Best of 2022 | US$143.1m Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé becomes the most expensive car

After more than two years of pandemic lull, the auction industry is bouncing back from the crisis to pre-pandemic levels – if not better. In fact, 2022 has been a stellar auction year where numerous records were set. As we ring in the new year, let's look back on the "best of 2022" in the auction world.

In May 2022, during an invitation-only auction which took place at Mercedes­-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, a one-of-two 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold for a staggering €135 million (around US$143.1 million), smashing the previous auction record for a car, which stood at US$78 million for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. 

A secretive event, the sale was held at short notice and only chosen Mercedes customers and collectors were allowed to attend. While the auction ended on 5 May, RM Sotheby's and Mercedes-Benz did not reveal the news until the end of the month.

The record-breaking auction was led by star auctioneer Oliver Barker

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR 'Uhlenhaut Coupé' (Auction record for a car)
Manufactured in 1955
Auction House: RM Sotheby's
Auction Date: 5 May 2022
Auction Venue: Mercedes­-Benz Museum in Stuttgart
Sold: €135,000,000 (around US$143.1 million)

Hailed as the 'Mona Lisa of Cars', this record-breaking 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé is widely known as a car that would never be offered for sale. Over the years, Mercedes-Benz has kept the only two examples in its company collection, with one exhibited at its museum and the other in its garage. And such an auction had truly taken classic car collectors by surprise. 

According to media reports, Simon Kidston, a British car collector and dealer, took 18 months of patient lobbying to get the board of the company to consider selling the car. In the end, he managed to secure this ultra-rare car for his unnamed client with a winning bid of €135 million (around US$143.1 million), making it the most valuable car ever sold — at a price which exceeds the existing record by more the €90,000,000. 

The proceeds of the sale will be used to establish a worldwide “Mercedes-Benz Fund” that will provide educational and research scholarships in the areas of environmental science and decarbonisation for young people.

With Mercedes-Benz taking the crown from Ferrari, the reshuffled top three most expensive cars sold at auction are now as follows:

  1. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR 'Uhlenhaut Coupé' | Sold: €135,000,000 | Date: 5 May 2022
  2. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO | Sold: US$48,405,000 | Date: 26 August 2018
  3. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO | Sold: US$38,115,000 | Date: 14 August 2014

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO | Sold: US$48,405,000 | Date: 26 August 2022

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO | Sold: US$38,115,000 | Date: 14 August 2022

One of the crown jewels of Mercedes-Benz's collection, this  300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé is one of just two protoypes created by the company's then racing engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. 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 iconic 300 SL Gullwing—it was essentially based on the 1955 W 196 R Grand Prix car which won two World Championships in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio. 

Initially intended to perform, its engine was enlarged from 2.5 litres to 3.0 litres for sports car racing, delivering as much as 310 horsepower. Built in 1955, it was one of the fastest road-going cars in the world at the time, with a top speed reaching 290 km/h.

Also, the monoposto layout of the W196 was adapted to allow space for two seats in the open-top 300 SLR, further to the addition of headlight. 

Although the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé never raced, both examples are road legal, with one of them used by Uhlenhaut as his company car. It is said that he completed his 230-kilometre commute between Stuttgart and Munich in about an hour when he was running late for a meeting. There is no speed limit on the German autobahn, and in general it takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to travel between the two places.

The W 196 R Grand Prix car

One of the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé was owned by Rudolf Uhlenhaut

Rudolf Uhlenhaut