Automotive aficionados know that there are cars, and then there are "cars."
There are the cars we drive to work every day, the cars we use to take our kids to school, the cars we pick up groceries with and the ones we use to haul stuff from The Home Depot. They're utilitarian, reliable, practical and in most cases, they're relatively boring, too.
But others are the rare automobiles that provide more than just transportation. They're the ones that border on rolling art. The cars that most consider to be miracles of engineering. The ones that glorify speed and luxury. The ones that are best described as madness sitting on four rubber tires.
As long as people have been driving, cars like these have existed. Some individual or some company has always been there to push the envelope, to ask, "How much faster can we make this? How much better can it be?" Every era of automotive history has its legends. They have names like Bentley, Bugatti and Ferrari.
Many of them were made in extremely limited numbers during their time, and of those few, many became lost to history. A rare handful (or fewer) are still around, flaunting record-breaking speed and handling from a time long since past.
They can be yours, too -- if you've got the cash. The average person would never even consider spending $100,000 on a car. So what would make a person spend several million dollars on a car?
You're about to find out. In this article, we'll look at the most recent list of the world's 10 most expensive classic cars, the history behind them and how much of a financial hit their new owners' wallets took just to put them in their garages.
Car: 1962 Ferrari 250 LM
Number produced: 32
Price at auction: $6.9 million
By the 1960s, Ferrari could tell that racing was moving away from front-engine layouts and towards mid-engine cars. They tried to capitalize on this with the 250 LM. The 250 engine from the Testa Rossa was mounted in the middle of the car to create a new type of racer. It was a production version of the company's 250 P prototype car.
Designed by Pininfarina, it was built to be a GT racer, but the FIA had other plans. The racing body insisted Ferrari would never build 100 examples of the 250 LM to allow it to qualify for GT racing. And they were right -- only 32 of the cars were ever built. This limited the 250 LM to racing in the prototype class, not full-blown GT racing, something that allowed the American-built Shelby to dominate racing [source: Ultimate Car Page].
The car was still successful at racing, securing Ferrari's last victory at Le Mans to this day. Because so few were ever produced, it is considered highly valuable among collectors. At a 2008 auction, it secured a price tag of $6.9 million.
Car: 1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe
Number produced: 6
Price at auction: $7.25 million
Shelby Cobra. Those two words hardly need an introduction, but the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe has a fascinating history, one born out of America's desire to break into the European-dominated world of GT racing.
Shelby and Ferrari were engaged in an epic racing rivalry in the 1960s, one that pitted the Texan Shelby's hot-rod tuners against Italy's motoring aristocracy. Ferrari was dominating the F.I.A. World Manufacturers Championship GT class, but Shelby wanted to knock it off its pedestal.
They built the iconic blue-and-white coupe version of the Cobra, which featured a snarling Ford 289 cubic-inch V8. And win it did: The Daytona Cobra Coupe became the only American car to beat a Ferrari in world championship racing in Europe.
The fourth of the six coupes was auctioned off in 2009, and it earned $7.25 million on the block. That still holds the record for the highest price paid for an American car at a public auction [source: Mecum].
Car: 1904 Rolls-Royce 10 HP
Number produced: 17
Price at auction: $7.3 million
It's hard to image a time in automotive history when some car engines only produced 10 horsepower, but at the dawn of the 20th century, it was enough to get the job done. Two companies, Rolls and Royce, teamed up to build 17 of these early automobiles. A humble 1.8-liter twin-cylinder engine powered the cars. It follows the early tradition of looking like a horse-drawn carriage with a steering wheel -- and no place for a horse. It has big, brass headlamps, wooden spoke wheels and a horn that looks like a musical instrument.
The car sold at auction for $7.3 million in 2004 and is the oldest known Rolls Royce in existence. Its chassis (number 20154) was updated in the 1930s but later restored to its original specification in the 1950s. It had been squirreled away in a farm building, perhaps to hide it from a foreign enemy, as was the case with many pre-World War II vehicles [source: Supercars.net].
While 10 horsepower may not be a lot, it doesn't in any way diminish this Rolls Royce's place in history.
Car: 1929 Mercedes-Benz 38/250 SSK
Number produced: 30-35
Price at auction: $7.4 million
This particular Mercedes-Benz has an interesting history. Shorter and smaller than many of the massively long performance cars of its day (some of which made this list), the SSK stands for Super Sport Kurz -- German for short.
It was the last car Ferdinand Porsche designed for Mercedes-Benz before he left the company to build his own cars. It may have been small, but its engine was mighty -- a 7.1-liter supercharged powerplant.
In 1941, an English gentleman and prolific car collector named George Milligen became this car's 11th owner. Milligen kept the car until his death at the age of 94. Amazingly, the car was never restored and featured nearly all its original parts -- only the sump was replaced in 75 years of ownership [source: Speed TV]. Now that's taking care of your car!
At a 2004 auction, Milligen's Mercedes fetched $7.4 million. Let's hope its new owner maintains it just as well.
Car: 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante
Number produced: 11
Price at auction: $7.9 million
Bugatti's incredible automobiles saw a lot of success in racing, but it made some amazing road-going cars as well. One of the most sought-after examples is the Type 57SC Atalante, a highly unusual car with a swooping roof and fenders and riveted body panels. Fewer than a dozen were made, and no two were built exactly alike.
The SC was the ultimate iteration of the Type 57 line. It had a supercharged 3.3-liter straight-eight cylinder engine putting out 170 horsepower. Also, the SC had an upgraded chassis compared to other Type 57s for better handling and balance. Some have even described it as the world's first supercar [source: Supercars.net].
At the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2008, one example of the 57SC went for close to $8 million at auction.
Car: 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster
Number produced: 26
Price at auction: $8.2 million
Karl Benz invented the gasoline-powered automobile, and since then, Mercedes-Benz has always been known as a company at the pinnacle of engineering. This has been true throughout its long history, and it has led the company to produce some truly stunning cars.
The 540K Special Roadster was no exception. The 17-foot-long (5.2-meter), two-seat convertible features classic pre-war styling including swooping fenders, big headlights and a tire mounted on the trunk. It was massive and it was exclusive -- just 26 Special Roadsters were built, intended only for Europe's political and financial elite. The 540K featured a 5.4-liter straight-eight cylinder engine with 180 horsepower, thanks to its Roots-type supercharger -- hence the K, which stands for "Kompressor" [source: RM Auctions].
This car was owned by an Englishman who bought it in 1937, then managed to squirrel it away during the war. Driving such an ostentatious German car probably wouldn't have gone over too well with the neighbors, right? The car went through several owners, the last one being Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, until it was sold at auction for $8.2 million.
Car: 1962 Ferrari 330 TRI/LM
Number produced: 1
Price at auction: $9.3 million
The last two letters in this Ferrari's name are LM, which stand for Le Mans, as in The 24 hours of Le Mans. The day-long race is the world's oldest endurance race and one of the most difficult in motorsports. It's also a race to which Ferrari is no stranger.
The final and ultimate evolution of the Testa Rossa line, the 330 TRI/LM won the 1962 Le Mans race while being driven by Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien. It features a 4-liter V-12 with nearly 400 horsepower, and it's the last front-engine racing car built by Ferrari as well as the last front-engine car to win at Le Mans. Many consider it to be the greatest and final example of the golden age of front-engine racing [source: RM Auction].
Chassis number 0808 went for $9.3 million at a Sotheby's auction.
Car: 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale Kellner
Number produced: 6
Price at auction: $9.8 million
During the first half of the 20th Century, a French company named Bugatti made some of the most exclusive, expensive, luxury-laden and fastest automobiles on the planet. Designed by the eccentric Italian engineer Ettore Bugatti, their cars featured light bodies, huge engines and exotic styling. Like a lot of European car companies, however, they weren't able to survive World War II.
Bugattis were often exercises in automotive insanity, and the 1931 Type 41 Royale Kellner was no exception. The car featured a massive 12.7-liter straight-eight engine, one which remains the largest engine ever put in a privately-sold automobile. The rest of it was big, too -- the wheelbase was more than 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length, and its price tag was far beyond the buyers of the Great Depression era when it was built [source: Forbes].
Only six were constructed, and this one was hidden behind a false wall to save it from the raging war in Europe. In 1987 it was sold at auction for nearly $10 million.
Today, the Volkswagen Group has revived the Bugatti marque and built the record-breaking Veyron, a car capable of speeds of more than 250 miles per hour (402.3 kilometers per hour). The insanity lives on.
Car: 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder
Number produced: About 50
Price at auction: $10.9 million
One of several Ferraris to make it onto this list (the Italians are good at what they do), this was the car featured in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- the one that Ferris and his friend Cameron completely destroyed after taking a joyride into downtown Chicago.
To call the Spyder gorgeous is an incredible understatement. It's the classic embodiment of the sports car -- long hood, two seats and a drop top. The SWB California Spyder was a variant on the popular Ferrari 250 designed for the American market. It featured a 3.0-liter SOHC V-12 with 280 horsepower and a four-speed manual transmission [source: Motor Trend].
Actor James Coburn owned this particular Spyder for more than 20 years. At an RM Auction in 2008, British TV and radio presenter Chris Evans bought it for $10.9 million. It was a record auction sale that stood only until the next (and final) car on our list broke it the following year.
Car: 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
Number produced: 22
Price at auction: $12.1 million
Most people are probably more familiar with the 1980s Ferrari Testarossa, prominently featured in the TV series Miami Vice. But there was another "red head" (so named because of the red valve covers on the engine) that came first, and it was far more rare and exotic. The 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was a GT race car that ran in many prominent contests of speed, including The 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The '57 Testa Rossa had a 3-liter, 300-horsepower, V-12 engine with an 8,000 rpm redline -- pretty impressive for a car from the 1950s -- and a stunning body. In 1958, the Testa Rossas won four of the six races to win Ferrari's third consecutive World Sports Car Championship for Constructors. Racing legend Phil Hill was behind the wheel of one of them in that championship year. Only 22 were ever built -- so it's a rare find, indeed. In Ferrari's own words: "Not only is the performance breathtaking, but the view over the bonnet when driving is simply one of the best in the world [source: Gizmag]."
This particular car, the fourth one built, has been restored several times and reunited with its original engine. When it went to auction in 2009, the Testa Rossa fetched a record-shattering $12.1 million. Who says we're in a recession?
For more information about expensive, rare and classic cars, follow the links on the next page.
Classic car pictures showcase some of the rarest most sought after classic cars from various automakers. View pictures of collectible classic cars.
- Frank, Michael. "The World's Most Expensive Car." Forbes.com. (June 10, 2010)http://www.forbes.com/2001/11/05/1105vow.html
- Gagne, Luc. "Top 10 Most Expensive Cars." Auto123.com. (June 10, 2010)http://www.auto123.com/en/news/car-news/top-10-most-expensive-classic-cars?artid=114320&pg=1
- McCullough-Arfons, Shari. "1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe Sells for $7.25 million." Mecum Auctions. (June 10, 2010)http://mecum.com/news/news_detail.cfm?NEWS_ID=2102
- McKeegan, Noel. "1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa fetches world record $12.1 million at auction." Gizmag.com. (June 10, 2010)http://www.gizmag.com/1957-ferrari-250-testa-rossa-fetches-world-record-121-million-at-auction/11727/
- Melissen, Wouter. "Ferrari 250 LM." UltimateCarPage.com. May 9, 2005. (June 10, 2010)http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/136/Ferrari-250-LM.html
- Melissen, Wouter. "Vintage: Mighty Mercedes SSK Is All Original." SpeedTV.com. Sept. 3, 2009. (June 10, 2010)http://automotive.speedtv.com/article/vintage-mighty-mercedes-ssk-is-all-original/
- Owen, Richard. "1936 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante." Supercars.net. (June 10, 2010)http://www.supercars.net/cars/265.html
- RM Auctions. "1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster." (June 10, 2010)http://www.rmauctions.com/CarDetails.cfm?CarID=r146&SaleCode=LF07
- RM Auctions. "1962 Ferrari 330 TRI/LM Testa Rossa." (June 10, 2010)http://www.rmauctions.com/CarDetails.cfm?SaleCode=FF07&CarID=L221
- Stone, Matt. "Classic: 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California." Motor Trend. (June 10, 2010)http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/classic/112_0901_1961_ferrari_250_gt_spyder_california/index.html
- Supercars.net. "1904 Rolls-Royce 10 HP." (June 10, 2010)http://www.supercars.net/cars/3986.html