In May 2022, one of the two Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe was sold for a record amount. Broker Simon Kidston explains in a podcast with Chris Harris how the secret auction at the Mercedes museum went down.
Simon Kidston is a British classic car dealer who founded the Brooks Europe auction house that later became Bonhams Europe. In 2006 he left Bonhams to establish Kidston SA in Geneva. Kidston negotiated for more than a year and a half with Mercedes the sale of the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe, which he considers the most desirable car in the world.
Mercedes has received several offers to sell the car over the years but has refused each time. When the offer reached around €100 million, Kidston went with a client to negotiate the sale, but Mercedes stopped discussions.
But last year, Mercedes decided to green-light the sale and contacted Sotheby’s auction house. The auction was secret and held in the Mercedes museum, which was closed on the day of the auction. Instead, Simon Kidston came to the venue, and nine other interested clients bid over the phone. The auction started at 50 million euro ($54 million) and proceeded in increments of five and ten million euros ($5.4 to 10.8 million).
At 130 million euro ($141 million), only two clients remained in the running: Simon Kidston and another on the phone. After consultations, the telephone client raised his bid to 132 million euro ($141.6 million), and Kidston bid even more: 135 million euro ($147 million). Because the other bidder dropped out, the car sold for 135 million euro ($147 million), making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction.
The auction took place on 5 May 2022, but Mercedes didn’t announce until 19 May 2022 that Sotheby’s held the auction at which the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe sold for 135 million euro ($147 million).
Only two Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe examples were built by Mercedes to compete in the world championship in 1956 but never raced again. The second original Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe remained in Mercedes’ possession and is still on display in the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart. However, the example sold is more valuable because it was used as a company car by Rudolf Uhlenhaut.
Although the name 300 SLR makes you think of a racing version derived from the 300 SL, the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe had nothing in common with the 300 SL except the gullwing doors and space frame. In reality, it was a Formula 1 car with a coupe body that could legally drive on the road. And the 3-liter inline 8-cylinder engine with desmodromic valve timing was utterly different from the 300 SL’s 3-liter inline 6-cylinder engine.
Uhlenhaut used this car as a company vehicle and drove it regularly from his home to the factory in Unterturkheim over a distance of 12 km (7.5 miles). He also participated in the Swedish Grand Prix with it.
Simon Kidston had the opportunity to drive the car on a 60 km (37 miles) tour around Lake Garda and was shocked at how noisy it was. He says that after driving it, he understood why Uhlenhaut went deaf in his old age. The famous Stirling Moss had the same impression. With Denis Jenkinson, he set a record in the 1955 Mille Miglia race, covering 1,606 km (998 miles) in 10 hours, seven minutes, and 48 seconds at an average speed of 157.6 kph (97.6 mph). No other engine sounds as intense as that of the 300 SLR,” said Stirling Moss later.
Why did Mercedes sell such a valuable car, of which there are only two examples? Although 135 million euro ($147 million) is a lot of money, it’s not a big deal for a company like Mercedes. It could also be a marketing campaign. After the sale of the car, Olla Kallenius, CEO of Mercedes-Benz, said:
“To achieve the highest price ever paid for a vehicle is both an honor and a mission: a Mercedes-Benz is by far the most valuable car in the world.”
Then, on the very same evening, Mercedes announced that it had changed its strategy, would focus more on the luxury range in the coming years, and wanted to sell more expensive cars.
And as for the destination of the money made from the sale of the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe, Kallenius said it would be used to finance a global scholarship program. The Mercedes-Benz Fund will encourage the next generation to follow in Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s innovative footsteps to develop new technologies, especially in environmental protection and conservation.
Among the top 10 most expensive cars ever sold are seven Ferrari models, two Mercedes, and an Aston Martin. The second most expensive model ever sold was a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO bought by former Microsoft development chief Gregory Whitten. He paid $48.4 million at the August 2018 Monterey Concours d’Elegance auction.