Philanthropist pays homage to “the Few” by donating remaining restored wartime fighters to museum and for private auction. P1 charts the incredible story of one legendary aircraft that changed the course of history.
During the battle of Dunkirk some 75 years ago, on 24 May 1940 to be precise, Spitfire P9374 crash landed on the beach at Calais after being downed by a single bullet from a Dornier 17-Z bomber. Pilot Peter Cazenove radioed in with the message “Tell mother I’ll be home for tea!” but was captured and held as a Prisoner of War. Tea would have to wait. Sadly, Cazenove would never see his Spitfire again.
And so the story lay buried until September 1980 when the fuselage of P9374 slowly emerged from the sands. The recovered Spitfire found its way to the Musee d’l’Air at Le Bourget, Paris, before finally finding its way to Duxford in the UK and in the capable hands of the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC), where 12 engineers spent three years bringing the iconic plane back to life.
Considered to be the most authentic restoration of an original Mk.1 Spitfire to date, the completed aircraft successfully returned to flight for the first time since the Second World War in September 2011.
“This is a fantastic restoration to be justifiably proud of,” said ARC chief engineer and pilot John Romain, who was lucky enough to fly the Spitfire.
There are only two remaining Mk.1 models restored to the original specification and still flying, P9374 and N3200, both belonging to Thomas Kaplan, American philanthropist and art collector.
As part of a generous gift, Spitfire P9374 will be sold at Christie’s London to benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund and Panthera, a leading wildlife conservation charity. Spitfire N3200 will be going to the Imperial War Museum Duxford.
“When my great childhood friend, Simon Marsh, and I embarked upon this project, it was to pay homage to those who Churchill called “the Few”, the pilots who were all that stood between Hitler’s darkness and what was left of civilisation,” said Kaplan.
“The upcoming events of 9 July are, more than anything else, concrete gestures of gratitude and remembrance for those who prevailed in one of the most pivotal battles in modern history. The return to Duxford of N3200, which was itself piloted by the heroic Commander of RAF Duxford, is an act of love for Britain that began with my and Simon’s mutual passion for aircraft and desire to enshrine a British legacy.”
The Spitfire will be auctioned by Christie’s London on 9 July after flying in the VE Day Anniversary Air Show at Imperial War Museum Duxford on 23 and 24 May. The Spitfire is estimated to achieve £1.5-£2.5million. However, P1 wouldn’t be surprised to see this prized aircraft attract a far greater price.