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An ultra-rare 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR 'Uhlenhaut Coupe' recently claimed the title of the world's most expensive car selling for $143 million (Rs 1,105 crore).
The racing prototype, one of just 2 in the world sold for $143 Million at an invite-only auction conducted by RM Sotheby's at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart. The 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe's final price tag was nearly triple the amount paid for the previous record holder - a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that fetched over $48 million in 2018.
So what exactly is the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe and what makes it so special to attract the big bucks it did at auction?
The Mercedes 300 SLR Story - From Stillborn Racer To Record Breaking Prototype
The record breaking car is one of just two prototypes coupes built by Mercedes-Benz to go racing at Le Mans and is named after its creator and chief engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut.
However, before the tin-top 300 SLR could go racing, Mercedes withdrew from racing following the 1955 Le Mans disaster which saw 84 people lose their lives and left 120 more injured.
The crash between Mercedes Benz 300 SLR piloted by French driver Pierre Levegh and Austin-Healy 100S driven by Lance Macklin flung the Frenchman out of his car killing him instantly while his car landed in the crowd and burst into flames. Mercedes withdrew from the race as a sign of respect to the victims of the disaster and later stepped away from motor racing altogether, only returning in 1989.
In 1955, Rudolf Uhlenhaut had already made plans for a hardtop version of the 300 SLR before the Le Mans disaster and had ordered his team to build two cars based on the W196 chassis, with the intention of competing in the Carrera Panamericana race. However, the decision by Mercedes to cancel its racing program altogether dashed any plans to build more of these ultra rare cars.
Uhlenhaut then decided to make the two cars that had been built into road-going prototypes. These prototypes of the 300 SLR nicknamed the 'Uhlenhaut Coupe' featured a 3.0-litre, front-mounted, straight-eight engine and weighed only 998 kilogrammes. These coupes featured inboard drum brakes which were accommodated in the engine bay to help reduce unsprung weight and could hit a top speed of 180miles/hr (289.6km/h).
The car sold at auction was the second prototype 300 SLR Uhlenhaut coupe. This car is chassis number 196.110-00008/55 and was driven by Uhlenhaut himself. The car left the factory in December 1955 and returned 6 months later to get an Eberspächer silencer installed. It is said that Uhlenhaut became hard-of-hearing in later life because of the noise made by his fearsome coupe.
The car till now had been retained by Mercedes since the first time it left the factory and was used to ferry dignitaries and also toured the United States in the early 1960s. Between January and July 1986, this rare coupe was restored by Tony Merrick, one of the pre-eminent historic vehicle restorers and race preparation specialists of his era.
Following the restoration, the car made appearances at motor shows and races and even appeared multiple times at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and stopped by the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2001. In 2003, this very car was featured in the brochure of the newly launched Mercedes SLR McLaren.
The private invite-only auction at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart was the first time the car was offered up for auction and it ended up shattering the world record for cars at auction while also becoming one of the 10 most expensive items ever sold at auction.
Thankfully, the new owner has agreed to display the record-breaking Mercedes 300 SLR 'Uhlenhaut Coupe' to the public on special occasions. The other 'Uhlenhaut Coupe' will continue to be displayed at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.
Thoughts On The Mercedes 300 SLR 'Uhlenhaut Coupe'
The Mercedes 300 SLR 'Uhlenhaut Coupe' is one of the rarest racing prototypes in the world and it comes as no surprise in the current market that it commanded such a massive price tag. The new owner has got himself a very important part of automotive history that will only get more valuable as time goes by.