High-dollar contemporary exotics like the $1.1 million McLaren P1 and the $1.4 million LaFerrari are already hard to wrap your head around, but select few classic cars are in yet another league with their multi-million-dollar price tags that defy reason. After a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO recently set a record as the most expensive car ever sold at auction with its $38,115,000 asking price, we rounded up the 10 most expensive cars ever sold at auction.
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO – $38,115,000 (Bonhams, 2014)
The Ferrari 250 GTO is an extremely sought-after car, but when this example sold earlier this summer at the Quail Lodge in Monterey, California, it set a new world record. Although $38 million sounds like an extreme sum to pay for any car at auction, the figure was actually lower than the auction company’s initial estimate of $50 million. Why the exorbitant price tags? Ferrari only ever built 39 units of the 250 GTO, a racing homologation special, and the cars very rarely change hands in public auctions.
1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 – $29,607,760 (Bonhams, 2013)
About a year before the aforementioned Ferrari 250 GTO moved the record up to $38 million, this Mercedes-Benz racing car set a world record for the most expensive car sold at auction. Listed at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in July 2013, the Formula 1 single-seater’s exceptional provenance included wins by renowned F1 driver Juan Manuel Fangio. The car had a fuel-injected, 2.5-liter inline-eight engine. The W196 actually set three world records at the same time: the priciest Formula 1 car, the most expensive Mercedes-Benz, and the most expensive car of any make sold at auction.
1967 Ferrari 275GTS/4 N.A.R.T. Spider – $27,500,000 (RM, 2013)
This feature car from last year’s Monterey auctions blew away its presale estimates of $14 to $17 million with a monumental $27 million sale that made for “one of the most memorable auction sales ever,” according to auctions expert Dave Kinney. The so-called N.A.R.T. (North American Racing Team) Spider is based on the 275GTB/4 coupe, and is one of only 10 droptop versions ever built by coachbuilder Scaglietti. Making this pristine red example even more special is the fact that it had never left the hands of the original buyer, Eddie Smith of North Carolina, until his family decided to sell the car six years after his death and donate the entire proceeds to charity.
1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale – $26,400,000 (RM, 2014)
Although this Ferrari may have been overshadowed by the record-breaking 250 GTO at this year’s Monterey auctions, the 275 GTB/C Speciale is quite a rare bird on its own. As a roadgoing version of the 275 race car that placed third overall at the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, this grey coupe carries quite a motorsports pedigree and is one of only three GTB/C Speciale Berlinetta Competitonze cars produced for homologation regulations. It’s powered by a 3.3-liter V-12 engine with 320 hp through a five-speed manual gearbox, and the high price paid for this car is no surprise given its pristine condition and extreme rarity.
1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione – $18,400,177 (Bonhams, 2014)
This factory-backed racing car competed in many Italian races with power from a 4.9-liter V-8. It was subsequently sold to an American racer who used it in SCCA club racing for several years before the car fell into disrepair for many years. Eventually it was fully restored in Italy, and the body was reunited with its original engine — for some undisclosed reason, the two had been separated at some time. Before that, though, the car was so successful in European racing that the French reportedly nicknamed it, “Le Monstre,” while British teams called it, “The Fearsome Four-Nine.” The tremendous sale price reflects the car’s extensive restoration, its racing history, and the fact that the sale included a long list of spare parts, including an extra rebuilt engine.
1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa – $16,390,000 (Gooding, 2011)
$16.39 million might seem like a bargain for those who worship at the altar of Scaglietti, especially considering that this example was the first Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa ever built. Before it was finished in such immaculate North American Racing Team livery, this particular Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa lived an extravagant life as a Scuderia Ferrari Team Car that even competed at Le Mans. But it’s all about the past which makes this 250 so lovely—it still makes the heart flutter with its frenzied styling, 3.0-liter, 300-hp V-12, six Weber carburetors, and four-speed manual transmission. Is there a horse that prances any finer? It was sold at the 2011 Pebble Beach auction.
1964 Ferrari 250 LM – $14,300,000 (RM, 2013)
The 250 LM race car was Ferrari’s first mid-engine car, and this extremely well-maintained example sold for a heady $14 million at RM’s Art of the Automobile auction in 2013. It features a coachbuilt body by Scaglietti and is powered by a 320-hp Ferrari V-12 engine. In contrast with its racing mission, this particular car was used as a road car in California by its original owner, Steven Earle of Santa Barbara. He ordered the car in 1964 and accumulated a few thousand miles on the car without ever racing it before he sold it a few years later. In subsequent years, the 250 began racing at various racetracks including Sebring and Daytona, and actually placed first in its class at the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona. Its sale in 2013 was the car’s first public appearance in more than three decades, and it clearly made quite an impression.
1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM Berlinetta Competizione – $12,812,800 (RM, 2013)
This 1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM Berlinetta is one of the three works 375 MM cars to race in the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hour race, although its 4.1-liter V-12 and Pinin Farina-designed body would be modified later for improved performance. The original engine was taken apart and increased to 4.5 liters, matching the V-12 engines of the Ferrari 375 Formula 1 cars, while changes to the front and rear helped increase downforce and visibility. The 340/375 MM would carry on a prominent racing history with three World Champions at the helm before being imported to the U.S. in 1954. Restorations over the years returned it to its original Pinin Farina design and Le Mans livery, leaving it a stellar example of the legendary Ferrari figure’s mastery. The hammer dropped on this classic Ferrari at about $13 million (€9.85 million) when it crossed the block at Villa Erba in May 2013.
1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa – $12,402,500 (RM, 2009)
Clad in traditional black-and-red racing livery, this 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa is one of only 22 “pontoon-fender” examples built. The specially bodied Ferrari 250 models were built only from 1957 to 1958, and this vehicle is the fourth produced. With a racing history of its own across the world, the 250 Testa Rossa would eventually go on to compete in numerous SCCA events here in the U.S. following its sale to Alan Connell of Forth Worth, Texas. Although no longer racing, it was shown at various special motorsports events before it was sold for over $12 million (€9.02 million) at Ferrari’s Leggende e Passione auction in May 2009. A true Ferrari racer, it touts the brand’s legendary 3.0-liter V-12 good for 300 hp.
1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster – $11,770,000 (Gooding, 2012)
With a romantic, war-torn provenance and history worthy of its timeless beauty, this 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster was the pride and joy of one Baroness Gisela von Krieger, of Germany. Shipped to the U.S. following the Baroness’ emigration from Europe, the entire vehicle was expertly restored following its re-discovery in a Connecticut barn in 1992. It boasts a 180-hp, 5.4-liter inline-eight engine with a supercharger, mated to a four-speed manual gearbox, but its breathtaking presence and storied past are what convinced one buyer to offer up $11.77 million at the Pebble Beach auction in 2012.