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The 11 most expensive American cars ever

Tue, 12 Aug 2014

Here's a Pro Tip for all you would-be classic car investors out there: buy Ferraris. With the Pebble Beach festivities kicking off this week, including any number high end car auctions, we thought it would be entertaining to compile a list of some to the most expensive cars ever sold with the bang of a gavel. Trouble is, once you get past the splendor of everyone's favorite Italian sports car maker, that list is pretty boring.

Ferrari dominates the all-time auction sales list; seven of the top ten most expensive cars sold wear the Cavallino Rampante badge, as well as more than half of the top fifty. Sure, a nearly $30-million Mercedes-Benz W196 racecar might be the new top dog as of last year, but it's even possible that Ferrari could take that title back in Monterey this weekend. Long story short: we think a list of the most expensive American cars ever sold at auction is a lot more entertaining to read. Hell, our list has a friggin' Batmobile on it, how can it go wrong?

Follow on below for the top ten cars that are red, white, blue and a whole lot of green.

11. 1966 Gurney Eagle Mk1-Weslake – $3,740,000

The cheapest car on our most expensive car list is both American and a Formula One racer – total bargain. When racing legend Dan Gurney set out to build an American presence in Europe's premier series, this V12-powered, mid-engine, open-wheel car was his steed. The Eagle Mk1 scored just one championship victory, at the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix with Gurney at the wheel, but the Yankee foray into F1 sparked imaginations for decades to come.

In what you'll see to be a trend as you continue to read, the Mk1 took advantage of the recent, red-hot classics market to ring up the $3.74M sale price at last years Gooding & Company auction at Pebble Beach.

10. 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 – $3,850,000

Any celebration of American classic cars wouldn't be complete without a Corvette, and it was a sterling example of the model that drew a $3.85M at Barrett-Jackson in Arizona this past January. The "L88" order code translated to 427-cubic-inch, big-block V8 power, with a true output rating of more than 500 horsepower and a thirst for 103-octane fuel. Chevy only sold 20 L88 'Vettes in 1967, driving up the value of this red-and-black stunner to record-setting levels (still the highest price paid for a Corvette on record).

9. 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster "Mormon Meteor" – $4,455,000

The priciest Duesenberg on a list that contains a few of them, the 1935 "Mormon Meteor" (great name) was one of two to wear the cognomen, and also a car that set two land speed records in 1935. Originally powered by a V12 aircraft engine when it obtained the one-hour speed record of 153.97 miles per hour and the 24-hour record of 135.57 mph (both at a circuit at the Bonneville Salt Flats), the Meteor was converted to stock Duesy spec in 1938, and sold in 2004 in a similar street trim for the record price. Thankfully, the new owner had the Meteor restored to its former racing glory, winning the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance for his trouble.

8. GM Futurliner #11 – $4,320,000

The GM Futureliner was the lovely Brontosaurus of the Harley Earl Epoch in styling history. Conceived for use in the 1939 New York World's Fair, the Futurliner must have seemed utterly radical in its first public viewing, with streamlined, Art Deco bodywork and an impossibly flowing shape for such a hulking motor. Example number eleven of twelve Futurliners built (and only nine known to still exist) sold for a princely sum of $4.32M in 2006 at a Barrett-Jackson event, and was so big it had to be driven to its new home rather than the de rigueur shipping route. That's one expensive bus ticket.

7. 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe – $4,510,000

Another 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ supercharged coupe, another four-million-plus price tag. In addition to their utter rarity and peerless craftsmanship, it's important to remember that SJ models hold such value because of their spectacular performance during the era of their creation. In a decade where road-going cars capable of 100 mph was almost unheard of, blown Duesenburgs were reportedly capable of 140 mph in top (third) gear. The Veyron of its day, to be sure, and sold for enough to buy a few of them, at an RM Auctions event in 2013.

6. 1966 Batmobile 1 – $4,620,000

If you asked a random sampling of Batman fans what the Batmobile was worth, back when the iconic television series first aired back in 1966, "a million bucks" might have been a popular answer. Certainly that would have been an apt accolade for the Rocket Age-styling of the crime-fighting vehicle. As an estimate though, it would have been a bit high for the late '60s, and quiet low for the 21st Century.

Starting life as the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car (built for roughly $250k in 1954 dollars) and acquired by George Barris in some kind of backroom deal with Ford, it proved the perfect platform for a quick Batmobile conversion when 20th Century Fox came calling. The transformation took three weeks and cost a reported thirty grand, with Barris then estimating its value at $125,000.

Take all of those figures, correct for time, nostalgia and the sheer thrill of buying the Dark Knight's first set of wheels, and you end up with a $4.62M price tag in 2013.

5. 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake – $5,500,000

At the halfway turn of our expensive American cars list, values start to really jump, with almost a million dollars separating the Batmobile from one stunning Shelby Cobra 427 – that feels right to us.

The ultra rare Super Snake competition models were stunningly powerful and difficult to tame. So much so that the 427 inspired Carroll Shelby-friend Bill Cosby to create the hilarious 200 MPH bit (kids, if you haven't heard the man's pre-Cosby Show-era standup, do yourselves a favor and buy the record).

Anyway... car CSX3015 was Shelby's personal vehicle for years, and offered more than enough provenance to sky-rocket up to $5.5M in a 2007 Barrett-Jackson action (a record-setting sum for an American-made car at the time.)

4. 1964 Ford GT40 Prototype – $7,000,000

One of the first GT40s built, car GT/104 was a lightweight version with a 4.7-liter V8 mounted amidships (more potent than the original-recipe 4.2L engine), and a Le Mans pedigree. This particular example was forced to retire from that 1964 endurance race, but it saw a podium finish at the 1965 Daytona Continental 2,000 Kilometers, where no less than Bob Bondurant and Ritchie Ginther piloted it to third place.

Boasting its original engine and gearbox in running form, this amazing piece of US racing history killed it a Mecum auction in Houston this year, racking up and incredible $7-million total sale price. The scary thing is that, at that rate, it's only the second-most expensive GT40 on this list...

3. 1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe – $7,685,000

The Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe was a purpose-built racecar, invented and deployed with the mission to take down Ferrari in GT road racing. In 1965, that's exactly what this stunning example did, time and time again. Chassis #CSX2602 raced at (ready for this?) Daytona, Sebring, Monza, Spa, the Nürburgring, Reims, Enna and Le Mans during that season, winning four of its eight races. The car crossed the finish line to score the points that won Shelby the 1965 World Manufacturers Championship. Bob Bondurant was one of the Cobra Coupe's winning pilots that season, and eventually bought the car, selling it just a few decades too early, in 1969.

Bob did okay though, even without that particular $7.685M-feather in his cap.

2. 1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe – $10,340,000

Okay, okay, we set out to avoid a list full of Ferraris and ended up with one pretty heavily populated by Duesenbergs. Sold in the heady atmosphere of Pebble Beach at a 2011 Gooding & Company auction, the Model J represents everything that is desirable about the Duesenberg ethos. Long, lovely, powerful and completely bespoke, the '31 Model J embodies the pinnacle of American styling and craft in the pre-Great Depression time period. And, despite a spate of eight-figure auction sums tallied in 2013 (four of the top ten most expensive auction sales ever happened last year), this Duesy still rounds out the top-12 highest-gavel-price list.

1. 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Lightweight Racing Car – $11,000,000

One of the most iconic racing cars of all time, wearing perhaps the most geekily celebrated racing livery of all time, driven by a slew of famous racers to winning result, and with near-perfect rarity and condition. That's the formula for an $11M-sale, folks.

This lovely blue and orange GT40 won its debut race at Spa in 1967, driven by Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson. One of only two surviving lightweight GT40s from the orginal production run of three cars, it also happens to have "carbon fiber pioneer" on its impressive list of bona fides. As if having the likes of David Hobbs and Brian Redman as wheelmen weren't enough, this Gulf-spec wonder was also the true star of the film Le Mans. The value-adding factor of Steve McQueen is pretty remarkable, you'll have to admit.

That's a pretty satisfying capper to our list, then – a Hollywood-worthy GT40 with kudos from the King of Cool with an $11M sticker price. The top dog for now, we fully expect this list to be one in a state of flux as long as this new golden age for auction records steams forward. Save your pennies.

By Seyth Miersma

See also: Weekly Recap: Auto execs face life in prison for recall delays under proposed legislation, Ford-sponsored survey says a third of Brits have snapped a 'selfie' while driving [w/videos], Car companies used to cook up sales with recipe books.