The Preakness Stakes, the third leg of this year’s jumbled Triple Crown, is this Saturday. The most recent Triple Crown Winner was Justify in 2018, for whom the current stud fee guaranteeing one horse is $150,000. Ignoring the pesky fact that a race horse running at full speed produces more than one horsepower, let’s consider: Are there any cars that are worth at least $150,000 per horsepower?
For starters, the car in question would need to be outrageously expensive, because even if you pick a low-output denominator to boost the ratio, the car would still have to be worth many millions. Example: An early Citroen 2CV with the air-cooled 375cc flat-twin had only 9 horsepower. The best 1949 Citroen 2CV in the world is worth about $42,000. That’s a little over $4,600 per hp. To get to our $150,000/hp target, this 2CV would have need to be worth $1.35M.
High value must be the way to go, so how about a $10-million car? The lowest-horsepower car in that value bracket is a 1957 Ferrari 250 California LWB Spider, a favorite of Ferris Bueller and Chicago valets. With a 240-hp 3.0-liter Columbo V-12 and the best examples selling for $10.5 million, we’re still only looking at $43,750 per hp.
What about the most expensive car in our database? The Ferrari 250 GTO is the most desirable classic car of all time, and it is holder of the current all-time public auction record of $48.4 million. Only 36 were produced, which by multi-million-dollar car standards actually isn’t exceptionally rare. Nonetheless, it out-values every other classic. A prime 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Series I is worth about $66,000,000. With 300 horsepower from the 3.0-liter Columbo V12, we’re looking at … $220,000 per horsepower. Paydirt! Even the “less desirable” 1964 250 GTO Series II at $47-million, such as the aforementioned auction record holder, by a nose crosses the stud-price threshold at about $156,700 per horsepower.
As for other classic Ferraris, the 1962 Ferrari 330 GTO SII is too powerful to meet the criteria. At $47-million and its 4.0-liter V-12 producing 390 horsepower, the ratio comes out to to $120,500 per hp. Close but no cigar.
Our data for ultra-rare cars isn’t as robust as for more mainstream vehicles, since transactions among super high-end clientele are often handled privately. One that comes to mind is the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe, a road car equivalent of Fangio’s W196 Grand Prix car. Fangio’s W196 sold for $29.6-million in 2013 and had upwards of 300 hp, or around $100,000 per horsepower. The Uhlenhaut Coupe, however, is worth much more. Only two were ever built, both owned by Mercedes-Benz. If one were to ever sell publicly, it would likely demand well over $50 million and thus clear the bar.
In regards to pre-war cars, the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic belongs in this conversation. Only four were ever produced, and 3 survive in collections. The supercharged 3.3-liter DOHC inline-eight makes 200 horsepower, so it would only need to be worth $30 million to hit the $150,000 per horsepower mark. They almost never trade hands, but if a 57SC Atlantic ever sold at auction it wouldn’t be outrageous to estimate a price nearing $100 million. That’s $500,000 per horsepower. Whoa.
Are there any examples we’re missing? Post them in the Hagerty Community below, and when you’re watching the Preakness this weekend, just imagine a 250 GTO prancing around the dirt track.