Spark: Marcus Nicholls downsizes from 1:24 and investigates gem-like 1:43 models
Spark will be a very familiar name to enthusiasts of model cars in 1:43, the scale of choice for the serious collector. It has established itself as a high-end producer of competition cars, classics, road cars and motorcycle replicas and is perhaps best known for its Le Mans racers.
Most modellers will associate 1:43 with die-cast metal models, but other materials – such as two-part polyurethane resin – are also used. This material comes in the form of two syrupy fluids that, when mixed in the correct ratio, set hard into a rigid plastic within minutes. Once mixed, the liquid is poured into a silicone rubber mould to produce the car’s body, chassis, interior, aero components and sometimes wheels and tyres too.
Spark was the first company of this type to embrace the use of resin for the bulk of the model’s structure, because it allowed short production runs in a financially viable way; die-cast is ultimately cheaper, but only on an ‘economy of scale’ basis as initial tooling costs for metal are much higher.
When company founder Hugo Ripert started the business, he took what had been essentially a Europe-based cottage industry to China. Skilled workers there were able to produce very high quality miniatures at far more affordable prices than European producers could sustain. It’s a familiar pattern of course, but ultimately it benefits the collector.
Once Spark chooses to reproduce a particular car in miniature, drawings, photos and measurements are passed to one of the company’s in-house crafts-people, who then creates a three-dimensional prototype. This goes through multiple stages of approval prior to mould production. It is examined for its overall proportions and surface detail, then unpainted, hand-made samples are evaluated, followed by a series of fully detailed prototypes.
The first Spark Models were manufactured by subcontractors, but continual problems with quality control and delayed shipments forced the company to make a huge decision; invest in its own factory. This was a big step, but the whole process is now under the watchful eyes of Ripert who can monitor the whole process from start to finish.
Spark has created hundreds of models of all types over the years, from F1 through Le Mans, DTM and even Pikes Peak machines and it’s near impossible to pick a favourite. But I do like something out of the ordinary, and the 1933 Dymaxion Buckminster Fuller streamliner, while not a racer, is a thing of wonder.
With some degree or irony, the now much larger Spark has branched into die-casting using ‘Zamak’, an acronym of the German for ‘Zink, aluminium, magnesium and copper’. This allows for a much higher casting quality than earlier mixes and the improvement is reflected in the impeccable metal bodyshells of Spark’s die-casts. Perhaps those last remaining collectors who were so sceptical of resin will now be convinced of Spark’s serious intent.
Spark cars are available from Grand Prix Models; www.grandprixmodels.com