This is a developing story that includes informed speculation—details may prove inaccurate. We will be updating it as we learn more.
Update, May 19: This rumor has now been confirmed by RM Sotheby’s and Mercedes.
Reset the search engines and reset your memory – the record for the most expensive car ever sold is believed to have been smashed, without a Ferrari in sight.
Mercedes-Benz, working with RM Sotheby’s, has sold its treasured 300 SLR coupes—one of two ever built—for 135 million euros (£115 million; $142m). The proceeds will go to a new Mercedes charity that will, according to a press release, “provide educational and research scholarships in the areas of environmental science and decarbonization for young people.”
The allure of one of the German marque’s most significant racing cars has powered nearly three times the value of the Ferrari 250 GTO that sold at Monterey in 2018, and more than twice the rumored $80M (£65m) paid for another GTO in a 2018 private sale.
RM Sotheby’s, on behalf of Mercedes-Benz, presented around 10 (possibly fewer) carefully selected car collectors who were not only wealthy enough to bid but would satisfy the strict criteria laid down by the German car manufacturer. The company wanted to ensure that any custodian of the Silver Arrows racing car would lavish it with the same care and attention as Mercedes, as well as continue to share the car at events and not sell it on to a third party.
Potential buyers are believed to have been hosted over lunch at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, in Stuttgart with key collectors flying in on private jets on May 5. The grand venue was closed that day for “an event,” of which RM has now released snippets.
The car in question is a 300 SLR coupe built in 1955. Don’t confuse this with a 300SL (which is worth “just” $7.5M even in ultra-rare alloy-body form). We’re talking about a hardtop version of a mighty Silver Arrow, one of the most significant racing machines in the history of the German brand. Bankrolled by the Third Reich prior to World War II, Mercedes Silver Arrows dominated both Grand Prix racing and speed record attempts alongside their Auto Union compatriots. Following the war, in 1954 the team returned to what was now Formula 1 racing with the streamline-bodied W196. It was a sensation, winning 9 of the 12 races entered and propelling star driver Juan Manuel Fangio to driver World Championship wins in both 1954 and ’55.
At the same time, Mercedes-Benz totally dominated the Sports Car World Championship in the 300 SLR (W196S) model including arguably the most famous road race win of all time: Stirling Moss’s Mille Miglia success with Denis Jenkinson in the passenger seat in May 1955. One month later, with two 300 SLRs leading in the Le Mans 24 Hours, the team car of Pierre Levegh hit the back of Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healey as they entered the start/finish straight, propelling it into the crowd, killing 84 spectators and leading to Mercedes immediately withdrawing their racing team for the next three decades.
Mercedes built just two of the hardtops (known as Uhlenhaut Coupes after the head of the test department, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who drove one as a company car).
Any 300 SLR would be significant and worthy of a record price. "The reason for a high price would simply be that they are never sold,” said Karl Ludvigsen, one of the most respected automotive historians in the field and author of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix W196 : Spectacular Silver Arrows, 1954-1955.
“The cars in that band have never been officially sold by M-B. Some have found private owners, like the W154 that ran at Indy after the war and stayed in the USA. It had been rescued from Eastern Europe by private parties. A similar rescue car was a 1937 W125. A W196 was controversially sold after it had been loaned by Mercedes-Benz to a museum.”
As Ludvigsen alludes, this sale is very special but isn’t without precedent. In 2004, Daimler AG agreed to sell a W196S Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR to Seattle-based collector Bruce McCaw on behalf of his company, Vintage Racing Motors, Inc for $12,500,000 plus a rare six-wheeled Mercedes-Benz G4 that was owned by VRM, although this deal ended with VRM taking Daimler to court for breach of contract when the G4’s valuation was not as expected. Then, in July 2013, Bonhams sold W196R chassis number 00006/54, the car that Fangio piloted to F1 glory in 1954, for a then-world record of $29,650,095 (£19,601,500).
This sale could push values of other apex cars like the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic over the nine-figure mark. This most recent sale emphasizes how much the collector car market has matured over the past ten years, and that the best examples of these cars now rival the prices of some of the best pieces of art from the 20th century.
Rumors abound as to the identity of the buyer, with some suggesting it is a well-known figure from Britain’s automotive industry and a long-standing collector of specialist cars. With interest rates rising rapidly, this purchase could be seen as a wise investment for someone with the means. The fact that the proceeds will go to charity likely means that at least some of the massive price can possibly be written off against the buyer's personal tax liability.
The 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO it will have brushed aside had won the Tour de France the year after it was built and was particularly noteworthy as it was reportedly never crashed in its (then) 55-year lifespan.
It was bought by David MacNeil, an American businessman and prominent Ferrari collector who founded WeatherTech, a vehicle accessories company. MacNeil reportedly bought the car from German racing driver Christian Glaesel, who had owned the 250 GTO for 15 years.
If it’s THE “Uhlenhaut” it’s awfully cheap compared to the Warhol recently sold. To me the car has always been the Automotive Mona Lisa. Never for sale. But if the story is true it will no longer be the “Mona Lisa”. So it must be true that money can buy anything. Almost a shame.
This retired concrete mixer driver and Ferrari 308 and 355 owner for the past thirty-four years, still remembers the rusting hulk (primarily frame and body) of a Mercedes SLR roadster sitting with weeds growing out of it while I was making a concrete delivery to affluent Portola Valley, California. As this was almost four decades ago, I am sure that it was the “real deal” as fabrications were not so mainstream then. Besides, it was a serious mess in need of total restoration. Still, even then I realized that this thing was worth a small fortune in any condition. Wonder whatever happened to it? Think it’s worth anything now?
These vehicles are no longer Cars. Cars are actually driven now and then. These are now full-scale models meant to be on static display for the rest of their lives. They may be maintained as though they Could maybe perhaps possibly be drive, but never again on an actual road or at speed. Think of them as statuary.
Wow if true..now, could Hagerty persuade the new owner to showcase the car at select Hagerty conocurs like The Amelia?
I would love to see this car at Amelia. I have a feeling that it’s unlikely to appear there, at least in the near future. But we can dream.
Sorry but the warhol is a farce by comparison. Nothing can stir the soul like a straight 8 SLR under full throttle. And just look at it!!
WOW, do people really have THAT much money to spend on one car? It looks like a truly awesome machine, but $142 million is mind boggling!!! I sure hope they can at least drive it a little, maybe a couple miles a year at least?! I’m wondering if more than one person bought it, and if it going into a museum or something?
Why? does Mercedes need the Money
Running out of money
Reread the article – Mercedes didn’t sell it – they did the sale on behalf
Hi Uwe, very often when automakers are involved in an auction, some/all the proceeds go to charity. We don’t know that’s the case here—again this is all in the realm of speculation at this point—but it wouldn’t be surprising.
Nice article but unless I missed it you overlooked the specs of this car like for example, is it a 6,8 or 12cyl engine,,hp & trq, type transmission,rear gearing,it’s top speed, full race weight etc.
Well, it’s all “just easy money” for those jet-setters but I wonder how many of “those people” are Hagerty followers or insured.
Are exotics all these writers have for us?
OldFordMan above asks a good question. Apparently, low-paid auto scribes imagine writing mainly about expensive cars will trickle additional pesos to them; some of the wow factor cloak them.
A genuine car buff publication would explore the real story; Mercedes fielding a straight eight in the mid-1950s. Instead, Hagerty’s desperation to gee whiz the masses in search of more insurance policies as they go after State Farm (who also insures collector cars), Allstate, Farmer’s, Geico, Progressive, Liberty Mutual means feverish reportage of mall developers and arbitragers must-have flavor of the month.
Leave nonsense like the above for Kiplinger’s and Forbes.
I can assure you that if/when we have confirmation of which car sold, we’ll dig into what makes it special.
Or You could of course just not read the “Free” articles and then we wouldn’t have to hear you snivel. Privileged Much ???
This is from another Solar System. Meanwhile in the real world inflation continues.
I don’t care whether you are talking Warhols or Mercedes SLR’s …Paying Hundreds of millions of dollars for “any” piece of art is glutinous and shows the buyer has more Money and EGO than Brains …Buy a lesser car or cars and spend the vast amount on establishing a Philanthropic organization l than could help individuals or enterprises that are less fortunate than this buyer…. The other question is WHY is Mercedes Selling this car ? They don’t need the money ! What’s the motivation for this sale ?
ReRead the article – mercedes didn’t sell it
Actually, Mercedes did own the car until the sale, so Mercedes sold it (the seller “on behalf of Mercedes Benz”). According to Karl Ludvigsen, the Silver Arrows cars were never sold to a private party although most of their other race cars were sold off.
For those of you thinking that the person wealthy enough to buy this car should be donating that money to charitable causes instead fails to realize that most of them do contribute millions year over year and are often employing thousands of people. Don’t begrudge them their passion.
When people say the rich should give more to charities. They are responsible for a giving a very large portion to charity before and after death. The fifty biggest donors in the United States totaled $24.7 billion in 2020, with Jeff Bezos topping the list, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports. Sometimes we need to think, “The Rich came up with ideas that employ the great thinkers, not so great thinkers, and the non risk takers”. Anything worth having never comes without effort, except the lottery. Where I live if you make more than $150,000.00/yr., you are responsible for 78.4% of the tax bill. If your complaining about the price paid for this beautifully kept MB, be thankful that someone kept it around for us to see. Be thankful to all the engineering that went into this car and probably lead to some of the things you have enjoyed in your everyday drivers as I have done. I don’t worry about other people’s money, I focus on my own. Enjoy the read, do some research about the car and keep the worry about the money out of it. Thanks Hagerty for drawing my attention to this rare one, never would have looked for it.
well said @ Del Saunders
Why is it that some people think a rich person should establish a “Philanthropic organization” or give his/her money away? The money is theirs to do with as they choose. Whether they share it with the rest of the world or not is between them and their conscience. Besides, Most extremely rich people are the leaders in giving, as mentioned earlier. None of our business.
In 1969 I stored my Mercedes SLR & Jaguar XKE after I challenged Pierre Elliott Trudeau after the FLQ crisis in his 300SLR to a race down the south shore and the thrill of the ride still demands a straight away to open them up. Any body want a pair of the most beautiful car ever made and the best roadster cruiser to float down the highway at top 1960’s top end speeds, and we did it with out a roll bar.
People do what they wish with their own money, don’t they? That is as it should be.
Wow !!! Makes a 71 Cuda hemi convertible priced like a daily driver!
Great story Hagerty! Hanks so much for publishing it. True Car/Automobile lovers enjoy reading about all these amazing cars and the history behind them. I have a 69 Chevelle SS396 that I love and is admired by many. There will always be people with incredible wealth that can afford to immortalized these auto artworks. Thank goodness there out there.
there one of these in the Indianapolis motor museum, donated to Tony George by Bernie Eccelstone for hosting the formula 1 race? Trudeau’s car I believe is a 250 sl
In my opinion, two clues to a possible new owner appear hiding in plain sight in this article.
One is the asphyxiating price tag. This is a very, very exclusive financial club this person resides in.
Two is the very strict criteria that Mercedes has imposed, that the person must adhere to after the sale, like no resale, continue to keep this jewel in the public’s view at shows and ‘lavish the same care and attention on it as Mercedes has.’
Yes, you could probably count the potential folks who could ante up the price of entry on two hands. The criteria portion however in my view narrows the field to counting the contenders on one hand.
And then there is the level of caution to any backlash of the sale in the minds of Mercedes Benz Executives, as well as preserving the longevity of historic PR value in the sale to the lucky recipient.
That narrows the possibles even further. My guess as to the purchaser of this historic racer is the wealthy, Mercedes Benz ambassador, Lewis Hamilton.
Who better to carry the torch of the historic Silver Arrows of the past into the future, than the owner of one of them and the current driver of the modern day version of one.
Interesting that of the top ten verified sales, six of them happened in Monterey and none of the other locations had more than one sale.
A keen observation. A chart we created earlier this year shows Monterey’s dominance when it comes to the biggest auction in a given year. If this sale bears out, 2022 will likely be an exception.
It seems many are a little confused. There is an immense difference between a 300SLR and a 300SL Roadster.
My 190 SL just went up in value?
One of my favorite cars . I have never seen one in person but it’s on my bucket list . Maybe when we go to the Goodwood festival of speed next year one will show up .
Is Benz that broke that they need to sell this thing ?
I see from the comments that it’s unclear to some commenters who actually owned it .
To me the article says Benz owned it and sold it .
Something you’d think the writer of the article would have made less confusing .
And does hagerty think any one on their email blast list , really cares about a car this expensive ?
And hagarty won’t insure any car that doesn’t have a locked garage to be parked in , and won’t cover cars driven off the pavement , which means if you drive your hagarty insured vehicle into a campground with a dirt road , or onto the dirt / grass parking lot at a large car show , hagartys insurance coverage ended at the edge or the pavement .
Weird that they use old pickups and Broncos on dirt roads in their advertisements .
Stupid money spend stupidly. You can’t drive it. All you can do is look at it. Feed starving children and go to heaven when it’s all over.
Where did the pictures come from?
Photographer James Lipman happened to photograph this 300SLR several years ago. To be clear: we have not yet confirmed which car sold. But several sources tell us it’s one of the Uhlenhaut Coupes.
Speaking of high-end, recently auctioned, iconic cars…Fangio’s personal Mercedes 300 SL roadster sold recently – in excellent mostly original condition, albeit with a bit of patina. Does anyone know how much that car auctioned for, and who the new owner is?
Meanwhile, at Christie’s in New York, someone just dropped $195 million for a 40 by 40 inch silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe by Warhol. And it doesn’t even make noise or go fast.
Chuck is right. Research the SLR’s. Never a car like it before or since. A straight eight that was really two fours with a gear in the middle to take off the power with the first gear reduction. That lowered the driveshaft to the rear mounted transmission. I’m too lazy to look up the spelling, but the desmodromic? valve system both opened and closed with cams. Direct to cylinders fuel injected. When Sir Sterling wanted one for street use, a handbrake had to be added as the car would roll in gear because the engine needed at least starter speed for the valves to fully close. Many don’t know that Fangio finished the ’55 Mille Megila a half hour behind Sterling and navigator Dennis. driving by himself! with a broken injector line, very uncharacteristic for Mecerdes, finishing much of the race on seven cylinders.
Perhaps it was that Comedian, Jay Leno who purchased the car. He sold all of his motorcycles and cars and now parks it in his now empty warehouse. He could start at one end and do burnouts with no one around and try to stop before hitting the opposite wall. As long as he doesn’t sell it, he’s good to go.
Value is in the eye of the beholder. You just need one other person to believe . Much like Religion.
With only two ever built, a W196 Uhlenhaut coupe is the true holy grail of car collecting. Yes, the Indy museum has a W196 roadster (one of 14) and it is far and away the most valuable car they have on display. Also, may I say, I love the idea that Lewis Hamilton might be the purchaser.
After browsing several websites Lewis Hamilton’s estimated net worth is somewhere between $300 million and $825 Million (US). Even if it’s the higher figure I doubt he would lock up essentially 1/4 of his total fortune one asset he can never sell. It would be a great story though….