You and I both know that money, sometimes, runs like water in the car world. Average cars cost around $34,000, but supercars run in the price range of $100,000 and up. That up could be $2.6 million in the case of a Bugatti Chiron, or something even more, depending on the “extraordinariness” of the car.
But in the world of auctions, forget all that. Wikipedia doesn’t even list cars selling for less than $4 million. (So there goes your Bugatti Chiron unless it had more to that.) And this includes only public auction (including buyers' premium) cars, not the ones privately auctioned, which can be as high as $52 million, reportedly.
So, what makes a car worth that much? It seems to me that any single thing or event doesn’t add that much of a value to a car’s worth; it’s an accumulation of various factors, which when lined up properly, can cause the car's value to skyrocket.
One of the things to enhance the market value of a car is the history of winning an auto show. Some cars listed here have not just one auto show to their names, but many, many. Going along with that is the ownership or even the association with a famous person, including racing drivers, rock stars, and film stars. Of course, low production volume is a no-brainer when it comes to increasing the desirability. And so is the brand name "Ferrari," as you shall see.
Of note, I didn’t list one of the Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spiders, as they seemed to be overpowering the list.
How many articles do you read where the first item on the list (or the last item, depending on the order) starts with a price in the range of millions of dollars? If you find a few that meet that criteria, then how many start with a Ferrari? Probably not many, but here, even the least costly car starts at $14.3 million. And it's a Ferrari. Yes, this 1964 Ferrari 250 LM was sold at the RM Sotheby's auction for north of $14 million! The 3.3-liter V-12 car capable of generating 320 HP was estimated to be valued somewhere between $12-15 million. Becoming famous after winning first in its class and eighth overall in the 24 Hours race, the car wasn't in the hands of only a few legendary racing drivers but also athletes Fausto Morello and Guillermo Ortega.
Here we go with another Ferrari. Presented to you is a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C, chassis 9051; the C in GTB/C stands for competizione. Custom-built for the 1966 racing season—with the thinnest aluminum shells applied to the body—it's one of the only 12 GTB/Cs built, and it retains its original chassis, drivetrain, and powertrain. That’s not to say it hasn’t done much in its car life; this Ferrari, with its V-12 engine, five-speed manual transaxle with a limited-slip differential and 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes, produced 333 BHP at 7,800 RPM in many of the races in Italy between 1966 and 1970. Eventually, it was maintained and restored by Motion Products Inc. before being auctioned. At the Gooding & Company auction, it earned $20,000 more than $14.5 million.
Coming in at #18, we've got the Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider. Only 56 were ever made—and not because production wasn't profitable or sales were dropping—but because of a desire to keep it exclusive by keeping it away from the hands of commoners. Of those, only 37 were equipped with the highly coveted covered-headlights—and this unit is one of them. Packed with a V-12 engine mated to a four-speed manual gearbox, this beauty gives you 240 HP at 7,000 RPM. It also has independent coil-spring front suspension with tubular shock absorbers and semi-elliptical leaf springs on the rear axle. This auction also offered the rare hardtop, something the other owners are dying to have. While the estimate for this car was between $13-15 million, it exceeded expectations by selling for almost $15.2 million!
Ooh, McLaren, the bomb. This car is special in many ways. It was the first road-legal McLaren F1, and this unit was the first McLaren F1 to be ever imported to the U.S. The creator, Gordon Murray, wanted to bring formula one technology into the public land, which he awesomely did with the help of Ron Dennis and Peter Stevens. At its time, the F1 was “the finest driving machine yet built for the public road,” according to Autocar after a road test. The powertrain consists of a 6.1 BMW S70/2 V12 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. In addition to winning several “first” titles, notable is the fact that it was being offered by the original owner at the auction, who raked in $15.6 million for it.
Prepared for a new season of Le Mans and World Sports Car Championship races that restricted sports car engines to three liters, this 250 Testa Rossa became victorious several times in its eight-year international racing history, being driven in both Europe and the U.S. The car—with its 3-liter V-12 engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission—had its coachwork designed by the great Scaglietti. The first Testa Rossa ever built, it was a harbinger of what the world had to see in the 1950s and the 1960s. Along with being driven by some of the legends during its lifetime, the first Testa Rossa has known, continuous owners—who wouldn’t have been known if they had owned the prototype. When it sold in 2011, it set a new record for the most expensive auction-selling, garnering $16.4 million.
The Berlinetta Speciale is special and brimming with a rich history. Back in 1912, Giovanni Bertone created a coach-building company in Turin, Italy. Because of the 1920s and 1930s milieu, Bertone couldn’t keep the company above water; it was only when his son, Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone, entered the game that they started winning. By 1960, Nuccio was helping the company build more than 30,000 cars a year throughout Europe, but Ferrari still paid no attention to Nuccio or his company. So, he did it on his own, with the help of another designer, Giugiaro. Together, they created this amazingly unique beauty, which went on to win several awards while being showered with accolades. It wasn’t long before Enzo Ferrari himself sent a letter to Nuccio, signed “Your—if you permit me—friend, Enzo Ferrari,” after Nuccio had sent him a Christmas gift. This car sold for $16.5 million.
It was originally owned by the famous industrial designer Gianfranco Frattini and has had only three owners. You may recall seeing a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The movie had a real Ferrari for a close-up shot, but replicas were used most of the other time; this one is real, though—and stays original all the time. You might've noticed that the SWB California Spider had appeared earlier, and you can be assured it will appear again on the list somewhere down the list, only fetching more and more green the next time. After all, this model is famous. This unit, in particular, was featured in the film Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. At the Gooding & Company auction, it went for $17.16 million.
The 1964 Ferrari 250 LM has a unique history. Equipped with a mid-mounted 3.3-liter V-12 engine, this gorgeous car was destined for the race track. While just 32 of these were built, #23 was the lucky winner, as it was ordered by the renowned privateer and racer Ronald Fry. He already had a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO but traded that in for the 250 LM. The combination of fine handling and raucous power, in addition to the exceptional prowess of Fry, made the 250 LM very successful on the track. Even though the car has been used in numerous races, Fry never had a significant accident with it, which is one of the reasons for the high auction price. While it was owned by a few other influential people after that, Fry’s initial ownership allowed the car to go for as high as $17.6 million.
Ranking 5th overall in the 12 Hours of Sebring race in 1960, this Ferrari looks exceptional, thanks to the racing drivers Johnny von Neumann and Luigi Chinetti, and of course, the genius Scaglietti. The V-12 engine in tandem with the four-speed manual gearbox can generate an estimated BHP of 275 at 7,000 RPM. The package also includes three Weber 40 DCL6 carburetors, Dunlop disc brakes, independent coil-spring front suspension with shock absorbers, and semi-elliptical leaf springs on the rear axle. Fully equipped with competition gears and accessories, this car won the Platinum award at the 2011 Cavallino Classic. Only one of nine alloy-body cars, this also has the desired covered headlights. Estimated to be worth $18 to 20 million, the beauty—and the beast—garnered an astonishing $18,150,000. Phew!
The powerful 4.9-liter V-12 engine has roared through a 24 Hours of Le Mans, a Mille Miglia, and a Silverstone race; racing driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez won the Silverstone endurance race in it. The coachwork, one of only five, was designed by the notable design firm Carrozzeria Pinin Farina. After being driven by greats like Gonzalez, Maglioli, and Marzotto, it was owned by the heir of Kleenex, Jim Kimberly. After that, the car was in a neglected condition, where surprisingly, most of its parts remained viable, but not in the best condition. Meticulously revived and rebuilt by none other than racing driver Jacques Swaters, the car returned to an excellent state. While it was involved in a four-year-long dispute about the proprietor, the car finally made it to the auction, selling for a whopping $18.4 million.
You already saw a couple of 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spiders on the list, and these continue to make their way onto the list. Here's another one. I mean, what do you expect? These are Ferraris, after all. This one also had a V-12 engine and a four-speed manual gearbox, generating 240 HP at 7,000 RPM—with just one difference. It was a barn-find. A barn-find is the discovery of a classic car that had been sitting in the garage, a storage facility or—surprise—a barn field. Most of the times, cars kept in barn conditions make their way to the scrapyard, not auction houses. But the 1961 Ferrari 250 not only made its way to the Artcurial auction house but also sold for an astonishing $18.5 million—a record for GT SWB California Spiders.
Let me repeat the year in case you overlooked it - 1939. That means this car has seen World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. And I must say - forget cars - not a lot of humans from those eras are still alive. It was the ultimate car of its generation, with only seven ever made, so it's now an ultra-rare car. The engine and the chassis cost $1,538 in 1939, and just like one would've done with other car manufacturers, the owner took the engine and chassis to a coachbuilder to create the body. This was one of the most advanced and exotic sports cars of its time. With a twin-supercharged eight-cylinder monster generating 180 BHP, it reached a top speed of 110 mph back in 1939. In an auction in 2016, it sold for $19.8 million.
A race that obliterated 14 cars, had exceptional racing drivers like Portago, Trintignant, and Gendebien, had brand names like Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Porsche, and worst yet, took a human’s life, bowed down to this rocket ship as Ecurie Ecosse drove it to victory. It has a 3.4-liter engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission. The package also includes three 45 DC03 Weber carburetors, independent front suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. This blue-body bomb looks like it carries one of the rocket’s propellers behind the driver’s seat, which undeniably helped it be the overall winner of the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans. In all seriousness, though, it’s a great car, and so far, has only had two owners after being owned by Ecosse. You missed out on it when it was auctioned for $21.8 million.
This one looks like the Jaguar D-Type but has a different history. Consisting of the first chassis of the five ever built, it's the winner of the 1959 Nurburgring 1,000 Kilometer race and has been in the hands of some of the legends, like Carroll Shelby, Jack Brabham, Roy Salvadori, and Sir Stirling Moss. The name, DBR1, comes from the initials of its designer, David Brown. After being sold to Aston Martin Owners' Club President John Dawnay after hitting the track through most of 1959 since inception, it had a number of owners; eventually, it received a reproduction engine, although the original was included in the auction. The staggering price of $22.5 million wasn't only record-breaking for Aston Martini but also for a British car manufacturer.
Just when you thought the 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 was expensive, you come across the 275 GTB/C Speciale, which went for nearly $4 million more than the previous one, for a total of $26.4 million. “Why is it so expensive?” you might ask. Well, there are only three of these beauties in the world, and this unit was the first in its line. It's rarer than its GTO siblings, which are rare themselves—so consider yourself lucky if you ever see this in your lifetime. With the two-tone gray paint on the lightweight aluminum body and the nose-cone front, you get a sporty vibe—while this unit didn’t, another 275 GTB/C Speciale finished third overall in the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans—yet, it retains a comfortable ride with all the interior delicacies suitable for a Ferrari.
OK, get ready for a neat story. Leaving the orphanage with just $15 at 18 years of age, Eddie Smith became an usher in Lexington, NC, and 15 years later, founded the National Wholesale. As his business continued to grow, Eddie began giving back to his community and to himself, as he bought a couple of Ferraris, including the NART (North American Racing Team) Spider. He would drive the car regularly and even raced in the 12 Hours race with his son. From the movie star Steve McQueen to fashion designer Ralph Lauren, all tried to buy the car, but to no avail; Eddie enjoyed the car too much. A couple of years after Eddie was deceased, his son put the car up on auction, which was sold for $27.5 million (of which $2.5 million covered the commissions and fees of the auction house). Only 10 of these were ever built.
Built to be raced in the 1956 edition of Mille Miglia, the 290 MM (standing for "Mille Miglia," in case you had a brain fog) was specifically designed for the Formula One racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio, a five-time F1 world champion. While four of these cars were built, this one saw a lot of races, titles and renowned figures in its lifetime—but never crashed even once in its eight-year racing career. The 3.5-liter V-12 finished fourth overall in the 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race held in Italy. The 290 MM was also driven to victory by Eugenio Castellotti, Luigi Musso, and Masten Gregory in the Buenos Aires 1,000 KM race. While it sold on the low range of the pre-estimate $28-32 million, $28 million, in the grand scheme of things, is a lot of money.
I know, I know... you're so used to seeing names like "Ferrari," that only now, you're going back to the subhead to fully absorb that it’s a Mercedes-Benz. It's the first and only Mercedes-Benz to be on this list. On July 12, 2013, this car set the record for being the most expensive auction car. The W196 was a Formula One racing car designed specifically for the 1954 and 1955 F1 seasons. It was, yet again, driven by the famous Fangio, amongst others. Fangio won the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix in this car. If you look closely, you can see that the 2.5-liter car seats only one. While it's no Ferrari, it's an important and historical Mercedes-Benz—important enough to be bought for $29.6 million.
Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourself. If you've been reading the list from the top, you know we started in the million-dollar range. We did, sure. But now, we're moving to a new height. The 1957 Ferrari 335S sold for an astonishing $35.7 million in February of 2016! Even many of the so-called celebrities aren't worth that much. One of the only four produced, it was first raced in the 1957 Sebring 12 Hours at the hands of Peter Collins, after which it saw the glory of many more races. It set the record for the first lap in the 24 Hours Le Mans and saw the glory of Swedish, Venezuela, and Cuba Grand Prixes—even winning the Cuban one in 1958. This car was also part of the Bardinon Collection; as you can tell, Bardinon was a collector of various exotic, high-end and high-costing cars.
On August 14, 2014, at the Bonhams auction house, California, this car set a feat that no car has ever achieved again, let alone surpassed. Ironically, this car was set at no-reserve, meaning it would've been sold regardless of the price… And yet, it made history as being the most expensive public-auction car at $38.1 million. The 3-liter, 300-HP V-12 engine had seen a lot in its life, including a reconstruction after a collision by an Olympic gold medalist. It won two seasons of the FIA GT Championship and was also owned by the now-deceased racing driver Jo Schlesser at some point in its lifetime. While $38.1 million is an absurd amount of money, some pundits were disappointed that it hadn’t gone for more, which they had expected. Can you believe that?!?