We've assembled the list of the 100 most expensive cars ever sold at auction.
Below is "The top 100 most expensive cars of all time (part 1)"
1 - 1962-63 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta (US$38,115,000)
The first sale at auction of a Ferrari 250 GTO for many years created intense international interest at Pebble Beach this year, with the record almost certain to be broken well before bidding began.The rumor mill tends to report really big dollar sales and in recent times it had been working overtime and the word on everyone's lips was GTO. In February 2012, a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO changed hands privately to become the most expensive car ever sold with a price of US$32 million. Then, just a few months later, a 1962 GTO sold for US$35 million, and in late 2013 a 1963 GTO sold this time for US$52 million.
As mentioned, the sale of the GTO returned the automotive auction record to Ferrari on the 26th anniversary of the death of Enzo Ferrari). The full story can be found here.
2 – 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Silver Arrow (US$29,600,000)
One of the most famous cars in the world, driven by the world's most famous driver, which we've covered in great detail previously.
Mercedes-Benz has a history of competing at the highest level of motorsport, trying out a host of new technologies, winning big, then retiring. The company returned to Grand Prix racing in 1954 with the stated intention of winning both the World F1 title and the World Sportscar championship, achieved everything it set out to do inside two years, then shut it all down.
Only fourteen W196R machines ever existed. Ten still exist, three are in museums and six remain inside Mercedes-Benz. That leaves this Silver Arrow W196R (chassis 006/54) as the only post-war Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow in private hands. The very recent (2010 – present) F1 cars of Schumacher, Rosberg and Hamilton all remain inside Mercedes-Benz too.
The car is a technological gem, having been built specifically to win world Formula One titles, the W196R won two inside 18 months with a final scorecard of 12 starts for nine wins. The engine is a 2½-liter straight-8 and the auction car was driven by Fangio who won both the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix races in it.
The W165R was such a showcase of technological firsts that it is a milestone vehicle in motorsport history, and a car that demonstrates significant thought leadership on many levels.
Desmodromic valve actuation (as used by Ducati sixty years later), inboard brakes, independent suspension, the first first fuel-injected F1 motor, a lightweight space frame that weighed just 36 kg (73 lb), all wrapped in an aerodynamics package so far ahead of the game that it put the team in a different league.
As you shall see as this list progresses, almost every car has an impeccable provenance and derives at least some of its considerable value from being owned or driven or used by royalty, a celebrity, or a famous driver.
This particular Silver Arrow was driven by the most respected race driver of all-time, Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio won several Grand Prix races in this vehicle including famous back-to-back victories that sealed his 1954 Formula One driver's title.
For those who know the name but not the deeds, Fangio's racing years were largely stolen by WWII. When he drove his first F1 race, he was 38 years of age, yet he went on to win 24 Formula one races, five driver titles with four teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati), and still easily retains the highest winning percentage of any driver in F1 history at 46 percent – 24 wins from 52 starts.
For the record, those behind him are Alberto Ascari (13 from 33 / 39.4%), Jim Clark (25 from 73 / 34.25%), Michael Schumacher (91 from 308 / 29.6%), Jackie Stewart (27 from 100 / 27%), Ayrton Senna (41 from 162 or 25.3%) and Alain Prost (51 from 202 / 25.2%) and his win ratio is better than double that of any current driver. The full story of both the car and the driver can be found in our in-depth write up when the Silver Arrow took the world record.
Racing historian Doug Nye said of Fangio: "He was a humble man, originally a mechanic from a potato town in Argentina – and he never forgot his roots. As a driver, he was simply a genius. As a man he had no enemies. He was universally loved, even by those he regularly beat on track. No standard-setting sportsman could have a better epitaph."
3 – 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 S NART Spider (US$27,700,000)
Pebble Beach, U.S. [image:278655] When North American Ferrari importer (and Le Mans 24 Hour winner) Luigi Chinetti said to his friend Eddie Smith, “I talked Enzo into building some spiders. Do you want one?”, the story of this car began. Eddie bought one of the ten N.A.R.T. (North American Racing Team) Spiders that were built and the car remained in the family until this sale when it was generously donated to charity.
The whole story is in the official auction page for the car. Fully restored, one of the most beautiful Ferraris ever made, and blindingly quick with its 300 bhp 3,286 cc quad cam V-12 engine.
4 - 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale (US$26,400,000)
We've already written up the 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale to be auctioned by RM Auctions. The hand-built 275 GTB/C incorporated lightweight aluminum bodywork and a Tipo 563 chassis.
5 – 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider (US$18,450,000)
The jewel within the world’s greatest ever barnfind (the Baillon Collection), this 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider fetched US$18.45 million (EUR16.3 million) at Artcurial’s Retromobile auction in Paris on February 5, 2015.
It was formerly owned by actor Alain Delon, one of several cars unaccounted for in the Ferrari Register and thought lost.
6 – 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa (US$16,390,000)
A previous holder of the world auction record, this Ferrari Testa Rossa prototype sold for US$16.4 million at the 2013 Gooding & Co Pebble Beach auction.
The 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa auction car debuted at the 1957 Nurburgring 1000 kms but it is not the car's racing history which makes it so valuable, but the fact this is the very first Testa Rossa – the original prototype and rolling testbed for the 250 TR (Testa Rossa) line, one of the most successful sports racing cars ever.
Though Ferrari's Testa Rossa dominated sports car racing for the next half decade, only 34 were ever built, with this car's younger siblings winning the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1958, 1960, and 1961.
This is the original Ferrari Testa Rossa (Testa Rossa means "red head" in Italian), a nickname derived thanks to the bright red rocker covers on THIS CAR - Chassis 0666 TR).
Like many race cars that have seen action over a period, Ferrari 0666 TR is a little bit like Grandpa's axe (which had three heads and 12 handles during its lifetime), as it burned twice and was seriously bent out of shape during the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hour race. It is nonetheless the original Testa Rossa, and hence represents the beginning of a long and glorious history.
7 – 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione (US$16,380,895)
Bonhams describes this car in the auction catalog as an "outstanding example of the biggest-engined, most powerful and most important sports-racing Ferrari model built purely for works team use at the outset of the 1954 International motor racing season."
One of the features of the "works" 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider was its 4.9 litre V12 motor, which was known by the French racing community as "Le Monstre" and by the British as "The Fearsome Four-Nine."
The car ran second in the 1954 Mille Miglia in the hands of Umberto Maglioli, won an international race at Silverstone in May with JoséFroilán González behind the wheel, then Maglioli and Paolo Marzotto used this car in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, swapping the lead with a sister car driven by González and Maurice Trintignant until a gearbox failure finished its race. González and Trintignant won the race in an identical car and both cars shared the fastest lap.
Paolo Marzotto, the driver who had passed the exquisitely talented González (dubbed the "The Pampas Bull" by the British press) for the lead at Le Mans, described this car as "terrifyingly fast" as it had enough torque to out-accelerate anything out of a corner, and enough horsepower to breeze past the aerodynamically superior D-Type Jaguars on the straights.
This particular car has a long and interesting history which is well documented on the Bonhams auction page.
"The Fearsome Four-Nine" is perhaps best known as the winner of the final and fastest Carrera Panamericana in Mexico.
For those unfamiliar with the infamous Carrera Panamericana, it was a road race run on public roads in Mexico from 1950 to 1954. To picture the event, think of famous road races such as the Mille Miglia or Targa Florio on both steroids and acid. The race was twice as long as the Mille Miglia, and with no separation from the public.
The original Carrera Panamericana (it has now been revived in somewhat tamer and saner form) is arguably the fastest and most dangerous road race ever held on public roads, well beyond the African runnings of the Paris-Dakar, an event we previously labelled the world's most dangerous sporting event when it was still being run in Africa.
The 1950-54 Carrera Panamericana comprehensively trumps the Paris-Dakar as the world's most dangerous regularly staged motor race EVER! In five runnings of the Carrera Panamericana, 27 competitors were killed along with an unknown but substantial number of spectators and race officials.
When the race began in 1950, average speed for the 3000+ kilometer course was 142 km/h (88 mph) but by the fifth running, average speeds (remember this was on public roads, indeed, a national highway, and organizer resources to separate the public from the racing were so thin that "collateral damage" was almost guaranteed) had climbed dramatically to an average speed of 173.7 km/h (107.96 mph).
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame British band Pink Floyd's Nick Mason and David Gilmour made a film documentary about the Carrera Panamericana race which can be seen in two parts – part 1 and part 2 – with seven previously unpublished tracks along with some music you will undoubtedly know.
Factory teams from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, Gordini, Buick, Cadillac and Oldsmobile competed, and the world's best drivers (Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Ritchie Ginther, Piero Taruffi, Umberto Maglioli, Felice Bonetto, Louis Chiron, Herman Lang, Karl Ling and dozens of other well-known names) drove in the event, and it held world championship status in both 1953 and 1954.
8 - 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider (US$15,180,000)
This Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider features the highly attractive covered-headlight treatment, which Scaglietti applied to just 37 of the 56 examples built. It is also one of a limited number of SWB California Spiders that came factory-equipped with an optional hardtop.
This car has been displayed at such world-renowned events as Concorso Italiano, Monterey Vintage Ferrari Concours and Cavallino Classic, as well as participating in important rallies such as the Colorado Grand and the Copperstate 1000. Accompanied by a Ferrari Classiche certification, it will most likely push its way into the top 20 most valuable cars ever sold at auction, and top 10 is also a possibility.
9 – 1964 Ferrari 250 LM (US$14,300,000)
Described by RM Auctions in the auction catalog as "one of the finest original examples of Ferrari’s first mid-engined car", the Ferrari 250 LM (for "Le Mans") was a derivative of the 250P (for prototype) and 275P mid-engined factory race cars which won the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1963 and 1964 – a genuine racecar available to the public.
10 – 1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM Berlinetta 'Competizione' (US$12,745,707)
This is a car of legend. It is the CAR in which Umberto Maglioli famously averaged 222 km/h (138 mph) for the final 365 km (227 mile) stage of the infamous Carrera Panamericana to ensure Ferrari won the 1953 World Sports Car Championship - an all-time record for a public road stage that will undoubtedly stand forever, at least in the bizarre circumstance of having the public using the same roads while the race is in progress.
This is one very special automobile for many reasons. It is a genuine factory Ferrari racing car, and was driven in the World Sports Car Championship by three World Champions: Mike Hawthorn, Alberto Ascari, and Giuseppe "Nino" Farina.
It was one of the three works 375 MM cars entered at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans race where it was disqualified while running in second place (driven by Hawthorn and Farina) because brake fluid had been added during a pit stop on the 12th lap, violating an obscure rule that prohibited the addition of any fluids before the 28th lap.
The car went on to play an integral part of Ferrari’s 1953 World Sports Car Manufacturer’s Championship, participated in the 24 Hour of Spa, and won the 12 Hours of Pescara.
There is one particular feat however, which stands above all that - this car achieved the fastest road stage average speed ever recorded, and in a world championship event at that.
We've already mentioned the outrageous Carrera Panamericana road race staged on public roads in Mexico in the early fifties in coverage of the 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione which sits in third place in this Top 100 list. The Carrera Panamericana was legally sanctioned insanity.
This car (0320AM) was one of five 375 MM Ferraris entered in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana, all competing under the private banner of Franco Cornacchia’s Scuderia della Guastalla. It began the race driven by Mario Ricci, but during the fifth stage of the Carrera, Umberto Maglioli’s identical 375 MM (0358AM) lost a rear wheel and was unable to continue in the event – the attrition rate was understandably horrific with only one third of cars completing the race.
As the regulations of the Panamericana allowed for the substitution of drivers, Maglioli was then swapped into Ricci’s 0320AM and set about ensuring Ferrari collected the points it needed to overhaul Jaguar in the final event of the 1953 World Sports Car Championship.
Maglioli moved the car from eighth place when he took over, to a sixth place at the finish, but his drive during the eighth and final 365 km (227 mile) stage of the race is the stuff of legend.
In this car, Maglioli AVERAGED 222 km/h (138 mph), an all-time record for a public road stage that will undoubtedly stand forever, at least in the bizarre circumstance of having the public present while the race is in progress.
Part of a world championship, a car of legend, and beautiful too, it has been presented at and awarded at numerous concours d’elegance, including Pebble Beach, the Louis Vuitton Classic, and the Goodwood Revival.
11 – 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa (US$12,187,280)
12 – 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster (US$11,770,000)
This ultra-rare 540 K Special Roadster was purchased new in 1936 as the personal car of Baroness Gisela von Krieger of Prussia. Among the very elite of international society, the beautiful Baroness was named one of the ten most fashionable women in the world, mixed with European society's elite, led a very colourful lifestyle and kept the car until her passing in 1989.
Like most cars on this list, this Hermann Ahrens-designed Special Roadster 540 K Special Roadster has a tale to tell. The beautiful Baroness enjoyed a privileged life for many years, residing at the Ritz and Hotel Le Meurice in Paris, Hotel Martinez in Cannes, and frequenting the best European destinations and social events, including the coronation of King George VI. Suitors adored and admired her, and in one account a devastated gentleman jumped out of a plane to his death after his proposal of marriage was declined.
Unlike many supercharged Mercedes-Benz, which were often stolen or lost during the war, the von Krieger’s Special Roadster remained an important possession of the family, carefully stored and accounted for even while they lived outside of Germany avoiding Nazi orders. In 1942, at the height of the war, Baroness Gisela shipped the car to Switzerland.
With her beloved Special Roadster as a comforting reminder of her carefree past, she continued traveling on her own for several years throughout Europe seeking sanctuary from the war. After the war ended and the family reunited, Gisela and her brother Henning moved to New York, shipping the Special Roadster on the Queen Elizabeth. To escape the city’s heat, Baroness von Krieger summered at the Homestead Inn in Greenwich, where she kept her precious Special Roadster.
Following the death of her brother and mother, Baroness Gisela returned to Switzerland where she lived as a recluse until her passing in 1989. Still among her impressive possessions was the Mercedes-Benz Special Roadster, tucked away in a Greenwich garage for the better part of four decades. The 540 K remained an undisturbed time capsule, with such items as the Baroness’s driving maps, lipstick-stained cigarette butts and silk gloves intact.
13 - 1964 Ferrari 250 LM by Scaglietti (US$11,550,000)
14 – 1960 Ferrari 250 GT California LWB Competizione Spider (US$11,275,000)
Ferrari’s California Spider is widely recognized as one of the greatest sports cars of all time and thus an important inclusion in any premier post-war collection. This 1960 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Alloy California Spider, chassis 1639 GT, is one of only nine alloy-bodied LWB California Spiders ever built and with ultra-desirable covered headlights and full race specifications, this beautiful sports car is even more rare.
In addition to its lightweight alloy body, it is equipped with full competition specifications including an outside plug motor with TR heads, disc brakes, velocity stacks and a ribbed gearbox. Restored by Ferrari specialist David Carte, this alloy-bodied California Spider remains in show condition and is among the most desirable 250 Ferraris in existence.
15 – 1968 Ford GT40 (US$11,000,000)
Ford's GT40 was the American car which took on Ferrari in endurance racing and won.
This 1968 GT40 was the first of three lightweight production GT40s which number among the very first race cars to utilise carbon fibre-reinforced bodywork, and one of just two surviving examples.
The full history of this car is available on the official RM auction page where its drivers list some of the best of its racing period including Jacky Ickx, Mike Hailwood, Dr. Dick Thompson, David Hobbs, Brian Redman, and Paul Hawkins.
Undoubtedly, Le Mans is one of the best films ever made about motor racing, but it is the association with the film in general and Steve McQueen in particular that has most likely added the X-factor which vaulted this car into the most valuable cars ever sold at auction.
16 – 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider (US$10,894,900)
You'll find this 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider listed in many reputable internet sites as the Ferrari driven in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – it's not the car used in that movie, though this particular Spider was owned and loved for more than 20 years by one of the screen's greatest male leads, James Coburn.
At an RM Auction in 2008, British TV and radio personality Chris Evans purchased the car for US$10.894 million, which at the time was a world record.
17 – 1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe (US$10,340,000)
A bespoke Duesenberg Long Wheelbase Model J, the Whittell Coupe was originally designed by Murphy Coach Builders under the direction of one of America’s outlandish Roaring Twenties bad boys, Captain George Whittell Jr.
Beautifully-restored and boasting just 12,000 original miles, the automotive masterpiece captivates admirers with its striking and glamorous black, red and chrome livery. Originally purchased in 1931 for $17,000, the Whittell Coupe is now considered to be one of the most extraordinary and valuable Duesenbergs in existence.
Historically, Duesenberg Model J owners were among the most powerful and worldly of America’s pre-war elite and, with six model Js in his collection, George Whittell was Duesenberg’s best customer of all time, even surpassing Clark Gable and Gary Cooper,” said David Gooding, President and founder of Gooding & Company. “In my opinion, the Whittell Coupe we are presenting in Pebble Beach is the most elegant custom-bodied American Classic ever created and among the finest automobiles built prior to World War II.
Captain George Whittell Jr. was heir to an impressive California Gold Rush and real estate fortune, and the ultimate playboy of his day, who famously liquidated his entire stock portfolio (approximately $50 Million at the time) just two weeks before the infamous stock market crash of 1929. A larger-than-life public figure in San Francisco society, Whittell engaged in numerous escapades with women, reckless street racing and outrageous public appearances, like the time he famously showed up to a local tavern with Bill, his pet lion. Whittell’s love for exotic beasts, along with his appreciation of technology, influenced his many private collections and the creative design of his legendary 40,000–acre Lake Tahoe estate, Thunderbird Lodge.
The Whittell Coupe is the result of a unique collaboration between Captain Whittell and legendary automotive stylist, Franklin Q. Hershey, who began his career at Murphy Coach Builders just before Whittell commissioned the renowned Pasadena firm to create this Duesenberg. The Whittell Coupe was one of Hershey’s earliest projects and its brilliance helped launch him on a successful design career. Recognized for his great influence in the automotive community, Hershey was elected to be an honorary judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1988, a role he served for nearly ten years.
The entire car is a masterpiece and one of the few automotive designs that is perfectly proportioned from every perspective,” adds Gooding & Company Specialist David Brynan. “And the interior, in and of itself, is a work of deco-era art, which is a key feature that makes the Whittell Coupe stand apart.
The culmination of Whittell’s visionary ideas of proportion and detail resulted in one of the most exquisitely-executed Classic cars of all time. Under his direction, the powerful two-passenger, sporting coupe was constructed atop a long-wheelbase chassis, which added a dramatic 11 inches to the standard Model J frame. The most distinguishing feature of the Duesenberg is its low-slung, brushed-aluminum roof, designed with a complete folding top mechanism and exterior “bows”, to mimic the closed fabric top of a convertible coupe.
The car is enhanced with numerous unique characteristics including a chrome-plated gas tank, port and starboard lights inspired by the Captain’s love of boats and a polished chrome “waterfall” adorning the rear deck. The Whittell Coupe also boasts a lavish black patent leather interior, decorated with a polished-aluminum and black Bakelite cockpit, as well as a brilliant red undercarriage, just as it did when Whittell took delivery in 1931. With the turn of its key, the Whittell Coupe’s mighty 420 cubic inch, inline eight-cylinder engine springs to life with a low rumble, and the gentleman’s car smoothly transitions from a still beauty to a powerful mechanical masterpiece.
18 - 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 (US$10,175,000)
Delivered new to Hollywood and motoring icon Steve McQueen on the set of the movie Bullitt and owned by McQueen for more than four years, the car was subsequently owned by Guy Williams, of Zorro and Lost in Space fame.
Restored by Ferrari Classiche to McQueen’s original specification, the car is Classiche certified, spent time in Ferrari's museum exhibit "From Cinecittà to Hollywood" and pror to this sale was owned by former F1, Indy, and Le Mans racer Vern Schuppan.
So beloved by the baby boomer generation is McQueen that the race suit he wore as Michael Delaney in the film Le Mans was sold at auction by memorabilia specialist Profiles in History for an astonishing $984,000 – almost as much as the 1971 Porsche 911S which he drove for the first three minutes and 40 seconds of the 1971 film.
19 – 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster (US$9,680,000)
The Mercedes-Benz 540 K was one of the most prestigious and – in the eyes of many – the most beautiful automobile of the interwar years. Its combination of power, light weight and sheer beauty made it the master of the road, and it was a testimonial to the astonishing capabilities of the German automotive engineers of the day.
Of the 25 540 K Spezial Roadsters, only a limited few were created in the long tail style with a cover over the single spare tire recessed into the rear deck, one of which this car is one.
20 – 1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe (US$9,666,250)
The 1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe sold for £5,500,000 (US$9,666,250) in November, 1987 at a Christies auction in London. It was for many years the most expensive car ever sold at auction and still retains a place in the top 20 more than a quarter of a century later.
The Type 41 "La Royale" was a massive project championed by Jean Bugatti designed to create a car exclusively for royalty, and when conceived, it was anticipated that 25 would be built.
This particular car was personally commissioned by Ettore Bugatti to Kellner Coachbuilding Company with a view to making an impression on the rich British marketplace at the 1932 Olympia Show.
At £6,500, it was the most expensive car at the show. Allowing for inflation and exchange rates at the time (GBP1.00 = US$4.87) puts its relative value at US$458,000.
The Great Depression was taking its toll however, and despite the grandest plans of the world's most technologically outstanding automaker of the day, only a handful of T41s were ever built (believed to be six or seven units). Despite this failure in business terms, the "Royale" was one of the largest and most extravagant automobiles ever created.
The Kellner car failed to sell in depression-racked Britain and remained in the Bugatti family until after WWII when it was purchased from L'Ebe Bugatti by Briggs Cunningham to become part of his famous collection which was on display for many years at the Cunningham Museum in Costa Mesa, California. The car was sold by Cunningham in this sale and unconfirmed reports suggest it was privately resold in 1990 at a price around double this one. Ownership is presently unknown, though Volkswagen Group, owner of the Bugatti marque, is known to have purchased at least two of the six known Royales.