10 Most Expensive Cars Ever Sold At Auction


Most car lovers go to car auctions looking for a diamond in the rough. But then there are the collectors who can afford to drop seven or eight figures on a priceless auto.

In the past decade, the world’s most valuable cars have started going for private-jet money. What makes a car fetch such high prices is elusive, but it boils down to the intangible. Race history, especially when attached to a household name, drives up value. Rarity, too, is a given. More than anything, though, the cars that bring top money are those with the best stories.

(Figures given have been converted to American dollars and not adjusted for inflation)

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, Chassis 3851GT

Price: $38,115,000

Auctioned by Bonhams in Carmel, California, on August 14, 2014

The 250 GTO was an immediate favorite to win when it debuted, with Ferrari having proven itself a front-running racing car by 1962. This car, Chassis 3851GT, was bodied by Scaglietti and sold to Jo Schlesser, an emerging privateer racer who planned to share driving duty with his friend Henri Oreillier, ex-professional skier and hero of the French Resistance in World War II. During the car’s second race, Oreillier was killed at the wheel in a crash at Coupes du Salon. The heavily damaged vehicle was repaired at the Ferrari factory and sold to an Italian privateer who used it to win 12 of the 14 hill climbs he entered in 1963.

Now a famously winning car, 3851GT was sold again—and crashed again. During the 1964 Coppa Inter-Europa, it rolled over, caving in its roof but causing little other than cosmetic damage. It was repaired once more by Ferrari, but the following year its owner considered parting out the tired car. He sold it instead for 2.5 million lire, about $33,500 USD adjusted for 2014 inflation. The buyer hung onto the car for 49 years until he sent it to auction in 2014, where it set the world record for the most expensive car ever sold.

1957 Ferrari 335 S Spider Scaglietti, Chassis 0674

Price: $35,711,359

Auctioned by Artcurial in Paris, France, on February 5, 2016

Chassis 0674 began life as a Scaglietti-bodied 315 S factory race car, entered by Scuderia Ferrari in the 1957 12 Hours of Sebring. Driven by factory drivers Peter Collins and Maurice Trintignant, it finished sixth. The 315 S was handed to driver Wolfgang von Trips that May for the Mille Miglia, Italy’s famed 1,000-mile race across closed public roads.

Afterwards, it was returned to the factory to have its 3.8-liter V12’s displacement increased to 4.1 liters, thus turning the car into a 335 S. Now able to top 185 miles per hour, it appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans driven by Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Musso, where Hawthorn set the race’s first-ever lap record. Chassis 0674 finished out the year racing in the Swedish Grand Prix and Venezuela Grand Prix and won Ferrari the Wold Constructors’ Title of 1957.

With its mission accomplished, Ferrari sold it. The 335 S spent two years as a privateer racer in Cuba and America, and thereafter retired from full-time competition.

1956 Ferrari 290 MM, Chassis 0626

Price: $28,050,000
Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in New York City, New York, on December 10, 2015
Enzo Ferrari pinned upon this car his hopes of securing the manufacturer’s title for the World Sportscar Championship, a series Ferrari had dominated in its inaugural years before losing the title to Mercedes-Benz in 1955. Engineer Vittorio Jano convinced Enzo to once again mount a V12 between the fender walls after several years of using four- and six-cylinder engines. Juan Manuel Fangio, who’d become a five-time champion of the series, was chosen to drive 0626 in the Mille Miglia.

Behind other, equally famous hands, the car placed well in follow-up races at the famed Nürburgring, Rouen-Les-Essarts, and Kristianstad, where a second-place finished secured Ferrari the 1956 World Sportscar Championship. By the time it raced its last professional race in 1964 and passed to private ownership, 0626 had never been crashed, a rare bit of luck in a sport in which most cars eventually sorted into two categories: crashed or parted out. Ever since, it’s made regular appearances at Goodwood and the Concours of Elegance, raced sporadically in amateur historic races such as the Mille Miglia Storica, and featured in French museum exhibits and collections.

1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 N.A.R.T. Spider, Chassis 10709

Price: $27,500,000

Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey, California, on August 17, 2013

Sold new to a buyer in North Carolina, this one-family car was one of ten N.A.R.T. Spiders ever built. N.A.R.T. stands for North American Racing Team, and it amounted to a badge on the rear of the Scaglietti bodywork. Dark blue from the factory, it spent most of its life in that hue until its owner repainted it red, but the normal value-drop that a color change brings had little effect on this pristine example of a rare car.

It was also fitted with an unusual chromed grille guard particular to this car. Years later, according to the owner, concourse car show judges protested the “unoriginal” grill guard, to which the owner replied “Well, if that’s not original, I’ll be as surprised as you are, because it was on there when I picked the car up (from the factory) myself in Modena.”

Chassis 10709 stayed in the same family until 2013, when it went up for sale and became the highest-priced road car to ever leave an auction block.

1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale, Chassis 06701

Price: $26,400,000

Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey, California, on August 16, 2014

The first of only three ever built, 06701 was hand-built to defend the marque’s dominance in sports car racing. Ferrari at the time was under intense pressure as American Shelby Cobra Daytonas and Ford GT40s were chasing down the company’s 250 GTOs.

Engineers threw a number of firsts into the 275 GTB/C Speciale. It was the first Ferrari to mount an independent rear suspension and the first to mount a transaxle gearbox. But circumstance took away much of its chance to ever shine. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, which sanctioned the World Sportscar Championship, was angry at Ferrari for trying to incorrectly homologate the 250GTO and 250 LM for competition in previous years, and the FIA refused to let the 275 GTB/C Speciale race.

The FIA and Ferrari eventually came to agree that only one 275 GTB/C Speciale would be homologated and allowed to compete in 1965, and it was not this one. Ferrari sold the car to a private owner who used the hand-built race car exclusively on the road, for which the factory fitted front and rear bumpers and repainted it from Rosso Cina red to the gray it wears now. It bounced from collector to collector over the years, trying its hand in several historic races but never seeing the professional racing career for which it was created.

1954 Mercedes-Benz W196R, Chassis 196 010 00006/54

Price: $25,244,909

Auctioned by Bonhams in Chichester, England, on July 12, 2013

Streamlined and sleek in the national German racing shade of silver, the W196R was meant to restore German contention to the top levels of international motorsport—this time in the new Formula One series, four years old at the time. It was also only Mercedes-Benz’s third racing season since World War II, and the W196Rs stunned crowds with their enclosed fenders that swallowed the traditionally open-wheel designs.

Of twelve World-Championship-qualifying Grand Prix in 1954 and 1955, W196Rs won nine. A pair finished one and two in their debut race at Reims-Gueux in the French Grand Prix, the first German victories of a major sporting victory since 1939. This example is the most successful of all surviving W196Rs, and the only one not relegated to a museum.

1955 Jaguar D-Type, Chassis XKD 501

Price: $21,780,000

Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey, California, on August 19, 2016

The first of the D-Types created for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, XKD 501 sat out the June race after two crashes in practice the previous month sent the car to the Jaguar factory for repairs. It rode to five victories and four second-places from July to season’s end in September, but it was XKD 501’s 1956 season that made it famous.

Five D-Types lined up the grid at Le Mans that year, three of Jaguar’s factory team and two privateers fielded by the Belgian team Ecurie Francorchamps and the Scottish team Ecurie Ecosse. Only two laps after the green flag, an accident wiped away two of Jaguar’s factory cars. Four hours later it’s third was sputtering fuel and as good as done. Ecosse’s car, XKD 501, gained the lead at 5 p.m., and for the rest of the race its drivers, Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, dueled continuously for the lead with an Aston Martin driven by Peter Collins and Stirling Moss, seven laps ahead of the third-place car.

By the checkered flag, XKD 501 was in the favored spot. Ecurie Francorchamps’ D-Type came in fourth. Jaguar retired all factory-supported race efforts in 1957 and sold off its racing fleet of later-model D-Types, several going to Ecurie Ecosse. These 3.8-liter I6 D-Types saw great success that year, taking one-and-two victories at Le Mans in 1957. The older XKD 501, though, with its smaller 3.4-liter engine, wasted away the season with a few decent finishes, a few did-not-finishes, and many did-not-enters. It was retired from racing in June 1957 and passed to a succession of collectors. Its engine is unoriginal, but it’s the only Le Mans-winning C- or D-Type left intact in the world.

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider, Chassis 412041

Price: $19,800,000

Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey, California, on August 20, 2016

Alfa Romeo today is a mid-level nameplate positioned beneath sister brands Maserati and Ferrari, but the Alfa Romeo of the pre-war era led at the highest level of motorsport, road-going market, and technological innovation. On the 8C, the pinnacle of sports car development before the war’s interruption: twin superchargers upon an alloy dual-overhead-camshaft straight eight, four-wheel independent suspension, and—by way of Touring, which supplied this example’s body—an advanced lightweight Superleggera construction of aluminum body panels mounted over hollow steel tubing. These Touring bodies have always been the most valued of all 8C bodywork.

Chassis 412041’s early history is unknown. Its whereabouts surface first in 1949 in a Brazilian newspaper clipping that shows an amateur racer in Sao Paulo importing the car from Italy to use in local races. It made appearances at two Brazilian races, one in 1949 and another in 1950. It won both. Announcement of the latter victory was the last anyone heard of the car for decades. The chassis appeared again, without its body, in a collection of parts sold in late 1972. Meanwhile, in Argentina, 412041’s original body reappeared on a different 8C 2900B in 1953 when its owners – also amateur racers – removed it and sold it to a body shop near Buenos Aires, where it sat unused until 1986. Chassis and body were reunited in 1994, and the car began a three-year restoration half a century after the two had parted.

1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider, Chassis 2935GT

Price: $18,500,000

Auctioned by Artcurial in Paris, France, on February 6, 2015

Gérard Blain, a French film actor, bought 2935GT six days after it left Ferrari’s display stand at the 1961 Paris Motor Show. Its covered headlights, a sought-after rarity, leap out at first glance. It also has American turn signals, installed in the Euro-market body when Blain’s fellow actor and friend, Alain Delon, bought the car and had it shipped to California in 1964.

Five consecutive owners drove the car frequently in its first decade; its third owner put more than 25,000 kilometers (about 15,500 miles) on it in the nine months he owned it. Sold to its sixth possessor in 1971, it became a sheltered car driven very little but stored safely indoors for 44 years until crossing the auction block in Paris. The car has never been restored.

1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider Competizione, Chassis 1603GT

Price: $18,150,000

Auctioned by Gooding & Company in Pebble Beach, California, on August 20, 2016

Chassis 1603GT’s American buyer ordered every competition option offered by the factory: race-spec engine and transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, and a larger fuel tank for endurance racing, as well as the coveted covered headlights. Most 250 GT Spiders were of the short-wheelbase configuration, which makes this long-wheelbase example rarer still. Bodied by the same Scaglietti coachwork of Ferrari’s racing coupes, this particular California Spider’s bodywork was fashioned in aluminum rather than the typical steel in order to save weight.

Altogether, it’s the only LWB California Spider with aluminum body, covered headlights, and competition extras. It caught fifth place at the prestigious 1960 12 Hours of Sebring in the hands of George Reed and Alan Connell, raced at Bahamas Speed Week in Nassau 1960 and 1961, and made regular starts in SCCA events through 1964. Gooding & Company had sold 1603GT several years prior, in 2010, for $7,260,00, which goes to show how much the collector car market can rise in just a few years.

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