1979 Sparks Turbo Phaeton
Ron Sparks was an experienced coachbuilder who worked for Clénet Coachworks in Santa Barbra, California in the USA. Clénet manufactured Neoclassic automobiles that combined retro styling with modern technology. It was a formula that was successful for companies like Excalibur (from the mid 1960’s) and by the mid 1970’s it was a niche but growing market targeting Hollywood movie stars, rock stars, sports stars and generally the ‘rich and famous’. Clénet, which began in 1975, was quite successful and went on to build almost 500 cars before their closure in 1986.
Ron Sparks left Clénet in early 1979 and set up Ron Sparks Coachworks. He wanted to continue to build Neoclassic automobiles, but he wanted to build them bigger and better than anyone had ever done before . . . and he wanted to build them under his own name. The first Sparks, the Sparks Turbo Phaeton, was soon built and it was launched to great fanfare and critical acclaim at the Los Angeles Playboy Club in May 1979. With a wheelbase of 419cm and an overall length of 579cm, the dual cowl Phaeton was an enormous car. It was also very unique in that the front cabin remained open while the rear cabin had a removable hard top. Sparks had plans to build a total of 300 cars, of which 50% were for the US Market and 50% were for overseas markets, at a rate of 50 cars annually. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground as the Sparks Turbo Phaeton was too expensive to build and the oil crisis at that time strangled demand for such a car. Only one car was ever built. A more conservative single cabin vehicle, the Sparks d’Elegance Roadster was eventually put into production. Production numbers are unclear but according to Ron Sparks, he built 22 Roadsters before Sparks closed in 1985.
Oldtimer Australia is delighted to offer for sale the one and only Sparks Turbo Phaeton ever built. Incredibly this car found its way to Australia and it now resides on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Following is a detailed description of the car from the sales literature produced at the time:
The lines of the Sparks Turbo Phaeton reveal its classic heritage. You will never see anything like it on any road.
Gold plated grille bars and chrome exhausts, 18K precious gold plating inside and out, are just some of the highlights. From wheels to canvas top, the Sparks Turbo Phaeton is uncompromising in its design and accomplished craftsmanship, which is part of its singular appeal.
Power steering; power brakes; cruise control; tilt steering wheel; English leather upholstery; choice of selected hard wood trim; air conditioning; AM/FM stereo cassette, front and rear; Blaupunkt-Bosh AM/FM radio Bamberg model, in front; Blaupunkt-Bosh AM/FM radio ‘Berlin’ model with remote control selector, in rear; front and rear Glenayre 2000 telephone/ intercom system; automatic park brake release; twin trumpet horns; convertible top; canvas covered, rear removable hard top, front and rear; bar with Bacarat crystal accessories; extensive 18K gold plating, inside and out; V.D.O. clock, insert with four ¼K diamonds; all V.D.O. gauges in carved dash (made in hardwood of your choice); hand-etched glass windows; imported English wool carpeting throughout, matching rear seat and door panels.
Engine. 8-cylinder, 90-degree V (Cadillac) 368 cu. in. Displacement; 8.2 to 1 compression ratio; 3-point, rubber insulated mounts. Note: the one off car built was fitted with a Cadillac 425 cu. In. engine.
Fuel System. 4 BBL “Quadrajet” Turbocharger (export); domestic fuel injection system; approx. 25 gallon fuel tank capacity.
Transmission. THM-400 Cadillac, 3 speed Automatic.
Front Suspension. Independent coil (Cadillac); stabilizer bar, link type; hydraulic shock absorbers.
Rear Suspension. Coil Spring, four link drive; hydraulic shock absorbers.
Brakes. Self- adjusting disc-drum (Cadillac); dual hydraulic master cylinder; tandem vacuum power booster; ventilated, caliper front brake with single sliding piston; duo servo drum brakes in rear. Frame. Ladder type with welded cross members.
Wheels & Tires. Chrome wire wheels and white wall LR-78-15 tires.
Wheel Base. 13 feet, 9 inches (419.1 cm).
Overall length. 19 feet, 3 inches (579.12 cm). Note: the overall length of the one off car built is 19 feet, 9 inches (602 cm).
Interestingly the specifications for the sales literature (as noted above) differed slightly from the Press Kit used for the launch of the car and how the car was actually built. We can only surmise the differences were between the prototype and the proposed production car. The Press Kit notes the car is fitted with a Cadillac 425 cubic inch (7.0 litre) V8 engine as opposed to a 368 cubic inch (6.0 litre) V8 engine and the overall length of the car 19 feet, 9 inches (602 cm), which is how the car was built and is today.
Sparks had his cars featured on TV shows and in movies and sold them to Hollywood’s most famous stars, including Joan Collins from Dynasty and also Evel Kneivel. Interestingly Mr Kneival may not have taken delivery of his car as there is correspondence on file from Ron Sparks stating that Evel’s cheque bounced and he still has that cheque today!
The Sparks Turbo Phaeton was used extensively to promote Sparks Coachworks before being sold and it is understood to have remained with one long term owner, Mr George Straza from Rancho Santa Fe and later Palm Springs in California, USA. The car was sold into Australia in circa 1990, converted to right hand drive and used as a limousine in Melbourne before being sold to its next Australian owner in Northern NSW. Interestingly there is an engineering certificate on file from Phil Scott Automotive in Grafton, NSW to compliance the car dated 4th August 2004. The car changed hands again in the mid 2000’s finding its way to the Gold Coast, Queensland.
The current owner acquired the Sparks in 2011 in very poor condition. What transpired over the next seven years can only be described as a ‘labour of love’. No stone was left unturned to restore the Sparks Turbo Phaeton as close as possible to how it was originally built. The current owner managed to track down Ron Sparks who confirmed that there was indeed only one Sparks Turbo Phaeton ever built. Ron was able to assist the owner with information and photographs of the car, including original brochures and press releases which were invaluable to provide a reference for the restoration. The owner was able to source additional literature, including an original invitation to the launch of the car at the Los Angeles Playboy Club, which is now an absolutely fabulous accompaniment to the car.
The restoration was challenging because everything was bespoke. All of the parts were either refurbished where possible or replaced if required and at all times with an incredible attention to detail. It took years to find new old stock Blaupaunkt radios, the Glenayre telephone/intercom and Bacarat crystal. The hardwood timber is Macassar ebony from Madagascar.
So what’s it like to drive? The Cadillac engine starts easily after priming the big carburettor and it definitely has that American muscle car edge. It rumbles effortlessly and once you get going the car is surprisingly smooth to drive. The seating position is comfortable, the controls accessible and when you push the accelerator the car just goes about its business. The automatic transmission is also very smooth, the steering surprisingly direct, the ride is firm but very comfortable and the car just cruises along in a very ‘busines like’ manner . Just what you’d expect from a luxury limousine! After a few miles you forget what you’re driving, just getting into the zone . . . and then ‘pow’ . . . you’re brought back to reality by the frenzied onlookers come paparazzi who with their mobile phones are looking for that hero shot to boost their social media profile or perhaps even sell to the local newspaper. You get a great reaction when driving a Lamborghini Countach or a Messerschmitt three wheeler . . . but that’s nothing compared to this!
Today the Sparks Turbo Phaeton presents as a ‘new car’. It has hardly been driven since the restoration has been completed and the current owner is simply exhausted and feels the time is right for the car to find a new home. It is unlikely that there has ever been anything like it built or there will ever be anything like it built again! Therefore the Sparks presents an incredibly unique opportunity and it deserves to find a home in one of the world’s major car museums or perhaps a significant private collection . . . but it should not be lost to the world!
- Sparks Turbo Phaeton
- Dual Cowl Phaeton
- 27242 km