1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé most expensive car sold – one of only 2, priced at RM627mil
It’s clear that capitalist excess is alive and well, despite hardships created by the pandemic and various other complications. Mercedes-Benz has announced that its most priceless possession actually did have a price after all – its 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé, one of only two in existence, became the most expensive car ever sold when it crossed the auction block for an eye-watering €135 million (RM627 million).
Yes, the world’s costliest object on four wheels is a Three-pointed Star with an SLR badge, but it isn’t a McLaren. This is the car that gave that 2000s hypercar its name – a ’50s road-going coupé version of a Formula 1-derived race car, the latter garnering instant success in its all-too-brief competitive life.
The SLR (short for Super Licht Rennen, or Super Light Racing) was conceived to out-300 SL the legendary 300 SL, itself a highly-successful Le Mans-winning racer turned road car. Its name came from a lightweight aluminium spaceframe chassis clothed in magnesium alloy body panels, motivated by a 302 PS 3.0 litre straight-eight engine with desmodromic valves (later popularised by Ducati) and mechanical direct injection.
It entered the 1955 sports car racing season and promptly won its first race, the Mille Miglia, in the hands of Stirling Moss. But the sweet taste of victory soon turned bitter at the SLR’s third race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it was involved in what remains the deadliest accident in motorsport, with 82 killed.
Such was the impact of the catastrophe that despite the SLR winning every other race – securing the World Sportscar Championship in the process – Mercedes pulled out of racing entirely. Stuttgart wouldn’t put its name on a competition engine, let alone its own race car, for another 30 years.
The withdrawal of the SLR came with a Silver Arrow-shaped lining, as it freed up one of the two coupé versions, originally planned for the then-cancelled Carrera Panamericana, to be used as the personal car for chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut – hence the name. These vehicles had even sexier versions of the SL’s curvaceous bodywork, replete with the trademark gullwing doors, and weighed just 998 kg.
The fascination surrounding the SLR was boosted further by the near-mythic status of Uhlenhaut, who even Mercedes claims has lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife three seconds faster than star driver (ha ha) and four-time F1 champion Juan-Manuel Fangio. Legend has it that the man, late for a meeting, once blitzed the 220 km from Munich to Stuttgart in just over an hour. With a top speed circa 290 km/h, the Uhlenhaut Coupé was the fastest car in all the land.
With such rarity and the number of stories behind it, it’s no surprise that the Uhlenhaut Coupé, sold by RM Sotheby’s at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, smashed the previous record set by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO in 2018 – and by a margin of more than €90 million (RM422 million). Not only is the SLR the most expensive car in the world, it’s also one of the top ten most valuable things ever to go under the hammer.
All that money is at least going to a good cause, contributing to a Mercedes-Benz Fund that will provide school and university scholarships for environmental science projects. The programme is aimed at the less financially privileged and include extracurricular elements like mentorships. The fund will be jointly developed and managed by an experienced partner, which will be announced together with details later this year.
As for the car itself, the private collector who bought it has agreed to display it publicly on special occasions. The second unit will be retained by Mercedes and continue to be displayed at the museum in Stuttgart.