$142M Mercedes-Benz Is Officially the Most Expensive Car Sale Ever

The coupe’s tragic back story could have an inspired future after its sale.

byAaron ColeMay 19, 2022 4:52 PM
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR
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Last week, a report surfaced that Mercedes-Benz sold what’s likely to be the most expensive car in the world: a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe for $142.4 million. Now, not only is this confirmed, but also we’re learning more about the transaction—though not the mystery buyer. 

Mercedes-Benz on Thursday detailed the terms of the sale from its own collection, which is just as rich as reported. According to auction house RM Sotheby’s, the sale from May 5 to a private buyer will fund a worldwide scholarship program for climate change education and research. The buyer, who wasn't named, reportedly lobbied Mercedes for more than a year to purchase the car.

In a statement, Marcus Breitschwerd, head of Mercedes-Benz Heritage said the 1955 Benz would be displayed periodically to the public. 

The Silver Arrow coupe, which on top of being one of the top 10 most expensive collectible items ever sold at auction, is a rolling automotive legend. One of nine road-legal 300 SLR coupe versions of the W196 race cars that won two world titles at the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio. The coupes were capable of 180 mph, which made them one of the fastest road-legal cars at the time. 

The W196 won many races, including the Targa Florio at the hands of Stirling Moss, but also was involved in one of motorsports’ saddest tragedies. In the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, Pierre Levegh’s W196 launched into a crowd of spectators, ignited, and killed 84. Mercedes, who were already considering exiting sports-car racing, immediately withdrew from competition and didn’t return to sports-car racing for decades after. 

The car that sold this month is one of two coupes known to exist, and nicknamed "Red" for its interior. The other example, "Blue," is also owned by Mercedes and is on display. Red was mostly kept in storage and has only 6,045 kilometers on its clock. The sale represents not only the richest sum paid for a car at auction, but also a moment in time for motorsports and road-legal race cars. The car is undoubtedly beautiful and pristine, but its history is a permanent reminder of the perils of racing and of just how far we’ve come (and perhaps have yet to go) for the safety of all involved.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the auction amount for the Mercedes-Benz coupe. It sold for $142.4 million, not $142.9 million.

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