It is widely known how much money classic art, such as paintings, can command given the right buyer. Today, it's the same with cars. As the automotive industry is rapidly evolving, the production of vehicles it all began with has long been discontinued. Left and forgotten in the past, these classic examples represent an era, a piece of automotive history, and some collectors are willing to cash out absurd amounts of money to preserve it.
But when it comes to fetching millions at auctions, it's neither the car's age nor model that makes it so valuable; it's the history attached to it. And for some collectors, no price is too high when it comes to buying a true classic masterpiece. In this list, we'll show you the 10 most expensive classic cars ever sold at auction, and what it is that makes them so valuable. Let's get started.
10 1955 Jaguar D-Type
The Jaguar D-Type is nothing short of a true classic. To say this car is exceedingly rare would be a vast understatement. A marvel to the eye, this car is also the very first designated D-Type to leave the production factory as well as the only one that has left the trying 24 Hours of Le Mans completely intact, after taking first place driven by Ecurie Ecosse. Since then, it has had only two caring owners, following which it was auctioned in perfect condition by RM Sotheby's for a remarkable price of $21,780,000.
9 1935 Duesenberg SSJ
Although this list will obviously be filled with Italian sports cars commanding higher bids than this beautiful example of early american engineering, the SSJ takes the cake for the most expensive American automobile ever sold at an auction. It is also the oldest car on this list.
Amazingly, being kept in perfect condition for over 80 years, this SSJ retains the original chassis and engine producing roughly 400 horsepower (that's right, 400 hp from a pre-WW2 car!). Only two of these had ever been built, and this one had seen just two owners before being passed on to a lucky bidder for $22 million at a 2018 Gooding & Company auction.
8 1956 Aston Martin DBR1
Yet another record-breaking car on this list, the Aston Martin DBR1 ASTONished the bidders at the 2017 RM Sotheby's auction fetching a total of $22.5 million. It still stands the most expensive British automobile ever auctioned, and it has a history to back that price up. In 1959, this beautiful race car was crowned the winner of the Nürburgring 1000 KM. It was driven by, among others, legendary racers like Caroll Shelby and Stirling Moss. RM Sotheby's auction house quotes it as "the most important model in Aston Martin history."
7 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale by Scaglietti
The first of the three special models created for the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, this 275 GTB/C was hand-built featuring a Scaglietti aluminum body. Although the exterior of the car had been repainted and fitted with a nose vent and bumpers to allow for road use, it still packs the original 3.3L V12 producing roughly 320 horsepower. Today, this car drives just as well as when it came out of the factory ready for the Le Mans over 50 years ago. Its pristine condition, superb rarity, a well-documented owner history allowed it to rack up a final bid of $26.4 million at a 2014 RM Sotheby's auction during Monterey Car Week in California.
6 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 S N.A.R.T. Spider by Scaglietti
Having had only one owner since its birth in 1967, this beautifully preserved 275 GTB Spider commanded an opening bid of no less than $10 million at 2013 RM Sotheby's auction in Monterey, California. Considering the car's condition and the fact that only 10 of these North American Racing Team models have even been built, the bidding settled at a whopping $27.5 million dollars, making it the second most expensive car sold at that time. However, RM Sotheby's reported that all proceeds from the auction were aimed for charity.
5 1956 Ferrari 290 MM by Scaglietti
When collectors buy vintage cars, they usually buy them for the history; and this 1956 290MM model has got a lot of it. Bodied by Scaglietti, this beautiful convertible has gone on to compete in numerous races, most notably placing 4th in the 1956 Mille Miglia, driven by formula 1 racer and five-time World Drivers' Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. The car is in pristine condition, but it's not all looks - inside the vent-mounted bonnet Ferrari placed a then-impressive 3.5L V12 throwing 320 horsepower straight to the ground. RM Sotheby's sold it in 2015, and for no less than 28,050,000 dollars.
4 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula 1
Also known as the most expensive Mercedes-Benz ever sold, this mint-condition vintage formula 1 car has earned the famed Juan Manuel Fangio two successive Grand Prix wins - one in Germany and one in Switzerland.
In December 1955, after appearing in a total of five world championship Grand Prix races, the car was finally retired to the Daimler-Benz museum, until 2013, when it was sold for a whopping $29,650,095. At the time when Bonhams reported the sale, the W196 was the most expensive car to ever be sold at a public auction.
3 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport Scaglietti
Attached to any vintage racing car, Scaglietti's name is bound to blast its value through the roof, and the 335 Sport is no exception. One of four ever produced, this 335 Sport left the factory with a 3.8L V12 producing roughly 360 hp. However, after finishing 6th in the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race in 1957, Ferrari decided to upgrade it with a 4.1 liter engine that boosted its power output closer to 400 horsepower. It went on to feature in races ranging from Mille Miglia to the 24-hour Le Mans and Grand Prix. At an Artcurial auction held in Paris on February 5, 2016, the car was finally sold for $35.7 million.
2 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta
In 2014, Bonhams auction house was proud to announce the world-record-breaking bid on their prized piece - a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta. What makes this car special is its extensive racing background (including a 1962 Tour de France 2nd place overall finishing position) and superb maintenance throughout its 5-decade lifespan by a single owner. A part of the extremely rare GTO family, this car had every ingredient for a record-breaking sale, and on August 14, 2014 it went for a stunning $38,115,000. However, 4 years later, Bonhams would see that record shattered.
1 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
Only another 250 GTO can outprice the Berlinetta, and this one is even more special. RM Sotheby's calls it "the world's most important, desirable, and legendary motor car." Simply an incredibly unique and irrefutable piece of racing history, this mint-condition 250 GTO was the car responsible for no less than 15 overall and class wins in the period between 1962 and 1965. Among other wins, it took the 1st in class win at the 1963 Targa Florio with Maurizio Grana and Gianni Bulgari behind the wheel, and another 1st in class win in 1964 driven by Luigi Taramazzo and Corrado Ferlaino.
Currently holding the world record for the most expensive car ever sold at an auction, the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO was able to fetch a staggering $48,405,000 at a 2018 RM Sotheby's auction during Monterey Car Week in California, knocking the earlier record holder - a 1963 250 GTO Berlinetta - out of the park. Although RM Sotheby's never disclosed who the new lucky owner of this priceless piece of history is, by purchasing this car they were also granted access to some of the most prestigious global automotive events.