RM Sotheby’s just crowned this car the most expensive in the world: One of only two 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupés, sold for €135 million (roughly $143 million at current exchange rates) in an exclusive auction at the Mercedes museum earlier this month.
This car was originally valued at €90 million ($95 million). Not only does the final sale price make it the most expensive car sold at auction to date, it’s one of the top ten most valuable objects ever sold. Heck, for that price you could buy the previous record holder for world’s most expensive car—the 1963 Tour de France-winning Ferrari 250 GTOs sold at $70 million—twice, and still have enough money left over for a Koenigsegg Jesko.
I am certain this lofty sum is chump change to the secret new owner of the vehicle. So what makes this undeniably gorgeous vehicle so outrageously valuable? It’s not just a piece of art, but a piece of history. The SLR was based on the two-time World Championship-winning W 196 R Grand Prix car driven by F1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio, but with a larger 3.0 liter engine for sports car racing. These were remarkable machines, smoking the competition under the steady hands of now-legendary drivers. The SLR won the World Sportscar Championship in ’55, but was shelved a few months later after a major crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On that fateful day, a Mercedes driven by Pierre Levegh crashed and was launched into the crowd, killing 83 spectators and injuring a further 180. To this day, it’s the most deadly crash in motorsport history, and the tragedy caused Mercedes to withdraw from racing altogether until 1989.
Rudolf Uhlenhaut, chief engineer and designed of the SLR, turned the remaining SLR race cars into coupes, to be used as daily drivers. Capable of 180 miles per hour, the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR was one of the fastest street legal vehicles at the time. One of these vehicles, stored at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, is the car that RM Sotheby just sold for that record amount. The auction was by invitation only, for customers Mercedes trusts to take care of such a car.
If you missed out on your chance to own this once-in-a-lifetime object of historical and engineering significance, don’t worry; the rich fancy-pants who bought the car won’t be driving it either, though they’ve agreed to make the vehicle available for fans to look at, sometimes, maybe. The only other Uhlenhaut’s coupe in existence will stay in Mercedes’ Heritage fleet in Stuttgart.
Because Mercedes-Benz has plenty of money, the automaker has committed the proceeds from this SLR sale to establish a scholarship fund devoted to providing education and research scholarships in environmental science. As the company that introduced internal-combustion-powered cars to society, it seems like the least they could do.