In June 2022, auction house Sotheby’s made history when bidding ended on a gull-wing car from 1955. The hammer fell at €125 million, or $143 million, on a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé, a silver bullet of a vehicle that now holds the record for being the most expensive car ever sold. The sale was in the financial stratosphere normally reserved for fine art.
The sticker shock stems from the fact that the Coupé—named after its designer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut—is one of just two ever made. Both are prototypes, and had remained in the possession of Mercedes-Benz since their creation. As the company is unlikely to put the other one up for sale, this represented a rare opportunity, and bidding reflected it.
What makes the 300 SLR so special? Widely believed to be an engineering marvel ahead of its time, it was modeled after the W196 R racing coupé, which earned the company two Formula 1 championships in 1954 and 1955. Uhlenhaut was said to have used the prototypes as his company commute vehicle, which could clock speeds of up to 186 mph.
The Uhlenhaut never made it to the track, however. Following a devastating 1955 crash at Le Mans, in which a Mercedes vehicle was involved in an accident killing driver Pierre Levegh and 83 spectators due to flying debris, the company withdrew from any racing competition until 1987.
The winning bidder is a private collector who was not identified, though they’ve agreed the Coupé will go on public display on select occasions. Mercedes-Benz will retain ownership of the other prototype. The company has also pledged proceeds from the sale will be used to start a fund for scholarships and education for environmental research.