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$29.6 million Mercedes is most expensive car sold at auction

The winning 1954 Formula 1 race car driven by Juan Manuel Fangio has set a new record.

By Clifford Atiyeh Jul 12, 2013 9:09AM
A Mercedes-Benz race car sold for nearly $30 million at the Goodwood Festival of Speed early this morning, the highest sum paid for any car at auction.

The 1954 W196 Formula 1 racer sold to an unnamed collector for a staggering £19.6 million, or about $29.6 million at current exchange rates, according to Bonhams, the auction house that managed the sale.

While this W196 Formula 1 racer isn't at all a beauty like the 300SLR roadster that swept the Mille Miglia in 1955, none other than Juan Manuel Fangio took it to victory in the 1954 German and Swiss Grands Prix. Fangio, along with other greats such as Sir Stirling Moss, was key to the factory's successful post-war return to racing, and this very car helped him clinch his second of five Formula 1 championships.

Mercedes dominated circuit races and rallies throughout the 1950s by fielding incredible drivers and pioneering technologies – fuel injection, space frames, inboard disc brakes, independent suspensions – that made its cars nearly unbeatable. At Fangio's request, Mercedes converted the W196 into an open-wheeled configuration to better handle the tighter courses. The engine, a 2.5-liter inline-eight making 257 horsepower, was tilted to lower the car's height and center of gravity.

Much of the technology first seen on the W196 F1 car made it to the production 300SL "gullwing" coupe that same year, and while a few thousand of those coupes and roadsters were made and regularly sell for $1 million, Fangio's car is one of just nine to survive. Even with that pedigree and exclusivity – not to mention the bare aluminum body, which has just enough dents and imperfections to add a few more million – the price is a surprise.

Ferrari, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and many other extinct brands of this era regularly go for millions each, but few cars crest into double-digit millions. In 2011, a 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa race car sold for $16.4 million at the Pebble Beach Concours, which at the time was the most expensive car sold at auction.

Still, the W196 isn't the most expensive car ever sold. That honor, if you can call it that, goes to a green 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that went for $35 million last year in a private sale.

The annual Goodwood Festival's claim to fame is gathering the world's most storied race cars and motorcycles over a single weekend in southern England – and running them on a short road course. More events continue through Sunday.

[Source: Bonhams]
Jul 12, 2013 11:02AM
I am still amused at the 62 Ferrari GTO that sold for 35 million.  In 1962-63 Ferrari brought out the GTO that was going to dominate GT racing world wide.  In 1962 Chevrolet brought out the 1963 Sting Ray split-window coupe with independent rear suspension and the mighty fuel injected 327.  It was going to dominate GT racing worldwide.  Millions of 1960's dollars spent on the development of both the Ferrari and the Corvette.

Then a chicken farmer from Texas threw a Ford small block (260 then 289) V8 from a Ford Fairlane in the lowly AC Ace roadster and the Cobra was born.  Then the Cobra proceeded to mop up every race course in the world with the sad corpses of Ferraris and Corvettes.   Carroll Shelby got $5,000 to develop the Cobra, which was built by hot rodders in a garage, and with an agreement from Ford to supply engines, Shelby humiliated both Ferrari and Corvette, and many other foreign sports racing cars.  The 1965 Cobra Coupes would have won the 1965 World championship if Ferrari hadn't pulled strings and removed two races (that the Cobra won) from the points standings.  In 1966 even cheating by Ferrari and a 396 From Chevrolet couldn't keep the Cobras from being world champions.

Enjoy your Ferrari.  Magnificent loser.

Jul 12, 2013 10:36AM
Loved the race cars from those years, both F1 and Indy  Even the midgets and the dirt track cars. I know they weren't as safe as the cars of today, but they "Looked" like race cars!!
Jul 12, 2013 10:37AM
I'm sure $30 million is just "pocket change" to whoever bought it.
Jul 12, 2013 10:31AM
Thes sales are only for people with wealth so vast that they have "funny money"
Jul 12, 2013 11:18AM
those were the days when the driver had nothing but horsepower and guts and skill
Jul 12, 2013 10:56AM
Damn! I should have kept my 56 Gullwing and my 52 Jag XK120M roadster. Yeah! hindsight!
Jul 12, 2013 11:30AM
That's more than I made all last week.
Jul 12, 2013 10:50AM
I'd rather see someone own it and drive it in classic races than sit in a museum.  I don't care how much the buyer spent; it's worth what someone is willing to pay.  Maybe when he goes to sell it the price will "only" go to 10  million.  Who knows?  Who cares?
Jul 12, 2013 10:54AM
for the super rich only, i can only go to the mecum auctions
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