2020: ten most expensive cars sold at auction so far

By: Alex Affat, Unique Cars magazine

Bugattis for auction trio lot 6 Bugattis for auction trio lot 6

Updated with new results: A running report on the highest-achieving sales so far amidst a turbulent 2020

We don’t need to tell you that 2020 thus far has been turbulent, to say the least.

But while we had every reason to expect a far less active classic car market – our little industry is ticking along with confidence, especially at the entry and mid-levels where activity and changes to buyer confidence are most felt amongst economic downturn.

Of course, the upper echelons of collecting will always be less affected by wider global economic shifts, yet top sales posted in the first half of 2020 had paled in comparison to top-end sales achieved last year. That is until last week, however, when the UK's Concours of Elegance played host to the first major live auction in months after many calendar events were either cancelled or held online in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

Bidders were quick to bid big in the live setting, with three pre-war Bugattis raking in over AU$30 million in between them. This one sale of 16 cars (just one of which was left unsold) ultimately adds five cars to the top ten biggest sales of the year!

Two sales slingshotted to the top of the ranks, with a 1934 Bugatti Type 59 Sports (pictured above), formerly owned by King Leopold, setting a Bugatti marque auction record and fetching AU$17.3 million under the final gavel.


One of 17 Bugatti Type 57 Atalantes (above) were also offered at Gooding & Company's Concours of Elegance sale, and fetched AU$14 million, the most ever paid for a Type 57.


The 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster (above), previously owned by Victor Rothchild, had sold for AU$10.3 million at Bonham’s Amelia Island sale earlier in the year; and previously claimed the number one spot in this ranking, although has now slid to third.


A 1928 Bugatti Type 35C Grand Prix makes its debut at number four on the list after selling for AU$7.13 million at last week's Gooding & Co sale - the most ever paid for a Grand Prix example.


The 1932 Bugatti Type 55 which yielded the highest selling bid at Bonham's Paris Sale fetched AU$6.9 million, rounding out a staggering top 5 sales made up entirely of pre-war Bugattis.

Curiously, last year's rankings were largely absent of pre-WWII cars, with a sole 1939 Alfa Romeo claiming the number two spot, and a heavier bias towards cars from the late 50s to 60s. It will be interesting see how this top five looks at the end of the year.


Number six place is occupied by the most modern car on this list, and the only one you'll see here which was sold amongst a covid-induced online auction. The 2001 Ferrari 550 GT1 Prodsrive car, a former Spa 24hr winner, was part of RM Sotheby's Shift/Monterey online-only auction which was held in lieue of their usual car week sale. The front-engined Ferrari racer sold for US$5.85 and dethroned a Ferrari 275 GTB (sold the week prior) as the 'most expensive car ever sold at an online auction'.


Appearing at number seven after Gooding & Company's auction last week is this Lamborghini Miura P400 SV Speciale, featuring an experimental dry-sump setup and ZF limited-slip differential. It sold for a model record-setting AU$5.81 million.


Making its debut at number eight, and also hailing from Gooding & Company's Concours of Elegance sale, is a rare 1955 Aston Martin DB3S. A gorgeous open-top racer, this one's got even an Australian connection as it was ordered new by Aussies Tony Gaze and David McKay of Kangaroo Stable (an Australian racing team). The DB3 acted as the team's lead competition car and boasts racing history from all over the world, as well as an Australian Land Speed Record set in 1957, averaging 143.19mph. The DB3S sold for AU$5.4 million.

Sliding to ninth place is the Shelby GT350R prototype (below), raced by Ken Miles, and sold at Mecum's July Indy 2020 auction to the tune of AU$5.25 million . The early Shelby prototype dethroned the pop culture icon, the Bullitt Mustang, as the 'most expensive Mustang in the world'. 


Now appearing last (formerly third) on this list, is THE Bullitt Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the iconic 1968 Hollywood movie. The 1968 Ford Mustang GT sold for AU$5 million at Mecum’s Kissimmee collector car auction, setting the then-new Mustang model record, just after we celebrated the new decade. 


Just a year prior, in January 2019 - the 'world's most expensive' Mustang was a one-off 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake with a 427ci racing engine, sold for just (comparatively speaking) AU$3 million. A staggering show of growth at the top end of the Mustang market, which has enjoyed something of a renaissance with global collectors, especially after the Hollywood flick, Ford v Ferrari, which put 60s Mustangs back in the spotlight.

With the new injection of record sales by the return of the live auction, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the year shapes up in the global auction world. Last week's Gooding & Company auction shows that bidders are far more willing to spend big in person, but as many of the calendar events continue to grapple with ongoing health concerns, we will see whether other major auction houses choose to return to a live format.

There’s still three months left in 2020, and - as we've seen - anything could happen. Stay tuned for more auction results and news.


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