Mercedes-Benz AG just knocked Gruppo Ferrari SpA off the blue-chip car collector throne.
A 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold for €135 million ($142 million) in a secret auction in Germany on May 5, Mercedes-Benz Chairman Ola Källenius has confirmed. While higher-priced deals may have taken place privately, the sale by the car company crushed the previous public record of $48.4 million 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,” Källenius says during an interview 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% worth what it sold for—and some people would tell you even that number was low,” says Stephen Serio, an automotive broker who sources rare cars for ultra high-net-worth clients. “Nobody ever thought Mercedes would sell it.”
Källenius declines to name the winner of the auction, which included roughly a dozen invited bidders at Mercedes’s museum and archive in Stuttgart, Germany. Multiple Swiss-Italian, English, and American longtime Mercedes-Benz collectors had been floated as possible buyers for what would be any collector’s Moby-Dick of a car. But he 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 Coupé 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 car racing in the 1930s, the front-engined 300 SLR was closely based on the eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula One car driven by Argentine star Juan Manuel Fangio to win world championships in 1954 and 1955. But it had an even bigger, 3.0-liter engine and the moniker “SLR,” which came from the German term sport leicht rennen (sport light racing).
Of the nine 300 SLR cars manufactured, two were special SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupé” prototypes named after Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Mercedes’s test department head. He drove one as a company car; Mercedes-Benz squirreled 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. He characterized the auction as a “huge sensation.”
The car will be available for display on special occasions, sometimes with the second SLR coupe at the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Källenius says, which was a condition of the sale. The sale represents something of an ego boost for Mercedes during a relative low point in morale against arch F1 rival Ferrari.
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