Automobile dealer promos were 1/25th-scale versions of cars and trucks that salesmen would show off to their prospective customers. While car companies have always made small replicas of their products, the heyday of these salesman's samples was the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s.

One of the most prolific makers of dealer promos was Banthrico, which spent much of the 1930s making cast-metal piggy banks in the shapes of buildings and animals. After the war, Banthrico turned its attention to dealer promos for Chevy and other companies. In a nod to its roots, some of Banthrico’s dealer promos, which featured authentic factory paint, had slots in their bases so they could be used to squirrel away coins.

Paint is actually a key differentiator between a factory-authorized dealer promo and a regular model car. Especially in the postwar years, auto companies had a difficult time supplying their dealers with cars in every available color. Dealer promos, which were released annually just like the full-size cars they were based on, were a way for salesmen to make their pitch, even if they didn’t have every color on their lot. In contrast, toy car model makers such as AMT (which also made dealer promos), Monogram, and Revell produced vehicles whose colors were close but not necessarily true to the real thing.

As the promos themselves became more popular, the models were used to convert window shoppers into buyers. For example, in the 1950s, AMT made plastic dealer promos of the Ford Edsel that were given to precocious children after their parents had taken a test drive. Companies such as Johan (also spelled Jo-Han) made friction-drive promo cars that kids could race around a showroom floor while the adults haggled and bargained.

In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Johan also made a promo with a torsion chassis for Chrysler, to coincide with the Torsion-Aire Ride suspensions being marketed by the automaker. In the 1960s, at the height of the transistor radio craze, Ford and other companies built AM radios into their promos—naturally Ford’s featured Philco radios, which was a division of the auto giant at the time.

By the 1960s and ’70s, as the differences between promos and toys began to blur, muscle cars became the most desirable dealer promos to collect. The Ford Mustang was an obvious favorite, but Thunderbirds and Galaxies were also in demand. Chevrolet had offered promos of its Bel Air in the 1950s, but that was also the decade for the first Corvette, which along with the Impala and Camaro was, and is, a widely collected car.

The condition of a dealer promo is important, so new collectors should look for a number of traits before purchasing. First, check for signs of damage caused by the tools that we...

Finally, sometimes the plastic body of a car will warp but other parts will not. For example, Johan bodies tend to warp upward on the sides but the grills, which are made of a different material, do not, which gives the front end of the car the appearance of a smile. This problem is so common it is known among collectors as a "Johan smile."

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

DFW Elite Toy Museum

DFW Elite Toy Museum

Ron Sturgeon's excellent gallery of fancy model cars and other vehicles. Nice high resolution shots with classy mus… [read review or visit site]

The Show Room

The Show Room

This gallery at Dave's Show Rod Rally features model show rods from 1960 to 2001. Favorites include the 1958 Thunde… [read review or visit site]

VW Toys and Models

VW Toys and Models

A comprehensive site completely dedicated to miniature Volkswagen vehicles. Browse hundreds of toys by country, man… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1960 Ford Fairlane 4 Door Sedan - Pro Built / Restored Vintage HubleyAmt 1971 Chevrolet Impala Convertible Promo Model Car Mib Flawless Jo-han 1969 Rambler Ambassador Sst Promo Model Car €Mpc 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Promo Model Car Mib Excellent 1968 Chevrolet Impala Ss 427 Convertible Promo Model Ss427 Caprice Chevy Blue1965 Buick Wildcat Hardtop Promo Model Car By Amt1959 Ford Fairlane 500 1958 Chevy Impala & Edsel Promo Cars For Parts Or RestoreVintage Johan 1968 Oldsmobile 442 Dealer Promo Toy Car1967 Chevrolet Camaro Rs Ss Indy 500 Pace Car Promo Model Car1965 Pontiac Bonneville Station Wagon 1/25 R&r ResinAmt 1965 Buick Riviera Promo Model Car Must See This Baby 1969 Pontiac Firebird 400 Fire Bird Promo Car Amt Jo-han Johan Vintage Model Kit1968 Chevrolet Impala Ss 427 Sport Coupe Promo Model Ss427 Caprice Chevy White1951 Amt Pontiac Chieftain 4dr Black Sedan Promo Windup Friction With Box1972 Pontiac Gran Prix Amt Jo-han Johan Promo Car Vintage Model Kit Vintage 1960 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Custom1962 Chevrolet Corvette Original Promo Car Silver W/ Silver InteriorVintage 66 Pontiac Bonneville Blue Plastic Dealer Promo Car1964 Chrysler Station Wagon 1/25 R&r ResinVintage 1953 Ford F 100 Pickup Truck Promo Dealer Model National BanthricoVintage 1953 1954 Or 1955 Corvette Promo Friction Car Turquoise Selling As Is Vintage 69 Pontiac Bonneville Blue Plastic Dealer Promo Car - Convertible1970 Cadillac Eldorado Cinnamon Metalic Dealer Car Promo W/box Jo-han1963 Ford Galaxie 500 Amt PromoVintage Jo-han Promotional Car; 1958 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight, Cream W/ Red Roof1968 Oldsmobile 442 Dealer Promo Car Teal Car Salesman Estate1963 Buick Electra 225 Convertible Amt PromoChevrolet 1960 Gray Corvette Dealer Promo Model Car Plastic Friction Toy CarVintage Lot 0f 8 Promo Cars From 1950's 60's For Parts Or Resto. Estate Find Nr!1962 Chevrolet Impala Original Promo Car SilverVintage Ford Station Wagon Built Kit1973 Chevrolet Caprice 2 Dr. Original Promo Car Green1965 Pontiac Gto Promo Factory Assembled Model1958 Buick Station Wagon 1/25 R&r Resin1961 Chevrolet Impala 4 Dr. Original Promo Car Lite Bue & WhiteDanbury Mint 1958 Plymouth Belvedere 2 Dr Ht. 1/24th Scale 1965 Plymouth Fury Convertible Promo Model Car By Jo-han1965 Or 1966 Rambler Marlin Fastback Promo Model1968 1969 Javelin Sst Dealer Promotional Car Original Jo-han Amc Promo Ex. Cond.Vintage Promotional Model Car; 1960 Chevrolet Impala, Light Cream Inside And OutVintage 1959 Chrysler Imperial Hardtop50's ? Chevrolet Impala Plastic Promo Model Car, Usa1965 Ford Fairlane 500 2 Door Sports Coupe Promo Car Raven Black W/original Box 1969 Pontiac Convertible Slightly Used1971 Cadillac Eldorado Clove Metallic Dealer Car Promo W/box Jo-han W/box1958 Buick Roadmaster Promo Model Car, Plastic & Metal, Friction MotorDanbury Mint 1956 Ford Fairlane Ht Limited Edition Mandarin Orange 1/24th Scale 1962 Ford Falcon Futura 2 Door Sedan Promo Model Car By Amt1967 Vintage Ford Galaxie Xl 2 Dr Ht Promo Friction Model Car With Orig Box - NrVintage 65 Pontiac Bonneville Red Plastic Dealer Promo Car1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stiingray 427 Dealer's Promo Model1956 Pontiac Star Chief Dealer Promo Car Two Tone Green Johan GmVintage Lincoln Hardtop1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Promo Factory Assembled Model1965 Oldsmobile Convertible Promo Car With National Auto Fair Logo#ltd Toy Stamp & 1958 Buick Roadmaster 75 Dealer Promo Model Light BlueVintage Amt 1962 Meteor 2 Door Sedan1972 Cadillac Eldorado Medium Gold Metalic Dealer Car Promo W/box Jo-hanVintage 65 Pontiac Grand Prix Blue/gray Plastic Dealer Promo Car 1966 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible