One of only two remaining Spitfire Mk1 models restored to the original specification and still flying, P9374, is to be auctioned by Christie’s in London in July and the proceeds will be donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund and Panthera, a leading wild cat conservation organisation.
Both P9374 and the only other Mk1 model N3200, currently belong to Thomas S Kaplan, an American entrepreneur, natural resources investor, philanthropist and art collector, who with his wife founded Panthera in 2006 to safeguard the future of the world’s big cats. At the same time, Spitfire N3200 will be donated to the Imperial War Museum Duxford. P9374 will be on view at the Churchill War Rooms in London in the week before the sale and is expected to sell for up to £2.5 million.
In September 1980, the wreckage of Spitfire P9374 emerged from the sands of Calais beach where it had crash-landed after being shot down on 24 May 1940 during the air battle of Dunkirk. Post-recovery the Spitfire went first to the Musée d’l’Air at Le Bourget, Paris, and subsequently to further collections until the parts were bought by Kaplan and shipped to the Aircraft Restoration Company/Historic Flying Ltd at Duxford, where it was restored to original Mk 1 standards by twelve highly skilled engineers over three years. The completed aircraft successfully returned to flight 1 September 2011.
Originally built at the Vickers Armstrong factory in Woolston, Spitfire P9374 was delivered to 92 Squadron at RAF Croydon in March 1940, one of the most celebrated squadrons in the RAF. The Merlin III engine installed in P9374 was built at Rolls-Royce, Derby, on 27 October 1939. During Spitfire P9374’s service with 92 Squadron it is known to have been flown by at least eight different pilots. Records show that P9374 had a total flight time of 32 hours and 5 minutes at the time of its loss.
Prior to its auction, Spitfire P9374 will be flying again at IWM Duxford in the VE Day Anniversary Air Show on 23rd and 24th May,
Kaplan says of his involvement with the Spitfires and the forthcoming auction: “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.
“The upcoming events of July 9th 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 sale of P9374 for charity is likewise an opportunity to share that passion with others and to benefit causes that have moved me since boyhood. The RAF Benevolent Fund represents a way to honour that breed who gave so much for Britain when its existence was imperiled. In a more similar way than one might realise, we are also highlighting my family’s consuming passion, the conservation of the world’s imperiled wild cats… other breeds at a pivotal crossroads.
“By dedicating proceeds to Panthera, now the premier organisation focused solely to the conservation of the wild cats and their critical habitats, as well as Oxford University’s excellent Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (the WildCRU), which hosts the leading university-based field conservation programme, my family wishes to highlight the need to save these species from extinction while there’s still time.
“And so, as history tells us all, there comes a time when one simply has to step up… to act with passion, and to remember with gratitude the few that actually do.”
The Exceptional Sale auction will be held at Christie’s King Street London sale rooms at 5.00pm on 9 July. Viewing is from 4-9 July at the Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AQ
Details can be found at www.christies.com