Most expensive cars ever sold at auction

9 Feb, 2016 8:00am Steve Walker

What is the world’s most expensive car ever sold at auction? Find out as we list the most valuable cars ever to go under the hammer

The market for classic cars is one that just keeps growing. The world's super-rich aren't short of a few bob and are eager for somewhere to invest it. That has seen demand for ultra-rare cars boom in recent years, pushing classic car auction prices up ever higher. This trend looks set to continue, making the best classic, exotic and luxury cars look like fairly sound investments - if you've got a few spare million kicking around...

So what are the most expensive cars ever sold at auction and where are they selling? The records for the world's most expensive cars have mainly tumbled at a few prestigious annual auctions: the Bohnhams sale at The Quail, the Goodings & Company Pebble Beach auction and the RM Auctions Monterey Sale all take place during Monterey Car Week in the US. The Bonhams sale at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK has also seen some record-breaking prices in recent years, as has the RM Auctions event in Maranello, the home of Ferrari.

And, predictably, it’s Ferrari that dominates the most expensive car charts with 9 of the top 10 most expensive cars in the world carrying that famous Italian badge. From the outside looking in, the sums involved seem unbelievable and the theatre in the salerooms as these multi-million Pound deals are done is incredible. The idea of a scratch of your nose at an inopportune moment landing you a £10million 1950s Ferrari is enough to have anyone sitting on their hands.

The most expensive cars ever sold at auction

Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta

So here we go, below are the world’s most expensive cars sold at auction. We’re restricting this most expensive car list to auction sales as these can be easily verified.

Cars are regularly rumoured to have changed hands for even larger amounts in private sales. A Ferrari 250 GTO is believed to have been sold for £32million in 2013 but that was a private deal between two collectors so it doesn’t make our list of auction records.

It’s a similar story with the 1936 Bugatti Type-57 SC Atlantic that was reportedly sold to the Mullin Automotive Museum in California for between $30million and $40million in 2010. 

The models are listed in reverse order and we've given the prices in US dollars as that's the currency in which the vast majority of them were bought... 

10. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider

Auction: Gooding & Company, Pebble Beach 2015
Price: $16,830,000

Another Ferrari 250 - this time a drop-top Spider, sought after due to its covered headlights. It's one of only 37 of its kind, with coachwork by Scaglietti. The last time this car was sold was in the 1960's - making this a true period piece.

9. 1964 Ferrari 250 LM

Auction: RM Auctions New York Sale 2015
Price: $17,600,000

The Ferrari 250 LM that sold for $17 million in 2015 was touted as one of the finest examples of Ferrari’s first mid-engined car in existence. It was comissioned by the Fry family (of chocolate and confectionary fame) and remained in the UK, racing, until 1984 when it was sold to its first non-UK owner. It was the 23rd of a 32-car production run.

8. 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione

1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione

Auction: Bonhams, Goodwood Festival of Speed 2014
Price: $18,400,177 (£11,022,525)

The Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione was built purely for use by the Ferrari works racing team with a 4.9-litre V12 mounted in the front. It finished second at the Mille Miglia in 1954 with Umberto Maglioli at the wheel. The car topped £11million at the Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in 2014.

7. Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider

Auction: Arcturial, Paris, 2015
Price: $18,500,000

A true barn find, this Ferrari 250 was intended for an eventual museum exhibit by owner Robert Baillon, but it whiled away the years in a collection with around 100 other cars. When 59 of them eventually went to auction, this Ferrari blew away the competition, and its $18.5 million pricetag went a long way towards the $28m total generated by the auction.

6. 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale by Scaglietti

Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale front

Auction: RM Auctions Monterey Sale 2014
Price: $26.400,000 (£15,776,829)

This £15.7m Ferrari is even rarer than the fabled 250 GTO. It's one of only three Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale models that were built by the Maranello marque in late 1964 and early 1965 to homologate its new 275 GTB race car. The Ferrari 275 GTB was designed and built to challenge the Ford GT40 and Shelby Cobra Daytona at Le Mans in 1965. It was the first Ferrari to feature independent rear suspension and represented the evolution of the successful 250 series cars, including the iconic 250 GTO.

With aluminium bodywork, a lighter chassis and a tuned V12 engine (with an extra 70bhp) mounted lower in the car to bring the centre of gravity closer to the track, the 275 GTB/C Speciale was significantly lighter and faster than a standard 275 GTB road car. This particular 275 GTB/C Speciale never saw competitive action on the track but one of the other cars took third place overall at Le Mans in 1965.

5. 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S NART Spider

1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S NART Spider

Auction: RM Auctions Monterey Sale 2013
Price: $27,500,000 (£16,477,426) 

The fully-restored Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider was one of only 10 in the world when it sold for £16million in 2013 and had a detailed history including an appearance with Steve McQueen in the film The Thomas Crown Affair.

The NART spiders were the brainchild of car importer Luigi Chinetti who recognised the desire for open-topped sports cars in the American market. He requested a series of convertible 275 GTBs from Enzo Ferrari that carried the familiar NART (North American Racing Team) badge on the rear.

4. 1956 Ferrari 290 MM

1956 Ferrari 290 MM
Auction: RM Sotheby's, New York City, 2015
Price: $28,050,000 (£18,512,896)

The ex-works Ferrari 290 MM sold in New York City, setting records for the most expensive car sold in 2015, the most expensive car sold in New York City, and the most expensive car RM Sotheby's has ever sold. It was built for Juan Manuel Fangio to race in the 1956 Mille Miglia, and went on to a distinguished career afterwards. 

It's one of only four of its kind in existence, and is attached to names like Alfonso de Portago and Wolfgang von Trips, who raced it through the cars lifetime.

3. 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196

1954 Mercedes-Benz W196

Auction: Bonhams, Goodwood Festival of Speed 2013
Price: $29,600,000 (£17,735,702)

This Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix car was driven by 5-time Formula One world champion Juan Manuel Fangio and that helped it to a £17.7million sale price at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2013. The car was sold in ‘authentic’ condition with visible blemishes and a thin layer of grime as if it had just rolled off the track. You pay all that money and they don’t even run it through a car wash for you!     

2. 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport Scaglietti

1957 Ferrari 335 - most expensive cars
Auction: Artcurial, Paris 2016
Price: $35,700,000 (£24,845,153)

The impossibly curvy Ferrari 335 Sport Scaglietti pictured here has a racing history as long as your arm - and that's responsible for its place on this list. From a first race in the Sebring 12 Hours, through the Mille Miglia and eventually Le Mans, the car has done it all. Due to Euro/Dollar exchange rates its position on this list is somewhat contended - but it's a worthy contender nonetheless.

1. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO

Auction: Bonhams The Quail 2014
Price: $38,115,000 (£22,843,633)

This 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta is the most expensive car ever sold at auction, for now. It was built to contest the 1963 FIA World GT Championships and the 250 GTOs won that year as well as in the following 1963 event.

Only 39 250 GTOs were built by Ferrari and this particular 62-63 example is one of the best maintained and most raced of them all. 

More of the world’s most expensive cars sold at auction…

11. Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Speciale - 2015, $16,500,000
12. Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa - 2011, $16,390,000
13. Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider - 2014, $15,180,000
14. Ferrari 250 LM - 2013, $14,300,000
15. Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato - 2015, $14,300,000

Which of these cars whould you bid on if you had a few million quid kicking about? let us know in the comments section below. Then check out our story on the world's fastest cars.

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