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The 10 most expensive cars at the January auctions

by Andrew Newton
1 February 2022 5 min read
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Photo by Mecum

More than 5000 collector vehicles crossed an auction block in January, bringing a total in excess of $480M. In case there’s any confusion, that’s a really big number. Frankly, a surprisingly big number, even given how hot we knew the market was going into the sales. Mecum’s massive Kissimmee sale was the first single collector car auction to crack $200M, the five auctions in and around Scottsdale last week also performed extremely well.

Although the number of auctions and the number of consignments in Scottsdale were down, almost every other number we can think of from the January auctions was up. “Fewer cars, higher prices” has pretty much been the state of affairs at in-person auctions since they returned from their pandemic hiatus. But January set the bar even higher.

Below are the 10 biggest sales for the month (not including Barrett-Jackson’s biggest charity lot, the first 2023 Corvette Z06, which brought $3.7M). Aside from the fact that the prices are high—several of these represent records for their models—what’s notable about this list is its diversity: 1990s supercars, modern hyper cars, 1960s muscle, 1950s Americana, a few prewar classics. It’s all here, vividly representing a classic car market where just about everything is appreciating.

2016 Pagani Huayra

Mecum

Mecum, Lot S115

Sold for $2,117,500

Paganis are hand-built, bespoke exotics that naturally carry a massive price tag. Just 100 Huayras were produced, so it’s always an occasion when one comes up for sale. Typically they bring somewhere in the high-$1M to mid-$2M neighborhood, and this 725-mile black-and-gold over red-and-black Huayra had a $1.8M-$2M presale estimate. Expensive, then, but not surprising.

1951 Hirohata Mercury Custom

Hirohata Mercury driving action
Hagerty Drivers Foundation

Mecum, Lot S152

Sold for $2,145,000

The Hirohata Merc is one of just 30 automobiles listed on the National Historic Vehicle Register, and for good reason. Customized by brothers George and Sam Barris for the car’s owner Bob Hirohata, it is arguably the most famous custom car ever, gracing the covers of magazines from Hot Rod to Motor Trend, inspiring countless other builds, and becoming the quintessential “lead sled” in the process.

Mecum’s presale estimate for the car was $1M-$1.25M but, like many cars that crossed the block this January, it smashed expectations. For reference, even the nicest standard ’51 Mercury Club Coupe in the world is only worth around $55,000.

1929 Duesenberg Model J Derham Sedan

Worldwide Auctioneers

Worldwide Auctioneers, Lot 55

Sold for $2,260,000

Worldwide’s Scottsdale sale this year was the place to be for prewar cars. More than half of the auction’s 81-car consignment list was built before World War II, including a collection of two dozen 1930s Fords and a 1935 Delahaye that brought $1.435M. Maybe the biggest surprise at Worldwide was the fully restored Duesenberg Model J engine that brought $847,000 including buyer’s premium. It took another $1.4M to buy this actual Model J, which runs and drives.

Wearing swoopy period coachwork by Bohman & Schwartz, it’s in sound older restored condition. We last saw it sell at auction back in 2018 for $737,00, so this was a staggering result. You’ve probably heard that no one wants prewar cars anymore. Bidders in Scottsdale begged to differ.

1964 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

Courtesy RM Sotheby’s / Karissa Hosek

RM Sotheby’s, Lot 115

Sold for $2,315,000

This car was represented as the third-to-last 300SL Roadster built, and that it means it got the improvements, like alloy engine block and disc brakes only seen on the later cars. It also came with a factory hardtop, is thought to have been delivered new to the Shah of Iran, and was recently restored to high standards. Its price in Arizona puts it in the condition #1- range in the Hagerty Price Guide, and it is the fourth highest price ever paid at auction for a 300SL Roadster. It sold before restoration, in 2014, for $2,035,000.

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe

Mecum

Mecum, Lot S162

Sold for $2,640,000

Another, even stronger 300SL sale from January was this 1955 Gullwing, which soared past its $2M high estimate and its condition #1 value. The car is professionally restored and has desirable Rudge wheels, but that’s not quite enough to explain this result. We can only chalk it up to the base of rabid bidders willing and able to put up record prices in Kissimmee this year.

1992 Ferrari F40

Mecum

Mecum, Lot S150

Sold for $2,750,000

We saw a massive leap upward in the F40 market in Monterey last year, when three examples of Ferrari’s analog hall-of-famer sold for $2,892,000, $2,425,000, and $1,600,000. Prior to 2021, the record for a US-spec F40 sold at auction was $1.71M. Those Monterey sales were no flukes, as this 1992 F40 from Kissimmee brought a similarly massive result despite its not insignificant 14,053 km (8732 miles). Rare analog exotics have been among the hottest segments in an already super-heated market over the last several months, and the F40 is among the best-known and most desirable of the bunch. Only time will tell if they’ve hit a ceiling, or if this price will look low in another year.

2020 McLaren Speedtail

Mecum

Mecum, Lot S146

Sold for $3,300,000

Given how new Speedtails are and how few were built, just a handful of these invite-only center-seat hypercars have ever come up for sale. Technically, the starting price for a Speedtail was in the low-$2M range, but as so often happens with exclusive exotics like this, it got a lot more expensive once cars started hitting the wider public market of affluent collectors.

RM Sotheby’s sold a Speedtail last year in Monterey for $3.14M and in Arizona earlier in 2021 for $3,277,500, so this result makes sense. Mecum sold it out of the collection of mattress mogul Michael Fux, who is known to buy his exotic cars in loud, special-order colors like this Volcano Yellow over an even yellower interior.

1931 Duesenberg Model J Derham Tourster

Courtesy RM Sotheby’s / Darin Schnabel

RM Sotheby’s, Lot 152

Sold for $3,415,000

The fourth of just eight original Derham Toursters, this car importantly retains its original chassis, firewall, engine, and coachwork. It also wears an award-winning restoration. Model J prices vary depending on body type, and the five-passenger open touring car called the Tourster, built exclusively by Derham in Pennsylvania, is among the most desirable. Like the Derham sedan at Worldwide, this Model J beat expectations and topped its $3.25M high estimate.

1965 Shelby GT350R Prototype

Mecum

Mecum, Lot S160

Sold for $3,750,000

There’s a famous photo of this car, all four wheels off the ground, in a mid-race jump with Ken Miles at the wheel. Shelby promos in period used the shot, proclaiming “See, our Mustangs really fly!” But the famous Flying Mustang is about more than just a cool picture. It’s the prototype GT350R, and father of the three-dozen other GT350Rs built up by Carroll Shelby to tackle SCCA racing. It won its first race, and took 10 total wins in 1965, a year in which Shelby Mustangs dominated the B-Production division. It kept on racing from 1966-68 before heading south of the border for two years competing (and winning) in the Mexican Trans Am series.

One of the most historically significant examples of Ford’s breakout pony car, the Flying Mustang was restored from 2010 to 2014 and sold for a record-breaking $3.85M at Indy in 2020. In Kissimmee, bidding for it quickly worked up to $3.4M, stalled, then closed at $3.7M. That’s higher than the $3.5M hammer bid that bought it in 2020, but Mecum reported the final price in 2022 as $3.75M, which likely means some fees were waived and negotiated between parties behind the scenes. That means this Shelby has recorded the two highest prices ever recorded at auction for a Mustang, just ahead of the $3.74M paid for the Bullitt car a couple of years ago.

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Aluminum Gullwing Coupe

Courtesy RM Sotheby’s / Karissa Hosek

RM Sotheby’s, Lot 159

Sold for $6,825,000

It had been more than six years since one of the 29 alloy-bodied Mercedes-Benz 300SLs showed up at public auction, and nearly 10 years since one sold. So despite the fact that it looks a whole lot like a “regular” old Gullwing, this was by far the most valuable car at the Arizona auctions this year.

Not only is it a real alloy car, it’s a prime specimen. According to RM Sotheby’s, it is one of only a few to retain its matching numbers and it its fragile alloy body, which saves more than 200 pounds compared to a standard car. It has been free of damage or major repair its whole life and was restored by the Gullwing gurus at Paul Russell & Company back in the 1970s. The desirable Rudge wheels and belly pans are just icing on this highly collectible cake.

A $6.825M final price is a world auction record for a Gullwing, eclipsing the $4.62M another Aluminum Gullwing brought here in Scottsdale a decade ago.

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