Last July 12, British auction house Bonhams conducted an auction at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. All eyes were glued to the car under lot number 320 – a 1954 Mercedes-Benz type W 196 R Grand Prix single seat racing car, the original Juan Manuel Fangio winning grand prix car. It is the only post-war Silver Arrow race car in private ownership. As the hammer fell at 17.5 Million GBP, it set a world record price for an auction car. The mystery however, was the identity of the unidentified telephone bidder who paid a total of 20,896,800 GBP (approximately US$ 31.6 million) including the premium due to the auction house and other related fees.
This historically important race car propelled the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow to victory as Juan Manuel Fangio won the German and Swiss Grand Prix races in 1954. With these victories, Fangio was said to have paved the way his first Formula 1 World Championship title with Mercedes-Benz. The year 1954 was also a significant milestone as it marked the successful return of Mercedes-Benz into Grand Prix racing with the W 196 R race cars.
Only 10 units out of the 14 vehicles which were previously built are still in existence. The six W 196 R models are in the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection, three are in museums in Turin, Vienna, and Indianapolis and this tenth one which was put up for the auction. This privately owned car is stamped with chassis number 196 010 00006/54 and is the only remaining original Silver Arrow from the post-war period which is in private ownership.
“The result of the auction just goes to show the exceptionally high level of respect enjoyed by historical Mercedes-Benz vehicles among collectors”, said Michael Bock, Head of Mercedes-Benz Classic. “We would like to congratulate the unidentified bidder on their purchase and will be only too happy to lend them support – if they so wish – during the next stages of their acquisition.”
Experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic gave a very thorough check on the car prior to the auction. These experts also verified the paper trail of documents and came out with a report detailing the ownership history as well as confirming the car’s originality and authenticity. “Our expert’s report means that the new owner need have no uncertainties whatsoever about this racing car”, said Michael Bock. “It fully and unequivocally confirms the history and originality of the vehicle.” Based on the historical report, the car was donated by Daimler-Benz AG, then the owners of the Mercedes-Benz company to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu (England) in 1973 and was later on sold by the museum in 1980.
Mercedes-Benz Classic is the German luxury car brand’s division that provides expert authentication and other technical services for car collectors and auction houses. The advocacy of Mercedes-Benz to preserve its automotive heritage is proof that a number of these cars can become highly collectible and can increase in value significantly for over a period of time, even with production vehicles like the classic 1950s 300SL “Gullwing” coupe, dubbed as one of the most beautiful sportscars ever made. It is the production version of the W 196 R and Mercedes-Benz originally didn’t have any intentions of producing a road going version of their famous racecar until a New Yorker named Max Hoffman bravely made an order for 1,000 units. Originally, these cars had a sticker price of US$6,820. Today, a very preserved example of these collectible SL’s would fetch over a million dollars in the collector and auction markets.