The automobile auction market, like basically all other collectible markets, reached new heights earlier this year. In May, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR known as the Uhlenhaut Coupe sold for US$142 million. The mind-boggling sum didn’t just beat the previous mark—it demolished it by nearly US$100 million.
It’s unlikely many expected the silver gull-wing Benz to sell for as much as it did, but cars selling for absurd amounts is nothing new. All you need to do is take a close look at the list of the highest auction results of all time, which Robb Report recently got to do thanks to the valuation experts at Hagerty. The auto auction market has been going crazy for years now. In fact, there are entries in the top 20 that date back almost a decade to 2013—something that can’t be said for, say, sports cards. It seems that no matter what the financial climate is like, if a serious collector sees their dream car hit the block they’re going to spend whatever it takes to make it theirs.
“While record prices have been set more frequently in times of economic prosperity, the very best cars often come to market at unexpected times, and enthusiast collectors often respond accordingly,” John Wiley, Hagerty’s manager of valuation analytics, told Robb Report.
20. 1961 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spyder — US$18,405,440 (Artcurial, 2015)
Ferrari is what is today because of the 250, its most successful early model line. It’s hard to pick the best version from the 12 years it was in production, but near the top has to be the 250 California SWB Spyder, one of the greatest convertibles of the last century. The roadster was designed specifically for export to North America by Scaglietti. This particular example—which was once owned by French film star Alain Delon—was finished in dark blue, rather than the brand’s trademark Rosso Corsa, over a black imitation leather interior and is one of just 37 built with covered headlights. One especially intriguing aspect about this car was that it was almost in its original state when it sold for US$18.41 million in 2015, having spent most of the previous five decades tucked away in a French barn.
The Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 was the fastest car you could buy before World War II. There was more to it than its mechanical might, though. The vehicle, specifically the Carrozzeria Touring berlinetta version, was also one of the most elegant cars of the era, leading some to dub it a “Rolling Masterpiece.” This is the second of five examples of the Touring-bodied variant ever built, and with the others on display at the Alfa Romeo museum or winning awards at vintage car shows, it’s no wonder its new owner paid US$18.56 million for it in 2019.
Alfa Romeo’s 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta may have been elegant, but another variant, the 2900 Luongo Spider, was just flat-out cool. The open-top version of the vehicle was Alfa Romeo’s—and Italy’s—answer to the Bugatti Atlantic, mixing style and performance like few cars before or after. Only 32 examples of the 8C 2900 Luongo Spider were ever built, and this is one of just 12 touring convertibles that exist to this day. In fact, the Spider, which sold for $19.80 million in 2016, is so rare that this gorgeous black example remains the only one to be offered at public auction this century.
You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but not all the cars on this list are from a bygone era. Take, for example, the McLaren F1. Although it’s nearly 27 years old at this point, the defining supercar of the 1990s still looks remarkably fresh and modern (which might be why so many brands and designers continue to borrow from its design). The Gordon Murray–designed coupe isn’t just a looker, though. It also has a Formula 1-derived V-12 that briefly made it the world’s fastest production car. Take all that into consideration and its little wonder that this one-of-two LM specification examples sold for just shy of US$20 million in 2019.
16. 1995 McLaren F1 — US$20,465,000 (Gooding & Company, 2021)
As you probably gathered from the last entry, McLaren’s F1 might be the most treasured vehicle of the modern era. McLaren built just 106 examples during its six years in production, only 64 of which were street-legal. This Creighton Brown example is a true beauty, but what really makes it stand out is the number on the odometer: 242 miles. That’s right: This car has been driven less than 10 miles per year since it came off the line back in 1995. No wonder it sold for over US$20 million, even more than the previous F1 on this list, last year.
Few things appeal to collectors more than something that’s one-of-a-kind. That is why no one was surprised when this Aston Martin DP215 Competition sold for US$20.46 million in 2018. The beautiful vehicle is a 1963 prototype—the last of four “project cars” the automaker made while David Brown was in charge of the marque—that would actually race at Le Mans months after its conception. It didn’t win that year’s race, but it was the first car to break the 300 kph barrier at the race when it hit a top speed of 319.6 kph (198.6 mph) on the famous Mulsanne Straight.
14. 1955 Jaguar D-Type — US$21,780,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2016)
Ever wonder why enthusiasts are so obsessed with Jaguar’s midcentury race cars? The D-Type, built from 1954 through 1957, is the answer. Few race cars have paired looks and performance quite so effectively. This particular 1955 example, which was raced by Scottish outfit Ecurie Ecosse, was the overall winner at Le Mans the year after it was built—earning the automaker its fourth of five victories at the race. The legendary blue-and-white racer is the only one of these Le Mans–winning Jaguars still intact, which is why it sold for $21.78 million in 2016. Better yet, it’s so well cared for that it looks basically identical to how it did when it earned its famous victory.
13. 1935 Duesenberg Model SSJ Convertible — US$22,000,000 (Gooding & Company, 2018)
Duesenberg may be long gone, but it’s not been forgotten by enthusiasts. This gorgeous 1935 convertible is a big reason why. It was specifically built for one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s golden age, Gary Cooper, and paired a supercharged Model J engine with gorgeous coachwork by LaGrande. Only two examples of the roadster were ever built—the other went to Clark Gable, who, legend has it, would use it to race Cooper—which might explain why the car ended up more than doubling its pre-sale estimate when sold for $22 million at Pebble Beach in 2018.
12. 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport Spider — US$22,005,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2022)
Ferrari built so many incredible race cars during the 1950s that it can be hard to pick a favorite. Unless you were Carroll Shelby. The racer and automotive visionary considered the 1955 410 Sport Spider “the best Ferrari [he] ever drove.” He wasn’t alone in his love for the V-12 powered Prancing Horse, which was driven by some of the best drivers of the era, including Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Masten Gregory. The 400 hp beast wasn’t just fun to drive, though. Chassis No. 0598 CM, which sold for US$22 million earlier this year, was also a consummate winner, claiming the top spot in 11 races and making the podium in 19 more between 1956 and 1958.
Most 1950s Ferrari race cars experience some sort of success, but few proved themselves on three continents. This 1956 290 MM, chassis No. 0628, which was an official Scuderia Ferrari Works car during the 1956 and 1957 seasons, did just that. Driven by some of the era’s greatest drivers—including Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Sir Stirling Moss—it finished on the podium at the Mille Miglia in Italy, the 1000 KM of Buenos Aires and the Nassau Memorial Trophy Race in the Bahamas, just to name a trio of strong results. This particular example was the final of four built by the Prancing Horse, only three of which survive to this day, so it’s hard to argue with its $22 million sale price.
10. 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 Roadster — US$22,550,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2017)
The DB5 may be the most famous Aston Martin, but the British marque’s most important model was the DBR1 roadster. That’s why it’s little surprise that the first of the four examples built is its most expensive car, having sold for US$22.55 million in 2017. It didn’t sell for that much because it was the first to roll off the production line, though. The beautifully restored green roadster was also the car that racing legend Sir Stirling Moss drove to his famous come-from-behind victory at the Nürburgring 1000 KM in 1959.
9. 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C — US$26,400,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2014)
All Ferrari 275 GTBs are special, but few stand out quite like the Scuderia Ferrari team’s Berlinetta Competizione cars styled by Scaglietti. Only three were built for competition in the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans. The color most closely associated with the Prancing Horse may be Rosso Corsa, but there’s something particularly alluring about those finished in another hue. This particular 275 GTB/C is finished in metallic dark gray, with a lighter shade acting as a center racing stripe. It didn’t end up competing in the endurance race, which goes a long way to explaining why it was in such pristine condition when it sold for US$26.4 million in 2014.
8. 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider — US$27,500,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2013)
The 275 GTB is one of the most desirable Ferraris of all time. This can be an annoyance for collectors desperate to add one to their repertoire because it pushes the car’s prices even higher than the brand’s other models from the era. Especially if enthusiasts have their hearts set on a rare-spec example, such as the NART Spider, of which there are only 10. That’s what helped push bidding for this beautifully restored, matching-numbers example to US$27.5 million. It’s a very good thing that bidding reached such a high peak, though, as the proceeds from the sale were donated to charity.
7. 1956 Ferrari 290 MM — US$28,050,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2015)
You’re not seeing double, there are two different 1956 Ferrari 290 MMs—both of which were built to compete in that year’s Mille Miglia—among the ten most valuable auction cars of all time. As has been well established by now, the Prancing Horse’s 1950 racers were something special. This one has the distinction of having been designed specifically for Juan Manuel Fangio, a five-time Formula 1 champion and one of the greatest drivers of all time. There’s more to the open-top speed demon than the man who raced it, though. It’s also a stunningly beautiful car that features a distinctive blue-and-yellow nose. Combine all that and it’s no wonder it sold for US$28 million.
6. 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 — US$29,600,000 (Bonhams, 2013)
Few race cars have been more successful than the Mercedes-Benz W196. The successor to the W194 was famously driven by both Juan Manuel Fangio and Sir Stirling Moss during the 1954 and 1955 Formula 1 seasons, winning 9 of the 12 races it was entered in and two world championships. This particular example—which is finished in silver with white racing gumballs—was the first to claim victory, at the 1954 French Grand Prix. It’s also the only example not held in a factory or museum collection, which is why someone leaped at the chance to pay US$29.6 million for it.
5. 1967 Ferrari 412 P Berlinetta —US$30,255,000 (Bonhams, 2023)
You won’t find many Ferrari race cars rarer than the 412 P Berlinetta. The Italian marque only built two examples of the gorgeous vehicle, which is the “customer version” of the successful 330 P3 and P4 race cars (an additional two 330 P3s were converted to 412 Ps). The prototype racer combines a rear-mounted 4.0-liter V-12 with the P3’s chassis and the P4’s body, suspension and wheels. This example was the second of the original 412 P Berlinettas and helped Ferrari claim the World Championship of Makes in 1967. Somehow, the car’s sale in August 2023 was something of a disappointment, falling $10 million short of what some thought it would go for. Still, that shouldn’t take away from just how majestic this competition-proven Ferrari is.
4. 1957 Ferrari 335 S — US$35,750,000 (Artcurial, 2016)
There are race cars that were built by Ferrari, and then there are those that actually raced for the Italian marque. Of those, the 1957 335 S just might be the very finest. It’s not the most valuable of the marque’s racers—having been sold by Artcurial for US$35.75 million it’s close—but it is the one that enabled the Prancing Horse to win the Constructor’s World Championship in 1957, while also finishing second at the final Mille Miglia. As tends to be the case with these vehicles, it was also piloted by some of Ferrari’s finest drivers that season, including Peter Collins, Wolfgang von Trips and Luigi Musso, during that most successful of seasons.
3. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO — US$38,115,000 (Bonhams, 2014)
It would be hard to pin down the most iconic Ferrari of all time, but if there’s a single model that qualifies, it’s the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. The Prancing Horse built just 36 examples of the street-legal race car—powered by a 3.0-liter V-12—all of which somehow survive to this day. This particular example, chassis No. 3851GT, was owned by Fabrizio Violati for 49 years, and Violati actually entered it in races. There were high expectations for the car when Bonhams put it up for bid in 2014, but that didn’t make it any less stunning when it sold for a then-record US$38.12 million.
2. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO — US$48,405,000 (RM Sotheby’s, 2018)
It was fitting that Violati’s Ferrari 250 GTO would be knocked off its throne by another 250 GTO. Four years after the heavily raced Ferrari went for US$38.12 million, RM Sotheby’s sold another dazzling example for US$48.41 million. Despite the sizable price difference, you’re really splitting hairs trying to differentiate the two coupés. Still, the more expensive 250 GTO was the third to roll off the line and is overwhelmingly original, retaining over 95 percent of the parts it left the factory with. No wonder someone was willing to pay an extra $10 million for it.
1. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupe” — US$142,000,000 (2022)
Records are meant to be broken, and four years after the Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car for a second time when it went for US$48.41 million, the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupe” sold for US$142 million. That’s right, it broke the previous mark by US$93.59 million, with the entire sum going to the newly established Mercedes-Benz Fund, a global scholarship program meant to aid young people working to make the world a more sustainable place. The silver prototype racer isn’t just the most expensive auction car, it is the priciest vehicle period. While that sum is still shocking to look at, those familiar with the car—one of two designed to race in the 1955 Carrera Panamericana before it was called off—know the silver speed machine is more than deserving of its spot on this list. We also have a feeling that it might hold onto its title a bit longer than the previous record holder.