Fangio's rare F1 Mercedes sells for £17.5m

Mercedes W196 Juan Manuel Fangio won two Grand Prix in the Mercedes W196

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A rare racing car driven by Formula 1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio has sold for £17.5m in what is believed to be a record for a car sold at auction.

The Mercedes-Benz W196, in which the five-time world champion clinched his second title, was auctioned at Goodwood Festival of Speed.

He drove the Mercedes to victory in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix.

The previous world record was set by a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa Prototype which went for $16.4m (£10.8m) in 2011.

BBC chief Formula 1 writer Andrew Benson said the car was the motorsport equivalent of a great work of art.

Analysis

A price-tag of £17.5m for a racing car that is nearly 60 years old might seem absurd to some. It is the sort of money that great works of art fetch at auction. But that is exactly how the Mercedes W196 is viewed within the motorsport world.

This car set a new standard in Formula 1, winning nine of 12 races through the 1954 and '55 seasons, all but one of them at the hands of the Argentine maestro Juan Manuel Fangio. The other went to Stirling Moss.

The W196 isn't beautiful in the way of, say, a Maserati 250F - the car that Fangio drove to the last of his five world titles - but it has a striking purposefulness about it.

As with all great cars, it also came with innovations - in this case, desmodronic valves and fuel injection.

Add in that Mercedes only competed in F1 for two years in the 1950s, not returning with its own team until 2010, and that this specific example was driven to two wins by a man many still regard as the greatest racing driver that has ever lived, and that price perhaps seems a little more understandable.

He said it was not as beautiful as some of the other vehicles at the time but had a "striking purposefulness about it".

The German-made car was sold to a private buyer over the telephone, Bonhams said.

'Very important car'

Potential buyers from three continents had shown interest in the vehicle, which was sold in its current condition with noticeable blemishes.

James Knight, group motoring director at Bonhams, said: "At £19.6m inclusive [commission and taxes], it's a new world record by some distance.

"Our own personal record of £5m was achieved last year for a Bentley.

"The price that we achieved today is over three times that, so it's extraordinary.

"We always knew that it was a very, very important car."

The 2.5-litre vehicle - chassis number 00006/54 - was also driven by Fangio's teammate Karl Kling in the 1955 Italian Grand Prix in Monza but suffered gearbox failure.

Bonhams said it was consigned to the Daimler-Benz Museum in Germany later that year and exhibited at Le Mans in France, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and Hockenheim in Germany throughout the 1960s.

A spokeswoman for Bonhams said: "This is the only Mercedes-Benz W196 in private hands. It is the only surviving Mercedes-Benz W196 to have won not just one Grand Prix, but two.

Lowdown on the 'Maestro'

Juan Manuel Fangio
  • World champion five times
  • 51 grand prix starts
  • 24 wins
  • 28 pole positions

"Its stature is immense, not only as the iconic Fangio car of the 1950s, but also as a shining star of pinnacle Mercedes-Benz engineering and as an icon of post-war recovery."

Motoring historian Doug Nye said: "In every area of the car, there is evidence of just the most fantastic workmanship. It was designed by very sophisticated, high-tech engineers.

"It's handcrafted and it's just like a piece of mechanical jewellery."

Following the sale, he said that if Fangio was alive today he would shake his head and smile a "slow smile".

"He was a humble man, originally a mechanic from a potato town in Argentina, and he never forgot his roots," he said.

"As a driver, he was simply a genius. As a man he had no enemies. He was universally loved, even by those he regularly beat on track.

"No standard-setting sportsman could have a better epitaph."

Bonhams chairman Robert Brooks said: "I have handled some of the world's most desirable and important motor cars during a motoring auction career spanning five decades, but I have reached a peak today with this legendary Grand Prix car."

Argentinian racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio won five world championships, the first being in 1951.

The auction was held to mark the 20th anniversary of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Chichester in West Sussex.

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