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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.