Is the $100 million car the new $100 million work of art?

May 5, Oliver Barker arrived in Stuttgart, Germany to oversee an auction. Barker has been part of the contemporary art department at Sotheby’s since 2001, and since 2016 he has been the chairman of all European operations. Which means Barker sells a lot of art. Last month, he oversaw Sotheby’s $408 million modern art sale in New York, where a Monet landscape of the Grand Canal in Venice sold for nearly $57 million including fees.

But Barker was not in Stuttgart to sell art. He was there to sell a car – not just any car, but an ultra-rare Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut, listed in the Mercedes-Benz Museum after being used as the personal trainer of the automaker’s legendary head, Rudolf Uhlenhaut. After owning it for half a century, the company decided to part ways with the car to establish a Mercedes-Benz fund for youth charities.

For car collectors, it was the holy grail of roadsters. When the groundbreaking car was first unveiled in 1955, it was the fastest road-legal speed machine ever created, capable of a staggering 180 miles per hour. This kind of speed is sometimes useful. Once Uhlenhaut was in Munich when he realized he was late for a meeting at the headquarters in Stuttgart. He did the two and a half hour trip in less than an hour.

Barker arrived in Stuttgart from London and immediately got to work. The auction was conducted in secret, only revealed to the public after it fell, and any collectors who wanted a paddle had to be carefully vetted by Mercedes-Benz. With the bidders ready, Barker began proceedings with a stunning figure.

“I would like to open tonight’s auction at 50 million euros,” he said in a video later released by RM Sotheby’s, the auction house’s automotive arm.

The opening bet was already nearly as high as the last most expensive car ever sold, a $70 million Tour de France-winning 1963 Ferrari GTO, bought by the mega-rich WeatherTech CEO. David McNeil.

Suddenly, one of Sotheby’s representatives raised a pallet number to bid.

“It’s in a new place at 85 million euros,” Barker said, shifting his eyes to the elegant men in a row on the stand.

“People, this is your last chance,” Barker said, hammer held high in the air.

Then, another auction, this time historic.

“The first man to bid 100 million euros for a car!” Barker exclaimed.

And then, after several other bidders from the stand, it was a man in the room who lifted a paddle to 135 million euros, beating the underbidner and securing the car for a customer.

Not only was it the most expensive car ever sold at auction – at $143 million when converted to dollars, it became the sixth most expensive thing ever sold at auction, edging out Francis Bacon’s triptych portrait of Lucian Freud. who Elaine Wyn bought at Christie’s in November 2013 for $142 million. (Apart from the $168 million gigayacht allegedly bought by the now-disgraced Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich on eBay in 2006, all other top 10 items were all works of art.)

And this could prove to be a turning point in the automotive market, making the automobile a legitimate place to park funds.

The auction could not have taken place without the efforts of the car dealer, advisor and enthusiast Simon Kidston, which opened the ball on the sale. A keen swordsman and swordsman, Kidston comes from a long line of English car enthusiasts and set up his business outside of Geneva, giving him quick access to the autoroute, the stretch of asphalt freedom which prohibits speed limits. He will often reach 220 miles per hour in his McLaren F1.

And he thinks the Mercedes sold for about the right price.

“I’m not surprised at the price,” he said in a phone call Thursday. “As someone pointed out to me, it’s just a number when there’s no reference – there are no Mercedes SLRs that have been auctioned. With this car , there was no last sale; the customer felt he would pay anything.

There may be no better person to ask about rare cars than Kidston. (It is also a vanity lounge contributor, another sign of his general erudition, although we did not meet.) Among his clients at one time was the designer Mark Newson and the fashion mogul Ralph Lauren. On his website, there’s a stacked list of testimonials from various bigwigs around the world, including a former Microsoft president, industrialists from Japan and Spain, and Hartmut Ibing, the Düsseldorf-based car collector who featured in the Paradise Papers because of his status as chairman of Malta-based Robinson Yachts Limited.

Kidston – whose father, uncle and grandfather were all part of the pioneering English racing team called the Bentley Boys – isn’t afraid to fight for gear if he thinks he can. sell at a high price. He once crossed the desert near Dubai to strike a deal to buy 10 cars previously from the collection of the Shah of Iran, and had to send them home on a rented 747. But it was worth it once one of the cars, a rare 1971 Lamborghini Miura SVJ, sold at auction to an American buyer for $497,500, nearly double its estimate. It turned out that the buyer was Nicholas Cage.

As for the record-breaking Mercedes, he thinks it will go a long way to legitimizing the idea that billionaires should buy nine-figure cars alongside their nine-figure works of art.

“I don’t know if it completely changes the market, but I think it opens collectors’ eyes to the fact that cars can be mentioned in the same sentence as art in terms of collectors’ value and their perception. by the general public,” he said. .

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