The 11 Most Expensive Cars Ever Sold At Auction
Auctions are great for more than just spending your family's fortune of monopoly money on the world's most spectacular cars. They're a peek into the collective car tastes of the present through the window of the past. So, we took a look back at every car that's set the world record for highest price sold at auction. These cars, and their prices, are at the same time staggering and perfect fodder for Warren Buffett's motivational poster.
Ed. Note: The most expensive car ever sold was a Ferrari 250 GTO that went for a mind-boggling $52 million, but it never went to auction.
In 1971, a Bugatti Type 57 went for a then-staggering sum of $59,000. Today, that's the equivalent of just under $350,000. To say the market has changed since then is an understatement; if you have a chance to buy one of these for only $350 grand, the return on investment is worth the kidney you'll have to sell.
Duesenberg was, of course, the American carmaker that forged its rep by taking Rolls-Royce, among others, to school on what great engineering and luxury really meant. The phrase "it's a doozy" refers to the cars and their excellent performance for the day. Today, you'll be hard pressed to find one for less than seven figures, but in 1971, it set a world record at $90,000 (half a mil today).
If you recognize the 770, it's because you know it from archival footage of WWII, when it was used to schlep Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis through parades. It pretty much owned 1973, setting and re-setting the record, ultimately landing at $176,000, or just under a million today-dollars.
Aside from its obvious good looks, the 500K Roadster was sort of a one-trick pony...but that one trick was that it was able to drive all day at over 100 mph while maintaining nearly 10 mpg, thanks to its supercharged straight-eight. There are some cars made today that couldn't do that, which sort of explains how one sold for $1.45M ($3.3M today) in 1984.
The P3 was Alfa's Grand Prix racer—the pre-war equivalent of Formula 1. It's historically significant because A) it was the first open-wheeled, single-seat race car, and B) it was raced by Scuderia Ferrari long before Enzo started making his namesake cars. Its 1985 selling point of $2.8 million would be more than $6.1 million today.
The DBR2 was Aston's follow up to the Le Mans-winning DBR; it's almost universally regarded as one of the most gorgeous race cars of all time. Because it was driven by people like Sir Stirling Moss and Carroll Shelby, the fact that it only won one race and didn't even finish Le Mans didn't exactly hurt its value: $3.4M 1985 dollars ($7.5M in '13) the day after the Alfa P3 sold.
Just six Bugatti Royals were ever built, and this one wasn't originally sold to the public. After WWII, however, there was a severe shortage of refrigerators in France, and the story goes that American racer Briggs Cunningham bought both this and another Bugatti for the equivalent of $571 and two GE refrigerators. Really. Regardless, its history since then has been nuts: it set the auction record in 1986 at $6.5 million, then bounced around a few other owners, including the founder of Domino's Pizza, who paid over $8M for it.
This is the other car Cunningham bought for a few hundred bucks and a couple of refrigerators. Unlike the Berline de Voyage, however, Cunningham kept this one until he closed his collection, whereupon it instantly went for just shy of eight figures in 1987. A few years later, the car sold privately for over $15M, which is over $28M today.
Before you start consulting the Google, yes, this is the car that took a swan dive out of the garage in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In 2008, one came up for auction that was owned by James Coburn. British DJ Chris Evans snatched it up for just under $11 million.
Named for the color of the cylinder heads on the engine, the 250 Testa Rossa was the car to have if you wanted to be successful in motor racing in the late '50s. It set a new record in 2009 at $12.5 million, then smashed its own record by topping the $16 million barrier two years later.
The W196 was Mercedes' Formula 1 entry in the mid-1950s, and it sort of dominated in the hands of Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. The very fact that one was up for auction last year was eyebrow-raising, to a point that it wasn't even Earth-shattering that it came perilously close to breaking the $30 million barrier.