Most valuable car ever sold at auction
RM Sotheby’s and Mercedes Benz celebrate the sale of this 1955 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe. The car was sold at auction for €135 million, making it the most valuable car in the world. What’s more, the classic car has entered the list of the top ten most valuable items ever sold at auction. According to RM Sotheby’s, the proceeds from the auction will be donated to establish a worldwide ‘Mercedes-Benz Fund’ that will provide long-term educational and research scholarships in the areas of environmental science and decarbonization for young people.
images courtesy RM Sotheby’s
the historic uhlenhaut coupe
According to RM Sotheby’s (see more here), this 1955 Mercedes Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé was the fastest road-going car in the world when it was new. It was capable of reaching speeds of up to 290 km/h (180 mph). A super-rare car, it was the second of two adaptations of the race-built 300 SLR to be made in coupé form, named after its creator, the pioneering designer and engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. Ultimately the vehicle had been restored in 1986 by the acclaimed technician and race preparation specialist, Tony Merrick.
Uhlenhaut’s 300 SLR won acclaim as a highly competitive car, typifying the development capabilities and strength of racing cars made by Mercedes-Benz. While it would bear a strong visual resemblance to two of Uhlenhaut’s other noteworthy designs — namely the W194 that won in Le Mans in 1952, and the 300 SL Gullwing that at that time was being prepared in road-going specification for series production — the underpinnings of the 300 SLR were most closely connected to the W196 that propelled Mercedes-Benz to F1 success in 1954 and 1955.
beneath the mid-century skin
The form of Mercedes Benz 300 SLR in coupé form was clearly derived from a racing car. Its uncompromising driving position, accessed via the innovative ‘gull wing’ doors, forced occupants to fold themselves into position — most drivers having to remove the quick-release steering wheel to fit inside. Just like the F1 car, the mechanical workings of the 300 SLR dominate its interior space, with pilots straddling a large drivetrain tunnel with pedals on either side.
Inboard drum brakes are accommodated in the engine bay, to help reduce unsprung weight. The accelerator pedal is dressed in leather to reduce foot slippage while driving.
A heating system is as rudimentary as a hinged flap on the engine firewall that allows heat to escape from the engine bay and into the cabin. A large fuel tank fills the boot, crowned by two spare wheels — surely the sign of a racing car fit to do battle over great distances. The weight of the 300 SLR ‘Uhlenhaut Coupé’ was rated at just 998 kg from the factory — an incredible feat of engineering, made possible by extensive use of ultra-lightweight ‘Elektron’ magnesium material for the bodywork.
The 3.0-liter, front-mounted, straight-eight engine connects to one of the car’s most distinguishing features — twin exhausts that exit via side-mounted gills positioned halfway across the length of the 300 SLR. Upon firing into life, the engine roars through these near-unsilenced pipes, and it is said that Uhlenhaut became hard-of-hearing in later life because of the noise of his fearsome coupé creation.
Of the two made, the designer assumed ownership of one of the cars to use as his company car. Uhlenhaut would drive the 300 SLR regularly, and it is said that while running late for a meeting, he made full use of the 300 SLRs performance on the Autobahn, covering roughly 230 kilometers (143 miles) between Stuttgart and Munich in under an hour.