Most valuable car in the world sold in secret auction

The 1955 Mercedes smashed all public sales records, and the new owner is allowed to drive it only occasionally

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe, from 1955. Photo: Sotheby's
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A 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe sold for €135 million ($142m) in a secret auction in Germany on May 5, Mercedes-Benz chairman Ola Kaellenius has confirmed.

While higher-priced deals may have taken place privately, the sale by the car company crushed the previous public record of $48.4m paid in 2018 for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO at an RM Sotheby’s auction.

“We [wanted], with one single act, to demonstrate the power of the Mercedes brand,” Mr Kaellenius said on May 18 near Monte Carlo.

The arrow-shaped silver coupe, one of only two produced, was never privately owned until the sale.

“That car is 100 per cent worth what it sold for and some people would tell you even that number was low,” says Stephen Serio, a broker who finds rare cars for super-wealthy clients.

“Nobody ever thought Mercedes would sell it.”

Mr Kaellenius declines to name the winner of the auction, which included about a dozen invited bidders at Mercedes’ museum and archive in Stuttgart, Germany.

Swiss-Italian, English and American Mercedes-Benz aficionados had been floated as possible buyers for what would be any car collector’s Moby Dick.

But Mr Kaellenius says he was very pleased with the result, a sum that put the brand “on a different planet” from competitor Ferrari.

The value of the SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe derives from its extraordinary rarity and its significance to the origin story of the Mercedes brand.

A descendant of the so-called Silver Arrow cars that dominated racing in the 1930s, the front-engined 300 SLR was closely based on the eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula One car driven by Argentinian star Juan Manuel Fangio to win world championships in 1954 and 1955.

But it had an even bigger, 3.0-litre engine and the moniker "SLR," which came from the German term sport leicht rennen, or sport light racing.

Of the nine 300 SLR cars made, two were special SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe prototypes named after Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Mercedes’ head of the test department.

He drove one as a company car. Mercedes-Benz squirrelled the second away in the company vault.

“The reason for a high price would simply be that they are never sold,” said Karl Ludvigsen, the author of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix W196: Spectacular Silver Arrows, 1954-1955, in a Hagerty report about the vehicle.

Ludvigsen called the auction a “huge sensation.”

The car will remain on display with the second SLR coupe at the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Mr Kaellenius says, which was a condition of the sale.

The new owner will be able to drive it occasionally, a representative confirmed.

Proceeds of the sale will be seed money to establish the Mercedes-Benz Fund, a non-profit entity managed within the company to provide educational scholarships in fields relating to sustainability, engineering, maths and science.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 4:06 AM