Question: What do the Bentley Blower, Jaguar D-Type, Ferrari 250 GTO, Ford GT40 and McLaren F1 have in common? Answer.
Two things: the first is that they’re worth a fortune. The second is that all these cars claimed success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The history of the cars I want to talk about today stems from a simple rule introduced in 1995 by the FIA and the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organizer of Le Mans), that states that all cars competing in the GT1 class would have to be transformations of street legal cars. Thank you, Le Mans, for giving us two of the most fascinating cars of the late 90s: the Porsche 911 GT1 and the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR.
The Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (or Street Version) had very little in common with the 993 it was derived from, just a small portion of the front chassis. It used a centrally-positioned 3.2-litre turbocharged engine producing 544 HP that could push it to 100 km/h from a standstill in 3.9 seconds and then keep pushing it all the way up to 307 km/h. Thanks to its Kevlar body (a unique feature), the car weighed a paltry 1050 kg. In the race version, with longer gears, it managed to touch 330 km/h on the Mulsanne straight.
The technical characteristics of the Mercedes-CLK GTR are diametrically opposite: a 6,900cc or 7,300cc naturally aspirated V12 engine, developing 631 HP or 664 HP respectively. Acceleration to 100 km/h from standstill took just 3.8 seconds or 3.5 depending on the version and both kept on accelerating all the way up to a top speed of 340 km/h. Compared to the GT1, the CLK GTR was also available in a Roadster version which used the same 6.9-litre engine, “detuned” to produce 612 HP.
To participate in the FIA GT Championship, manufacturers had to make at least 25 of the street legal versions and, as had already been seen with Group B, both models were produced in that precise number. Not one more, or one less (in the case of the CLK there were 20 coupes and 5 roadsters). Even before taking to the track, the CLK GTR had already set a record: the Guinness Book of Records named it the most expensive production car (if you can call it that) with its price tag of $1,547,620. In contrast, all the 911 GT1 models were sold to “friends and family” and the price list was never published, but sources close to the buyers indicated figures of close to $1,000,000.
Who won on the track? The first to be introduced was the Porsche that won at Le Mans in 1996 and, despite the excellent placements that followed, was forced to give up hopes of winning the championship as it arrived in the middle of the season. In 1997, the Mercedes arrived and took home all the trophies. Out of 13 championship races, it finished eight, winning all of them (Le Mans included).
At the end of the year, a modification to the GTI regulations allowed Porsche to adopt a carbon chassis that removed 100kg from the mix (like the 911 GT1 Evo) and in 1998, it finally won its class in the trans-Alpine endurance race.
And which one won as an investment in the car collecting market? With just 25 produced of each model, these two cars are true rarities, and when one actually comes onto the market it pretty much “sets the price” itself.
The first sales of the Mercedes-CLK GTR at auction houses came shortly after the release of the production: in 2003 two models came onto the market, one with just 53km from new and the other with the more powerful 7.3-litre engine that had been entrusted to the press for testing. The price was incredibly similar: the first was sold for €808,800, while the second one changed hands for €$827,500.
After a couple of “missed opportunities” in 2007 (estimates were between €700-800,000 and $1.5-2,000,000, respectively), in 2012 number 12 was offered with just 1,335 miles on the clock. Estimated at $1.25-1.5 million, the car changed hands for $1,100,000. Fast forward three years and in June 2015, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the first Roadster model appeared (chassis number 8) that comfortably reached its estimate of £1.4-1,800,000 and sold for £1,513,500. The following year it was the turn of chassis number 23 (previously seen in 2003): a Coupé that this time no longer had 53km on the clock but rather one that had (finally) been driven for 3,300 km, and although it wasn’t sold, it still received an offer of €1.5 million, almost double the amount the owner had previously paid for it.
But we had to wait until 2018 so see the price skyrocket when chassis number 9, with just 1,500km from new, went for $4,515,000, perfectly in line with its estimate of $4.25-5,250,000.
Porsche sales are, inexplicably, much rarer.
The first time one went up for sale at auction dates back to 2003 when chassis #5 was sold for €640,500 but then in March 2012 (nine years later), another one came up for auction. This time it was one of the early Evo models, with a complete sporting history that included participation in the 1997 Le Mans and a third place at Laguna Seca in the same year. The estimate of $900K-1,200,000 was exceeded and the buyer took it home for $1,265,000.
It’s not very far from Amelia Island to Pebble Beach and Strassenversion number 5 (previously seen in 2003) with7,000km on the clock once again came onto the market. The estimate of $1.25-1,400,000 was narrowly missed at $1,175,000 but the seller was not satisfied and took it home. During the Monte Carlo Historic Grand Prix in May 2016, RM Auction House offered the only street-legal GT1 Evo model and sold it €2,772,000 against an estimate of €2.7-3,000,000.
In March 2017, at Amelia Island, the fifth GT1 model was once again back on the market, this time with 7,900km on the clock. But even without a rough estimate, the buyer (a Brazilian collector with a home in London) was not in the slightest bit distracted by the increase in mileage and took it home for $5,665,000.