It’s not just the staggering sales figure; it is also the huge price difference between this new disc and the previous one. The “Uhlenhaut coupe” not only moved the needle, it broke the pin at the 8,000 rpm limiter.
This 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR – of which only two were made – sold for a staggering $142.7m (£115m) at auction, more than double the old one record. The previous champion, a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO, held the £56m title. The Italian marque had been leading the pack for some time with a succession of (mostly) 250 GTOs, but 300 SLRs landed a knockout blow that no one – perhaps not even the Mercedes-Benz museum, which put the car on on sale – could not have predicted.
While cars like the Uhlenhaut 300 SLR are only accessible to 0.01%, this is an important moment for the automotive landscape. A sale like this generates interest, ignites conversations and affects values.
“A Game Changer for the Market”
RM Sotheby’s, which facilitated the sale, continues to shine. Marketing and Communications Director Peter Haynes said: “It is clear that the sale of this car is a game-changer in the collector car market and has understandably caused people to reassess the values that can be attributed to cars that are among the rarest and most historically significant examples in the world. But it may be many years before we see the sale of another car comparable to this remarkable event.
For quite some time now, classic cars have been considered legitimate investments. In the same way that one can buy a painting by a famous artist, a rare and sought-after car can be fun to own and financially prudent. Whether you’re a member of the global financial elite or just someone with a bit of disposable income looking to be smart with your money, buying the right classic is a proven money-saving strategy. It doesn’t have to be a multi-million pound Mercedes either. An old Volkswagen Beetle, for example, bought for £7,000 ten years ago, could be worth double that amount today.
The trick is, as with any investment, to find the right car. In the case of the Uhlenhaut 300 SLR – named after Rudolph Uhlenhaut, then head of testing at Mercedes Benz – or a Ferrari 250 GTO, the rarity of the car, its motorsport heritage and the providence of the marque make it an easy choice. But how do you find an affordable car that offers some degree of confidence in its future value?
Perfectly adapted supercars
The recent Concours on Savile Row, held on this famous high-end menswear street in London, showcased an impressive selection of contemporary and classic cars. Many were limited production models made even more exclusive by independent design houses. From a financial and passion point of view, there is a growing appetite for high-end cars with bespoke modifications – the cost of which can often double the purchase price. These owners – and investors – are convinced that the uniqueness of their car will maintain, and even increase, its value.
Asked about the sale of the 300 SLR, Savile Row co-organizer Geoff Love said: “The price paid for the Mercedes-Benz reflected the unique nature of each car. In my opinion, this will challenge the valuations of the most important classic cars that transcend car culture and move them into the fine arts. This will raise the bar for the absolute best cars of real provenance, rather than having a general impact on all classic cars. It may change the general value of some classic Mercedes, but the real winners will be those rare cars that roll around in works of art.
There’s no doubt that style plays a role in a car’s appeal. And while beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and sometimes even the beer carrier), there are cars that the vast majority of people, car enthusiasts or not, agree would look great parked in front of their home.
Hagerty is a world renowned classic car insurer and appraisal expert. Its Classic Index tracks the values of 50 individual cars to analyze the “gold standard” landscape. It therefore provides a useful overview of future developments within the UK and global markets.
John Mayhead, editor of the UK Hagerty Price Guide, said: “In general, the old ‘gold standard’ classics have either been stable or reduced in value. Pre-1970s Aston Martins, E-Type Jaguars, Jensen Interceptors, etc. all fell apart except for very special cars (matching numbers, interesting provenance, originality, good specs and color) . Hagerty thinks that if you’re the generation that remembers the impact of a DB5 or an E-Type when new, you’ve either reached the point in your life where you can afford one, or you never will.
We asked John what he thinks of future classic Mercedes-Benz models: “The first Mercedes AMG sedans (C36, C43, E55, etc.) are likely to increase if they are in good condition. Similarly, all well-maintained Black Series cars are already highly collectible. The SLS and SLR McLaren were both recently added to the Hagerty Price Guide for the same reason.
Beginning SL rising in value
Mayhead believes that cars that go up in value – with the exception of “unicorns” – are relevant vehicles for the generation eager to spend their money today. Baby boomers may have already bought the cars they want. Generation X and Generation Y now have their faces glued to the windows of today’s digital showrooms. It is their heroic cars that are gaining momentum.
Mayhead also states: “At the top end, there seems to be an increase in values for the 300SL Gullwing and Roadster driven by the United States. Values fell just before the pandemic, but have recovered strongly. We have seen a 22% increase in Gullwing’s average values (to £1.131m) over the past three years. »
“The original 190SL (W121) has also done extremely well, with an 18% increase over the same period (average price is now £119,000). The (W113) ‘Pagode’ 230SL and 280SL models have risen steadily, but feel undervalued, and they combine classic styling with ride functionality that puts them in a very usable category.
Find a perfect pagoda
As the pagoda will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023, now might be the time to buy one. The 280SL has always been “the one to buy,” but the 250SL and 230SL are now gaining traction.
We also asked John for final comments on the sale of the 300 SLR and whether times like this will impact overall pricing: “We don’t think straight. Industry insiders suggest this is a strong play from MB, however – to point out that their car is the most valuable in the world. Coming so close to the release of the AMG One hypercar is a statement of intent to the opposition. This is such a high level of sales that it is unlikely to directly raise the prices of other Mercedes-Benzes, but it will increase interest in the brand. This could signal a rise in values. A dealer we spoke to told us that his phone kept ringing in the weeks following the sale.
One wonders, then, whether the 10 people invited to the 300 SLR ‘Uhlenhaut’ auction and the timing of the sale were therefore part of a carefully structured marketing plan by the Stuttgart-based car giant?
Beautiful vintage cars
UK based SL Shop has over 15 years experience with classic Mercedes-Benz models. Founder Sam Bailey told us: “The sale of the 300 SL from Uhlenhaut certainly marked a new era for rarer classic cars. It may be some time before we see a phenomenon like this again and establishing a direct correlation to the wider classic Mercedes-Benz market would be speculation at this point.
“What this moment confirms, however, is that the rich histories, experiences and popular culture that underlie a vehicle’s existence are inseparable from a vehicle’s revered styling and engineering. That said, the fact that this vehicle has been put up for auction by Stuttgart suggests a desire to revive interest in the SL and the brand in general. Now that 1950s SLs are barely available, the ripple effect is an incessant demand for better successors. Where five years ago an original 280 SL fetched around £150,000, now we see those same vehicles selling for over £250,000. And where previously one favored complete originality, a fully restored W113 280 SL Pagoda is now just as attractive.
There is a clear daylight between the handful of people who might consider an ultra-rare crown jewel like the Uhlenhaut 300 SLR, and the rest of the classic car enthusiast community. Most of us are looking for something cool, or something beautiful, for a reasonable price. SLs from the late 1980s and 1990s are not yet beyond the reach of Millennials and can be discovered through a multitude of digital platforms, making the transaction much smoother.
There’s always an easy argument to be made among car enthusiasts for having a nice old car on your driveway. If you can combine that with a wise financial decision, maybe that search can start today…
Kieran Rennie is a Motoring Research contributor
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