With July 4th upon us, it’s time to celebrate the 241st birthday of our great nation. We’ve achieved a lot in the nearly 25 decades since we became the United States of America, including producing some remarkable vehicles during the past century or so.
Below are the five most-expensive American cars sold at auction. But first, let’s consider a few qualifiers. At the top end of the market, American cars generally aren’t as highly prized as some of their European counterparts, and that is borne out in this list. For example, the top car here is only the 20th-most expensive car ever sold at auction overall. And although 1776 was all about breaking away from the British, we’ve since made nice and have been good friends over the years. In fact, most of the cars on this list are at least partly English. One was even assembled in Italy.
- 1962 Shelby Cobra 260 “CSX2000”
Sold by RM Sotheby’s for $13,750,000
The history of the Shelby Cobra is neither new nor secret. When AC Cars of England needed a new engine for the Ace, Carroll Shelby stepped in with the idea of squeezing in a Ford small block V-8. The rest is history, as they say, and all Cobras are highly collectible. But this one has the distinction of being the car that started it all. The very first Cobra, “CSX2000” was also used as a press car that was loaned out to publications and used for public appearances. Shelby was still a fledgling operation, so it painted the car between appearances to convince people that more had been built. With that kind of history, and the fact that the car has never been restored, it’s no wonder that RM Sotheby’s didn’t bother estimating its value prior to the auction. It’s all about provenance with this Cobra, and CSX2000 brought more than 10 times what an ordinary 260 Cobra would expect to bring.
- 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Coupe
Sold by RM Sotheby’s for $11,000,000
It’s difficult to believe that one car can have so much history. This GT40 started life as a JWAE Mirage, which was itself a GT40-based racing prototype, and won at Spa in 1967, becoming the first car in the now-famous Gulf blue-and-orange livery to win a race. It followed with wins in Sweden and France before being converted to GT40-specs for the ’68 season. As a GT40, it won at Monza before being leased a couple of years later to Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions for filming the movie Le Mans. The GT40 had its roof cut off and became the camera car for the movie. It has since been restored to its original Gulf coupe configuration and has a Ford 289 with Gurney-Weslake heads. During its its long and storied career, however, it also had 302, 305, and 351 Ford engines and was driven by the likes of David Hobbs, Brian Redman, Mike Hailwood, Jacky Ickx, and Dick Thompson.
- 1931 Duesenberg Model J Coupe
Sold by Gooding & Company for $10,340,000
The Duesenberg Model J was among the very best cars in the world in the 1930s. And because it was a time of coachbuilt bodies and bespoke features, that decade produced some truly amazing automobiles. Chassis 2478 was ordered new by George Whittell, Jr., one of Duesenberg’s more well-known customers. The car is unusual in that it is a long wheelbase model but features two-door coupe bodywork, a one-off exercise by Murphy. The entire car made extensive use of aluminum, and for the roof the aluminum was left bare and brushed to create the illusion of a foldable convertible top. The word “unique” is one that gets tossed about too much in the world of classic cars, but this car really is one of a kind. The previous record for a Duesenberg had been $4.5 million in 2004, and other Model Js have typically brought prices in the $1-3 million range at auction, so this was a pretty staggering result.
- 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona
Sold by Mecum for $7,685,000
Although five of the six Shelby Cobra Daytonas built underwent final assembly at Carrozzeria Gransport in Italy, the cars have more of an all-American affair than the standard Cobras, and this one allowed Shelby to become the first American manufacturer to win the World Sportscar Championship in 1965. In fact, it was CSX2601 that secured that championship with Bob Bondurant’s win at Reims in France. The Cobra Daytona is one of the most collectible racing cars regardless of nation, and with half a dozen built, the opportunity to buy a real one almost never presents itself. It can be argued that CSX2601 should have brought quite a bit more money when it sold at Mecum Indy. Then again, that was in 2009, and people weren’t exactly throwing around eight-figure prices for old cars at the time.
- 1964 Ford GT40
Sold by Mecum for $7,560,000
GT/104 doesn’t have quite the same kind of history that the previously mentioned Gulf car does, but it is a significant example nonetheless. It’s the fourth GT40 built, the second oldest GT40 that still exists, and the first one with a chassis built of lighter steel. It was also one of the first two GT40s sent to Shelby for extensive and important testing. It was subsequently used by Ford as a display vehicle before first going into private ownership in 1971. Sold in Houston three years ago, it’s one of the most expensive cars that Mecum has ever sold.