Ignition coils are essentially pulse transformers. Transformers that work using pulses of current, instead of standard alternating current. These pulses that are applied to the primary coil are magnified and the voltage appearing from the secondary coil can be up to about 40kV.
To run the ignition coil outside of a car, specialised circuitry is required that produces pulses of voltage to the primary coil. A very common design (the 555 timer driving a MOSFET) can be used for that.
After putting everything together you can get some nice sparks out of that ignition coil, really cool effect.
Playing with ignition coils: [Link]