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What is the most expensive car in the world?

It's not surprising to see Ferrari dominate the list of most expensive cars, but Bugatti also has a number of notable entrants.

We often think of the latest hypercars as the pinnacle of automobiles, and the manufacturers have turned to releasing eye-wateringly expensive limited-editions like the Koenigsegg Trevita ($6.7 million). However, modern cars don’t hold a candle to classics when it comes to the most expensive car ever sold.

The Maybach Exelero concept car blew everyone away 15 years ago when it sold for $11 million, and while the Bugatti La Voiture Noire price was over $19 million, the most expensive car in the world is more than three times more expensive!

The most expensive Ferrari trounces the most expensive Lamborghini as the super-rare 1960s Ferrari 250 GTO race cars hold the title of the most expensive car ever sold with two examples selling for more than US$40,000,000 each. Seven of the top 10 most expensive cars ever sold at auction are classic Ferraris, and nearly all of them are racing vehicles.

The most expensive car in the world is a constantly evolving target as new machines are launched daily to push technological, luxury, and performance boundaries, while classic cars only get rarer, more desirable and more fashionable. But, in the pantheon of expensive car brands which is the top of the pops?

Rarity, desirability (was it a big car) and an attribute called provenance all combine to make up the criteria of valuing cars, and judging the car cost for expensive cars can get very complicated. You can have the coolest car or the best car in the world or even the rarest car in the world, but they might not be world expensive car.

Provenance is history that particular car had which makes it noteworthy or historically important. If it won a particular race, was owned by an important person, featured in an important moment of history, was the first of a desirable model, features in popular culture (like the Mustang from Bullitt), or has a particularly infamous element to its history (like President Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental), these factors all build a particular car’s provenance.

Also confusing values is the rumour mill as not all cars have their sale price publicly listed and private sales can occur for huge money behind closed doors. So this list of 15 of the most expensive cars in the world are verified to the best of our abilities. We have left a few specific models out of this list as they are very similar to other cars on this list.

15. 2005 Maybach Exelero - $11.2 million

Built for Daimler-Chrysler’s hyper-luxury arm Maybach, the Exelero is an art deco-inspired concept car designed to push the boundaries of tyre technology. Powered by a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged Mercedes-Benz V12, the Exelero’s goal was 350km/h, though it is unclear if the one example built ever reached those speeds. US rapper Birdman reportedly paid US$8 million for the car before selling it to German company Mechatronik for a reported $11 million.

14. 1962 Shelby Cobra 260 - $11.9 million

The Shelby Cobra is one of the most-copied car designs of all-time, combining a cute British AC ACE roadster body with pure American Ford V8 grunt. Shelby’s first-ever Cobra, a 260ci V8 model carrying the chassis number #CSX2000, sold for $11.9 millon dollars to set a new record for an American car after his passing. This was the very first Cobra built and the one most media tested, cementing its legend in automobile history and leading to its record price.

13. 2021 Bugatti Centodieci - $13 million

While Bugatti’s 400km/h Chiron is an epic hypercar in its own right, the ultra-luxe arm of the Volkswagen-Audi Group (VAG) has released many limited-edition versions of their primo model in the last two years. The Centodieci is a 1580hp quad-turbocharged W16-powered commemoration of the Bugatti EB110, and only 10 are planned to be built for a cost of $13 million each.

12.1968 Ford GT/Gulf Mirage - $15.4 million

Even before the Christian Bale, Matt Damon Ford vs Ferrari blockbuster movie last year, Ford’s V8 320km/h GT40 was an icon of racing. Having taken four Le Mans 24 Hour race wins in a row, among countless other race wins, genuine examples of the first American supercar were highly prized but a new record was set in 2012 when the Gulf Oils ex-Jackie Oliver GT40 sold. It was a highly-prized example also being used as the camera car in Steve McQueen’s epic racing movie Le Mans.

11. 2017 Rolls-Royce Sweptail - $18 million

One of the world’s most famous, luxurious and expensive brands, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see a Rolls-Royce on a list of the most expensive cars of all-time. The Sweptail is a one-off concept car first shown at the exclusive Villa d’Este concourse as the most expensive new car in the world (at that time), with a 450hp 6.7-litre V12 and hand-built construction. It was commissioned as a one-off vehicle by a super-rich customer who was inspired by similar one-off coach-built vehicles of the 1920s and ‘30s, which are among the most-desirable collector cars today.

10. 1955 Jaguar D-Type - $18.9 million

Throughout the first half of the 1950s Jaguar ruled sports car racing and the famed Le Mans 24-Hour race, then regarded as the most prestigious and famous race in the world. Their C-Type and D-Type race cars are among the most valuable English cars of all time, and the 1955 D-Type which won the 1956 Le Mans race (and was still in immaculate unrestored condition) sold for nearly $19 million a few years ago. Powered by a twin-cam inline six-cylinder the D-Type was a hyper-advanced racing car that used aerodynamic styling long before it became the norm and, with only a handful built at the time, is an extraordinarily rare machine today.

9. 2019 Bugatti La Voiture Noire - $19.4 million

In 2019 Bugatti’s one-off La Voiture Noire (black car) overtook the Rolls-Royce Sweptail as the world’s most expensive new car and remains so today. The design of the modified Chiron’s carbon fibre bodywork was inspired by the ultra-luxe 1937 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic and the La Voiture Noire features many unique touches to place it above and beyond a regular Chiron. With only one available it was quickly snapped up while still on display at its debut at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show.

8. 1994 McLaren F1 LM- $27.7 million

Officially the fastest car in the world for many years, the BMW V12-powered McLaren F1 is still considered the ultimate driver’s car thanks to its technological prowess and the driver-focussed dynamics. A race version, the 1994 McLaren F1 LM chassis #018 sold in August 2019 for $27.7 million, though it is rumoured other race-only variants have sold privately for over $35 million. So far the most expensive road-going F1 variant was chassis #044 which sold for $22.8 million in 2017 to multi-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

7. 1935 Duesenberg SSJ - $30.8 million

The height of pre-World War II luxury in America, Duesenbergs were among the most expensive cars in the world in the 1960s and ‘70s as their rarity, performance and ultra-luxe nature made them hyper-desirable. Duesenberg hoped the new-for-1928 Model J would be a world-class car to rival many of the most luxurious cars from Europe, costing up to $25,000 in 1928 when a doctor took home less than $3000 per-annum on average! To help promote the new model Duesenberg built a pair of short-wheelbase high-performance versions dubbed “SSJ”, packing a supercharged 7.0-litre straight-eight producing 400hp – these cars were the Bugatti Chirons of their day! The two cars were given to big-name Hollywood stars Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, who’d often race each other through the Hollywood hills in the Duesys. It was Cooper’s SSJ which sold in August 2018 for over $30 million.

6. 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 racing car - $32.9 million

One of the most successful English racing cars from the golden age of sports car racing, the 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 is a purpose-built racing car designed to take on the might of Ferrari, Jaguar and Maserati in the mid-1950s. The advanced tube-frame construction was powered by a 250hp 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder and its 810kg weight meant it took out the 1959 World Sportscar Championship, plus the Le Mans 24-Hour, Tourist Trophy, and Nurburgring races in that same year. Carroll Shelby, later famous for inventing the Shelby Cobra and Mustang cars, and helping Ford sort their GT40 race car, was one of the key drivers of the DBR1 in 1959, which likely contributed to the chassis #DBR1/1 selling for $32.9 million in 2017.

5. 1954 Mercedes W196R - $45.5 million

The mid-1950s was a ferocious time in car racing, with technology pushing car speeds well past the safety measures of the time and this is shown with the highly advanced W196 Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix racing cars. Featuring a fuel-injected 2.5-litre straight-eight-cylinder engine producing up to a staggering (for the time) 340hp the “silver arrows” were dominant in Formula One racing of the day. The W196 secured Juan Manuel Fangio two of his five World Championships and plenty of race wins for Sir Stirling Moss. All W196s, one of the most famous Grand Prix racing cars of all time, were kept by Mercedes or were owned by museums until 2013 when one of Fangio’s race cars sold at Goodwood for an eye-watering $45.5 million.

4. 1957 Ferrari 335 S - $53.6 million

The precursor to Ferrari’s 3.0-litre 250 TR models, the 335 S was a 4.0-litre 400hp V12 fire-breather capable of an insane (for the time) 300km/h back in 1957. An all-out sports racing car only four were built, with one destroyed in a horrific crash during the 1957 Mille Miglia that killed 12 people and caused the Italian government to ban the race for 1958-on. These racing cars were driven by some of the all-time greatest racing drivers from sports car racing’s golden age of the 1950s and ‘60s, including Wolfgang von Trips, Phil Hill, Sir Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Phil Hill, Mike Hawthorn, Luigi Musso, and Maurice Trintignant. The brutal speed of the 335 S helped Ferrari win the World Sportscar Championship in 1957, and their rarity helped chassis #0674 sell for over $53 million in 2016.

3. 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa - $56 million

Ferrari’s 250-series open-top sports racing cars of the mid-to-late 1950s were very different beasts to their later GT-class brethren but they’re all worth serious dollars today. Famed for winning some of the world’s hardest and fastest sports car races in the hands of some of the most famous racing drivers of all time, the early cars were known by the nickname Testa Rossa which is Italian for “red head” (the colour of the 3.0-litre V12 engine’s covers on the cylinder heads). Built between 1957 and 1961 the model was updated with each year, though the early “pontoon guard” models are the most desirable. It was an ex-Works 1957 model (chassis #0704) which sold in 2014 for a reported $56 million due to its immaculate, unrestored condition and the fact three of Ferrari’s most famous drivers, Phil Hill, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, drove it in some of the biggest races in the world at that time.

2. 1937 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic - $56 million

Fashion mogul Ralph Lauren owns a clutch of the world’s most expensive cars, but his 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic is in another stratosphere. Bought in 1988 the ultra-rare coupe is one of just three made and two surviving examples. Lauren purchased his Atlantic for the equivalent of $56 million and the other Atlantic sold to the Mullin Automotive Museum a few years ago for $53 million. The 57 SC is regarded as the greatest pre-World War II vehicle ever built, featuring technologically advanced construction and supercar performance from its supercharged engine.

1. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO - $66 million

The two most expensive cars ever sold are Ferrari 250 GTOs, often cited as the most beautiful car ever made. The hand-made GT coupes were cutting edge racing cars when they debuted in 1962, the ultimate incarnation of Ferrari’s legendary 250-series and arguably the greatest front-engined Ferrari from the company’s legendary golden era of racing. With their powerful Tipo 162 3.0-litre 300hp V12 they swept racing, though only 36 GTOs were built in the two years Ferrari offered them. From new they have always been expensive cars, costing US$18,000 in 1962! While one example has reportedly privately sold for $97.9 million, public sales are still a fair way shy of that stratospheric level. In 2014 chassis #3851GT sold for the equivalent of $56.7 million before chassis #3143GT then bettered that result four years later, selling for over $66 million to take its place as the most expensive car in the world.