The 11 biggest car auction sales of 2023

04th January 2024
Russell Campbell

With 2023 drawing to a close, it's time to take a closer look at some of the most expensive machinery that has gone under the hammer over the past 12 months. As you'd expect, Prancing Horse cars dominate proceedings – Ferraris are both the cheapest and the most expensive cars here. Only the best machines from other manufacturers nose their way onto the list, namely Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes F1 car and another Merc race car in the bewinged shape of a CLK GTR Roadster. A list of the most expensive auction cars can't exist without Bugatti claiming a spot. The Chiron Profilée you'll read about here is the most expensive new car ever sold at auction. Meanwhile, a rare Jaguar XKSS does its bit to represent British high-end metal. Here's our guide to the most expensive cars sold at auction in 2023.


11. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta

Sold for €6,586,250 inc. premium

We start this list as it will finish – with a Ferrari. This particular Ferrari is a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta that's got to be one of the most handsome cars ever made (there's more than one candidate on this list). Just one of 165 cars made, the 250 SWB had a matching-numbers chassis and engine, a well-documented history, including a fleeting appearance on Disney's film The Love Bug, and was restored in the 1990s. The car required a (potentially expensive) recertification by Ferrari's Classiche department, but that wouldn't stop a lucky bidder from laying down more than €6.5 million to own it. Money well spent, we say. 


10. 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta

Sold for $9,465,000 inc. premium

Lot 9 will be familiar to anyone who's read the previous paragraph – yes, it's another SWB 250 GT and a fantastic excuse to become besotted by Ferrari's Grand Tourer all over again. We'd imagine the phrase "unrestored example" had well-heeled patrons at Gooding's Pebble Beach sale twitching their catalogues with anticipation because nothing excites collectors more than a completely original car in fantastic condition. It was the first time the car had sold publicly, having passed through the hands of four owners – including Italian Industrialist Giovanni Renato Scalabrin and Famed Ferrari Collector Giulio Dubbini and – before selling for not much less than $9.5 million. 


9. 2022 Bugatti Chiron Profilée

Sold for €9,792,5000 inc. premium

A list of the most expensive cars sold at auction would seem incomplete without a Bugatti, but you'd usually expect a classic, not one of the firm's brand-new models. The Profilée is incredibly special, though. It has shorter gear ratios and the Chiron Pur Sport track-ready setup, without the enormous rear wing; instead, a bespoke sweeping tail produces the downforce. You'll find the height of luxury inside, with an interior finished with 2,665 meters of woven leather strips. As the last W16 sold new by Bugatti, the Profilée's near-€10 million price tag may not be such a shock.


8. 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Roadster

Sold for $10,235,000 inc. premium

The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Roadster reminds us of a time before the Bugatti Veyron when going over 200mph required a car with pure racing pedigree. The Mercedes CLK GTR was once such a machine. Homologated so that Mercedes could race in the FIA GT Championship, it had an aluminium honeycomb frame chassis, with carbon fibre body panels and a 6.9-litre V12 motor. The car took the GT  Drivers' and Constructors Championships in 1997. Mercedes built 22 GTRs, with six remaining coupe chassis turned into Roadsters. Having led a pampered life, car number three has covered just 170km and comes complete with a set of factory-fitted luggage. It's the best way to give your ears access to a Mercedes V12 this side of a Pagani Zonda Cinque Roadster.


7. 1972 Ferrari 312 PB

Sold for €12,042,500 inc. premium

The fifth car on our list comes from Ferrari's most successful racing period before Michael Schumacher joined the F1 team – the 312 PB. Chassis 0886 was one of the principal six Scuderia Ferrari Works cars in the Group 6 sports prototype 1972 racing season. Powered by a rare 3.0-litre flat-12, it won its debut race, the Buenos Aires 1,000 Kilometres, in the hands of drivers Ronnie Peterson and Tim Schenken. The car would take second place at the 1972 12 Hours of Sebring and 3rd-place at the 1972 Monza 1,000 Kilometres before winning the final race it would compete in – the Nürburgring 1,000 Kilometres. Chassis 0886 has the rare distinction of only ever finishing on the podium during its Scuderia career. It comes with a host of parts – including a spare engine – making its €12 million-plus price tag sound like a bargain. 


6. 1957 Jaguar XKSS

Sold for $13,205,000  inc. premium

Strapped for cash in the post-war years, Jaguar converted D-Types for road use, removing the classic faired headrest, tail fin and cockpit divider. And adding a windscreen, doors and soft top roof –  the XKSS was the result. Jaguar had originally planned to make 25, but a fire at its Browns Lane factory destroyed nine cars before they could be delivered. Essentially, the XKSS is a rare road-going D Type sold just a year after it won Le Mans. After passing through the hands of proud owners and distinguished collectors, this XKSS remains largely intact, boasting a matching-number engine, gearbox, rear axle and bodywork. Opportunities to buy an XKSS are few and far between, which explains why this car set a model record when it went under the hammer at RM Sotheby's Monterey Sale.


5. 1964 Ferrari 250 LM

Sold for €15,771,200 inc. premium

Artcurial described this Ferrari 250 LM as "one of the ultimate masterpieces of automotive history", and we won't disagree. Its looks grab your attention like a lit match in a fireworks factory, but its pedigree is just as arresting – the 250 LM was the last Ferrari to win Le Mans. The 10th of 32 examples made, this 250 LM is one of just two never raced – it was entered by NART as a reserve car in the Daytona 24hr in 1966 – and is entirely original. Several American collectors owned it before falling into the hands of a French custodian who had the car for 20 years, sending it for a considerate restoration at UK specialist DK Engineering in 1997. As one of the best examples you'll find of a 250 LM, it's not surprising the car sold for nearly €16 million. 


4. 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider

Sold for $18,045,000 inc. premium

While other Ferraris on this list are handsome, this 250 GT SWB California Spider wins the day for sheer style thanks in no small part to its factory-original Azzurro Metallizzato. It's a perfect shade for a car you can imagine cruising, top-down, along one of the world's great coastal roads. The car was built for 1962's New York Motor Show and featured rare factory-fitted options like larger 42 DCL6-model carburettors and wider Borrani RW3690 wire wheels. It's also just one of 37 cars with faired headlights. Restored in 2004, the car won awards at Pebble Beach and Cavallino and features its original chassis, coachwork, engine, gearbox, rear axle and ancillaries. Selling for more than $18 million including premium with Gooding & Co, the car blew the previous record – held by an ex-James Coburn car that sold for $10,894,900 – out of the water. 


3. 2013 Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 W04

Sold for $18,815,000 inc. premium

Auctions give all of us a chance to get our hands on some genuinely prestigious competition cars, and they don't come much more prestigious than an ex-Lewis Hamilton Formula 1 Mercedes. Chassis Number F1W04-04 is the last of the naturally aspirated F1 cars, featuring a 2.4-litre V8 boosted by a KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System); the car has a seven-speed semi-automatic transmission and interlinked front and rear suspension. It says a lot about Hamilton's standing in the sport that this car comes from one of his less successful periods – despite this; the car took a win at the Hungarian Grand Prix and third-place finishes at the Malaysian, Chinese and Belgian Grand Prixs, competing in 14 out of the season’s 19 events. Mercedes F1 cars rarely go under the hammer, which goes some way to explaining its near $19 million price tag.


2. 1967 Ferrari 412P by Fantuzzi

Sold for US $30,255,000 inc. premium

The second most expensive car to go under the hammer was a 1967 Ferrari 412P by Fantuzzi, which you can read more about in our Bonhams auction's story, which leaves the way clear for the most expensive car to sell in 2023...


1. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO / 330 LM

Sold for $51,705,000 inc. premium

Naturally, it's a Ferrari 250 GTO / 330 LM that sold for nearly $52 million at RM Sotheby's sale in New York. As you'd expect, the car has a gilt-edged history – it's the only GTO Tipo to have been raced by Scuderia Ferrari and the only car to originally have a 4.0-litre engine. Taking a class win at the 1962 Nürburgring 1000km, it was driven by Mike Parkes and Lorenzo Bandini for the Scuderia Ferrari at the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Formerly owned by the chairman of the Ferrari Club of America, its last owner had fastidiously cared for the car over the past 38 years. It was a Winner of an FCA Platinum Award, the Coppa Bella Macchina at the Cavallino Classic and took Best of Show at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. One of 34 examples built with Tipo bodywork, this GTO comes complete with documents, including its original build sheet, owner's correspondence, period racing coverage and magazine articles.

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