The world’s most expensive car brands are members of a very exclusive club – a club that very few auto-engineers ever get to join. These are the brands that make the world’s most expensive luxury cars, the epitome of sophistication, opulence and status.
Yet the quest to create some of the most iconic cars ever made comes at a price. A very high price. But the most expensive luxury car brands are more than just hefty price tags, they are awe-inspiring creations of mechanical magnificence. And if you’re wondering which global auto makers form the most expensive brands of car ever, read on…
Businessman Lionel Martin and engineer Robert Bamford formed Bamford & Martin Limited in a small London workshop in 1913 to sell Singer cars. A year later, Martin took on an early automotive challenge – the Aston Clinton Hill Climb race. A legend was thus born as Bamford & Martin Ltd became ‘Aston Martin’, and with it one of the world’s most expensive sports car brands was born.
In its formative years, the company made spectacular cars and even competed in the 1922 French Grand Prix but despite the memorable products they built their was no associated commercial success and the company went bankrupt in 1924. Within a year, both Bamford and Martin had left the firm they created and were forced to sell to new owners. Despite the change, financial problems largely dogged the brand until 1947 when tractor builder David Brown bought the floundering company for a little over £20,500 as well as acquiring a business called Lagonda for their 2.6-litre Bentley-designed engine. Aston Martin was back.
The first of the David Brown ‘DB’ models – the DB2 – started production that same year and a decade later, the company produced what is still considered to be one of the most memorable cars ever made, the DB4GT Zagato. Then in 1963, as if their momentum couldn’t be beaten, the company launched a car so magnificently stunning, it dropped the collective jaw of the entire automotive world – the Aston Martin DB5. IT was – and still is – the very definition of 60s cool and arguably the most beautiful car ever made. It was a game-changer, propelling the marque into the realms of the most expensive brands of car in the world as well as one of the most admired.
Further financial woes hit the company during the 70s and 80s, but with the introduction of the DB7 in 1993, V12 Vantage in 1999, Vanquish in 2001 and the truly magnificent DB9 two years later, Aston was back with a bang and was rightly considered to be among the most expensive sports car brands.
Today’s offering, including the DB11 (£150,000), the Vantage (£125,000) and the DBS Superleggera (£225,000) are not only sensational pieces of design, they conform to Aston Martin’s ethos based around exquisite form and advanced function. Every Aston Martin, from the early DB cars to the Valkyrie hypercar makes you stop and stare. Exactly what the most expensive car brands are supposed to do.
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Founded in 1909 by Italian-born industrialist Ettore Bugatti, the eponymous company was renowned for beautifully designed cars. The most notable were the Type 41 Royale and the Type 57 Atlantic. When Ettore died in 1947, the company essentially died with him and it looked as though the glorious story was over. However, in 1998 the Volkswagen Group took a leap into the unknown and bought the rights to the marque, transforming it into one of the most expensive brands of car in the world.
Their foray into hypercar territory started in 2005 with the technical exercise that was the 8.0-litre, quad-turbo, 987bhp Veyron – with a number of increasingly exotic and exclusive variants following including the 267mph SuperSport. Priced at £1.6m, it propelled Bugatti into the pantheon of the most expensive luxury car brands in the world and they are showing no signs of slowing up in their quest for automotive perfection.
Next came the 1,479bhp, £2.5m Chiron and in 2019, the Chiron SuperSport 300+ – so named because it broke the mythical 300mph barrier making it one of the fastest cars ever produced. The Divo, limited to just 40 units and pre-sold to existing Chiron owners, the Centodieci, limited to 10 units and sold for around £7.5m are all magnificent for sure, but there’s one car that makes Bugatti one of the most expensive sports car brands ever – La Voiture Noire.
‘The Black Car’, a celebration of Bugatti’s design history, is a one-off based on the Chiron but takes its design cues from the stunning 1930s Type 57 SC Atlantic. It was sold for something in the region of £9.5m, to date being the most expensive production vehicle ever made.
Indeed, there’s no such thing as an affordable Bugatti from one of the world’s most expensive car brands but founder Ettore – and subsequently VW’s designers and technical geniuses – built and continued his legacy based on his unwavering motto: ‘If it is comparable, it is no longer a Bugatti.’
Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Mercedes-Benz can all trace their roots back to the formative years of the motor car itself. Pagani Automobili SpA on the other hand shares the same start year as the Premier League, but this hasn’t stopped the Italian playboy from becoming one of the world’s most expensive car brands. Founded in 1992 by Argentinian Horacio Pagani, he gives petrolheads exactly what they want – breakneck speed, insane styling, childlike dreams of ownership and the noise, oh the noise…
Italy’s most extravagant hypercar manufacturer has been described as a ‘modern day da Vinci’ – he is a pioneering thinker who drew his inspiration in part from working at Lamborghini in the 80s and who realised at a young age that art and science could work harmoniously together to create one of the world’s most expensive luxury car brands.
Pagani’s first car was the beguiling Zonda, powered by a 6.0-litre V12 Mercedes engine. After a series of variants – each one more exquisite, more insanely styled and invariably faster than the one before – the £1m, 235mph Huayra was launched in 2011. Again, it had a number of bespoke and ultra-limited edition variants, including a run of 20 Huayra BC cars named for his friend and very first customer Benny Caiola.
To have created one of the most expensive brands of car in such a short space of time is testament to its creator and to that fact that the brand has maintained its innocence. Pagani want to make very fast cars with personality and character and to push the metaphorical design and engineering envelopes as far as they are willing to be pushed.
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While Ferrari is undoubtedly one of the most expensive sports car brands in the world, it is also a company that epitomises the concept of style, technological expertise, performance and the quest for automotive perfection. The company’s first road car was built in 1947 – the 1.5-litre V12 Tipo 125S – and since then, the Maranello masters have lived by patriarch Enzo Ferrari’s vision, to create ‘cars that everyone dreams of driving.’
Hear the name Ferrari and it stirs within us an emotion like none of the other expensive car brands quite can. Whether it’s a flashback to the 80s Testarossa (which even became known as a classic 80s tv show car thanks to Miami Vice) or F40 posters that adorned the bedroom walls of many a young dreamer, the thrill of watching Michael Schumacher decimate the competition and seeing the passion of the ‘tifosi’, or simply catching a glimpse of the unmistakable image of the prancing horse, Ferrari has cemented it’s place at the top table of the world’s most expensive luxury car brands.
Their current crop of production cars notwithstanding – the LaFerrari is over £1m, the SF90 Stradale is £375,000, the 812 Superfast is over £260,000 and so the list goes on – it’s also about the heritage of the marque. In a list of the top 10 most expensive cars ever sold at auction, Ferraris appears on the list seven times, including taking the top three spots. The most expensive of all is the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO which sold for a staggering $48,405,000 (approx. £38.8m).
From the outset, the goal was to build fast, luxurious and exclusive cars. ‘My motors have soul’ said Enzo, and it’s for that reason Ferrari is one of the most expensive luxury car brands in the world.
In the 1950s, New Zealander Bruce McLaren was described as a ‘prodigiously talented engineer and racer’ and was brought to the UK by racing royalty Jack Brabham to race, initially in F2 and then F1. It was his success as a driver that laid the groundwork for McLaren’s name to be etched on the wall of the pantheon of automotive greats and was the forerunner of one of the most expensive car brands ever.
Tragically killed at 32 testing the McLaren M8D at Goodwood in 1970, the name McLaren lived on and saw further F1 and Indy 500 success. When the McLaren racing team merged with Ron Dennis’s Project 4 Racing in 1980, he and design demi-god Gordon Murray started to wonder what a road-going car would look like. In 1992, one of the world’s great supercars, the 6.1-litre V12 McLaren F1, was born and with it, one of the most expensive sports car brands ever.
‘The F1 will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car’ said Autocar magazine. It is a car that will be regarded not only as one of the most aesthetically beautiful but as a staggering feat of technical excellence. It set the world record in 1998 as the world’s fastest production car, hitting 240.1mph (a record that stood for seven years until the Bugatti Veyron came along) and has gone on to be revered as one of the all-time great cars.
After a brief dance with Mercedes-Benz that spawned the £310,000 Mercedes-McLaren SLR they launched the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 MP4-12C in 2011. However, it is the latest tranche of supercars that have put McLaren at the top table of the most expensive brands of car in the world. The 720S (from £215,000), the 765LT (from £280,000) and the Senna (from £750,000) were spawned from the game-changing P1, a mid-engine supercar with a 727 bhp, 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine as well as a 176 bhp electric motor. While Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani and Porsche do it as loud as possible with glitz and bling, McLaren are more about the science, quietly becoming one of the most expensive luxury car brands by going about their business a little less shoutier than their continental cousins.
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For mere mortals, chasing perfection is a futile exercise. Plenty have tried and many have come remarkably close but for Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, their laser-like focus of ‘making the best motor car in the world regardless of cost’ turned the iconic British marque into one of the most expensive car brands in the world. It is a global icon recognised for exquisite style, sophistication, elegance and sheer motoring pleasure.
Rolls was Eton and Cambridge-educated aristocracy importing cars from France and Belgium, and Royce was a working class northerner who turned his hand to making cars (he made three, sold one and gave another away). After a mutual friend arranged a meeting at the Midland Hotel in Manchester in May 1904, a deal was struck for Rolls to take every car Royce made. On March 15th 1906, Rolls-Royce Limited was born and with it, one of the world’s most expensive luxury car brands.
After locating to Derby, the Silver Ghost was produced exclusively until 1925 and it was the car that coined the phrase ‘the best car in the world’ by Autocar magazine. Max Pemberton, Henry Royce’s biographer said of the Silver Ghost ‘The length of it, the silence, the stately form of it were beyond anything the motoring world had ever known’.
Between the 1940s and the 1960s, there was no hiding it – nor did Rolls-Royce do anything at all to escape from the fact – their cars were for the wealthy elite. They were one of the most expensive brands of car and were happy to be on that pedestal.
After BMW took control in 1998, the first of the ‘modern Rolls’ – the Phantom – came off the production line in 2003 , complete with the marque’s legendary 6.75-litre V12. Today, the range including the Ghost (from £233,000), Cullinan (from £264,000), Dawn (from £282,000) and the long wheelbase Phantom limousine (from £440,000) is at the pinnacle of British luxury manufacturing.
While Rolls-Royce is undoubtedly one of the most expensive luxury car brands, it was Sir Frederick Henry Royce, 1st Baronet of Seaton, OBE who said, ‘the quality will remain long after the price is forgotten.’
More so than virtually all of the world’s most expensive sports car brands, Lamborghini stirs the loins with an almost sensual combination of the wonderful V12 roar, the beautifully angular lines, the raw power and the jet fighter-inspired interior, but it wasn’t always that way…
Ferruccio Lamborghini was born into a family of grape farmers 1916. As a youth he studied mechanical engineering and then in 1940 was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force as a mechanic. When he came back from the war, he set up a company making tractors, a world away from what eventually became one of the world’s most expensive car brands.
Real wealth arrived when he diversified into air conditioners and heating and – with an obsession for fast cars – he bought a Ferrari 250GT. Now the Ferruccio Lamborghini verses Enzo Ferrari story has become a mix of truth and myth. It is said however that Lamborghini wasn’t happy with the clutch on his Ferrari 250GT, the poor servicing and the lousy espresso he was offered in the showroom. Voicing his displeasure to Enzo Ferrari (who allegedly said, ‘the problem is not with the car but the driver’) this was viewed both as an insult and as a challenge. Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini was formed in 1963 with the aim of making a ‘flawless GT’.
The response to the first Lamborghini, the 350 GTV, was mostly positive but in 1965, they did something so radical it caught the car world with its metaphorical pants down and propelled the business into the rarefied air of the world’s most expensive sports car brands.
The Miura changed the game. Not only was it jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but also opting to mount the 3.9-litre V12 in the middle of the car re-wrote the rules of sports car building. That was until 1973 when they launched the Countach, as stunning and as radical a car as had ever been committed to tarmac (the 25th anniversary edition was built by none other than Horacio Pagani.)
The Diablo, another sensational head-turner followed and when Lamborghini was bought by VW, the marque was somehow reborn and cemented it’s place as one of the most expensive luxury car brands in the world.
The Murcielago was followed by the Gallardo and today, the Aventador (from £272,000), the Huracán (from £165,000), the 4WD Urus (from £160,000) are ably backed up by truly magnificent ‘invitation’ models such as the Sian, rumoured to cost around £3.3m and the Veneno at around £3.7m.
Lamborghini is more than just one of the most expensive brands of car. Lamborghini cars are a perfect mix of engineering excellence and pure, unadulterated theatre and their work is validated by the words of the patriarch himself, ‘look at what others are not doing with their products, then work to perfect it in yours’.
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