Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR – the world’s most expensive car
The world’s most expensive car in 2022 was a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR that was reportedly sold from the company’s Stuttgart museum stock for a staggering 135 million euros (US$142 million).
This 300 SLR coupé is valued at nearly double that of a Ferrari 250 GTO, which sold for US$70 million at a private sale in 2018.
Only a handful of carefully selected car collectors were invited to a secret auction, held by RM Sotherby’s on the 5th May 2022. The winning bid was made by British classic car dealer Simon Kidston, on behalf of an unnamed client.
Criteria laid down by Mercedes-Benz ensured that the new custodian of the Silver Arrow would lavish the car with the same attention as the company, while also exhibiting it at events.
All proceeds from the sale are destined for a charitable benefit fund for young people, set up by Mercedes-Benz.
Why so valuable
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR – LSDSL
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W196S) was a two-seat sports racer that took part in the 1955 World Sportscar Championship before a catastrophic crash and fire at Le Mans later that year ended its domination prematurely.
The car was originally designated SL-R – Sport Leicht-Rennen (Sport Light-Racing) – and later condensed to SLR. Technically, the W196S was based on the W196R, Formula One racing car’s M196R, 2.5-litre, fuel-injected, straight-eight engine, but with a 78mm bore and stroke for a displacement of three litres. Its rated power was 276bhp (203kW) at 7400rpm.
To reduce crankshaft torsion, power was taken from the centre of the engine via a gear set, rather than at the end of the crankshaft. Ii also had a dry-sump lubrication system and chromium-coated, aluminium cylinder liners.
Mercedes-Benz designed single desmodromic – no valve spring – intake and exhaust valves per cylinder, actuated by twin, spur-gear-driven, overhead camshafts.
The fuel system was a direct fuel injection system with a mechanically-driven, eight-plunger, in-line injection pump, made by Bosch and ignition was by double magnetos.
The 300 SLR was front-engined, with its long longitudinally-mounted engine placed behind the front axle for optimal weight distribution. A brazed, steel-tube, space frame chassis carried ultra-light Elektron magnesium-alloy bodywork, which contributed substantially to the low vehicle mass of 901kg for the roadster and 1117kg for the coupé.
The W196S’s single-seat driving position was modified to two-abreast, open-top seating, for sports car racing and headlights were added.
As in the W196R, the engine was canted to the right at 53 degrees, to lower the car’s profile, resulting in slicker aerodynamics and a distinctive bulge on the passenger side bonnet.
To enhance stopping power, extra-wide-diameter drum brakes that wouldn’t fit inside 16-inch wheels were used, mounted inboard with short half shafts and two universal joints per wheel.
Suspension was four-wheel independent, with torsion bar springs. The front end had double wishbones and the rear had cross-over swing axles, pivoted from the opposite sides of the chassis.
At Le Mans in 1955, the 300 SLRs were also equipped with large, rear-mounted air brakes that hinged up above the rear deck to slow the cars at the end of the fast straights.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR open sports car won nine of the 12 races it entered and dominated the world sports car championship in 1955, with Stirling Moss behind the wheel.
He won the 1955 Mille Miglia in a 300 SLR, setting the event record at an average of 157.650km/h (97.96mph) for 1600 km (990 miles), assisted by co-driver Denis Jenkinson, a British motor-racing journalist. Teammate Juan Manuel Fangio was second in a sister car.
The 300 SLRs a 1-2-3 world championship win in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, Ireland and a 1-2 at the Targa Florio in Sicily, earning Mercedes victory in the 1955 World Sportscar Championship. Further non-championship trophies were also scored at the Eifelrennen in Germany and in the Swedish Grand Prix.
However, the leading 300 SLRs were withdrawn from the 24-hour race at Le Mans after a horrific accident, involving a team car driven by Pierre Levegh, who rear-ended an Austin-Healey, causing his car to become airborne and tear into the spectator crowd. Eighty-four spectators and Levegh lost their lives, in what remains the highest-fatality accident in the history of motorsport.
Mercedes withdrew from racing at the end of the 1955 season and remain withdrawn for three decades.
When Mercedes-Benz cancelled its racing program after the Le Mans disaster, the 300 SLR project was shelved.
Two of the nine 300 SLR rolling chassis were converted into 300 SL look-alikes, with appearance similar to that of the six-cylinder 300SL gull-wing coupé. Effectively road-legal racers, they had coupé styling and gull-wing doors.
M-B’s design chief, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, appropriated one of the SLRs as his personal car, after having a large muffler fitted to it. Capable of approaching 290km/h (180mph), the Uhlenhaut Coupé was by far the fastest road car in the world in its day.
Years later, US auto enthusiast magazine Motor Trend road tested the car, as did two English journalists from Automobile Review.
After a high-speed session at four o’clock in the morning on an empty section of autobahn outside Munich the Automobile Review wrote:
“We are driving a car which barely takes a second to overtake the rest of the traffic and for which 120mph on a quiet motorway is little more than walking pace.
“With its unflappable handling through corners, it treats the laws of centrifugal force with apparent disdain.”
Whether the 300 SLR’s 2022 selling price is justified is a matter of opinion, but there’s no doubt about its historic significance.
There are several videos about the 300 SLR and here’s just one: