On May 5th, 2022, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR prototype dubbed the “Uhlenhaut Coupe” sold at an invitation-only auction for $142 million (135 million Euro). A statement like that, without context, is enough to make you reach for a pitchfork and find the nearest guillotine. Those of sound minds and modest wallets probably shudder at the thought of spending that much money on a single, old car. However, thankfully, this military defense budget priced Mercedes-Benz is not just a tax write-off for an unnamed Illuminati cardmember.
Mercedes-Benz has stated that proceeds from the auction sale will be used to establish the Mercedes-Benz Fund. This worldwide organization will offer scholarships to engineering and environmental science students. Plus, as a bonus, Mercedes-Benz now has significant bragging rights over Ferrari as to whose name is on the world’s most expensive car. However, philanthropy aside, why is this car worthy of such a colossal hammer drop? Like most high-ticket items at an auction, this object is rare, historically significant, and captivating.
The 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe
This 300 SLR is one of only two prototypes developed for the 1956 racing season. Unfortunately, these cars would never go on to race because that same year, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR would be involved in the deadliest crash in motorsport history resulting in the death of its French driver, Pierre Levegh, and 83 spectators. After the crash, Mercedes withdrew from racing for several years.
As a result, the two 300 SLR coupe prototypes were left in limbo. So, what do you do with a brand-new race car that’s now out of work? If you’re Chief Engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut, you turn it into a company vehicle and drive it! Of the nine 300 SLR developed by Mercedes-Benz, only two were coupe prototypes, and this is the only one nicknamed after its creator. Until now, these coupes were part of the private Mercedes-Benz Classic collection, reportedly comprising over 1,100 cars dating back to 1886. Essentially, the new owner of the Uhlenhaut Coupe bought it from Mercedes’ personal collection – the top shelf of the private wine cellar.
However, it’s the car’s performance that ultimately dries the ink on the check. Under the long hand-made bonnet sits a meticulously maintained 3.0-liter M196S straight-eight engine producing 310-hp and 229 lb.-ft. With a curb weight under 2,500 pounds, the 1955 300 SLR coupe could reach speeds over 180 mph. By today’s standards, the 67-year-old Benz could give a modern sports car a run for its money. Its German-engineered reputation and a nostalgic “what if” speculation about its racing potential helped stoke the fire of a bidding war that ultimately reached the $142 million closing bid.
RM Sotheby’s hosted the invitation-only auction at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. RM Sotheby’s posted a brief video on YouTube of the auction with clips of the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe stretching its wheels on a racetrack. Reports say that while the Uhlenhaut Coupe is now in private hands, the owner agreed to display the car publicly on special occasions (Concours D’Elegance comes to mind). The car’s twin sibling will stay on display at the Stuttgart Museum.
The Mercedes-Benz Fund
According to the Mercedes-Benz press release, this organization will be divided into two sub-categories. The first is university scholarships to encourage environmental science students to conduct research projects. The second sub-category is school scholarships, financial aid to individuals in need to fund their projects and career paths. Moreover, the Mercedes-Benz Fund support goes further than mailing checks. Extracurricular programs like Mercedes-Benz mentorships aim to open new opportunities for future engineers. More details about the Mercedes-Benz Fund are scheduled to be announced later this year.
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