Lewis Hamilton stunned by $180m ‘art pieces’
LEWIS Hamilton calls them "art pieces", but the reigning Formula One champion is not talking about old paintings or ancient statues - it's a vroom-vroom collection with van Gogh price-tags.
Some of the masterworks of the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection are practically priceless.
The German brand can trace its history in motorsport back 125 years.
For a big-budget anniversary bash earlier this month, many of the most valuable winners were trucked to Hamilton's homeland, England.
As one of the guest of honour drivers, he naturally was allowed to spank some of them around the famed Silverstone circuit, only a few miles from the headquarters of his Formula One team.
Building the modern racers that Hamilton drives so skilfully takes massive budgets. His outfit, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, employs about 1000 people - then there is the separate company that constructs the racers' hybrid power units.
Handmade yet hi-tech, a Formula One car is a no-expense-spared machine, its value measured in victories and its lifespan in just one racing season. World championship winners, like the one Hamilton drove last year, end up in museums.
As with earlier Mercedes-AMG F1 cars from 2014-17, Hamilton's 2018 W09 EQ Power+ will spend time in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. It won't be the most valuable racer in the place, not by a long way.
Mercedes-Benz has existed since 1926 but the brands that merged to create the new company, Daimler with its Mercedes-badged cars and competitor Benz, had by then been racing for decades.
So there are many winning racers in the 1000-plus vehicles in the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection that's rotated through the museum.
Dennis Heck of Mercedes-Benz Classic says it's impossible to put a total value on the collection.
"No. I think it's too big a number," he says.
Many of the cars are unique and will never be sold.
Mercedes-Benz deliberately undervalues its crown jewels, for a surprising reason.
Heck explains, citing a Grand Prix racer from the 1930s: "If we would say, OK, the W125 is €50 million (about $75 million), then we have to pay insurance for €50 million.
"That's why we keep that price internally as low as possible."
Even more valuable are members of the closely related family of super successful Mercedes-Benz F1 and racing sports cars of the mid-1950s.
Topping the list is the so-called Uhlenhaut Coupe, an F1-based road-going car. It should have run in sports car races such as Italy's legendary Mille Miglia (Thousand Mile) race in the 1956 season but Mercedes-Benz withdrew from competition in 1955.
Test department boss Rudolf Uhlenhaut used one of the two-seaters as a company car. It had a 3.0-litre in-line eight-cylinder engine and could top 300km/h.
Two were built and both are in the collection. Says Heck: "Probably those are the most valuable cars in the world."
He reckons they might fetch €120 million ($180 million) if they were to be sold. Which won't happen.
Having never won a race, neither of the Uhlenhaut Coupes was brought to Silverstone - but the beautiful racers that provided the basis for its chassis and engine were.
A Mercedes-Benz Formula One car from the same period was recently sold at an auction in the UK for about €36 million ($54 million), according to Heck.
One of the lovely 300 SLR sports racing cars, which used the same chassis with an enlarged engine and enclosed bodywork, would probably fetch even more, he believes. Both kinds were brought to Silverstone.
Lewis Hamilton admits to being in awe of them. "To be a part of this heritage, this history, when you look at these art pieces that started so long ago …"