Back in March 2020, just days before the world closed down, I was touring the secret sacred halls of Mercedes-Benz. These unmarked warehouses located in an undisclosed location in Stuttgart, Germany contain hundreds of treasures, the rarest and most exquisite cars in the brand’s collection that are either too special or not suited to the massive crowd.. Among the dozens of Formula 1 cars, irreplaceable prototypes, Popemobiles and other amazing cars was one of only two 1955 300SLR Uhlenhaut Coupes ever to exist, the other residing in the museum. (The only reason I got the photo above is because I cleverly brought my movie camera, as modern technology isn’t allowed inside due to geolocation.) In an unprecedented turn of events, this exact car may have been sold for a record-breaking $142 million.
The news comes from Hagerty Insider, who this week reported that Mercedes held a secret auction of the car in Germany earlier this month. If true, not only will it be the most expensive car ever sold at auction by a long shot, but it will probably be the most expensive car ever sold. The previous most expensive car at auction was a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that sold in 2018 for around $4,8405,000, while the 250 GTO was sold privately to CEO Weathertec in 2018 for $80 million. So why would this Mercedes go for so much more money? Quite simply, it’s more private.
The Uhlenhaut Coupe is named after Daimler-Benz head of motorsports Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who commissioned the development of two of nine race car bodies derived from the W196S 300SLR Silver Arrow Formula 1 and converted into a road-going coupe that would compete in the Carrera Panamericana. (In the meantime, Ferrari produced a 36250 GTO.) This coupe looked different in a way than the current W194 300SL Gullwing, with a wider chassis and unique design, and the SLR’s Straight-8 engine producing 305 horsepower, 90 horsepower more than the 300SL straight-six. The brakes, suspension and chassis have also been improved.
But before the Uhlenhaut Coupes could be raced, Mercedes withdrew from all motor racing altogether after the 1955 Le Mans disaster in which a 300SLR collided with an Austin Healey at high speed and wrecked the crowd, killing 84 people including driver Pierre Levig and injuring 120 others. Mercedes won’t be back in racing for decades. The 300SLR Coupe was subsequently abandoned, but Uhlenhaut kept one of the cars and used it as a personal vehicle after installing a large muffler. The car could reach 180 mph, making it the fastest road car at the time and about 20 mph faster than the 300SL. One famous story tells that Uhlenhaut was late for a meeting, tearing up the motorway from Munich to Stuttgart in just over an hour—that’s a 137-mile journey that takes a day of 2.5 hours.
The Uhlenhaut Coupes are essentially identical and live in their original condition. The car on display at the Mercedes Museum has a beautiful blue plaid interior, while the car preserved in the basement has a red cabin. The last SLR, chassis number 0008/55, is apparently the one that’s sold out. Hagerty reports that Mercedes has selected 10 (or possibly fewer) collectors to give them a chance to bid on the car. It seems that Mercedes wanted those who buy the car to use it and take care of it properly, making sure that they will continue to display the car at historic events and races. Mercedes also didn’t want the new owner to turn around and resell it. Every potential buyer allegedly flew to Stuttgart on private jets to eat lunch at the Mercedes Museum last week, which was closed to the public until May 15.
That potential sale price of $142 million not only destroys previous records set by 250 GTOs, but vastly outperforms the selling prices of “regular” Silver Arrow race cars. In 2013, the W196R driving Juan Manuel Fangio to victory in several Grand Prix races was auctioned at Goodwood for $296 million, and remains the most expensive German car ever sold at auction. This is also the only W196R not owned by Mercedes or another museum, leaving only 10 of the 14 ever built.
While my initial shock has faded a bit, I remain skeptical until the news is officially confirmed or denied, for several different reasons. The main reason is that a Guardian of the Holy Halls told me that Mercedes had never planned to sell any of the Uhlenhaut coupes – and he also said that their estimate of the price if the Mercedes they were For one sale it was closer to the nine-figure average. But that was before a global pandemic devastated the world, which certainly could have changed things. Maintaining a car like this takes a lot of work, so if Mercedes thinks it would be best served in the hands of a collector who will be so much proud of it, I’m all for it and I can understand the selling process. I also think Mercedes wanted to be more public about letting this very private car go, and perhaps a bigger announcement was planned that was undermined by this leak.
Regardless of whether or not this sale actually happened, the mere fact that I’m talking about a car that could potentially sell for over $100 million is a big deal. I’ve always believed that assembled cars can and should be treated with the same consideration as art, and with more amazing 250 GTOs or McLaren F1 cars continuing to draw big crowds and set records, that sentiment seems to be becoming more and more common. Now let’s see if one of the remaining six Bugatti Royals or the remaining three Atlantic will go on sale in the near future.