Part V. The story of Tiger 131’s restoration, the engine blows and the Tiger is repainted after research reveals its original camouflage.
Tiger 131 was captured in April 1943. In September 1951 it was passed to the Tank Museum where it soon became one of the most famous vehicles in the collection. In 1990 it was decided to restore the tank to running order. Battle damage would not be repaired.
In November 1999 the Tank Museum created a website to track the restoration project. This site featured monthly updates for 4 years. This series of posts will republish some of the photographs and details featured on that site, and then bring the story of Tiger 131’s restoration up to date.
Alas for the best laid plans…
A ceremony to hand over the Tiger from ABRO back to the Tank Museum was scheduled for the 5th December 2001. Unfortunately, with just a week to go, during a pre-delivery trial run at ABRO the Tiger’s Maybach engine blew up, damaging the crankshaft and leaving a hole in the crank case.
The photograph below was taken just minutes after the incident. The tank was then running without its turret on a transmission test. See how the blast has scorched the left side exhaust shield.
The other damage dates from the war and has been retained on purpose.
The photo below shows clearly the damage done to the crankcase. This can be repaired but the effect on one connecting rod, piston and cylinder liner cannot.
Fortunately there is another spare block to hand, shown here after the initial strip at ABRO. All being well this will be the new engine for the Tiger.
And here are some of the components, all in pristine condition. Connecting rods, cylinder liners and cylinder heads. The quality remains impressive even today and all goes to prove what a remarkable range of engines those Maybach V-12s were.
Despite this setback, all was not lost.
Working hard, in the inevitable last minute rush, the team at ABRO lifted out the engine, replaced the turret and gave the tank a complete repaint in time for the handover ceremony.
Here the Tiger’s ignition key is presented to General Sir Robert Hayman-Joyce, Chairman of the Trustees of the Tank Museum, by Mr Mike Hayle, Chief Executive of ABRO. At the ceremony, Mr Hayle generously committed ABRO to restoring the vehicle to full running order.
Here is the Tiger back in the Museum in its restored paint scheme. It sits in a sand tray with supporting displays behind it.
The repaint proved controversial. From time to time during the Tiger restoration programme, the Tank Museum was criticised for removing the ‘original’ sand coloured paint from the tank. In fact research revealed that the tank had been repainted many times since it was captured; indeed a Sergeant who repainted it at one stage was so proud that he left his name on it! So if the sand colour wasn’t correct, what was?
Working from original Tank Museum photos such as this one two leading experts, Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle observed traces of a camouflage pattern on the tank.
Look at the turret side, particularly around the pistol port.
Traces of two original shades had been discovered during the restoration process.
The official German shade RAL 7008 (graugruen) was found on some of the inner road wheels with traces of RAL8000 (gelbraun) found on the turret when the stowage bin was removed. These colours were purchased and tested as shown in the picture.
The only real problem was to establish the pattern. On original photographs it shows up clearly in some areas and not in others so we have to admit that an element of educated guesswork was involved.
This two-tone pattern caused much comment when it was first revealed. In this photograph we can also see the red number ‘131’. For many years these too were inaccurate, being larger with a lighter outline, but in fact this is the correct style.
In the next post we’ll look at some of the details that were uncovered during the restoration.