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A classic Formula 1 Mercedes-Benz has become the most expensive car to be sold at public auction after fetching more than £19million at the Festival of Speed at Goodwood.

The 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 was the race car driven by five-times F1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio when he clinched his second title in 1954.

The Mercedes-Benz W196 in which Juan Manuel Fangio won the second of his five World Drivers' Championships, prior to its auction by Bonhams at Goodwood Festival of Speed''Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire

The Mercedes-Benz W196 in which Juan Manuel Fangio won the second of his five World Drivers' Championships, prior to its auction by Bonhams at Goodwood Festival of Speed''Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire

The Argentine drove the 2.5-litre car to victories in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix races, the first successive triumphs achieved by the factory Mercedes-Benz team in its post-war comeback.

Today the single-seater car fetched £19.6 million when it was sold by Bonhams. The price includes the buyer’s premium.

The previous world record for the most expensive car sold at public auction was a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa which went for more than £10 million (16 million US dollars) in California in 2011.

The German-made car, chassis number 00006/54, sold to a private buyer over the telephone, Bonhams said.

The auction house said the Mercedes is one of the most significant cars of the 20th century and the most important historic Grand Prix racing car offered at public auction.

Potential buyers from three continents had shown interest in the vehicle, which was sold in its current condition with noticeable blemishes.

James Knight, group motoring director at Bonhams, said: “At £19.6 million inclusive, it’s a new world record by some distance.

“We had eight telephone bidders at the start of the bidding and we had three people in the audience, so we had more than 10 people who were prepared to spend. Of those 11 bidders, only five got the chance to bid.

“Our own personal record of £5 million was achieved last year for a Bentley. The price that we achieved today is over three times that, so it’s extraordinary.

“We always knew that it was a very, very important car.”

The car contains many features which were innovative in the 1950s, including a fuel-injected engine, lightweight chassis weighing just 72lb and all-round inboard-mounted brakes.

Ahead of the sale, motoring historian Doug Nye said the car was a “window into the past” and a “piece of mechanical jewellery”.

He said: “In every area of the car, there is evidence of just the most fantastic workmanship. It was designed by very sophisticated, hi-tech engineers.

“But more than that it was made by ordinary working men who did a brilliant job. It’s hand crafted and it’s just like a piece of mechanical jewellery.”

Nicknamed “El Maestro”, Fangio, who died aged 84 in 1995, once said: “When I was in a racing car, I always liked to see exactly where the wheels were pointing.

“I asked for a version with no bodywork covering the wheels for the Nurburgring race, and in no time Mercedes had built one - and I drove it to win the German Grand Prix.”

The car was used in just one 1955 Grand Prix - the Italian event - where it ran in second place behind Fangio’s sister Mercedes-Benz before suffering gearbox failure.

It was re-prepared to full race standard later that year and consigned to the Daimler-Benz Museum in Germany.

In June 1965 it was exhibited in Munich and during 1966 it was shown at Le Mans in France and Hockenheim in Germany.

It then appeared at the 1967 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, before being run in a tyre test at the Unterturkheim factory test-track, and displayed in Berlin. In November 1967 it was exhibited at Stuttgart University.

The car made further appearances in Luxembourg, Berlin and Hamburg in 1969 and was eventually presented to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire, in the 1970s.

It was sold to a private collector in the 1980s and then into the ownership of a German businessman.

Bonhams chairman Robert Brooks said: “I have handled some of the world’s most desirable and important motor cars during a motoring auction career spanning five decades, but I have reached a peak today with this legendary Grand Prix car.

“It was a personal privilege to preside over the sale of this vehicle, which is not only one of the most significant motor cars of the 20th century, but also the most important historic Grand Prix racing car ever offered for sale.”

Mr Nye said following the sale that if Fangio was alive today he would shake his head and smile a “slow smile”.

“He was a humble man, originally a mechanic from a potato town in Argentina, and he never forgot his roots,” said Mr Nye.

“As a driver, he was simply a genius. As a man he had no enemies. He was universally loved, even by those he regularly beat on track. No standard-setting sportsman could have a better epitaph.

“Mercedes has long been recognised for the world-class quality of its products and in 1954/55 they set out to rebuild their reputation for automotive excellence post-war. With this W196 and its sports car sisters they did just that, and how.”