The world’s most expensive car is no longer a Ferrari 250 GTO. Instead, an ultra-rare Mercedes, owned by the manufacturer for its entire life and assumed never to be put up for sale, has raised €135m ($142m) at a secret auction held on May 5.
Built in 1955, the car is a 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe. Only two were produced and until now they were exclusively owned by Mercedes itself. Described as ‘the Mona Lisa of cars’, the 300 SLR Coupe is a sister car to the open-cockpit SLR driven by Sir Stirling Moss to victory at the 1955 Mille Miglia – a thousand-mile road race the Englishman completed in just over 10 hours.
The two examples of SLR Coupe are both finished in silver and referred to as Blue and Red in reference to their differing interiors. Blue, which will be retained by the factory, had appeared at the Mercedes-Benz museum its entire life, while Red, the car sold at auction, was mostly kept in storage and has covered just 6,000km from new.
Held in secret, the invitation-only auction was put together at short notice and consisted of bidders who were selected by Mercedes itself. The winning bid was made by British classic car dealer Simon Kidston, on behalf of an unnamed client. Kidston had lobbied the Mercedes board for 18 months in a bid to see the 300 SLR Coupe offered up for auction.
Kidston said: “If you had asked classic car experts and top collectors over the past half a century to name the most desirable car in the world, there’s a good chance that they would have come up with the same model: the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.”
Explaining how the auction came to be, Kidston said: “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. A long-standing relationship with the Mercedes-Benz Museum helped, but even after 18 months of patient lobbying, we didn’t know if or how they would consider letting the 300 SLR out of captivity until just before it happened. For everyone involved, and especially the new owner whom we represented, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy the Mona Lisa of cars.”
All proceeds from the sale will be towards a charitable benefit fund for young people, set up by Mercedes-Benz.
The final figure of $142m dwarfs the previous record for a car sale, believes to have been held by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold at auction in 2018 for $48. The Mercedes’ value stems from its racing heritage, exclusively, and a genuine belief among classic car collectors that it would never be put up for sale. The pair of SLR Coupes have long been considered the crown jewels of Mercedes’ own collection.
Based on the company’s widely successful W196 Grand Prix single-seater race car, the open-cockpit 300 SLR driven by Moss, as well as Juan Manuel Fangio and Peter Collins, in 1955, was powered by a 300-horsepower, 3.0-litre straight-eight engine, and dominated that year’s World Sportscar Championship. That season included Moss’s record-breaking run at the Mille Miglia – a feat widely regarded as one of the greatest-ever achievements in motor sport history.
Although the 300 SLR Coupe never raced, and beyond the two examples was never put into mass production, it was reviewed by the press in period, where it achieved a 0-60mph time of 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 176 mph.
Writing for Autocar magazine in 1957, reporter Gordon Wilkins said of the SLR 300 Coupe: “Remember that this car is not for sale, and in this form never will be: it is a racing car adapted for road use with certain experimental objectives in view… It has to be mastered like a mettlesome horse.
“To have driven it has eclipsed all previous experiences in 20 years of test driving on the world’s finest cars, and I do not expect to find its match for a long time to come.”