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The “One Off” Restorations

August 2015 - It can be said that the “biggest restorations”, the most difficult projects to complete and the most thrilling to see fly are generally the sole examples of their particular type. The “one offs”.

Immediate points to consider are that any restoration shop generally has never seen the type before, and that parts may be unavailable. In nearly all cases of high performance aircraft, bomber, attack or fighter, a restoration shop to restore and finish the project is critically important. A "one off" training aircraft due to lighter construction can be restored by a dedicated individual, but any foray into this realm is expensive.

It can be argued that in some aspects, all restorations are “one offs”, but this is missing the primary difficulty of a one of a kind restoration. There is generally nobody out there with experience on the type. Since these enterprises are so expensive, what is the attraction? Simply put, the goal to return a type to the air that is functionally extinct is a powerful one, not to mention the ability to say, “it’s the only one”.

Looking at the height of aircraft judging and showing invariably takes us to Airventure and the EAA Warbirds of America show field. The most prestigious award known in the vintage aircraft world is the “Grand Champion” certification awarded by the EAA Judges at Oshkosh. It is important to remember that this is more than a “First Place”, it is an award that is given only if the plane before them warrants the award, along with its superiority of restoration in comparison to other aircraft. The list of past winners is almost a who’s who of one off restorations and unique aircraft. This award adds value as well as verification that a plane is the best of its type in a very rarified environment.

Looking at Oshkosh’s Airventure this year the show field was populated by many aircraft, and although several “came to win”, the competitive nature of the judging forces a showdown. This year it was the staggering complexity and quality of the restoration of de Havilland Mosquito FB. 26 KA114 that won the judges hearts and minds, along with the public’s as well. This superlative aircraft not only won the coveted Grand Champion Award, and Golden Wrench, but is also the “only one” and mesmerized crowds with its power and grace in the air. Collectability of such a plane also can establish a collection, and create value in the fact that a specific combination of planes, a “matched set”, can be traded as a mini collection. (For instance Mosquito, Spitfire and Hurricane.)

Before we move on, remember the charisma of a type is very important! The Mosquito is a blistering aircraft, and can easily handle the panache of a single seat fighter on the field and in the air…a rare quality in any aircraft, but one that may have helped here.

Unlike automobiles that have numerous shows and clubs, the rarity of warbirds puts them in a completely different category of collectability. For instance cars exist in a staggering combination of options and colors as well as model years and types. The Corvette hobby is perhaps the most forward thinking of the lot for type preservation on the most persnickety of points and details, the Ferrari and Porsche hobby the standard on the concept of evolving the current manufacturer’s corporate structure into preservation and continuation. These cars are worth insane amounts of money, and have a very high exclusivity factor. There may be 39 Ferrari GTO automobiles built from 1962-64 and those cars can be valued from $10 million to a high of $40 million dollars each. Some have incredible race histories, and are simply wonderful to look at.

Perhaps in terms of collectability it is close to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, of which a known $6 million dollar sale electrified the warbird market. However consider the following; there are only 7 flying P-38 Lightnings in the world, out of grand total of perhaps 25 survivors, out of which 7 are government owned and won’t ever be on the private market. While the Ferrari has a great curb appeal, it’s a race car, and a fighter plane is not only a bigger toy, but a more intimidating one. To master a GTO you need a long and intensive driving career, as you would need a similar flying career to master a P-38. But if simply owning one is the goal, the P-38 becomes a bargain. The best P-38 in the world is worth less than the worst GTO, which is saying something.

While these projects are expensive, the potential upside is in my mind, huge and on the horizon. By the way, one can build a fake or “continuation” 250 GTO that has a correct engine and cannot be distinguished from the original. You cannot currently do that with a P-38, and probably will never be able to do so. It’s a very complex and special machine.

So if you are in the market for a wonderful and interesting “one off” what is out there? We know a rare and “one of a kind” Brewster F3A-1 Corsair is under restoration as is a Curtiss Helldiver (very very rare), an A-20G Havoc, a P-61 Black Widow is under long term restoration as are a couple P-38’s and a Thunderbolt or two…but we are getting into more mainstream types. There is an available Martin 167 Maryland project, a Martin Mars looking for a home, a hunt on for a B-26 Marauder or two, an Fw-189, there are a couple project AM-1 Maulers out there that should be completed by someone with a taste for Sea Blue power and grace. There are remnants of many extinct types that should be reborn if only to show that there were unsung airplanes as well as jobs in that huge war whose stories should be told and remembered.

For the builder or scratch builder how about a Vultee P-66 from BT-13/15 components, or an attempt to design and build some of the great biplane fighters of the 1930’s? Why has nobody attempted a Falconer V-12 powered He-51 or Fiat CR-42 or a small 1340 powered Mitsubishi A5M? The TBD devastator still holds the title as the greatest hole at the USNAM in Pensacola, and the chance to recover restore and duplicate one of the most storied and valorous aircraft certainly exists. Can you imagine the showing of a stunning prewar TBD at Airventure, matched with a static restoration of one of Torpedo 8’s doomed aircraft destined for Pensacola? There is so much to choose from. Start searching and in the end Keep em’ Flying!

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