Spitfire Soars to $2.5m at Bonhams Hendon

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LONDON, ENGLAND (April 20, 2009) – Bonhams sold an airworthy two-seater Vickers-Supermarine MkIX Spitfire aircraft for $2,527,784 today, 20th April, at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London. The buyer was Steven Brooks, a British financier and polar adventurer.

The Spitfire was sold during a Bonhams Collectors Motor Car sale which made a total of $5.5m with 97% of all cars and motoring memorabilia sold by value.

Steve Brooks, a keen adventurer, became the first person to drive across the Bering Straits from America to Russia in 2002 and more recently became the first person to fly from pole to pole by helicopter landing in Antarctica in January 2005.

This was the second of the iconic World War Two Spitfires which Bonhams has offered within just seven months. Last September the auction house sold a non-airworthy 1945 Supermarine Spitfire for a record price of over $2 million. This was a `Bubble Canopy’ MK XVI, considered by collectors as being less desirable.

The first two-seater MK IX Spitfire to be offered at public auction for over twenty years, the aircraft sold today was painstakingly restored to airworthiness over a five-year period. It is a Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire TR Mark IX and is civilian-registered ‘G-ILDA’.

The Spitfire was offered as a freshly-completed ‘zero-hours’ ground-up restoration to perfect two-seat TR Mark IX specification; in effect an historic warbird absolutely ready-to-fly and in truly sparkling flightline condition. Originally it was a single-seat Mark IX but it now offers its new owner the attractive extra accommodation and flexibility of the two-seat trainer variant.

The Supermarine-designed aircraft was built originally by the British Vickers-Armstrong company in 1944. It was delivered to the Royal Air Force’s No 33 Maintenance Unit at Lyneham in Wiltshire where it was to be prepared to operational standard for service delivery. Its original serial number was ‘SM520’.

This magnificent and charismatic aircraft was subsequently sold in 1948 to the South African Air Force in whose service its operational history presently remains unknown. Many years later, in the 1970s, it was rediscovered in a Cape Town scrap yard from which it was rescued by the late building developer and aviation enthusiast Charles Church, who initiated the inevitably long process of restoration. Old ‘SM 520’ was then sold in 1989 to Alan Dunkerley, who eventually resold it to the late Paul Portelli in June 2002.

Mr Portelli then commissioned Classic Aero Engineering to restore the machine to its as-original TR Mark IX two-seat trainer specification. As work progressed upon the historic airframe at CAE’s Thruxton facility in Hampshire, the mighty, supercharged V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin 266 engine was overhauled and returned to airworthy standard by the specialist Retro Track & Air concern at Dursley, Gloucestershire, and fitted with a four-blade Hoffman propeller.

When the Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire family of single-seat fighter aircraft initially entered service in 1938, the Mark I model was an extremely sophisticated, blindingly fast and supremely powerful eight-gun weapon of war. Training pilots were expected to make the transition from humble training aircraft to this new thoroughbred, and the gulf between the two proved huge. A two-seat training version of the Battle of Britain Spitfire was first considered in 1941, but barely a handful of local service conversions were made before 1946. A post-war batch of 20 Mark IX airframes were then converted into two-seat form as the Type 509 model, for supply most notably to the Indian and Irish air forces. The forward cockpit was moved forward 13 1/2-inches and a second cockpit was inserted behind it, slightly raised to give its occupant improved forward vision. Price was quoted at the time as £5,200!

The immortal R.J. Mitchell-designed Supermarine Spitfire fighter evolved from the world air speed record-setting, Schneider Trophy race-winning, Supermarine seaplanes of the 1920s and early 1930s. The prototype Spitfire eight-gun fighter emerged in 1936. It proved itself a real pilot’s aeroplane – a delight to fly and famously forgiving, a high-performance thoroughbred fighter almost without equal. The 1940 Battle of Britain Spitfire Mark II was powered by a 1,240hp Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, providing a top speed of some 354mph at 17,550 ft plus the ability to climb at a “homesick angel” rate of 3,025ft per minute. The Spitfire has since become woven into the fabric of world history as an icon of the age, an emblem of the defence of democracy itself.

James Knight, MD of Bonhams Collector’s Motoring Department which is managing the sale of ‘G-ILDA’ comments: “’We were greatly honoured to be entrusted with the sale of such a distinguished and historic aircraft. As Bonhams is the last of the great international fine art auction houses to remain under British management, the sale of an aircraft so linked to the history and very survival of our nation has enormous significance for us here.”

Bonhams Chairman, Robert Brooks, who learned to fly – as did so many contemporary Spitfire pilots – on Tiger Moths, comments: “For Bonhams to be associated with this aircraft gives me particular pleasure…and not a little sincere pride.”