LONDON – A rare two-seat version of the Spitfire fighter, the plane that earned a nation's gratitude in the Battle of Britain, may fetch a record price in an auction this month.
This Spitfire is unique — a one-seat World War II-era fighter that became a two-seat trainer in the 21st century.
Bonhams, which is offering the meticulously restored plane at a sale on April 20, estimates it will sell for $2.2 million. Retrieved from a junkyard in South Africa 30 years ago, the plane is now certified to fly.
Bonhams' Austria unit, Bonhams & Goodman, sold a 1945 Spitfire Mark XVI for $1.8 million in September, reportedly the record auction price for a Spitfire. That plane had been on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio until 1997.
The one now for sale is a Mark IX model delivered on Oct. 23, 1944, one of 23,000 Spitfires built through the war.
It remained a single-seater into its junkyard years; it became a trainer in the shop of Classic Aero Engineering at Thruxton Airport, 66 miles southwest of London.
The company's chief engineer, Bruce Ellis, spent weeks tracking down the original specifications for the TR9 trainer version at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, north of London.
Tim Schofield, head of the motoring department at Bonhams, said the Spitfire's reconfiguration is unlikely to affect its value.
Valuable old racing cars or rally cars may preserve little more than a registration plate from the original, Schofield said.
"The key is finding the original ID to start the project," he said, adding that the Spitfire restoration started with a substantial portion of the original.
The Royal Air Force never used Spitfire trainers, so this one is painted in the colors of the Dutch Air Force, which had three and crashed two. The airplane's number, H-99, is the number of the one Dutch trainer which didn't crash.
Ireland, Syria and India also used Spitfire trainers. During the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces' 14th Photographic Squadron flew unarmed and unarmored single-seat Spitfire Mark XI planes on reconnaissance missions.
The first Spitfires were delivered in 1938, and the plane proved its mettle two years later in the Battle of Britain as it took on the German Messerschmitt. The Spitfires matched the speed, if not the climbing rate, of the German planes.