With the two top sales this past August in Monterey being one-off creations, we started wondering which other one-off cars have approached these rarefied sales figures. In order to answer that question, we turned to Rick Carey, Auctions Editor of sportscardigest.com and Victory Lane Magazine, who maintains a database of more than 100,000 collector car transactions dating back to 1973. He, in turn, provided us with a list of some of the most expensive one-offs ever publicly sold.
Assembling a list of one-offs is always problematic given that many cars can become one of one if you drill down far enough. For the sake of this article, we are applying the term “one-off” loosely but judiciously to describe cars that possess tangible attributes (as opposed to unique provenance and history) that have made those cars wholly unique. Also, any car that is the only remaining example of its kind also qualifies.
- 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa Prototype
Sold for $16,390,000, including buyer’s premium
Gooding & Company; Pebble Beach, Calif.; August 2011
Much has been written about this car, but suffice it to say that it is the prototype – and therefore first – of one of the most storied models of the most storied marque in all of automotive history. Extensive competition history, even if it was less than successful, adds to the appeal. A top price in all respects, as it is the current record holder for any car sold at auction.
- 1931 Duesenberg Model J “Whittell” Coupe
Sold for $10,340,000, including buyer’s premium
Gooding & Company; Pebble Beach, Calif.; August 2011
Captain George Whittell Jr.’s coupe took the record for the most expensive American car ever sold at auction this past August, and it is easy to understand why. This vehicle was bespoke down to the very last detail by an exacting and creative man who employed the finest partners to execute his vision. Each flourish is impressive, from the brushed aluminum roof to the exquisite interior design. This car was perfectly restored, is one of the most desirable examples of one of the most desirable American marques, and carries with it a fantastic story evocative of an entire age – a case of all the factors contributing to a landmark car, and the price reflects that.
- 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale “Kellner” Sports Coupe
Sold for $9,764,585, including buyer’s premium
Christie’s; London, UK; November 1987
The Type 41 was intended to be one of Bugatti’s most exclusive models, and in fact it ended up being so as only three of the prohibitively expensive six examples found owners immediately following their production. The Kellner coupe, so named because of its coachwork, was first sold by the Bugatti family in 1951 to Briggs Cunningham, and was next sold by Christie’s at the Royal Albert Hall in 1987 at a world record price for a car at auction. While the 250 TR has the honor of being the most expensive car to ever publicly sell at auction, note that adjusting the Kellner coupe’s 1987 sale price for inflation puts it in excess of $19 million in 2011 dollars.
- 1929 Mercedes-Benz 38/250 SSK SWB Roadster
Sold for $7,480,322, including buyer’s premium
Bonhams; Goodwood, UK; September 2004
The SSK embodied Mercedes engineering acumen, and represented the pinnacle of racing performance during its day. This particular SSK is the only one to be bodied by Carlton Carriage of London, but more importantly is one of the most original and unrestored examples of the 35 or so produced (even with a 1950s engine swap), and has a completely known ownership history from new. As this is one of the more famous cars to replicate, iron-clad ownership records translated to an impressive result.
- 1904 Rolls-Royce 10hp Type A Two-Seater
Sold for $7,274,774, including premium
Bonhams; London, UK; December 2007
This is the world’s oldest surviving Rolls-Royce and the only 1904 Rolls-Royce in existence today, and therefore it qualifies as a “one-off” for this list. In addition to A-list exclusivity, its one-off status also means it is the only Rolls-Royce that is eligible for the famous London-to-Brighton Run, which increases its desirability that much more.
- 1931 Bugatti Royale Berline de Voyage
Sold for $6,500,000, including premium
Reno, Nev.; June 1986
The second Royale to make the list, and the one with the highest chassis number (though not necessarily the last manufactured). This car, a “short chassis” version, was part of Bill Harrah’s famed collection and was bought at this price by Jerry Moore. The Berline de Voyage has very staid black and yellow coachwork reminiscent of horse-drawn carriages, with a curious false convertible top. The car is currently owned by the Blackhawk Collection.
- 1937 BMW 328 Mille Miglia Roadster “Buegelfalte”
Sold for $6,406,300, including premium*
RM Auctions; Monte Carlo; May 2010
The “Buegelfalte” hits the trifecta of collectability. First, it has extensive racing history, including a class win at the 1938 Mille Miglia and performances at the 1937 Le Mans and Donington Tourist Trophy. Second, it has a notable off-track history, with former owners including Albert Speer (Third Reich minister) and Artem Mikoyan (the “Mi” in the Soviet MiG fighter jet). Lastly, it is an important car from a design perspective. In an effort to make it more competitive for 1940 race campaigns, the car was extensively re-engineered and was fitted with unique coachwork developed by the factory in conjunction with Dr. Wunibald Kamm (later of “Kamm-tail” fame). As such, it is a precursor to some of the great post-war automotive designs, and was valued accordingly by the market.
*The price reported here is the hammer bid on the block, but this car was actually a post-block sale, and the official price was not reported by the auction company.
- 1960 Jaguar E2A Sports Racing Two Seater Prototype
Sold at $4,957,000, including premium
Bonhams & Butterfields; Carmel Valley, Calif.; August 2008
The E2A prototype was the link between the D-type and E-type, and as such is one of the most important Jaguars in existence. Not only is it a benchmark in the evolution of the brand, the list of former drivers include Dan Gurney, Sir Jack Brabham and Walt Hansgen, among others. This car was incredibly preserved, and still stands as the highest price ever paid for a Jaguar at auction.
- 1955 Ferrari 375 MM
Sold for $4,761,792, including premium
RM Auctions; Villa d’Este, Italy; May 2011
This 375 MM was the last of 10 berlinettas built, and the only one to don Pinin Farina coachwork. It is still powered by its original engine, and its restoration earned numerous honors on the concours circuit during the past decade.
- 1938 Talbot-Lago T150-C Lago Special Coupe
Sold for $4,620,000, including premium
RM Auctions; Monterey, Calif.; August 2011
Talbot-Lagos are rare in and of themselves, but this T150-C Special is the only one of the 16 teardrops built to ride on a long-wheelbase chassis. It had been impeccably restored and possessed a known ownership history with terrific period race provenance. A remarkable price for a beautiful and tasteful car.