When Spitfire P9374 flew over Duxford for the first time in 2011, it was the culmination of a four-year restoration project. On July 9 the historic aircraft will go under the hammer in a truly unique auction. Project manager Martin 'Mo' Overall explains how you go about rebuilding one of the icons of British engineering.
Ravaged by time and sea water, the shell of the Spitfire had been on display at a French museum since its discovery on a beach near Calais. That is until entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomas Kaplan heard about it, bought it and sent it to the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford.
Mr Kaplan’s brief was specific, to restore the aircraft to its original state. All sourced parts had to be from 1940 and no expense was spared.
Mo said: "It was very daunting at first, not only for the reason of the state of the wreckage but because of the particular requirements of Thomas Kaplan and the detail that he wanted. It was not a normal restoration, he wanted it to be like it was the day it crashed on the beach."
Spitfire P9374 was Mo's eighth Spitfire restoration in a career working with the Second World War aircraft which spans almost 20 years.
Although part of the original aircraft had survived, Mo and his team searched the globe for some of the original Mk1 bits needed. In total 85 per cent of more than 30,000 parts needed to be replaced.
Mo said: "We got information from museums and from crash sites to find out things like what items were fitted in the cockpit, the colours of particular parts.
"Thomas requested the aircraft to have all original parts. The tyres, we discovered, were no longer available. We found some examples of the tyres and Dunlop created a mould to be able to do a run of tyres especially for us!"
The team came up against a similar problem when sourcing the de Havilland propellers which the Mk1 Spitfire had. None of the original propellers have survived as the material was prone to corrosion so new ones were made from scratch. Mo added: "They were indistinguishable from the originals. A perfect match."
Once all the parts had been collected, including an engine core from Canada, the aircraft was reassembled at Duxford. Everything was authentic and could be traced back to 1940.
Mo said: "Even all eight guns and all the ammunition banks are dated 1940. It’s not just external, it is under the skin, the parts that the normal person would never see."
And then, four years of work came to fruition when the Spitfire returned to the skies for its first test flight, flown by ARC boss John Romain.
Mo described the moment: "I was 100 per cent confident that everything was going to work. It certainly was a momentous day to see it take off. It was the first aircraft to fly with a restored Merlin III engine. And also the first to fly with an air-pumped under carriage which has to be operated by hand! So we watched with some interest as it took off. There was an enormous sense of satisfaction."
Mo now waits with interest to see how much the Spitfire will fetch when it goes under the hammer, with a hope that it will remain within the British Isles.
He said: "I think it is amazing, an amazing gift. To think all the effort and time that has been given to it, and all of Thomas' hard-earned money!
"The Spitfire holds a special place in the UK's memory because it is a symbol of hope and it is fantastic that Thomas is quite willing to give that back."
Spitfire P9374 is on display outside the Churchill War Rooms in London until July 10. It will be auctioned at Christie's on July 9.