$142M Mercedes-Benz was 2022’s biggest car sale—and then some

James Lipman

Well, that’s it for 2022.

In the collector car market, there were plenty of events, lots of shows, drives, restorations, repairs, and driving fun.

There is one thing, however, that, at least in my opinion, remains the most important single collector-car event in recent history. In case you were hiding under a car for summer 2022, here is the way it (might have) happened.

* * *

The setting: A top-floor boardroom at Mercedes-Benz Group headquarters in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Germany

The event: The M-B Group Annual Meeting

The date: Sometime in 2020.

The players: Representatives for each of the M-B divisions, including AMG, Maybach, Mercedes-EQ, Mercedes me (yes, really), Mercedes-Benz Financial Service, Mercedes-Benz Bank, Athlon (M-B Leasing), and probably a few more top-level executives. Anyhow, who are we kidding, it’s 2020, so the meeting was likely also held virtually.

* * *

After a morning of charts, reports, facts, and figures, lunch is served.

In between bites, the conversation turns to a bit of speculation.

(You’re welcome; I’m not going to translate the dialog into my heavily Hogan’s Heroes–influenced version of German. —DK)

Exec #1 — I just read that one of our Oldtimers, a 300SL, sold for another world record price!

Exec #2 — A 300SL, you mean the R129 that we made from oh, 1989 till 1993?

Exec #3 — I don’t think it’s the R-107 that we made the generation just before that!


Exec #1 — No, the W198, the so-called Gullwing Coupe.

Exec #2 — Gullwing?

Exec #1 — Not our name, that’s the name the enthusiasts gave it because of the doors, attached at the top.

Exec #2 — Oh, like on the SLR McLaren?

Exec #1, somewhat pissed, somewhat exasperated — No! Completely different. First, it’s MERCEDES SLR McLaren. Second, it’s …

Exec #3 — … A “tribute” to the original 300SL doors.

Exec #1 — Exactly!

Exec #4 — So, at least its good to hear Mercedes-Benz hold title to the most expensive Oldtimers in the World!

Exec #1 — I didn’t say it was THE most expensive car in the world, I just said it’s a record price for a 300SL!

Exec #4 — Wait, what? We don’t have the most expensive car in the Oldtimers world? Who does?

[general murmurs]

Exec #6 — Is someone on here from the Museum?

Museum rep #1 — The most expensive car sold at auction, according to our records, was in Monterey, California, and it brought $48,405,000.

Exec #4 — And… What car was that?

Museum rep, clearing throat — A Ferrari, a 250 GTO.

Exec #4 — Wait a minute. We invented the automobile*, and we make the best cars in the world**! How could we not have the record for the most expensive car sold at auction? This needs to change!

Museum rep #2 — Well, we do have two examples of one very special car, the Uhlenhaut Coupes.

* * *

There is no way for all to know if that’s how the sale went down, we all know that what sometimes starts as small talk has the power to actually make a difference.

Just to review, that same Mercedes Museum (which, by the way is visible from corporate Headquarters), already might have done the math and figured out that having two Uhlenhaut Coupes, or both of the total run of two, was, in fact, one too many actually needed in a single space.

Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow Uhlenhaut Coupe side view
James Lipman

Also to be clear, the proceeds of the sale went to establish a worldwide “Mercedes Benz Fund,” the goal of which is provide funds for educational and research scholarships for young people. The monies do not go to Mercedes Corporate. It takes little to imagine that if they “needed the money,” as some have speculated, that they could just produce another round of AMG Black Series cars and fill the coffers.

Big things and small things can sometimes make a big difference. By deaccessioning one of the two Uhlenhaut coupes, the following has happened:

  1. Hundreds of articles about the auction have been written, which provides hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars of publicity for the Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-Benz Museum, and RM Sotheby’s, the auction company.
  2. The fund created will provide scholarships, as detailed above.
  3. A Mercedes-Benz has regained the title as the most expensive car ever sold at auction.
  4. The terms of the sale reportedly include a provision that the car will be shown at major events and will not be a never accessible static display forever locked in a Billionaires den.
  5. A car, not a painting, not a Malibu mansion, yacht, a sculpture or an office building, became one of the ten most expensive items ever sold at auction at the time of the sale.

And that fifth thing, a car becoming one of the most expensive items ever sold at auction, is by far and away the most newsworthy thing for the future of the automobile, and not just for expensive and exclusive cars, but all collector cars. It helps promote the automobile to the level of fine art, a level not reached by other mechanical objects. It gives the automobile the gravitas, the substance and weight it needs to maintain and promote the future of cars as much more than personal transportation devices.

And that is a very big deal in a rapidly changing world, a world which some envision as devoid of cars, or cars as merely interchangeable transportation pods.

Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe driving dynamic action front three-quarter
James Lipman

Kudos to Mercedes-Benz. They now own the title for the most expensive car sold at auction, the W196 Uhlenhaut coupe sold in early May for $142,000,000.

I’m looking forward to seeing this car, with any luck in motion at a Goodwood-style event or maybe on the lawn at one of the finest concours.

I get it that it’s a rich person’s trophy, but the Uhlenhaut coupe is also an ambassador for you and me who play with collector cars at a “lesser” level.

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