OttoVu: the Fiat and Siata 8Vs

V-8 engines have been around since the earliest 1900s. One provided the “go” for French aviator Clement Ader’s 1903 Paris-Madrid race car. In America, the Hewitt – though short-lived – has bragging rights as the first production car offered with V-8 power. By the 1950s, the V-8 was ubiquitous, although in America the cast iron versions were dominate. Generally speaking, cars conceived and constructed in Europe were smaller and lighter. Thus, even performance cars could be powered by smaller, lighter engines that were also less thirsty than V-8s.

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It’s a given that you can’t keep talented engineers from tinkering, developing, and building new. Thus it was at Fiat post World War Two, when Dante Giacosa worked out a mostly aluminum 70 degree push-rod V and fitted it with Weber carbs. Instead of side-positioned exhaust outlets, for the Fiat engine they were cast into the aluminum alloy heads, such that the exhaust gases exit through the upper face. Displacing 1,996 cubic centimeters, it made 105 horsepower at 5800 rpm. Perhaps wanting to set its engine apart from Ford and other American V-8s, Fiat called its engine the 8V and introduced it, mounted on a specially created, handsome engine stand, to the public at the 1952 shows.

Fiat constructed 114 chassis to carry the 8V. In addition to Fiat, Vignale, Pininfarina, Ghia and Zagato clothed these Fiat 8V chassis. Joined-at-the hip to Fiat, but an independent company, Siata also developed a chassis for the 8V and obtained 56 of those engines from Fiat. These lightweight chassis were dressed with coupé bodies by Bertone, cabriolet and coupes by Stabilimenti Farina. Thirty five became Spiders – the 208 Sport.

To tell the complete 8V story requires 1200 pages in fifteen pounds worth of book that is illustrated with over 900 photographs. The two-volume set OttoVu, written by Tony Adriaensens and published by CorsaResearch, does just that – and does it masterfully. It’s one of those definitive sources as it contains a register that lists every car along with a synopsis of its history that includes any significant changes to body or chassis, and its current status. Additionally, each register entry is accompanied by a photo of the vehicle.

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On these pages we focus on the little Spiders, the cars that captivated America from the first moment the not-yet-legendary Ernie McAfee set eyes on the prototype at the 1953 International Motorsports Show in New York City. Under Ernie’s deft hand, various 208/Ss ran in competitions from the Panamericana Carrera (but not until after Ernie had hole-drilled it to within an inch of its life!), to road races at the Del Monte Lodge (hello! Can you say Pebble Beach?), Santa Barbara, Torrey Pines and other Cal Club events. (Turn to page 171 so you don’t miss this opportunity: the brand new book about Cal Club beginnings, Weekend Heroes, is debuting here at Concorso and is available only at Vintage Motorbooks on the upper field near the Ferrari display.)

8Vs and 208s in all of its various liveries participated in sports car races the world over, especially during the 50s into the early 60s – Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, Italy in the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio, Hawaii, in France at Montlhéry and in rally competitions, Bridgehampton and so many more. Happily for us and for the cars, some of the owners today enjoy giving the 8V ponies their heads at vintage races.

One current 208/S owner known by this writer has owned his 208/S for over twenty years and still drives it regularly, emulating his boyhood friend Chris Cord, the son of Errett Lobban Cord, whose daily driver was a 208/S. Cord has clear memories of, “That little robin’s egg blue Siata that was my first car and my daily driver. The gearbox was a bit tender, but otherwise you just drove it. I had my first real date in that car and subsequently married that same girl. And we’re still married today.”

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Although Cord sold the car long years ago and lost track of it, he recalls that, “It was just the neatest car you could have. My stepdad, Bill Doheny, imported sports cars, including 8Vs. Dad Doheny drove a Fiat 8V coupe while I had the Siata. I remember they were an immediate hit then even though, for the time, they were fairly pricey at around $5,500. With its four-wheel independent suspension and light weight, it could be driven fast right out of the box.”

The cars with 8V power were originally intended as competitive-in-its-class racing sports cars. The organizations governing this type of racing on both sides of the pond, FIA and SCCA, specify a minimum quantity of street legal production. In 1954 FIA and SCCA did what race governing organizations are infamous for doing: they changed the rules. For 8Vs that change meant the cars were no longer competitive in class. By extension, this meant Fiat could no longer justify producing the engine. Yet, when forces beyond the control of the company who make a car limit that car’s production, it often has an opposite effect. The cars are more treasured and enjoy greater respect and protection with the passing years. 8Vs – OttoVu – Siata 208/Ss all find themselves in that happy place. And now in this place too – honored and on display at the 2007 Concorso Italiano.

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