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The World's Most Expensive Car - Or Is It?

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

What would you do with €135,000,000?

Well, you could buy:

  • 147 Bugatti Veyron’s

  • A Private Jet, houses around the world and all the staff to take care of you, with change left over

  • Or 1 Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut

So, why is the Uhlenhaut worth that amount? And, is it actually the most expensive car in the world?

Let’s find out...

So, what makes a car great?

Great aesthetics? That’s important but it needs to be backed up by more than looks. It needs to deliver on the inside just as well as it does from the outside.

A great brand? Without doubt.

Rarity? Sure, but a rare car doesn’t always carry a high price tag.

A famous owner? Racing pedigree? Most certainly, but only against real opposition

Oh, and if you’re really at the top end - the fact that money alone can’t buy one. You need to be in the right place at the right time.

The right place? The Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

The right time? The evening of 5th May 2022.

But this story starts much earlier

The story of the coupe Uhlenhaut that sold starts with its roadster sibling on Sunday 1st May 1955. A silver Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR entered the Mille Miglia, a thousand-mile road race from Brescia to Rome and back.

Behind the wheel English driver Stirling Moss. Beside him, his navigator Denis Jenkinson. Moss, one of the most famous racing drivers in the world. Denis Jenkinson, a motoring journalist who devised a pacenote system to call out the road ahead using a toilet roll construct of which his pacenotes were wrapped around and pulled from.

The duo regularly reached speeds of over 170 miles per hour along the public road route.

They were so fast that even the planes filming from above couldn't keep up. And just 10 hours 7 minutes and 48 seconds later they were back in Brescia roaring across the finishing line.

Moss and Jenkinson during the 1955 Mille Miglia
Moss and Jenkinson during the 1955 Mille Miglia. Credit: Jack Shephard

This record-breaking time has never been beaten and sterling remains the only

british driver to ever win this iconic race in one of the finest cars in history.

In total Mercedes produced nine 300 SLRs. The mastermind behind it all was the German engineer Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Uhlenhaut. I say German, though Rudi Uhlenhaut had an English mother and was born in Highgate, London.

In any case, let’s not get bogged down...

Uhlenhaut commissioned two coupe versions of 300 SLR roadster to be developed ahead of plans to race in the Carrera Panamerica - a border to border race across Mexico.

Those plans never came to fruition as at the end of 1955 Mercedes announced a planned withdrawal from competitive motorsport and one of those two cars became Uhlenhaut’s personal transport. The lucky bugger.

Legend goes that Uhlenhaut was late for a meeting in Munich, and the little problem was that he was in Stuttgart, which is approximately a 2.5 hour car journey from Munich. He climbed into the 300 SLR which would later be named after him, and did the damn 200 km journey in one, yes, one hour.

Most assumed the two coupes were sacrosanct to Mercedes, and would never find their way onto the market.

So, how did it happen?

Well, it was all down to a famous Swiss car broker; Simon Kidston. He got the car that would never be sold out of the grasps of Mercedes:

“That was what the entire motoring world thought, but times change, and if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. A long-standing relationship with the Mercedes-Benz Museum helped, but even after 18 months of patient lobbying, we didn’t know if or how they would consider letting the 300 SLR out of captivity until a week before it happened. For everyone involved, and especially the new owner whom we represented, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy the Mona Lisa of cars.”

Simon Kidston at the Mercedes-Benz Museum
Simon Kidston at the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Credit: Mercedes-Benz

On the evening of the 5th May 2022, RM Sotheby’s on behalf of Mercedes-Benz conducted an auction in secret and presented fewer than 10 carefully selected collectors who were not only wealthy enough to bid but would satisfy the strict criteria laid down by the German car manufacturer. Any future owner Mercedes insisted must lavish the car with the same care and attention as Mercedes have done over all the years.

Another criteria laid down by the top brass in Stuttgart - the car must be continued to be shared with the world at events and must not be sold on to a third party.

So, who bought the car?

Good question, and the answer well is a funny one. Simon Kidston. Yep, the very man who lobbied Mercedes for 18 months to sell the vehicle ended up buying the car on behalf of an undisclosed bidder.

Why would Mercedes sell?

Another good question.

It boils down to brand prestige.

The previous world record for the most expensive car publicly sold was a Ferrari 250 GTO for $48,000,000 in 2018. In fact, the top 3 most expensive cars ever sold are Ferrari’s. Simply, the top brass at Daimler (Mercedes’ parent company) wanted that top spot back, and they got it.

After all, Daimler doesn't need the money - they had free cash flow of €8.6bn last year after all. Well Daimler, didn’t take any of the money. All proceeds from the sale went to the Mercedes-Benz Fund

The Mercedes-Benz fund is a global scholarship programme that Ola Källenius, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, says will:

“Encourage a new generation to follow in Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s innovative footsteps and develop amazing new technologies, particularly those that support the critical goal of decarbonisation and resource preservation.”

And they then get mentored by people in the company like Ola. Nice touch.

There we have it: the most expensive car in the world is the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut

Or, maybe it isn’t…

We mentioned earlier what makes a car great.

And while the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut delivers well on many of those, one car that delivers even more so on them is the 300 SLR Roadster, more specifically 722 - the very car that took Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson around the most iconic race win in history.

Its value? No one knows for sure. Over €200,000,000.

I’d say with ease.

But not even Simon Kidston could prize that from the hands of Mercedes, could he?


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