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The Most Expensive Cars Auctioned Off in 2012

No. 1 costliest car: 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster
Winning bid: $11.8 million

This ultra-rare Mercedes survived Nazi Germany and World War II, then sat in a U.S. garage for decades until its reclusive owner died in 1989.

One of the best examples of roughly 15 Mercedes Special Roadsters that still exist, the car belonged originally to Henning and Gisela von Krieger -- brother and sister Prussian aristocrats who left Germany to escape the Third Reich.

The von Kriegers managed to ship the car to neutral Switzerland in 1942, then brought it to New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth when they moved to America after the war.

Gisela von Krieger, who outlived her brother, left the car in upscale Greenwich, Conn., after she returned to Switzerland. Her old maps, silk gloves and lipstick-stained cigarette butts remained in the vehicle for decades.

The car has an extremely rare chassis and excellent custom-body construction, says Gooding & Co.'s Brynan, whose firm oversaw the vehicle's auction.

Now fully restored, the Special Roadster set records this summer for the highest winning bid ever for a Mercedes and any pre-World War II car.

Brynan says a U.S. collector paid top dollar for the vehicle because the car offered a combination of rarity, desirability, good looks and well-documented restoration work.

"This vehicle has pretty much everything you'd look for in a collectible car," Brynan says. "Mercedes is known among collectors as the best pre-war [brand], and Special Roadsters are really considered the prettiest and most exotic of them all."

Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.
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