Anyone looking for the ultimate in collector’s car kudos would be wise to head along to this year’s Bonhams auction at the. There you’ll find a vehicle with scuffed and chipped paintwork, an ill-fitting bonnet, stained upholstery, a non-running engine — and an anticipated value of $10 million.
The machine in question is the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula One car in which none other than five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio won that year’s German and Swiss Grands Prix.
Of the nine examples of the W196 built, this is the only one not owned either by a major national collection or by Mercedes-Benz itself — making the impending sale a genuine ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
After the factory team pulled out of racing in 1955 (having comprehensively seen off the opposition in all classes), Mercedes-Benz allocated four 196s to different national collections. This car, chassis 00006/54, went to Britain’s National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, which subsequently sold it Anthony Bamford of JCB fame. It then passed to the legendary French collector Jacques Setton, who ran it on the private race track at his chateau outside Paris, before selling it on to German industrialist Freidhelm Loh.
It was in Loh’s ownership that the car last ran, fittingly enough at the Goodwood Festival of Speed back in 2000. Since then the W196 has been in the possession of a mystery owner who has kept it stored in a warehouse away from the public gaze.
Remarkably, despite having belonged to several owners, the car has been verified as complete and original by experts from the Mercedes-Benz historic department — and the likelihood is that, with little more than some gentle re-commissioning, its slant-eight, 2.5 litre engine could once more be made to burst into life.
All the new owner will have to do after that is wait for the invitations to the world’s most prestigious classic car events to come flooding in...
The Mercedes-Benz W196 will be offered for sale by Bonhams at the Goodwood Festival of Speed auction on July 12. For more information, see Bonhams.com or contact the car department direct on +44 (0) 20 7468 5801.