1937 SIATA 750 Gran Sport
Coachwork by Zagato
Chassis no. 035419
Engine no. 035646
SIATA, founded in the mid-1920s by Giorgio Ambrosini, was one of the better known Italian operations specializing in transforming production cars into high-performance specialty vehicles. In fact, the T in SIATA stood for Trasformazione (Transformation). The complete acronym represented, Societa Italiana Applicazione Trasformazione Automobilistiche.
More than 13,000 vehicles passed through the SIATA works before the Turin-based operation finally closed in 1974. Many SIATA specials were the sort of sport cars collectors avidly pursue today, all the more so for those with a connection to Italys classic Mille Miglia and Targa Florio contests. SIATA also produced what Americans call speed equipment: superchargers, twin-carburetor manifolds, OHV conversion kits and high-compression alloy heads were among the items SIATA cataloged for the owner-builder.
When a Fiat equipped with a SIATA-designed Roots-type supercharged chalked up a class trophy in the 1929 Mille Miglia, it marked the start of an enduring and synergistic relationship between the large automaker and the high-performance shop. By 1932, SIATA offered a special edition of Fiats 508 Balia, powered by a 48hp engine based on the stock 20hp unit. Its cycle-winged body was also provided by SIATA, which had only recently purchased the venerable Carrozzeria Italiana to assure a supply of bodies for its specials.
In 1936, Fiat introduced its tiny Topolino, meaning little mousethe Italian term of endearment for a certain globally famous cartoon character. SIATA immediately set to work wringing the most power possible out of the 13hp, 569cc four-cylinder Topolino engine. The ultimate result was an enlarged, 750cc OHV supercharged Gran Sport racing engine, capable of generating nearly 40 horsepower.
At this point, Ugo Zagato, master builder of light-weight sports racing cars, stepped in with his own ideahe would create a small run of extra-light, race-prepared SIATA specials using the full-race SIATA/Fiat Gran Sport engine.
Zagato was especially adept at removing power-robbing weight from a car. By the time he had finished, the SIATAs dry weight had dropped from 535kg to just 425kg. The chassis was lightened by cutting holes into it wherever possible and the suspension was dropped 2.6cm closer to the ground. The cars handsome open Spider (roadster) body work blended scaled-down elements of several popular Grand Prix cars and specials of the day.
The Zagato touch made for a very fast little mouse. The light-weight car was capable of close to 130k/ph (80mph) on the straight-away.
The only confirmed surviving SIATA 750 Gran Sport is the one presented here. The consignor states that its history in Italy traces back to the Zagato shops; he believes it may have been raced by Ugo Zagato himself. There is also an unverified but intriguing story that the car was at one time the property of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini.
The SIATA 750 Gran Sport was restored to concours condition for showing at the Pebble Beach Concours dElegance in 1996, exhibited in a special class honoring Ugo Zagatos work. The invitation to show the car was made six months before the eventafter attempts by the Zagato family to locate a remaining example in Italy had proven futile.
Just one complication: the SIATA in California had been stored, for two decades, after arriving from Italy in dilapidated condition. It would require a complete restoration before it could be shown.
The restoration was completed at midnight on the Friday before the Concours. After driving onto the green, the diminutive sports racer was withdrawn for judging, as its newly rebuilt engine stubbornly refused to restart after it was parked in the Zagato groupnonetheless, the consignor recalls the car seemed to be a special favorite of the spectators that day.
Even as the big Italian sports racers of the 1930s become venerated works of art, with price tags to match, the SIATA 750 Gran Sport offers a realistic opportunity to experience the sensory impressions of an all-out sport car from one of motor racings greatest eras. That worthy sentiment aside, who can resist the magnetic charisma of a speedy little mouse clothed in a racing suit?