To definitively award the crown for the most expensive car in the world, we need to divide the category into new and used vehicles. There’s a huge disparity. The most expensive car you can buy right now is a
Automotive (GMA) T.50s
at US$4.36 million.
But that lofty price is dwarfed by the €135 million (US$143 million) recently paid for a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Rudolf Uhlenhaut coupe. Mercedes owned the car (one of two built), and it was sold to a private collector . The proceeds go to support the new Mercedes-Benz Fund, which will distribute funds to colleges to support students working on environmentally themed science projects that advance the future of engineering and decarbonization.
Let’s look at these two cars in detail. Both support the current bullish market in race cars. The GMA T.50S Niki Lauda is the track version of the GMA T.50S, from the man, Gordon Murray, who brought the McLaren F1—considered by many to be the ultimate supercar—into the world. The T.50S, with deliveries starting this year, is something of an encore for him. Under the hood in place of the F1’s BMW V12 is the built-from-scratch four-liter aluminum Cosworth GMA V12, with 654 horsepower and 344 pound-feet of torque (at 11,500 rpm). Zero to 60 is estimated in 2.7 seconds.
The rear wheels are driven through an also all-new six-speed manual developed with Xtrac. The driver will be in the center, with passengers on either side. (The Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus also uses that arrangement for the SCG 004S.) Only 100 will be built—and they cost US$3 million each. The full run was sold out within 48 hours of the premiere. Not enough car for you? GMA has more.
The Niki Lauda version of the T.50S is aimed at the track. Lauda, who died in 2019, was an Austrian Formula One driver and three-time World Drivers’ Champion (1975, 1977, 1984). He drove for both Ferrari and McLaren.
The car that bears Lauda’s name enjoys engine modifications, including titanium inlet and exhaust valves, a ram-air intake, and a lightweight straight-through exhaust. It will be loud. The compression ratio was also raised to 15:1. In the process, the 725-horsepower engine, which can rev to a 12,100-rpm redline, lost 35 pounds from the T.50S. The all-carbon-fiber bodywork is also lighter, with the result that the whole car weighs just 1,878 pounds. The ride height is lowered, and brake cooling improved.
will be built and the price is now US$4.3 million, making it the most expensive new car that can be bought anywhere. The price doesn’t appear to have deterred buyers—15 had already been claimed by early 2021.
An asterisk to all this is that bespoke creations from Rolls-Royce and other manufacturers also get stratospherically expensive, but that’s on a one-on-one basis.
For the price of 33 Niki Laudas, an auto enthusiast could have instead bought that 300 SLR. Benz kept both of the SLRs in its Stuttgart-based collection for more than 50 years, and the RM Sotheby’s auction on May 5 was kept very private. The over-the-top result at the company’s museum topped the previous US$70 million reportedly paid in 2018 by WeatherTech founder
for a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO.
Why is this car so special? Designated W196, the Benz was developed from the 300 SLR racer powered by a 2.5-liter straight-eight engine.
won the 1955
in a 300 SLR. And SLRs came in first, second, and third at the Tourist Trophy race in Ireland, and top two spots at the Targa Florio.
Those victories won the World Sportscar Championship that year. But at Le Mans, an SLR crashed horrendously into the crowd, killing 84 people. That led Mercedes to withdraw from racing.
Two of those SLRs were converted to road cars under the direction of design chief Uhlenhaut, and he drove one of them as his personal 180-mph transportation.
Visually, they have much in common with the 300 SL “Gullwing.” Under the skin, they were barely disguised racers—albeit with a muffler added. Motor Trend tested the SLR and said it was unflappable, treating “the laws of centrifugal force with apparent disdain.” Uhlenhaut reportedly drove his car 137 miles on the autobahn in slightly more than an hour. It’s unclear if the car just sold was the Uhlenhaut daily driver, or the other one.
who heads Mercedes-Benz Heritage, “The private buyer has agreed that the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe will remain accessible for public display on special occasions, while the second original 300 SLR Coupe remains in company ownership and will continue to be displayed at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.”