In 2014 a Ferrari 250 GTO sold for a world record price at auction of $38.1 million, though there have been rumors of private sales well above that figure. Now it seems that three of the 39 extant cars are for sale. Two private sellers are both asking $57 million, while British prestige car specialist Talacrest has another with a price tag claimed to be $55.8 million.
Each time one of the world's 100 most desirable cars comes to auction, it tends to break the price record because the market is rising relentlessly. The seemingly simple concept of the world's most expensive car is also made more problematic by the question of whether it's the one with the highest price tag (sell price) or the one that sells for the highest price (buy price).
We track confirmed auction sales, but there's a huge invisible market of private and dealer sales where prices are rarely made public, instead being whispered and even then, those prices are invariably only ballpark.
Fortunately, the world's most expensive car is the same no matter which rules you apply right now and the answer is the Ferrari 250 GTO ... and three of the 39 in existence are for sale at present.
Three Ferrari 250 GTOs for sale
Talacrest operates at the extreme high end of the market and has previously been involved in eight Ferrari 250 GTO transactions, so it is no surprise it is handling a car with a chance at the record. If that does happen though, it is just as likely to remain an unconfirmed sale as Talacrest operates with extreme respect for client privacy.
Thirty-three GTOs were made in 1962 and 1963, and in 1964 a "Series II" was introduced, which had a slightly different look. Three such cars were made, and four older "Series I" were given the "Series II" body and three "330 GTO" specials with a larger engine were also made. It brought the total of GTOs produced to 39. The Ferrari 250 GTO won the World title both seasons in succession.
The Ferrari 250 GTO was developed for the FIA Group 3 Grand Touring Car category and the GTO in the name stands for "Gran Turismo Omologato," Italian for "Grand Touring Homologated." It's a race car built for the road to get around those pesky racing rules and it won the championship both years it contested.
It's one of those cars that's just right. It stops, it handles well and power from the 3.0 liter Tipo 168 V12 is claimed to be 300 hp (220 kW) though typically they produce slightly more horsepower than that when they've been rebuilt. This is a real drivers car, and the indications are that most of those who own them drive them regularly.
Only one Ferrari 250 GTO has ever sold at auction and it holds the world record price for a car at auction, having sold for $38.1 million in August 2014.
The only other cars to have ever sold for more than $25 million at auction are a Ferrari 335S Spider Scaglietti that sold for US$35.7 million, Fangio's 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Silver Arrow ($29.6 million), a Ferrari 290 Mille Miglia ($28.0 million), a Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S NART Spider ($27.5 million) and a Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale ($26.4 million).
Ferrari made just four 335S race cars, Mercedes-Benz made 14 W196 Silver Arrows (10 exist, the other nine are in museums or owned by Mercedes-Benz), there were only four 290 MMs made, 10 275 GTB/4*S NART Spiders and three 275 GTB/C Speciales were produced ... and 39 GTOs.
Theory suggests scarcity is supposed to drive value but with a relatively plentiful supply in comparison to the other most valuable cars, the GTO is defying marketplace gravity.
The race car's curse
Hindsight is 20:20 vision and although race cars are now treated with respect in their retirement, it hasn't always been so. Once a racing car's racetrack competitiveness falls away, its value also drops away and for much of the 1970s, a GTO could be procured quite cheaply. Legend has it a GTO changed hands in 1969 for $2500. Once vintage racing began to become popular though, those old racing cars came out of the shed and the price began to appreciate rapidly and the conflicting issues of supply and demand have conspired to drive the price ever upwards since. Several of the cars on our top 100 most valuable cars were abandoned during their lifetime, one supposedly dumped on the Hollywood Freeway. That's Graham Hill (Damon's dad) punting a GTO in period above.
When new, the GTO commanded an $18,000 purchase price in the US, and buyers had to be personally approved by Enzo Ferrari and his North American agent, Luigi Chinetti.
GTOs don't usually go to auction. They change hands privately and they keep pushing the unofficial world record price for an automobile ever skyward. As the people that own them are watching their beloved cars appreciate in value, the amount of money required to get them to even consider parting with their cars has grown dramatically.
Though there is no "official" way of verifying this, the prices achieved by private sales of GTOs are increasingly being reported in the media.
The owners of GTOs these days are hyper-enthusiasts and hyper-wealthy. Among them are fashion designer Ralph Lauren, American communications magnate Craig McCaw, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, S. Rob Walton (Walmart Chairman), Jon Shirley (former Microsoft president), Baron Bamford (knighted at 45 years of age and owner of JCB a multinational), Greg Whitten (former chief software architect at Microsoft), Chris Cox of North Carolina has two GTOs, and Baron Laidlaw (105th richest person in the UK). The above image is from one of the regular tours organized for GTO owners by the Ferrari factory, several of which the Talacrest car has participated in.
A few years ago, UK radio and TV personality Chris Evans wrote a rather prophetic newspaper article entitled, "Why the Ferrari 250 GTO is the best possible investment."
Evans subsequently purchased a GTO, then sold it for a reported $18 million a few years later, enabling him to replenish the cash reserves and subsequently pick up the (then) world's most expensive car ever to sell at auction (a Ferrari California Spider once owned by Hollywood actor James Coburn) a few years back.
Is this the world's most valuable car?
No. It just happens to be the most valuable car to be put up for sale recently. There are more than a few 250 GTOs out there, and there are much rarer, more valuable cars which may never be sold at auction.
If the Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe (above) which sold for $8.5 million in 1987 ever went to auction again, it would immediately jump to the top of the list ... for a while. It was the most valuable car in the world for 21 years before being swamped by the marketplace, with five new records in six years. There will be more records and they won't all be 250 GTOs.
In May 2010, Gooding & Company handled the private sale of a 1936 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic for more than $30 million, which at the time, was believed to be the highest private price ever paid for a car. Neither the exact price nor the buyer were disclosed, and it's interesting to note that so beloved are many of the cars in the collector stratosphere that owners would often rather see the car go to a good home than to the buyer with the most money.
The Atlantic was derived from Bugatti's fabled prototype Aerolithe Electron Coupé, which was shown at the 1935 Paris Auto Salon. Only three Atlantics were made, and only two still exist, with one owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren. That's an Atlantic in period above – only slightly less rare than a unicorn.
Several Bugatti Aerolithe Electron Coupé concept cars are believed to have been built, but no-one knows where they are, or at least they're not telling anyone. If one of those surfaces one day, it would command a world record price.
So while the GTO is the world's most valuable car ever sold at auction, and also believed to be the most valuable car ever sold privately, there will be other makes and models that take those records in time.
Right now there are three cars vying for the outright price record for a car ... but we may never know the result.
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