We knew the antique car market was healthy, but right now? The record sale announced on Thursday by RM Sotheby’s marks a milestone that will be difficult to match. Exit of the Ferrari 250 GTO: the most expensive new car in the world – and by far – is now a 1955 Mercedes Coupé 300 SLR Uhlenhaut. The car was sold by the house on May 5, during a confidential auction at the Mercedes Museum . -Benz, in Stuttgart, for about 135 million euros.
Oliver Barker, president of Sotheby’s Europe, said he felt “absolutely thrilled to have hit the auction hammer of this masterpiece of design and engineering, which now compares to the best works of art ever sold. Mercedes dethrones Ferrari and its 250 GTO, a 1962 model for which it was sold for $ 48.4 million by Sotheby’s in 2018. Raised to the rank of a work of art by Italian justice in 2019, another of its 36 copies had been sold (privately) the same year for $ 70 million to David Macneil, CEO of equipment maker Weathertech.
Juan Manuel Fangio
The piece sold here is even rarer. Two Mercedes 300 SLRs were built in 1955, but only one was auctioned off. “Few imagined it would be offered for sale,” RM Sotheby’s says in a press release. “It is considered one of the best examples of automotive engineering and is often cited as the most beautiful car in the world by automotive experts and enthusiasts around the world,” the house said.
With the name of its creator and chief engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, this 300 SLR does not derive, as its name suggests, from the well-known 300 SL “Gullwing”, in reference to its doors that open like “seagull wings” . In fact, it is a simplified version of the W196 that dominated the Formula 1 World Championship in 1954 and 1955 with Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss at the wheel.
A tragic past
This rich story no doubt explains the exceptional appreciation of the model given by RM Sotheby’s, but it does not stop there. Because while this Mercedes distinguished itself in F1, it also caused, in 1955, the biggest accident in the history of motorsport, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the third hour of the race, surprised by another car, the Frenchman Pierre Levegh lost control and crashed violently into an embankment, disintegrating his Mercedes and propelling the engine, front axle and hood to the public, with the death of 82 people and 120 injuries. Mercedes withdrew its 300 SLRs from the race, with the then star group Fangio-Moss at the helm. We didn’t see Mercedes again in Le Mans until 1998 …
Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who was himself a driver – and sometimes achieved the best test times ahead of Fangio – undertook to produce a road version of this racing model, equipped with these doors with the now iconic kinematics . At a speed of 294 km / h, this coupe was the fastest road car of the 1950s … information that would have been verified by its creator on the Autobahn.
A fund for decarbonization
Withdrawn from the car in 1972 with hearing problems related to the noise of his cars, Uhlenhaut leaves the legacy, 50 years later, of a work of art that is “among the ten most prized objects that have been sold never at auction, “according to RM Sotheby’s. The record is held by Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, sold by Christie’s for $ 450.3 million, followed by Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”, which came out on May 9 for $ 195 million. .
Proceeds from the sale will be used to create an international “Mercedes-Benz Fund” which will provide grants and fellowships in the fields of environmental science and decarbonisation. The Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold will remain available to the public on special occasions, explains the auction house, while the second model never created will remain the property of the company. He will continue to exhibit at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.