Most expensive car ever sold at auction fetches $48 million

Key Points
  • A Ferrari 250 GTO was sold at RM Sotheby's on Saturday night for a record $48.4 million as part of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
  • Greg Whitten, who joined Microsoft in 1979 as its 15th employee and sold the car, said it's been a better investment since he bought it for one-tenth its selling price in 2000.
Most expensive car ever sold at auction priced at $48.5 million
Most expensive car ever sold at auction priced at $48.5 million

A 1962 Ferrari became the most expensive car ever sold at auction, fetching $48.4 million over the weekend.

The car, a Ferrari 250 GTO, was sold at RM Sotheby's on Saturday night as part of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance — a kind of Coachella for classic cars and wealthy collectors that includes five days of auctions, parties, unveilings, tours, and races around Monterey and Pebble Beach, California.

The events concluded on Sunday with the Concours d'Elegance awards for best car restorations.

The Ferrari sale helped push the total sales for the collectible car auctions to about $368 million, a 12 percent increase over last year and the first rise since the car market peak in 2014, according to Hagerty, the classic car insurance and research firm.

A 1935 Duesenberg SSJ Roadster also sold Friday at Gooding & Co. for $22 million, breaking the record for the most expensive American car ever sold at auction. Car analysts said the results show that super rare trophies can still smash records even though the broader classic car market remains subdued.

"Heavyweight bidders rose to the challenge posed by so many A-list cars, but the rest of the buyers weren't so bullish," said Hagerty.

The record-breaking Ferrari showed once again that the 250 GTO's remain the holy grail for classic car collectors. Ferrari only made 36 of them and they dominated racing during their day, winning more than 300 races combined. Many also consider the 250 GTO the most beautiful Ferrari ever made, with its elegant, sleek styling remaining timeless. As CNBC reported, a GTO sold in a private sale this spring for more than $70 million.

The car that broke the record Saturday was the third GTO Ferrari made and it maintains many of its original parts. It was sold by Greg Whitten, a former Microsoft executive who bought the car in 2000 for what experts say was less than one-tenth of Saturday's sale price.

Whitten said he bought the car to race in vintage car races and once got it up over 155 mph.

"It's a beautiful car, but it's not whole until you are racing it," he said.

Yet over time, as vintage racing was opened to a wider variety of cars, Whitten said that he had a hard time racing the car against more powerful, newer cars. And he said the owners of less expensive cars could become careless on the racetrack around the far more valuable GTO — so it was no longer as fun to race and to own.

"Some of these people don't have respect for the car," he said. "If they crash it it's not a big deal."

Even though he sold his GTO, Whitten said he still has "about a dozen" other Ferraris and he hopes to purchase plenty of other classic race cars.

When asked how a car could possibly be worth the price of multiple mansions, he said, "It's very hard to fathom. But you're in a space where you have collectors, and Ferraris are the most collectible car and the GTO is the pinnacle of Ferrari. You're really in rare territory and there are collectors who want to have one."

Whitten, who was the 15th employee of Microsoft and joined in 1979, said he doesn't buy cars as investments – but to be driven and raced.

When asked which had been a better investment, Microsoft stock or the GTO, he said it depended on the time frame. From 2000, when he bought the car, the GTO had been " a far better investment," because of where Microsoft was trading in 2000. But since 1979, "Microsoft was a much better investment. But the GTO is much more fun," he said.