A Tesla Model S P85D can run up well over $110,000 after options. A Chevrolet Corvette Z06 can fall easily within the $100,000 range after a walk through the accessories menu. Ford’s new GT is expected to punch through the $200,000 barrier once it’s released. These three fine specimens make for very pricey American automobiles, but those figures barely represent a drop in the bucket for prices the most coveted American rides have fetched at auction.
Since 2004, the top ten have begun around the $4 million mark and gone skyward. When viewing the list of legendary race cars, symbols of American automotive might, super-luxury rides of the 1930s, and even the original Batmobile, the value of these American cars begins to make sense. Some of the most expensive auctioneered cars in the world are Ferraris, but with those (and other European cars) out of the equation, how do the American cars stand up?
A hat-tip to Autoblog for compiling a list of the American-branded cars that have landed the highest amounts ever at auction, and we thought was worth another look. Here are the top ten from lowest price to highest price of all time, with a debt of gratitude to the auction houses for the background information on their gorgeous auction lots.
10. 1967 Chevy Corvette L88
Only twenty models of the 1967 Chevy Corvette L88 were produced, and of those twenty, only one was red. This model that sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction for $3,850,000 (includes buyer’s commission) in January 2014 was that rare Corvette. Said to be “underrated by GM at 430 horsepower,” Barrett-Jackson cites dyno-testing that brought other L88 models to 560 hp. Built for the racetrack, the L88 was for purists only. Neither a radio or a heater were part of the package.
9. 1950 GM Futurliner Parade of Progress Bus
GM’s “Parade of Progress” Futurliner buses powered the automaker’s road shows between 1940 and 1956. Of the twelve that were made in the Harley Earle era, this 1950 model (No. 11) is one of three that have been restored to the original Parade of Progress configuration, according to Barrett-Jackson. It sold for $4,400,000 (includes buyer’s commission) in 2006.
8. 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster
When Leonardo DiCaprio shows off his gorgeous “supercharged” ride in Baz Luhrmann’s adapation of The Great Gatsby, he’s showing off a 1929 Duesenberg. This auto brand featured exquisite hand-built machines for barons on Gatsby’s level and the first American winner of the French Grand Prix in 1921. Deusenberg’s performance mojo and elite cache make its cars perennials on the most expensive American auto list.
The 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster (featured in sandy yellow on the right) has the nickname “The Mormon Meteor” and won Best in Show at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Though it no longer packs the V12 that once allowed the car to hit 153.97 mph in 1935, the SJ Speedster still brought home $4,455,000 at auction in 2004.
7. 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe
Speaking of Gatsby-esque cars, this stunning 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe was only of three that were made and the only one that was supercharged. The vehicle was returned to peak form by Steve Babinsky’s Automotive Restorations of Lebanon, New Jersey, before the final gavel struck at $4,510,000 in March 2013. RM Auctions (where it sold) cites General William Lyon as one of the car’s original owners.
6. 1966 Batmobile 1
POW! BANG! According to Batmobile lore, George Barris bought the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car for $1 and was enjoying it as part of his private collection. A few years later, producers of the Adam West “Batman” series gave Barris $15,000 and a deadline of fifteen days to turn the Futura into the original Batmobile. When the 1966 Batmobile 1 finally went up for auction at Barret-Jackson Scottsdale in 2013, it was the first time the car sold — other than the time it went for the price tag of a buck. The second time around, Batmobile 1 commanded $4,620,000.
5. 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 “Super Snake”
The ’66 Shelby Cobra nicknamed “The Super Snake” was labeled semi-competition (S.C.) after modifications and is one of twenty-three originals that were built, while only two were made by Cobra in the Super Snake mold. This model, labeled CSX 3015, was the one that survived. CSX 3033 was driven off a cliff into the Pacific by Tony Maxey. Yes, this car is special. So special that it sold for $5.5 million at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in 2007.
4. 1964 Ford GT40 Prototype
When Henry Ford II wanted to challenge the fastest cars on earth — and tried to buy Ferrari in 1963 — he launched an all-out asault on the racing world. Experiments under Carroll Shelby began, but problems with weight created the need for a vehicle with a lighter chassis. This GT40 prototype (GT/104) was the fourth model the production team created and the first with the light chassis. It got a Cobra-spec 289 Cl engine and placed third at Daytona in 1965, marking an early achievement of Ford Racing. This very model sold for $7,000,000 at Mecum Auctions in April 2014.
3. Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX 2601
If the list is feeling Duesenberg- and Shelby-heavy, it’s no coincidence. These two masters of American automobile performance are never strangers to any podium. The third most expensive American car to ever sell is the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX 2601, which commanded $7,250,000 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2009. It was the car that ended up beating Ferrari at the World Manufacturer’s Championship of 1965, which Mecum declared the finest racing hour for any American car.
2. 1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe
The Duesenberg Model J Coupe with the long wheelbase and ultra-opulent looks brought down the house when it sold at Pebble Beach in 2011. This bespoke Frank Hershey gem of 1931 was described by Gooding & Company without reserve as “the most elegant American automobile.” It would be a tough claim to dispute. Auction bidders certainly agreed. A winning bid of $10,340,000 made it the priciest American car ever sold, surpassing the mark the Shelby Cobra CSX 2601 set in 2009.
1. 1968 Ford GT40
It didn’t take very long for a Ford Racing car to take the top spot back as the most expensive American car to ever change hands. The reigning heavyweight champion is the 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Lightweight racer, a car that finished first at Spa in its May 1967 debut before being modified to conform to 1968 regulations. As the first of only three models, this GT40 went on to do great things at the racetrack.
However, the true fame of the car came from its Hollywood associations. Steve McQueen used the 1968 GT40 Gulf/Mirage as the camera car in the 1971 film Le Mans after his production company leased it from the owner. In this price range, it takes something extra to top the list of all-time American car sales. The 1968 GT40 with Gulf decals had that magical quality, which the RM Auctions buyer considered worth a cool $11 million.