A classic Formula 1 Mercedes-Benz has become the most expensive car to be sold at public auction after fetching more than £19 million.
The 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 was the race car driven by five-times F1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio when he clinched his second title in 1954.
The Argentine drove the 2.5-litre car to victories in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix races, the first successive triumphs achieved by the factory Mercedes-Benz team in its post-war comeback.
The single-seater car fetched £19.6 million when it was sold by Bonhams at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Chichester, West Sussex. The price includes the buyer's premium. The previous world record for the most expensive car sold at public auction was a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa which went for more than £10 million (16 million US dollars) in California in 2011.
The German-made car, chassis number 00006/54, sold to a private buyer over the telephone, Bonhams said. The auction house said the Mercedes is one of the most significant cars of the 20th century and the most important historic Grand Prix racing car offered at public auction.
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 £19.6 million inclusive, it's a new world record by some distance. We had eight telephone bidders at the start of the bidding and we had three people in the audience, so we had more than 10 people who were prepared to spend. Of those 11 bidders, only five got the chance to bid. Our own personal record of £5 million 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 car contains many features which were innovative in the 1950s, including a fuel-injected engine, lightweight chassis weighing just 72lb and all-round inboard-mounted brakes.
Ahead of the sale, motoring historian Doug Nye said the car was a "window into the past" and a "piece of mechanical jewellery". He said: "In every area of the car, there is evidence of just the most fantastic workmanship. It was designed by very sophisticated, hi-tech engineers. But more than that it was made by ordinary working men who did a brilliant job. It's hand crafted and it's just like a piece of mechanical jewellery."
Nicknamed "El Maestro", Fangio, who died aged 84 in 1995, once said: "When I was in a racing car, I always liked to see exactly where the wheels were pointing. I asked for a version with no bodywork covering the wheels for the Nurburgring race, and in no time Mercedes had built one - and I drove it to win the German Grand Prix."
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. It was a personal privilege to preside over the sale of this vehicle, which is not only one of the most significant motor cars of the 20th century, but also the most important historic Grand Prix racing car ever offered for sale."