A chance to buy a rare warbird

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 07:42 18/09/2012
Spitfire

Down but not out: Marlburians have a headstart to buy the vintage World War II Spitfire before it goes on the international market

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Aviation enthusiasts in Marlborough with a spare million dollars could buy a piece of history, with one of the last unrestored World War II Spitfires up for grabs.

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre trustee Graham Orphan said the Spitfire Mk XVIe is considered the Rolls Royce of the sky.

As an aircraft broker, Mr Orphan wanted to give Marlburians a crack at buying the fighter aircraft before it is advertised internationally in about a week.

At a cost of C$750,000 (NZ$934,000), plus the cost of restoring the plane and bringing it over to New Zealand from Canada, he is aware selling the aircraft is a long shot.

"You just don't know who might be interested," he said. "We advertised in Marlborough on the off chance that someone might buy it."

While the total cost of getting the plane in the air could be up to $1.8 million, Spitfires were an investment and continued to grow in value, with airworthy machines fetching more than US$2.5m, (NZ$3m) he said.

"Any time is a good time to buy a Spitfire because there aren't many left," Mr Orphan said.

Many of the 22,000 Spitfires originally built were lost in battle or scrapped to make newer models.

Today, there are fewer than 60 World War II Spitfires flying worldwide. The last one to sell in New Zealand was in 2008, when a 1945 Mk XVI was sold in Nelson and bought by North China Shipping Holdings Co chairman Yan-Ming Gao, for $2.8m.

This Spitfire started its life with the Royal Air Force at the end of World War II, about 1944, and was decommissioned in 1957, Mr Orphan said.

From 1957 it went to four RAF bases, initially as a "gate guard" parked on the grass at the base entrance, before becoming a "pole dancer," when it was attached to a pole and put on display in St Athan, the home of the Defence Aircraft Repair Agency in South Wales.

It came off the pole about 1989 with several other Spitfires from around England when fibreglass replicas replaced the original aircraft.

Mr Orphan said he was not trying to find someone who was interested purely in making money, but someone with a passion for vintage aircraft and the warbird scene.

"It is a lot of money, but the growing value of it could justify the indulgence," he said.

"You never know, we might just find somebody."

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- The Marlborough Express

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