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Our Models

   

 

 

SPARK HISTORY
Spark models exists because Hugo Ripert, its founder, is a car and model freak who's father Andre was in the modeling business before him. Hugo worked with the Vitesse, Quartzo and Ixo brands and was in charge of research and model development. He would follow a particular model from photo research through prototype modeling, hand samples and on into production. His job consisted of attempting to ensure accuracy and quality during the inevitable compromises demanded by producing any model to a price and cost schedule.

Around 8 or 9 years ago, whilst still with Ixo, Hugo started arranging for the first Spark models of Le Mans cars to be produced and distributed. Initially concentrating on the cars at the "back of the grid" ignored by the major manufactures such as Minichamps and Ixo, the models were produced in small runs of around 700-1000 pieces. Not wishing to teach potential competitors the business, all the models were initially hand cast in resin, then painted, assembled and decorated in different small factories in Guandong province, Southern China. 

The problem with dispersed production was that Hugo found it difficult or impossible to control production schedules and quality. One of his collector friends suggested that the solution was for him to start his own factory and thus attempt to control the whole process. Hugo eventually agreed and so Clive Rigby became an investing partner joining Francois Dennis who was in charge of licensing. Two other partners, Cecelia and Peter respectively run the factory and help with distribution. 

A few years ago, Peter and Francois pushed the concept of a sister brand "Red Line" dedicated solely to Ferrari models. This brand is produced and distributed in parallel to Spark Models. 

If the brand has been successful, it is in large part due to the partners' collective enthusiasm for cars.  Calling them car nuts is neither insulting nor an exaggeration. They race and restore cars. They collect full size cars and models. They go to race meetings, festivals and museums. Their passion for models is reflected in the never-ending search for improving modeling techniques and materials. 

From purely resin castings of car bodies Spark has moved into Zamak diecasting injection molding.  Increasing production has necessitated a new purpose built factory with a total of about 500 employees.  Vertical integration has meant that Spark recently began producing its own steel casting moulds in-house, as opposed to sending out for them. By bringing the various production steps in-house, the company aims to better control the whole production process. 

Spark's photo and documentary archive never stops growing. The library is added to daily as car magazines, books and new Internet research continually comes in. This archive is a key element in researching classic cars and is managed by ex autojournalist, model car freak - Luigi.   

Once a decision has been made to produce a particular car, measurements, drawings and photos are given to one of the craftsmen who then sculpt a prototype. This goes through various approval stages prior to mould production. These craftsmen in an earlier generation in China, would have probably been ivory or jade carvers. Their skills are extraordinary. Current production cars are often modeled by cad-cam techniques from computer data supplied by the original car manufacturer. 

Spark models are essentially serially produced hand built kits. When Hugo started the business he essentially took what had been the, largely European, cottage industry of resin and white metal, small-run, hand built models to China where skilled workers could continue a craft at far more affordable prices than the boutique European producers. The challenge is to maintain the price advantage without losing the handbuilt quality.  The partners in the business, being model enthusiasts, are continually on the lookout for improved modelling techniques. Take for example chrome window frames which, in the past, were either simply reproduced in silver paint or more realistically in photo etched steel. Spark started using chrome foil which allowed for a more realistic finish usable on more parts of the car such as curved strips. The partners' enthusiasm for model collecting is such that Spark frequently uses costly techniques and finishes that would not be financially acceptable to a more purely business oriented producer. 

This is also frequently reflected in the choice of models produced. Just because a particular model might sell relatively poorly is no good reason to not produce it. Indeed the company was founded by Hugo's desire to model the entire grid of the Le Mans 24 hour race. Not just the winners and the best known cars already produced by the big model manufactures. 

Small production runs necessitate the use of resin, as tooling is much cheaper than for diecasting. This also has the advantage that it allows for modifying details on cars such as extra louvres and air intakes, wider wheel arches and different spoilers that change on any given real racing car as it appears at different circuits and in different years. 

It is probably this attention to detail and continuous search for improved realism in an ever-widening range of models that is the reason for Spark's successful entry into the market place.



MODELING ACCURACY
Different collectors' eyes are often drawn to different aspects of a model. One person will notice sharp crisp molding, another will focus on overall paint finish, others on fine detail such as windscreen wipers or wheels or interiors. Yet another might check to see that there are the correct number of louvres but not notice serious mistakes in proportion or shape of the overall car. We put a lot of effort into bringing all the various aspects together.

As our models go through the various stages on their way to final production they go through a series of evaluations by different members of our team. From the first hand carved prototype which is examined and criticised for proportion, form and detail through to unpainted hand samples and finally, fully detailed and finished deco samples, which is our final stage of preproduction approval. At each stage different members of our team (which includes a European ex motor journalist, two French full time professional model makers and various other European car freaks) all get the opportunity to contribute their knowledge, expertise and opinions.

You simply have to make a close comparison between two model manufacturers' versions of  the same car to appreciate that subtle differences can make a big difference to overall realism and accuracy. Occasionally the difference is so large that one of the models clearly has to be wrong. We wish that we could say that we have never made any mistakes or overlooked a detail. In practice this verges on the impossible. This applies in particular to historic cars that no longer exist and so the models have been created entirely from basic dimensions and photographs.

This is where research and knowledge really come into their own. Most photos of old racing cars were taken from varying angles with a variety of different camera lenses. Lenses of different focal  lengths produce different degrees of distortion and perspective. Also shadows and highlights can make soft bodywork curves appear like sharply molded lines. It is only through serious research   and the comparison of many different pictures taken from a variety of angles that one has any hope of producing an accurate model.

Because we are enthusiasts, for whom this is a passion and not just a business, we take the whole process really seriously. It helps that we actually enjoy it too. We have, over many years, built a huge library of books and contemporary magazines as  well as an archive of hundreds of thousands of photographs from car manufacturers, the internet and our own pictures taken on visits to car shows, museums, classic races and collections around the world. We combine our experience and enthusiasm in our determined efforts to produce really accurate models. On many occasions we have sent back prototypes several times as it became apparent  that correcting the curve or proportion of part of the car could not be performed without complete remodeling.

Many of our models are made in resin a process that allows us to reproduce small detail changes  representing the variations on real cars as they were developed from race to race and year to year. Some of these details are relatively obvious such as long tailed and short tailed versions. Others are more subtle and require closer observation and familiarity with the real cars to notice. These might consist of things like different air intakes,  louvres, spoilers or wing heights.

Some manufacturers simply change racing numbers or paint finishes and assume that the customer won't notice the difference. Whilst we cannot promise never to make an honest mistake, we will never make a practice of assuming that because some of you might not notice, we can deliberately cut corners. 

We really do want to bring you the best models in a given price range that we possibly can. We are collectors too. That's why we are in the business. 

 

OBSERVATIONS ON QUALITY
We see from some of the comments on various model car website forums that criticisms of various manufacturers' models crop up from time to time and that some of the criticisms are directed at some of our models. 

Whilst we naturally prefer compliments, we know only too well that we need to hear valid criticism as well. This helps us in our constant efforts to look for improvements to our production and modeling techniques in the search for realism in shape detail and finish.

Cars can and do get broken in shipping. A dealer should not sell you a broken model. The dealer knows that we replace defective products. So, unless you know perfectly well that you can easily glue something like a broken wing mirror back on, don't buy it. Please give us the name and address of any shop selling broken models.

We have noted some criticisms regarding the accuracy of some models including the BMW 320, the Alfa 147 and 156. We have the following observations.  For models of historical cars there are no manufacturers' digital files so we work from countless photographs and our own knowledge of the cars themselves. However for the cars mentioned, BMW and Alfa Romeo supplied us with all the digital data to produce the body shapes. So the shapes really are right. As for the colours we use the manufacturers' paint references.

The first Spark Models were all made by subcontractors. Repeated quality and delayed shipment problems made us decide that we had to have our own factory.

We have just now reached the point where all our models will be produced in our own factory. So it is up to us to get it right and only we will be to blame when we don't.

We really do care about what we make . We collect models ourselves. This is why we often produce models that are not necessarily individually commercially viable.

Our goal remains to bring you a wide range of the best possible models in any given price bracket.





WE MAKE MODELS FOR PEOPLE LIKE OURSELVES

We love cars. We own them, drive them and lust after them. We race them, sponsor them and restore them. We go to races and visit factories. We talk to the people that build cars, take thousands of pictures and then WE MAKE MODELS FOR YOU.

"Our models are hand painted, decored and assembled. They combine a variety of production processes. These include hand cast resin, diecast zamak and injection molded thermo plastics along with photo etched parts, die cutting, tampo printing and waterslide decals. We are continually on the lookout for new modelling techniques to try and bring you the most accurate models possible in our price range. 

Every year we go to the Le Mans 24 hours and other races where we take thousands of photographs of cars being prepared and raced. We talk to mechanics, team bosses and drivers. We visit and correspond with manufacturers. We are often given access to engineering documentation and computer files as well as the actual cars. 

We do all this because we enjoy the process and really believe that it helps us in our efforts to make better models for you."