Bonhams auction house has dropped the bidding hammer on the most expensive car ever sold at auction. The price: a staggering $29.6 million dollars.
Fittingly, this record-setting vehicle had already rewritten the history books when it was new and scorching its way around racetracks throughout Europe. With Argentinian racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio behind the wheel, there was little that could stop the winning ways of the Mercedes-Benz W196R single-seat F1 racecar.
The Mercedes W196R originally had bodywork which covered all four wheels, to improve aerodynamic efficiency. Argentinian racing hero, Juan Manual Fangio, asked for an open-wheeled version that would help make the car easier to drive around tighter racetracks.
This example, chassis number ‘00006/54,’ is the very car Fangio took to victory in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix races. Powered by a 2.5-liter straight-8 engine, the car had originally been designed to have bodywork which covered all four wheels.
Formula One safety has come a long way. The chassis tubes can be easily seen in the car’s cabin. There were no seatbelts either – many F1 drivers considered it safer to be thrown from a car during a crash, rather than risk being trapped and burnt to death.
While the design helped improve the car’s aerodynamics, Fangio insisted on an open-wheeled version for tighter and twistier racetracks. With one Formula One title already to his credit, Mercedes didn’t hesitate to follow Fangio’s instructions.
While it was built simply to go as fast as possible, the W196R also happened to be one of the most gorgeous racing cars ever built.
Quickly proving the effort wasn’t in vain, Fangio won the next two Grand Prix and would go on to take that year’s Formula One Championship – his second of an eventual five F1 titles during his racing career.
In its era, the W196R was at the cutting-edge of racing technology. Amongst other features, this Mercedes-Benz racing machine featured a lightweight tubular ‘spaceframe’ chassis, fully independent suspension, inboard brakes for better weight distribution, and fuel injection for the 8-cylinder engine.
The 2.5-liter straight-8 engine is mounted low in the chassis and features fuel injection, versus traditional carburetors.
It didn’t hurt matters that the W196R also happened to be one of the most beautiful racecars ever built – a fact probably not lost on the winning bidder at the Bonhams auction.
Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel of the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196R racecar.
“I have handled some of the world’s most desirable and important motor cars during a motoring auction career spanning five decades, but I have reached a peak today with this legendary Grand Prix car,” said Robert Brooks, Bonhams chairman.
“It was a personal privilege to preside over the sale of this vehicle, which is not only one of the most significant motor cars of the 20th century, but also the most important historic Grand Prix racing car ever offered for sale.”