A Tesla Model S P100D can run over $140,000 after options. A Chevrolet Corvette Z06 can fall easily within the $100,000 range after a walk through the accessories menu. Meanwhile, Ford’s new GT should punch through the $400,000 barrier. In short, these three fine specimens make for very pricey American automobiles, but those figures hardly represent a drop in the bucket compared to prices for the most coveted American rides.
Since 2004, the top 12 began around the $4 million mark and soared skyward. When viewing the list of legendary race cars, symbols of American automotive might, super-luxury rides of the 1930s, and even the original Batmobile, the value of these classic American cars begins making sense. Some of the most expensive auctioneered cars in the world are Ferraris, but with those (and other European cars) out of the equation, how do American cars stand up?
A hat-tip to Autoblog for compiling a list of the American-branded cars that landed the highest amounts ever at auction, and we thought we’d update it and bring in the new champion. Here are the top 12 from lowest price to highest price of all time. Special thanks to the auction houses for the background information on their gorgeous lots.
12. 1966 AAR Gurney-Weslake Eagle MK1
Winner of seven world championship races and one of just four ever built, the 1966 AAR Gurney-Weslake Eagle MK1 held a special place in the heart of the bidder who paid $3.74 million for it in 2013. Many consider it the most beautiful Formula 1 car out there, and we can’t disagree. It sports a Gurney-Weslake V12 and four-wheel Girling hydraulic disc brakes.
11. 1967 Chevy Corvette L88
Only 20 models of the 1967 Chevy Corvette L88 were produced, and of those 20, only one came in red. That very model sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction for $3.85 million (includes buyer’s commission) in January 2014. Said to be “underrated by GM at 430 horsepower,” Barrett-Jackson cites dyno-testing that brought other L88 models to 560 horses. Built for the racetrack, the L88 was for purists only. Neither a radio nor a heater came as part of the package.
10. 1950 GM Futurliner Parade of Progress Bus
GM’s “Parade of Progress” Futurliner buses powered the automaker’s road shows between 1940 and 1956. Of the 12 that were made in the Harley Earle era, this 1950 model (No. 11) is one of three that have been restored to the original Parade of Progress configuration, according to Barrett-Jackson. It sold for $4.4 million (includes buyer’s commission) in 2006.
9. 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster
When Leonardo DiCaprio shows off his gorgeous ride in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, he’s showing off a 1929 Duesenberg. This auto brand featured exquisite hand-built machines for barons on Gatsby’s level and the first American winner of the French Grand Prix in 1921. Duesenberg’s performance mojo and elite cachet make its cars perennial heavies on any list of most expensive American cars.
The 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster has the nickname “The Mormon Meteor” and won Best in Show at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Though it no longer packs the V12 that once allowed the car to hit 153.97 miles per hour in 1935, the SJ Speedster still commanded $4.45 million at auction in 2004.
8. 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe
Speaking of Gatsby-esque cars, this stunning 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe was one of three that were made and the only supercharged model of the trio. The vehicle returned to peak form via the work of Steve Babinsky’s Automotive Restorations of Lebanon, New Jersey, before the final gavel struck at $4.51 million in March 2013. RM Auctions (where it sold) cites General William Lyon as one of the car’s original owners.
7. 1966 Batmobile 1
POW! BANG! According to Batmobile lore, George Barris bought the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car for $1 and was enjoying it as part of his private collection. A few years later, producers of the Adam West “Batman” series gave Barris $15,000 and a deadline of 15 days to turn the Futura into the original Batmobile. When the 1966 Batmobile 1 finally went up for auction at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in 2013, it was the first time the car sold — other than the time it went for the price tag of a buck. That second time, Batmobile 1 commanded $4.62 million.
6. 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 “Super Snake”
The ’66 Shelby Cobra nicknamed “The Super Snake” was labeled semi-competition (S.C.) after modifications and is one of 23 originals that were built, while only two were made by Cobra in the Super Snake mold. This model, labeled CSX 3015, was the one that survived. CSX 3033 was driven off a cliff into the Pacific by Tony Maxey. Yes, this car is special. So special, it sold for $5.5 million at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in 2007.
5. 1964 Ford GT40 Prototype
When Henry Ford II hoped to challenge the fastest cars on earth, he launched an all-out assault on the racing world. Experiments under Carroll Shelby began, but problems with weight created the need for a vehicle with a lighter chassis. This GT40 prototype (GT/104) was the fourth model the production team created and the first featuring the light chassis. It got a Cobra-spec 289 Cl engine and placed third at Daytona in 1965, marking an early achievement of Ford Racing. This very model sold for $7 million at Mecum Auctions in April 2014.
4. Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX 260
If the list is feeling Duesenberg- and Shelby-heavy, it’s no coincidence. These two masters of American automobile performance cast long shadows on podiums of all kinds. The fourth most expensive American car around is the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX 260, which commanded $7.25 million at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2009. This car beat Ferrari at the World Manufacturer’s Championship of 1965, which was considered the finest racing hour for any American car.
3. 1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe
The Duesenberg Model J Coupe with the long wheelbase and ultra-opulent looks brought down the house at Pebble Beach in 2011. This bespoke Frank Hershey gem of 1931 was described by Gooding & Company without as “the most elegant American automobile.” We find it tough to dispute that claim. Auction bidders certainly agreed. Its winning bid of $10.34 million made it the priciest American car ever sold at the time.
2. 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage
It didn’t take very long for a Ford Racing car to take the top spot back as the most expensive American car to ever change hands. The 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Lightweight racer, a car that finished first at Spa in its May 1967 debut before being modified to conform to 1968 regulations, took back the prize from Duesenberg in 2013. As the first of only three models, this GT40 did amazing things at the racetrack.
However, the true fame of the car came from its Hollywood associations. Steve McQueen used the 1968 GT40 Gulf/Mirage as the camera car in the 1971 film Le Mans. In this price range, it takes something extra to top the list of all-time American car sales. The 1968 GT40 with Gulf decals had that magical quality, which one RM Auctions buyer considered worth a cool $11 million.
1. 1962 Shelby 260 Cobra CSX 2000
You can’t keep a Shelby Cobra out of a winner’s circle. This 1962 Cobra CSX 2000 — Carroll Shelby’s first — started an epic run in racing and automobile creation. Sotheby’s compared Shelby to Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford for his impact on the 20th century, and we doubt enthusiasts will challenge that claim. When the winning bidder outlasted the competition, he agreed to pay $13.75 million for this slice of history. That figure blows the second-highest mark out of the water, but it’s just money. Imagine this ’62 Cobra in your garage.