A Battle of Britain Spitfire Mk I or Mk II would sell for two or three times this sum, and if it had a confirmed combat record, the price could be much higher


The old engineering adage, "If it looks right, it most probably is right," describes the Spitfire to perfection.

It still looks gorgeous from any angle, even though it was designed as a war machine. Later models became more aggressive but always in classic proportion.

The 1935 Spitfire prototype was based on the Schneider Trophy-winning Supermarine seaplane-which was handicapped by huge floats. The British won the trophy three times, keeping it for good in 1931
Reginald Mitchell took the seaplane's monocoque construction and developed it into the Spitfire, which first flew in 1936. Mitchell died of cancer in 1937 at age 42, but his design evolved into the plane that would remain in production throughout WWII.

The Mk I of 1939 was powered by a 27-liter Rolls-Royce Merlin engine developing 1,000 hp and spinning a two-bladed prop. By 1946, the Seafire Mk 47 had a 36.7-liter Rolls-Royce Griffon engine with 2,350 hp and two contra-rotating three-blade propellers. In all, about 23,000 Spitfires were manufactured. Around 200 Spitfires remain, with 55 flying and another 50 being restored to flight status.

The defining moment for the Spitfire and its homely sister the Hawker Hurricane was the Battle of Britain, in the summer of 1940. Outnumbered and alone against the Nazi hordes, 286 front-line Spitfires and 463 Hurricanes defeated the waves of bombers devastating London, leading Winston Churchill to say, "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."
Spitfire Mk XVI, number TE330, was built in 1945, entering service on June 12, just after the war in Europe had ended. It went straight into storage and wasn't issued to 601 Squadron until February 1947. It went back to storage in 1950, was later used for gun calibration training and "struck off" active service in 1956.

TE330 was revived for a 1957 Battle of Britain flypast over London, then given to the USAF and put on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio, where it stayed until 1996, when it was sold.

Though this aircraft post-dates the familiar Battle of Britain profile, having a bubble canopy and lower tail, it is still unmistakably a Spitfire and a remarkably original aircraft with complete provenance. It must be considered the ultimate aviation collectible.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1945 Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI
Number Produced:23,000 (all variants)
Original List Price:N/A
Chassis Number Location:firewall
Engine Number Location:Left side of power case
Club Info:Experimental Aircraft Association EAA Aviation Center PO Box 3086 Oshkosh, WI 54903-3086
Investment Grade:A

This 1945 Mk XVI Supermarine Spitfire sold for $2,088,240 at Bonhams & Goodman’s sale in Nelson, New Zealand, on September 14, 2008.

Because of its completeness and correctness and an unbroken line of provenance, this has to be considered a good buy for anybody looking for a Spitfire. However, it’s also going to be an ongoing restoration project from here on out.

For example, it’s said to need an engine rebuild, and even if you found a brand new motor in a drum of Cosmolene, it’s about 55 years beyond its 12-year manufacturer’s warranty and will have to be carefully examined-especially the carburetors. Fuel delivery is critical to any aircraft, but even more so for a million-dollar one built for speed rather than a gentle glide path. Beyond that, Merlin V12s are relatively bulletproof-literally-and maintenance was quite simple, an important point in time of war.

What the new owner does to the plane now depends on how he wants it preserved. Pristine condition is not the same thing as airworthiness. This plane is a long-term investment; the Smithsonian has to re-restore its planes every 25 years, whether they are used or not. Everything decays, especially natural rubber, and there’s a constant investment of time and materials.

Another problem is that all the spars on this plane must be checked one at a time and replaced where necessary. Magnesium rivets have a nasty habit of reacting to the aluminum skin, causing corrosion, and they need to be replaced with aluminum, though that adds about 8 lb to each wing.

European warbirds were largely handmade and pieces were rarely interchangeable-bad news for Americans used to the standardization of parts. You could have a part from the same make and model, but it wouldn’t fit.

Mk I or Mk II would cost two or three times as much

Ironically, this plane only really became available when the USAF Museum at Dayton got rid of it in 1996. They were reportedly looking for an Eagle Squadron plane, such as were flown by the handful of Americans in the Battle of Britain, and this is much later and doesn’t look the same. Even supposing you could find a Battle of Britain Spitfire Mk I or Mk II, it would sell for two or three times this sum. If it had a confirmed combat record with several kills, the price could be much higher. American squadrons also flew Spitfires in North Africa, which could be another option for the museum, when Libya rejoins the world community and the desert can be searched for wrecks.

Warbirds are a hobby for the very rich. Conversations with pilots at the Reno Air Races place a Merlin engine just on the south side of $100,000, with rebuildable cores at half that. And the number of available engines is gradually being whittled down, what with hydroplanes having trashed a large number in the 1960s and 1970s and more Spitfires and Hurricanes being restored and needing motors.

The Haynes Spitfire Workshop Manual (believe it or not, there is one) estimates third party insurance at about $10,000 a year, insuring the plane for a total loss around $100,000. Spares are costly, too; expect to pay $60,000 for a propeller hub, $13,000 for a single blade. Tires are about $800 a piece and only good for 30 landings on blacktop. While you’re in the air, you’ll be burning $6 a gallon Avgas at the rate of 40 gallons an hour, which gives you about two hours flying time in a Mk XI, at a cost of $500. Altogether, figure flying costs at about $3,000 an hour, including maintenance.

So was this 1945 Mk XVI Supermarine Spitfire a good buy? The answer has to be a definite yes. It may not be an ultra-desirable early model, but it’s still a flyable Spitfire with complete provenance and a good history. Consider it the equivalent of a lesser house on a very desirable street. Besides, when did you last see a Spitfire for sale publicly? Most change hands between a very select group of collectors, like real estate that never makes the listings.

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