• Column: Siddhraj Singh EP-6

Delving into the most expensive car in the world yet!

The international classic car market has been incredible over the past decade. Cars once seen as just a hobby became bonafide investments, often beating blue-chip stocks in growth and reliability! A price correction was expected around 2018-19 but with the pandemic, prices started to creep up, especially for newer classics and modern supercars. And last month something we didn’t think possible happened – the sale of what is now the world’s most expensive car. First, the back story. During the 1930s and ‘50s (with World War II interrupting) Mercedes ran a very successful racing program. An engineer named Rudolf Uhlenhaut worked at Mercedes-Benz and would be the technical director and later head the racing program. Racing was wildly successful under him and he was responsible for the 300SL race car that spawned the legendary 300SL ‘Gullwing’.

A very capable driver himself, Uhlenhaut was developing a successor to the 300SL using the W196S chassis. W196 was the code for the highly successful car that raced in F1 (W196R) and sportscar endurance racing (W196S). After a massive accident in the 1955 Le Mans race Mercedes pulled out of all racing and the two prototype cars Uhlenhaut was building were no longer needed and never raced. He modified them to use one as his company car, often hitting 290kmph on the Autobahn! These thus came to be known as the 300SLR ‘Uhlenhaut’. These are essentially Formula 1 cars with a road legal aerodynamic coupe body, essentially what Mercedes is trying to achieve with the Mercedes-AMG One supercar today.

The two cars are part of the company’s racing lore and have always been in its collection, until news came of one being sold, the ‘Red’ interior car, in a very hush, hush auction for a whopping $142 million, smashing all records. That’s roughly Rs 1,100 crores! The car that held the previous, albeit unconfirmed record, was a Ferrari 250 GTO, sold for around $70 million. This doubles that. This kind of price is not unheard of in the art world but has shocked the car world. Also, Mercedes letting go of one of its most famous cars is something no one expected. That said, it retains the second ‘blue’ car, besides getting a massive one up over its Italian rivals dominating the classic car market. The buyer gets to be the first owner of a very special car, the only one in private hands (comparatively, there are 36 250 GTOs in private hands), and it can be considered a work of art.

Is it a good investment? The short answer is yes, but that’s the case for all art right now. For the buyer, it is much more than that. They get to own and drive one of the most legendary cars and in this post-COVID world where life feels fragile, people who can afford it are indulging their passions, not waiting for that ‘one day’. This has also shaken up the market for extremely rare cars. We can expect to see more one-offs being offered up for sale and big figures being realised. There are few cars that could command similar figures, but it remains hypothetical, till owners can be convinced to sell. Wonder how many months that will take?

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