The South African Air Force (SAAF) Museum Spitfire Restoration Project is set to take a major step forward, thanks to the announcement of a very significant sponsorship agreement between the Friends of the SAAF Museum association and local automotive company Performance Centre.
“Performance Centre approached us,” says Spitfire restoration project manager Ian Grace.
In a project dubbed Warriors of the Sky, the local company has been granted a licence by RTR Vehicles USA to build ten RTR Spec 5 versions of the supercharged 5.0 ℓ V8 Ford Mustang car.
“When these cars are sold, we’ll get a donation from each sale,” he reports. “This donation will be R75 000 per Mustang. So, if all ten are sold, we would get R750 000. This represents a major advance for our project. Performance Centre is our first major corporate sponsor. This will also help us with other major companies, when seeking sponsorships for restoration work.”
“Our first priority now is the erection of the hangar/workshop, because we need a work area. Our current space is too limited,” he explains. “So we need the hangar/workshop. We expect it to cost in the region of R600 000 to R700 000.” The physical restoration work on the airframe has had to be slowed up because of the lack of space in the current workshop. However, the restoration of the cockpit windscreen and canopy has been completed.
The bigger space is required to accommodate the jigs that are essential to the restoration of the surviving parts of the airframe and the construction of new parts to replace those that have been damaged beyond repair, and to correctly align and integrate them to form a complete airframe.
A UK-based South African, whose company has just completed the restoration of another Spitfire, has offered to sell his jigs to the South African project. (As the jigs belong to the company, he needs approval from his board of directors and has to sell them.)
“The price still has to be negotiated,” says Grace. “What is very important is that his jigs are bolted together. Most jigs are welded, and would have to be cut up before being shipped to South Africa. It would be very difficult to reweld such jigs sufficiently accurately to ensure they were correctly aligned to allow proper and safe restoration. But these bolted jigs can simply be disassembled, shipped here and reassembled, and their alignment checked with a laser measuring tool (the use of which we have already been offered). If necessary, their alignment can be adjusted.”
The subject of the restoration project is a Spitfire Mark IXe, serial number 5518, built in May 1945 and delivered to the SAAF in 1947. It was retired from service in April 1954 and then preserved in a nonflying condition for some 35 years, mounted on a plinth at AFB Waterkloof. It was then lifted off its plinth, completely overhauled, its parts restored or replaced, and returned to flying condition. Sadly, the 5518 was wrecked in a nonfatal accident in 2000. The proposal to restore it again was authorised by the SAAF Museum Council in 2015.‘
Warriors of the Sky’ involves painting the modified Mustang cars in the colour schemes and markings of real Spitfires flown by South African pilots (whether serving with the SAAF or the UK Royal Air Force). The first such car is painted in the 1950 colour scheme and markings of a 5518. No two cars will be painted in the same scheme, thus each car will be unique. The project has the approval of the global head office of the Ford Motor Company.
“We are very appreciative of this support from Performance Centre,” affirms Grace. “This is a huge cash injection for us.”