Harford's Ronald Spangler, who lived a life in the fast lane, dies at 81

Ronald L. Spangler liked to keep fast company, according to friends and associates of the Harford County business impresario, who died April 5 at Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace.

He was 81 and had lived in the Havre de Grace area in his later years, according to a former business associate.

A born promoter and salesman, who had successful careers in television and selling private jet planes – which he also flew, Mr. Spangler’s long first love was fast cars, in particular, the exquisitely crafted, lavishly priced and otherworldly speedy Ferrari.

Mr. Spangler collected, raced, showed, brokered and sold the Italian sports cars all over the world and, for a number of years, raised money for local charities through a Ferrari meet and show held at his Prancing Horse Farm off of Ady Road in Street, named in homage to Ferrari’s prancing horse marque.

“I knew Ron for 20-plus years through our mutual interest in classic cars, and especially Ferraris,” Dave Scrivener, executive producer of Maryland Public Television’s highly acclaimed “Motor Week” program, said via email Thursday. Mr. Spangler had been a guest on the show several times, he said.

“I worked with Ron on several video projects related to Ferrari, and visited the inner sanctums of the Ferrari factory with Ron while conducting research on the provenance of a classic Ferrari for a mutual client,” Scrivener recalled.

“Ron was engaged in collecting, brokering and racing Ferraris but most of all he simply had a passion, a deep respect and a huge base of knowledge about those cars that is arguably unmatched outside of Italy,” he continued. “He remained active in the automotive hobby until his very last days, and leaves behind a wide circle of friends, in which I was fortunate to be included.”

In a 2005 interview with The Aegis, Mr. Spangler said he was given the nickname “Mr. Ferrari” by Johnny Carson, the late night television host with whom Mr. Spangler worked as a producer in the 1960s. He claimed to have sold Ferraris to many sports and entertainment figures, among them another late night TV star, David Letterman.

Mr. Spangler said Mr. Carson, who died in 2005, would tease him about his obsession with Ferraris.

“Johnny used to joke to me and say there there was no reason for an American boy to drive an Italian car,” he recalled. “Of course, that was only because he drove Corvettes.”

“Ron loved exotic cars and particularly Ferraris. Having had his own team at LeMans and later hosting Pininfarina, the great Italian designer for Ferrari says it all,” George Bunting, of Monkton, a 20-year friend of Mr. Spangler’s and a fellow high-end car enthusiast, wrote in an email.

“He was masterful in bringing diverse car enthusiasts together to explore their passion and perhaps open their wallets,” Bunting wrote. “His passion for exotic cars was truly contagious.”

John D. Worthington IV, of Churchville, retired publisher of The Aegis, also knew Mr. Spangler well and shared his love of cars.

“Ron was one of those sort of larger-than-life characters,” Worthington recalled in an email Thursday. “He flew airplanes, raced Ferraris at tracks around the world and probably lived more in one lifetime than most men would in three.”

“I always dreamed of owning a Ferrari, but was very uncertain about what car to buy, and maintenance,” he continued. “Ron helped me find a nice used Ferrari that cost less than an American sedan, and introduced me to people who could service it.

“When I was ready to purchase a new Ferrari, Ron also helped me. If you showed up at a Ferrari dealership with Ron, they knew you were a serious buyer, and not just some guy trying to get a free test drive.”

“Ron seemed to know everyone involved with Ferraris, from the top executives at the car company, to owners and mechanics,” Worthington said. “Ferraris were his passion, and he was always willing to help or talk to anyone who shared his love of the Italian cars.”

A native of the York, Pa., Ronald Leroy Spangler was the son of the late Ivan and Sevlla (Seneft) Spangler. He graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor of science degree in film producing.

He worked in local television and radio in York and later at NBC in New York and WBAL in Baltimore before establishing his own production company, LewRon Televison, in 1966, according to Mr. Spanger’s biographical information prepared for a later consulting firm he owned.

LewRon pioneered the use of mobile production units for broadcasting live sports and producing on-site entertainment programming for, among others, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Dick Clark and Frank Sinatra, according to the biographical information, which states Mr. Spangler later took the company public at “at age 29 and became a millionaire.”

Mr. Spangler settled in Harford County around 1963. He learned to fly airplanes as a hobby growing up, and his love of flying became his next business venture after television production.

In 1975, he formed SpanAir, a business marketing company and distributor for Gulfstream Aviation on the East Coast, as well as in England, Ireland and Scotland, according to his biography. For most of its existence, SpanAir was based at the Forest Hill Industrial Park, then known as the Forest Hill Industrial Airpark.

He later exited that business and turned to brokering Ferraris from his farm.

In a 1991 newspaper interview, Mr. Spangler, then 54, said he had owned 57 Ferraris by that time – including three that he kept at his Street farm. One of his early cars took second place at the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 1979 and another took first in the Ferrari GT Class at the 24 Hours at Le Mans in France in 1982.

“I used to race them, but I’ve got my trophies,” he said. “Why should I do it anymore?”

Worthington said he attended many of the annual Ferrari rallies at Mr. Spangler’s farm in Street.

“Owners would come from all over the East Coast, and it was a wonderful way to see the different Ferrari models and meet other enthusiasts,” he recalled.

Mr. Spangler had an international clientele for the Ferrari brokerage he ran from his home, although in the 2005 interview he said he was no longer selling the cars, though still collecting what he called “the ultimate car.”

He did continue to connect buyers of Ferraris and other exotic vehicles until his health began to fail in the past couple of years, according to Bryan Circosta, of McLean, Va., who said he took over Mr. Spangler’s business.

Mr. Spangler was a member of Emory United Methodist Church in Street.

Survivors include his wife, Lana A. Spangler, to whom he would have been married 15 years on June 15; two sons, Dr. Ronald Spangler Jr. and his wife, Teresa, of Arlington, Mass., and Pavel Savoskin, of Havre De Grace; two daughters, Kathleen Phelps and her husband, Dan, of Lutherville, and Beth Spangler of Frederick; six grandchildren; and several cousins.

Services were held April 11 at Heffner Funeral Chapel and Crematory in York. Burial was in Mount Rose Cemetery in York.

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