On May 5, 2022, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé was auctioned by Sotheby’s in Stuttgart, Germany, and sold for $142 million (£115 million; €135 million).
It became the most expensive car never sold, doubling the previous record of $70m (£52m; €60m) paid for a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO (4,153 GT) in 2018.
He also claimed the title of most expensive car sold at auctiontripling the previous record of $48m (£37m; €41m) paid for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO in 2018.
Let’s see why this car is so special and why it commanded such a princely sum.
Only two Uhlenhaut coupés were made. Its extreme rarity, unique design and rich history all contribute to the record price.
Prior to World War II, Mercedes-Benz racing cars were funded by the Nazi regime and dominated the motorsport scene throughout the 1930s. Nicknamed the Silver Arrows, these cars won several Grands Prix.
After the war, in 1954, Mercedes-Benz returned to motor racing and picked up where it left off, winning the 1954 and 1955 Formula 1 World Championships with Juan Manuel Fangio (Argentina) driving their all new Silver Arrow – the W196R.
Derived from the W196R was the open-top 300 SLR, which achieved similar success in the 1955 World Sportscar Championship, winning the Mille Miglia race with Stirling Moss (UK) in the driver’s seat.
However, a month later, with two 300 SLRs leading the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh crashed into the car in front of him at high speed, which sent Levegh’s car racing into the crowd. A fuel fire ensued, killing Levegh and 84 spectators.
Following the catastrophic incident, Mercedes terminated its motorsport program and remained in the background for the next thirty years.
Fangio moved to Ferrari to win his fourth Formula 1 title in 1956 and won his fifth with Maserati in 1957. In doing so, he became the oldest Formula 1 world champion at 46, a record he still holds. Fangio died in 1995, aged 84.
His record for most Formula 1 World Championships remained unbroken until 2003, when Michael Schumacher (Germany) won his sixth championship. The record is currently shared between Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton (UK), with seven wins each.
Prior to the Le Mans crash, Mercedes’ chief motorsport engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut ordered two of the nine W196 chassis set aside to be modified into a hybrid of the open-top 300 SLR race car and of the 300 SL production car.
Complete with gullwing doors, coupé styling and an enlarged 3.0-litre engine, the resulting car – the Uhlenhaut Coupé as it was known – was effectively a road-legal version of the 300 SLR.
However, following Mercedes’ withdrawal from motorsport – which was underway even before the Le Mans disaster – the 300 SLR hardtop project was halted, leaving only two prototypes in existence.
Rudolf Uhlenhaut collected one of these remaining “development mules” and used it as a company car. With a top speed of around 180 mph (290 km/h), it was the fastest road car of its time.
The special circumstances of its creation, along with its high-powered performance and distinctive design, cemented the Uhlenhaut Coupé in sports car mythology.
“The reason for a high price would simply be that they never sold,” said automotive historian Karl Ludvigsen. Hagerty.
Ludvigsen explained that cars “in this class” were never officially sold by Mercedes-Benz.
Potential buyers are thought to have been screened by RM Sotheby’s to ensure they met Mercedes-Benz’s strict criteria of being wealthy enough to buy the car and, more importantly, willing to display the car at a show. special events.
The record sale of the Coupé Uhlenhaut could now push the values of other rare and highly sought-after cars to new heights.
It highlights the rapid growth of the classic car market in recent years, with exemplary models now rivaling the prices paid iconic works of art from the 20th century.
“The private buyer has agreed that the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé will remain publicly available on special occasions,” said Marcus Breitschwerdt, Head of Mercedes-Benz Heritage.
The second Uhlenhaut Coupé is still owned by Mercedes-Benz and is on display in their museum in Stuttgart.
Proceeds from the sale will go towards the creation of a global “Mercedes-Benz Fund” that will provide scholarships for young people studying environmental science and decarbonization.