If you asked the average person what the most expensive car in the world was, they’d likely picture a supercar. Maybe a Bugatti, or if they’re familiar with classic car auctions, a Ferrari 250 GTO. However, while those are all good guesses, they’re not the correct answer. As of May 2022, the real answer is a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Gullwing Uhlenhaut Coupe.
There’s a new most expensive car in the world: this $142.5 million 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Gullwing Uhlenhaut Coupe
Admittedly, up until recently, a Ferrari 250 GTO was one of the most expensive cars ever sold at auction. In 2018, a 1962 example crossed RM Sotheby’s auction block for just over $48.4 million. But the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Gullwing Uhlenhaut Coupe RM Sotheby’s recently auctioned off makes that result look like chump change.
A few weeks ago, rumors spread that this special Gullwing earned well over $100 million during the auction. Those rumors turned out to be true. On May 5th, 2022, the Uhlenhaut Coupe earned a final bid of €135 million—the equivalent of $142.5 million. To put that number into context, that’s enough to buy seven copies of the Bugatti La Voiture Noire, the most expensive new car in the world.
$142.5 million is also enough to buy virtually every alloy-bodied Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe ever made. But then, although the Uhlenhaut Coupe is technically a Gullwing, it’s also far, far more than that.
What makes this 300 SLR worth so much more than a ‘normal’ Mercedes-Benz Gullwing?
Firstly, this 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe is a one-of-two prototype from the automaker’s collection. Specifically, it’s a prototype coupe version of Mercedes’ contemporary ‘Silver Arrow’ 300 SLR race cars. Incidentally, one of those Silver Arrows became the most expensive F1 car ever sold last year. However, it ‘only’ earned about $29.6 million.
Secondly, the ‘Uhlenhaut’ part of this Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Coupe’s name comes from Rudi Uhlenhaut, arguably “Germany’s best race car engineer,” Hagerty explains. Uhlenhaut’s insights helped Mercedes dominate racing pre- and post-WWII, and are directly responsible for the original Gullwing race car. And after crafting the open-top 300 SLR that Sir Stirling Moss drove to victory at the Mille Miglia, Uhlenhaut set to work on an enclosed version.
It’s also important to note that the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Gullwing Uhlenhaut Coupe is only spiritually related to the road-going Gullwing, Hagerty says. Sure, it has a tubular-steel spaceframe chassis that necessitates those gullwing doors. But there’s no high sill for safety reasons; you slide right in. Also, the engine under the hood isn’t an inline-six, but a straight-eight with Ducati-like desmodromic valves.
But that’s not the end of the race car touches. The throttle pedal, for example, is in the middle, not the right. In addition, half the gears aren’t where you’d expect them, Hagerty notes. And there’s no cover over the shifter, just bare metal. Plus, the 3.0-liter straight-eight bellows out of twin side-mounted exhaust pipes that exit out of the SLR’s ‘gills.’ Oh, and did I mention the entire body is made from magnesium alloy?
This race car, then, is a truly special machine. And seeing as Mercedes and RM Sotheby’s selected bidders who would care and display it properly, whoever dropped that $142.5 million undoubtedly appreciates that sentiment.
The record-setting auction is for a good cause
As of this writing, RM Sotheby’s hasn’t revealed who won the most expensive car in the world. But we do know that it wasn’t just a budget flex.
Mercedes-Benz is using the auction proceeds as seed capital for a new scholarship program. This new ‘Mercedes-Benz Fund’ will help students research and explore environmental science projects as well as fund local environmental projects. Furthermore, Mercedes will also provide mentorship opportunities for the scholarship recipients.
Even 60-plus years after it first appeared, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe still makes an impact.
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