this led to contracts connected with mothership-Fiat. Cylinder heads were tackled initially, Ambrosino extracting impetus for the 500A with highly successful road and track results; superchargers would follow leading to some Topolino prototypes.

A Gran Sport spider with a piffling 636cc, along with aerodynamic bodywork by Zagato was piloted by Piero Dusio, later of Cistalia fame, winning its class in the 1936 Mille Miglia. Racing honours led to two road-going variants, the Monza coupé and the Pescara spider, early in 1939. Prior to hostilities beginning and the necessary retooling for the war effort, a Bertone designed, Motto built model named Amica could be had in cabriolet or coupé form.

Post war Siata Amica. Image: honestjohn

The factory was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943 but the phoenix arose come the war’s end as Societa Italiana Auto Trasformazioni Accessori with car production. Reintroducing the Amica name in ‘49, the new car came complete with Siata designed bodywork over a tubular chassis, built by Bertone. Utilising 500 B (later C) mechanicals with the Siata head, good for 22bhp, shoved the tiny two door cabriolet toward a 100kmh v-max from the 569cc mill. A 750cc engine managing a full 26bhp later became available. Small outputs belied their might.

1950 saw Siata complement the tiny Amica with the moderately larger Daina. As a GT one could plump for a la Trasformable or dynamically robust coupé, both bodies by Stabilimento Farina. The mechanicals derived from Fiat’s 1400 model with a shortened, reinforced frame. Fiat supplied engines of 1.3, 1.5 and 1.8-litre capacities – treated to a Siata tune – the 1,393cc managing 65bhp with a five speed box. Favourable results garnered sales, although production was hardly troubling the bellwether’s output.

It is believed a grand total of around 200 Dainas were made, including a six seater limousine and estate version. In traditional confusing Italian workshop history, Farina may also have made a handful of Gran Sport Cabriolet’s with steel bodies with aluminium hood with another three fully aluminium bodied Gran Sports before their 1953 closure – Bertone taking over production.

1951 brought about the Barchetta Sport Spider with styling from the pencil of the esteemed Mario Revelli de Beaumont. Production was split between Nuccio Bertone and Carrozeria Rocco Motto. Fiat’s 1100cc engines provided motive power although engines by American manufacturer Crosley could be specified.

Siata Barchetta Sport Spider by Bertone. Image: Stubs-auto

If the original Siatas were on the diminutive side, the 1953 208S opened up their rakish streak. An all aluminium, Michelotti body dressed the 2,692mm wheelbase weighing an elfin 1,960 lbs or 889 kgs. Fiat’s Tipo 104, 2-litre V8 developing 125bhp made for a 124mph top speed. Suspension being independent with drive rearward. Flowing bodywork with, dependent on carrozzeria’s grille, engendered a sporting look to all variants.

Word of these pocket Ferraris crossed the Atlantic to the ears of Ernie McAfee who became the official Siata importer. Bolstered by wealthy Californian oil magnate, Bill Doheny, himself a purchaser of an earlier 208S. McAfee’s background of making successful hot rods and engine tunes appealing to the Italians, once established persuaded a certain Steve McQueen into Siata ownership. The actor is stated to have replaced the Siata badges with prancing horses, dubbing the car his little Ferrari. Cars could be delivered with the Fiat mills or sent over senza motori where then Crosley units were fitted. 

Other notable Siata executions being created by Carrozzeria Balbo along with a GT saloon body by Bertone with a Chrysler power plant. A Shelby-Cobra powered version, dubbed the Siata-Ford was made in 1953, selling for around US $5,300. A close price equivalent being Jaguar’s C-Type. At a 2014 RM Auction, the car stalled at US $1M, failing to reach its reserve. 

siata208 8V. Image: ferrariexperts

The old proverb of not biting the hand that feeds was driven home to Siata. The Mitzi microcar, all 420Kgs with a 398cc rear mounted, air cooled 10hp engine and 80Kmh top speed was to be a 1954 hit, so thought Siata. Fiat was annoyed, aggressively encouraging Siata not to progress; the similarities to their own 500 too close a call. The tuning firm sold the Mitzi onto Piaggio, in turn using its French subsidiary ACMA using the Mitzi to create the Vespa 400 microcar[1].

Siata Mitzi. Image: l’automobile ancienne

Returning to calmer waters, the next Siata to appear was perhaps its prettiest; the 2+2 TS coupé. Using the Fiat 1300/1500 basis, the car’s styling was by Michelotti whereas production was farmed out to Fiat’s German division, Neckar Automobilwerk AG, in Heilbronn. Sold in Italy as the Siata, other European markets could buy the Neckar Mistral. Initially a four headlamp front, a 1964 facelift saw the TS given a more square front end along with a 1600cc engine. Highly prized then as now, the TS commands hefty auction prices due to their scarcity.

Siata TS. Image: honedatacomm.ch

As lasting legacies go, the Spring was the company’s stiletto, by far the biggest seller with around 3,500 but also with looks the mother of a Morris Garage might shun. Decent sales in Italy led to European followed by Stateside exports but financial problems soon led to a perilous state. The company peaked at making around a dozen Springs per day, with half that being the norm.

As orders flooded in, especially from eager American buyers[2], cash orders could not be fulfilled by the overwhelmed factory. Not helping matters a four month strike along with irate customers and expectant dealers demanding cars, the factory gates closed in 1970.

Siata Spring. Image: cartype

The Spring initially came with 843cc engines, American vehicles de-tuned to 817cc due to emissions standards. Drum braked, with independent suspension all round, peppy acceleration with just 645Kgs to haul round led to an all out 73mph. Road and Track were intrigued, remarking on the poor production standards, terrible weather protection yet vivacious handling. The Spring did manage one last leap, the company ORSA buying production rights but it appears very few models were made from 1973-76 when Spring production finally ceased.

Siatas of many types occasionally come out to play at prestigious race events although deep pockets are a must for those wishing to buy. For those interested in seeing a model in action on screen, a yellow Spring carries something of a starring rôle in the 1971 Jacques Tati film, Trafic. To this author, the car is driven exactly as one would expect, with verve. But one prefers creature comforts.

Data Sources: ritzsite.nl, Ferrariexperts, carsfromitaly, kucarfa.nl, hagerty.co.uk

[1] Although it appears an Argentinian licence was granted for the Mitzi with RYCSA, Rosati Cristofaro Industrias Metalúrgicas SA based in Cordoba. However, any information is beyond scant.

[2] The Spring cost an extra $1,000 over the equivalent Fiat 850 model.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

16 thoughts on “Turin Type Transformation”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. I never knew about the Asiata and Vespa 400 connection. I have a photo of a 208 8V somewhere. If I remember correctly that particular car won best of its class at the Concourse d’Elegance het Loo about ten years ago. I’ll have a look at my photo archive and post it here when I get back home from work.

  2. Good morning Andrew. Another niche automaker completely unknown to me, thank you. I habitually glance through the photos before settling down to read other authors’ pieces on DTW and today was surprised to find out just how diminutive the cars actually were. The ponton-bodied Amica in particular is hard to ‘scale’.

    The Barchetta Sport Spider is lovely!

    The poor Spring was no beauty, but the illustrator for the advertisement above did it no favours, making it look even more awkward than in reality:

  3. Great article Andrew. Never heard of the Siata before, I wonder how many, if any, made to the U.K.

  4. The Siata Spring looked very familiar, then it struck me: it resembles a top-secret Lancia proposal from the early 1960s to build a small sports car on the Nuova 500 platform:

    (Or perhaps not…😁)

    1. The picture shows a Fiat 500 Gamine Vignale built from 1967 to 1971.

  5. The Daina* coupe is a tasty looker isn’t it? A choice between an AC Ace style nose or a Lancia Aurelia one. I assumed the Lancia style one was from Farina because of them building the Lancias but I now know that it wasn’t Pininfarina Farina but another Farina and anyway the original Aurelia’s were built by Viotti but penned by Ghia(?).

    If I could only have one car from every manufacturer I’d go for the Aurelia nosed Daina as the Siata representative, thus freeing up the Lancia space for a Fulvia coupe. Why would I ration cars inside my own head?

    It seems to me that in the beginning Siata must have been aspirational by default as so few people could afford any car but by their twilight years, with the economic miracle in full swing, they may have come across as a bit Mr Pooter-ish, so maybe their embrace of what can only be called a novelty car was a way of “Playing to the gallery”.

    *What does the name mean?

  6. In 1970 my parents took auto-addled me to the New York Auto Show. I pored over the program for that show for many years. I remember the Siata name (and a picture of the Spring) in that book but don’t recall seeing the car in the metal then — or even hearing the name since.

    Thanks for the history lesson on another small marque that made a small mark.

  7. While I had heard of Siata and seen the occasional photo, I had never seen their history before. Thanks for the lesson.
    One slight correction though – “A Shelby-Cobra powered version, dubbed the Siata-Ford was made in 1953,” – should that be 1963? Ford was still using their old side valve V8 in 1953, and the Windsor small block Shelby used in the Cobra didn’t come along until 1962.

    1. This is a 208 CS Balbo Coupé. Only 18 208 CS were built, 11 with a Balbo body. Farina did a coupé and at least one Spider version (it’s sometimes referred to as Spyder, but I don’t know which is the correct version). Furthermore there is one Corsa Bertone Spider.

    2. Interesting design, I think. Fifties’ elegance with a few jarring elements like the flat top of the DLO versus the very curved roof, or the “crooked” headlamps. Is this one of the earliest cars with pop up lamps? Belying its mini-Ferrari image, the Siata’s grille looks similar to an Aston Martin item. The contemporary AM’s had more upright versions, though. The wider versions of the AM grille only appeared later (as far as I know, which isn’t that far), so perhaps the influence went the other way. Or maybe it was a simple expedient of what needed to be cooled.

      Its sibling the 208S has more AC vibes to me:

    3. The 208S certainly has “AC vibes”, but that is because they both copied the Ferrari Barchetta.

  8. The Balbo 208 CS is a magnificent car, advanced, striking and daring for the year 1952. In many years I’ve never knew the name of the autor of the design. If you consider that in 1952 both a young Scaglione and Michelotti penned something for Balbo, the question is intriguing.

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