Auctions

The 10 biggest auction sales from 2023

by Andrew Newton
1 January 2024 6 min read
The 10 biggest auction sales from 2023
RM/Sotheby's

After unprecedented growth and routinely broken record prices in 2022, things mostly looked calmer in 2023. That’s not to say the auction market was sleepy, though. And at the top end of the market, some mouth-watering, wallet-draining cars crossed the block this year. Here are the 10 most expensive.

1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB

1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB
Gooding & Company

Sold by Gooding & Co. for £7,446,129

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The successor to the 250 Tour de France (TdF) and the precursor to the 250 GTO, the 250 Short Wheelbase (SWB) was a true GT that could be driven to the track, take the chequered flag, and driven back home again. Ferrari built barely 160 examples and they’re all special.

This one lacks race history but makes up for it in originality. A four-owner car, reportedly never before offered for public sale and almost entirely original, it sold for just shy of eight figures but also slightly over its condition #1 (Concours) value.

2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Roadster

Neil Fraser/RM Sotheby’s

Sold by RM Sotheby’s for £8,051,889

With just 20 coupes and six roadsters built, Mercedes-Benz’s CLK GTR isn’t just a thinly-veiled FIA GT Championship-winning, 6.9-litre V12-sporting race car for the road. It’s also one of the rarest modern exotic cars – there are four times as many McLaren F1s as there are CLK GTRs.

They come to auction very infrequently, and when they do, each sale price is drastically higher than the last. Eleven years ago, a coupe sold for £700K. The last roadster to sell at auction was in 2015, and it brought £1.2M. Then, another coupe brought £3.55M in 2018. At £8.05M, this 170km roadster is the new benchmark until another one of the 26 CLK GTRs comes out of hiding.

2022 Bugatti Chiron Profilée

RM Sotheby’s

Sold by RM Sotheby’s for €9,792,500 (£8,411,072)

The word “unique” gets tossed around a little too much in the collector car hobby (how many times have you heard “my Corvenbahn 7000GTN is one of one in Testosterone Blue over Matte Crimson Emu hide with Stereosonic speakers that was built on a Tuesday”), but this Bugatti is truly quite different from the rest. While based on the already-exclusive Chiron, it has a different shape than the standard car as well as special interior features like woven leather for the dash, door panels, and centre console.

Bugatti had planned to sell a special version of the Chiron like the Profilée, but when the original run of 500 build slots for the “regular” Chiron quickly sold out, the company cancelled the plans and just the one Profilée was completed. It blew past its €4.2M–€5.5M estimate window as bidders battled for a chance to secure the last Bugatti with the acclaimed W16 quad-turbo engine. In the process, it also became the most expensive “new” car ever sold at auction.

1972 Ferrari 312 PB

RM Sotheby’s

Sold by RM Sotheby’s for €12,042,500 (£10,249,760)

It’s a multi-race winning Ferrari, campaigned in a year when the company won its last World Sportscar Championship. It has a Formula 1–derived flat-12 engine so it sounds great, and it doesn’t look half bad, either. In other words, it’s no surprise this 312 PB was one of the most expensive cars sold anywhere this year.

The final evolution of Ferrari’s “P” series of cars that dated back to 1963, the 312 PB was also one of the most successful of that series. The chassis won every race it entered in the 1972 World Sportscar Championship (Scuderia Ferrari skipped Le Mans that year), and this car was a big part of that effort. It won the Buenos Aires 1000 Kilometres and the Nürburgring 1000 Kilometres, and also took second at Sebring and third at Monza.

1957 Jaguar XKSS

1957-Jaguar-XKSS side view
RM Sotheby’s/Zach Brehl

Sold by RM Sotheby’s for £10,388,392

Little more than a Le Mans-winning D-Type race car with bumpers and a windshield, the XKSS is one of the prettiest, rarest, and most valuable road cars around. Jaguar built it to offload the expensive cars and parts that littered the factory after it pulled back from factory racing in 1956, and had enough stock to build 25 units. The infamous fire at the factory meant that just 16 were completed.

Like most of the 16 original XKSSs (Jaguar has since completed those missing 9 cars as XKSS “Continuations”), this one sold new to North America but it eventually passed through several UK collectors, one of whom snagged the registration plate “JAG 1.”

XKSSs tend to stay in long-term ownership and are rarely seen at auction. The last real one we saw cross the block was in 2017, and that car failed to sell at an £9M high bid. This one’s £10.4M final price puts it right within its £9.5M–£11M estimate range.

1964 Ferrari 250 LM

Ferrari 250 LM front three quarter
Artcurial

Sold by Artcurial for €15,771,200 (£13,468,539)

With just 32 built, the 250 LM is a very rare car, even rarer than a 250 GTO. It’s also a pretty car. One of the prettiest, really. It gave Ferrari its last overall win at Le Mans until the company’s triumphant return in 2023. Important and expensive, then, but the sale of this car was surprising not for how high it was – it was surprising for how low it was.

This car, chassis #5901, crossed the block in February, failed to meet reserve at a €20M reported high bid, and then went back home. French auction house Artcurial then brought it out for its own single-car sale in July. At this smaller affair, the high bid that eventually won the car was lower than where bidding opened back in February. It’s also less than the last 250 LM sold at auction, which was an £11.3M sale way back in 2015. Chassis #5901 boasts its original body, engine, and gearbox, and it certainly looks great, but it never raced in period. In the bidders’ eyes, glory (or lack thereof) apparently trumped originality.

1962 Ferrari 250 California Spider

1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider
Gooding & Co.

Sold by Gooding & Co. for £14,196,027

This was the most expensive car at the 2023 auctions in Amelia Island, Florida, by a factor of more than three. And for good reason, as it’s a short wheelbase (SWB) California Spider with covered headlights, which is the most attractive configuration and quite rare with 37 built. It’s also reportedly the only one finished in Azzurro Metallizzato, which is a shame, because it’s a stunning colour. There aren’t any major market implications here, just a top-quality car deservedly bringing top dollar.

2013 Mercedes-Benz W04 F1

2013-Mercedes-AMG-Petronas-F1 car front three quarter
RM Sotheby’s/Alex Penfold

Sold by RM Sotheby’s for £14,801,787

Modern F1 cars have been showing up at collector car auctions more often over the last few years. Top-quality cars with a good history are also bringing more money. With the sport more popular now than ever, modern F1 cars broke into the top three auction sales in both 2022 and 2023. That’s never happened before. In 2022, the car on the podium was Michael Schumacher’s 2003 title-winning Ferrari F2003-GA, which sold for £12.5M. In 2023, it was Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes W04 from 2013, his first season with the team. While another Mercedes – Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1954 W196 – is still the most expensive Formula 1 car ever sold at auction, Hamilton’s is now the most expensive F1 machine of the modern era.

1967 Ferrari 412P

1967 Ferrari 412P Berlinetta front three quarter pan
Bonhams

Sold by Bonhams for £19,351,174

The most expensive and most beautiful lot of the Monterey auctions, this 412P caused little commotion on the auction block and sold for about what most people thought it would. That said, it’s still an incredible car for an incredible sum of money.

The 412P came about at the height of the Ford/Ferrari wars in 1967. After a disappointing 1966, when Ferrari’s 330 P3 played second fiddle to the GT40, Ferrari clawed back some glory in 1967 by finishing first, second, and third at the Daytona 24 Hours, along with securing the World Sportscar Championship title. While the factory team was racing 330 P3s/P4s, Ferrari built four of these 4.0-litre prototypes to customer specs for private teams and called them 412Ps. This one sold new to British team Maranello Concessionaires and wears the team’s signature red with light blue stripe livery. It had decent but unexceptional results in period with its original body and then with temporarily-fitted spyder bodywork, and eventually made it to the West Coast where an owner registered it for street use(!) before selling it on to somebody for just 10 grand(!).

Total production of the 412 P, 330 P3, and 330 P4 series numbers fewer than a dozen examples, so not many have been seen for sale. One of the P4s, cut up and modified for Can-Am racing in period, came to auction in 2009 and was a no-sale at a €7,250,000 high bid. The last confirmed public sale of one of these beauties was in 2000 when Christie’s got $5.6M for a P3.

1962 Ferrari GTO SII 330

Ferrari 330LM 250 GTO rear three quarter
RM Sotheby’s

Sold by RM Sotheby’s for £42,229,742

After last year’s shocking $142M sale of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut coupe, things came back to normal in 2023, with an Enzo-era Ferrari taking the top auction spot of the year. And what a Ferrari it is.

It’s the first GTO to come to auction since 2018, when a car with less desirable bodywork but a clean history sold for a then-record £38.4M.

This car is one of a handful of cars fitted in-period with a larger 4.0-litre engine, which technically made it a “330 LM” despite its GTO bodywork. After some decent performances as a factory car, though, it was sold to private Italian owners, converted to 250 GTO spec, and then raced as a 250 GTO, hence RM Sotheby’s labeling it as a “330 LM/250 GTO.” It has since been shown in a featured GTO class at Pebble Beach and taken part in the ultra-exclusive 250 GTO Anniversary Tour, so it’s part of the club.

Other GTOs have reportedly sold for more on the private market, but this is now the most expensive Ferrari ever sold at auction and the second most expensive car sold at auction, ever.

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