“The MeierMotors team recently installed a Daimler-Benz DB601 engine, which had been overhauled by Vintage V12s”
Restoration of one of the first two Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1s to be delivered to Spain in mid-1939 is progressing well in the MeierMotors workshops at Eschbach, south-west Germany, for long-time British aircraft and racing car collector Robs Lamplough. The MeierMotors team recently installed a Daimler-Benz DB601 engine, which arrived back at Eschbach in November 2017 from Tehachapi, California, where it had been overhauled by Mike Nixon’s Vintage V12s. Current work includes installation of the hydraulic and electrical systems, and the sheet metal workers at Meier are now reconstructing the upper and lower cowlings, with reference to original plans.
The derelict fighter, serial 6-88, was acquired by Lamplough at an auction at León, north-western Spain in 1981. After being shipped to the UK it spent some time on display at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum in Sussex. Following several years in storage, during 2012 Lamplough despatched the Messerschmitt to MeierMotors, where restoration to fly began immediately.
The first two Bf 109E-1s were delivered to Spain by ship in February 1939, these brand-new fighters being coded 6-87 and 6-88 and going into service with 1J/88 alongside examples of the Bf 109D. On 6 March, Oberleutnant Hubertus von Bonin of the 3. Staffel scored J/88’s 314th and last victory. The Legion Condor took little part in the final offensive against Madrid, flying what were described as ‘practice missions’ during the final days of the war. On 17 March several Bf 109s of J/88 flew a ‘freie Jagd’ (free hunt, or fighter sweep) operation over Madrid, but encountered no opposition from what remained of the republican air arm. The last sortie was on 27 March when the unit escorted Heinkel He 111s from K/88 on a final bombing mission. The Spanish capital fell to Franco’s nationalist forces the following day, and on 1 April the republicans finally surrendered.
After the ceasefire at least 20 Bf 109Es were handed over to the Spanish Air Force. The fighters were taken to León, and then to Grupo 25 at Logroño, the Pyrenean Fighter Group. On 24 August 1939, 6-88 made a wheels-up forced landing at Larraga, northern Spain after running out of fuel with Teniente José Vincente Muntadas at the controls. By this time 6-88 had been converted to an E-3 with the cannon-armed wing. It was soon repaired and back to service. At the end of 1940 the unit moved to Reus, in Catalonia, with the 23rd Regiment.
Records show that 6-88, flown by Capt Vinicio Gil de Gomez, suffered another forced landing after running out of fuel on 16 May 1950 near Valderrobres in Teruel, north-eastern Spain. A test pilot based at Logroño, de Gomez escaped with minor injuries, but two months later died in an accident while flying another ageing fighter, a Heinkel He 112.
An official application to withdraw 6-88 from service was made on 19 September 1950. The fighter was officially retired the following month and stored at a Spanish Air Force maintenance facility at León. A technical officer, who had had previously flown the 109E, undertook some repairs on the machine, bringing 6-88 back to an airworthy condition. It was flown as late as 1957/58, becoming the last airworthy Bf 109E in Spain. It then went to the base fire service at León for training.
A large number of original components are being used in the restoration. After all parts had been categorised and catalogued, new jigs for the fuselage and wings were built in the Meier workshop following original plans and works regulations, allowing the team to dismantle and then rebuild the whole aircraft step by step without destroying its historical substance.
After being completely dismantled, the wings were found to be in pretty good condition. A surprising amount of original material could be re-used although, of course, all the skins are new. The wings are being restored to the configuration in which they were found, in E-3 specification with 20mm cannon. The fuselage has been reconstructed: the original, historic fuselage is stored in the condition it was found in Spain.
Researching the authentic colour scheme has been another important task. Restoration team leader Erik Meier found some small spots with the original paint under the rudder-post fairing, and the team went to the Deutsches Museum at Oberschleissheim near Munich, where the only other surviving Legion Condor Bf 109E, 6-106, is on show. Paint specialists took small scratches from the original paint — which is to be found under a Luftwaffe scheme in which the machine was painted after presentation to the museum by the Spanish in 1959 — and after further research using cutting-edge technology the team is now well prepared to finish 6-88 off in a highly authentic scheme.