Jim’s Blog: Big Money – The Most Expensive American Cars Sold at Auction

Summer sets the stage for some of the biggest collector car auctions of the year, and those auctions tend to bring some really high-end cars to market. And when those cars sell, they tend to bring big dollars as well.

Here’s a list of the top five American cars ever sold at auction, sourced from the ACC Premium Database. There are hundreds of thousands more listings just like these in the database, entered by our on-site auction reporters, and they’re searchable by year, make, model, and VIN. Learn more about Premium here.

5. 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ, Sold at $4,510,000. RM Auctions, Amelia Island, FL, 3/9/2013

Said to be one of three Newport-designed and Walker-built LaGrande convertible coupes, and the only example fitted with an SJ factory supercharger. Blower thought to be original to the car. Bellhousing and frame not original. First in Class at 1998 Pebble Beach. Has participated in several Duesenberg tours. Was once in the General Lyon Collection

A stunning design on a well-documented SJ Duesenberg. Previously sold for $2.8m at RM Phoenix in 2007 (ACC# 44069), and before that, for $1.27m at Christie’s in Lyndhurst, NY, 1998 (ACC# 14617). Expensive, but one of the premier automobiles in the collecting world and a solid investment.

4. 1966 Batmobile, Sold at $4,620,000, Barrett-Jackson, Scottsdale, AZ, 1/15/2013

390-ci V8, auto. The original Batmobile, built by George Barris for the 1960s TV series. Barris purchased it from FoMoCo for $1 with no title. Looks a bit rough from studio use. Marginal paint with all of the usual flaws you’d expect of a custom that got used in front of the camera for an extended period of time. Lots of stick-on labels and phony instruments and combat-style stuff. Tachometer mounted in steering wheel hub has Barris logo. Comes with memorabilia and documentation from George Barris.

Pre-Batmobile configuration, this was the Lincoln Futura show car. In 1959, it was painted red and appeared in the Glen Ford and Debbie Reynolds film “It Started With A Kiss.” Price paid for it had little to do with the quality of the car. This is a cult icon that brought the money because two bidders “just had to own it.” To put it in some perspective, for the same money you could have bought Lot 5001, the Clark Gable 300SL; Lot 5004, the 1934 Duesenberg; and Lot 5041, the Owens Corning Corvette, with $55k left for gas and insurance.

3. 1966 Shelby Cobra Super Snake, Sold at $5,500,000, Barrett-Jackson, Scottsdale, AZ, 1/18/2007

427-ci 800-hp dual Paxton-supercharged V8, 2×4-bbl, auto. Originally configured as a competition car, then retrofitted by Shelby American as a street car. Wears California manufacturers’ black license plates with 1965 tabs. Good quality repaint, imperfect door fit. Clean underbody pan. Excellent upholstery, seat belts are period aircraft-style items. Dashboard marked with Dymo Label Maker type emblems. Extremely clean and well detailed under the hood.

Used by Carroll Shelby, and was also the basis for a similar car made for Bill Cosby, which was destroyed in a fatal accident with a later owner. There was plenty of legend surrounding this car, but was it worth $5m plus? The high bidder seemed to think so, and at least one underbidder wasn’t too far behind. A crazy price for a crazy car.

2. 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, Sold at $7,685,000, Mecum Auctions, Monterey, CA, 8/15/2009

289-ci V8, 4×2-bbl, 4-sp. One of six Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes. Won FIA championship for Shelby American in 1965. Subsequently owned by Bob Bondurant and used in movie “Redline 7000.” Fully restored with a faultless exterior. AC pedals, Halon fire system, new lettering for switches. Loose lighting wire in driver’s door, some wear on driver’s seat edge and some minor paint blemishes by door. Brakes show some crystallized fluid near bleeders. Rock chips inside fenders. Driven onto the auction stage by Bondurant and authenticated by him and designer Peter Brock.

Last seen at Mecum’s Indianapolis sale in May ’09, where it failed to sell at $6.8m (ACC# 120528). The auctioneer invited a $7m opening bid to no avail, with bidding eventually starting at $4m, then jumping to $5m, and up from there in $250,000 increments. Reserve came off at gavel price of $7,250,000. Restored to perfection—some might say too perfect—but with the help of testimony of Bondurant and Brock, this Cobra sold big.

1. 1931 Duesenberg Model J LWB, Sold at $10,340,000, Gooding & Co, Pebble Beach, CA, 8/21/2011

Presents as a new vehicle. Vast expanses of laser-straight bodywork with amazing black paint. Chrome excellent except for some buffing flaws apparent at sides of radiator shell. Insides of bumpers show thinness of chrome, an inexplicable flaw, although perhaps that’s exactly how the Model J was made.

As lovely and riveting as a pre-war Mercedes-Benz, and if you were a tycoon during the Great Depression, you could make your foreclosure rounds in style. The Model J is the Duesenberg you want and this one was a stunner, with one-off coachwork and an exhaustively researched history. Beholding it begs the question: Can American automobiles ever be this good again?