‘Great Escape’ Spitfire to star at Concours on Savile Row

One of only 240 Spitfire aeroplanes that still remain worldwide will be displayed at Gieves & Hawkes bespoke tailor during Concours on Savile Row (London, May 22-23, 2024), in partnership with the Association of Heritage Engineers.

The Supermarine Spitfire is one of the most iconic British fighter planes ever, known for its contribution to the Battle of Britain during World War Two – and the fuselage of one of the most historic Spitfires, AA810, will be exhibited at the latest edition of the exclusive concours, along with a replica of the Merlin engine that will go into the restored aircraft.

At 80-plus years old, Spitfire AA810 is the world’s oldest unarmed military reconnaissance aeroplane. AA810 is also the only surviving aircraft linked to any of those involved in the infamous ‘Great Escape’, which is commemorating the 80th anniversary this year. It has the highest operational hours flown of any surviving variant of the Mk1 Spitfire, at 52 hours of operational front-line action – a huge number for a combat aircraft of the time.

AA810 was flown operationally by one of the most famous pre-war racing drivers of all time, AFP Fane, who flew the Spitfire on two occasions.

The Spitfire was also flown by Alastair ‘Sandy’ Gunn (pictured above), a Scottish pilot who was part of an unarmed RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.

During a mission on Thursday March 5, 1942, he was shot down over the Trollheimen mountains of Norway, and was captured. Gunn was one of 76 men who escaped the Stalag Luft III prison camp on the night of March 24–25, 1944 in what became known as the Great Escape. Sadly, he was caught on the run after two days, and subsequently executed by the Gestapo.

AA810 was discovered decades after the crash, in July 2018, by volunteers for the Spitfire AA810 Project, who collected the wreckage to restore the Spitfire to its former glory.

Fewer than 60 Spitfires are capable of flight; the Spitfire AA810 Project is hoping to complete the restoration of AA810 so the ‘plane can take to the air once again, in late 2025. The Spitfire should then appear at air shows across the UK and Europe in 2026.

Specialist aircraft restoration companies all over the UK, including those with legacy links to wartime Spitfire production, are supporting the project. The structure work is primarily being completed on the Isle of Wight, and systems work is being undertaken in Oxfordshire, Luton, Glasgow, Kent and Coventry, among others.

The restoration has been able to reuse about 35 percent of the original wreckage, which has passed airworthy inspection. On top of that, the project has acquired other serviceable wartime parts and equipment, which are undergoing inspection, testing and overhaul. Ultimately, the project leaders hope nearly 50 percent of the parts used on the aircraft would have originally been manufactured in wartime.

Thomas Muers-Raby, chief marketing officer of Gieves & Hawkes, said: “We are delighted to be able to showcase Project Spitfire AA810’s fuselage and replica engine to our guests and visitors during Concours on Savile Row. Our very foundation more than 250 years ago was the result of two famous military tailors coming together. Gieves was a celebrated supplier to the Navy, and Hawkes to the British Army. Today, the services we offer all branches of the British Armed Forces remain equally important to us, and we are immensely proud of this.

“Maintaining our reputation and the continued trust of our military customers is earned only through years of training, dedication and meticulous attention to detail. The same level of craftsmanship and dedication clearly visible in the AA810 Restoration Project demonstrates a tangible connection between one another, and we are honoured to pay tribute to the story behind this Spitfire and the bravery of her pilot, Sandy Gunn.”

More information about the Spitfire and the restoration project can be found on the project website here.