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    

1970 Ford Galaxie 500 Pro Built Vintage Amt/mpc 1/25th Scale Model Kit. 1957 Ford Custom Tudor Sedan Pro Built Promo Resin1967 Ford Thunderbird - Pro Built / Restored Amt Promo1963 Chevrolet Nova Ii Station Wagon Promo Car 2 Tone Tan Color W/ Tan InteriorDe Soto 1959 Johan Promo 1/25 Scale Promo 4 Dr Hardtop Model CarOriginal Jo Han 1970 Plymouth Gtx Dealer Promo Car Model. Lime Green, With Box.Vintage 1966 Ford Falcon Dealer Promo Model CarOriginal Jo Han 1969 Plymouth Gtx Dealer Promo Car Model. Bronze. Peter Max. Box1968 Plymouth Barracuda 340-s Promo 1/25 Th Scale Model Car1960 Dodge Polara Wagon "super Nice"1960 Oldsmobile 98 Coupe--nice-Original 1948-1950 Large Hudson Model Car No Reserve Auction!Mpc 1969 Dodge Coronet R/t Mib Promo In Rare Olive Green1956? Super Rare Lincoln Capri Convertible Factory Built Promo Ideal 1/24 Scale Vintage Jo-han 1962 Oldsmobile Super 88 Promo Or Model1968 Oldsmobile 442 Promo Car Cream Yellow W/ Cream Interior Red Striped Wheels1968 Oldsmobile 442 For Parts Or Restoration1966 Corvette Dealer Model "super Nice"Vintage 1966 Ford Fairlane G.t. Hard Top, Dealer PromoRevell Ho Scale 7 Car Set Of 1961 Chrysler Vehicles # H-711Vintage Johan 1966 Plymouth Fury Promo Promotional Car Oldsmobile Ninety Eight 1957 Johan 4 Door Hardtop Promo Model Car 1/25 Scale1965 Plymouth Valiant 1/25th Scale Dealer Promo CarVintage 1951 Plymouth Wagon Dealer Promo Neat One!Vintage Jo-han 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Dealer Promo Model Car"wow"1967 Mustang FastbackLot Of 2 Chevy Pick Up Trucks For Parts Or RestorationAmt 1/25th 1968 Ford Galaxie 500 Xl Hardtop Promo52 Year Old Amt 1962 Ford Galaxie Gold Plated Car Dealer Award Display1970 Plymouth Gtx Dealer Promotional Model CarVintage 1968 Lincoln Continental, Amt Dealer PromoVintage Amt 1965 Corvair Corsa Convertible Promo Car White W/ Lt. Blue Interior Real Nice 1960 Chevrolet Wagon Promo CarVintage 1967 Ford Galaxie Amt, Dealer PromoPlymouth Fury 1959 Johan 2 Door Two-tone 1/25 Scale PromoVintage Banthrico 1949 Pontiac Silver Streak Dealer Promo Authentic Scale Model.Nice Vintage 1967 Plymouth Fury Hardtop Dealer Promo Car1969 Plymouth Gtx Promo CarVintage 1966 Dealer Promo Model Car Chevrolet Impala Ss Super Sport !!1972 Plymouth Cuda Red Promo With Original BoxBanthrico 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline 2dr Fastback Metal Bank Promo 1/25 ScaleVintage Original 1/25 Scale 1962 Amt Chevy Nova Ht. Dealer Promo Parts CarNational Products 1947 Chevrolet Fleetline 2dr Fastback Aero Sedan Metal Promo 1971 Chevrolet Impala Convertible Promo Car Yellow W/ Yellow Interior L@@k NrVintage 1963 Corvair Monza Promo Car Red W/white Interior 1:251967 Camaro Ss Promo Car 1970 Jo-han Ford Maverick Promo Car For PartsVintage 1968 Ford Galaxie 2-door Hard Top Dealer Promo1960 Edsel Promo CarVintage 1964 Chrysler Hardtop Dealer Promo Car DecentVintage Original 1/25 Scale 1966 Amt Chevy Impala Conv. Dealer Promo Parts CarHubley 1960 Renault Dauphine Promo Model Scarce Car~1960 Mercury Park Lane Gold 2 Door Promo Model Car Very Good & Complete~1965 Plymouth Valiant 1/25th Scale Dealer Promo CarVintage Jo Han 1959 Desoto Fireflite 4dr Sedan Promo Car1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible Dealer Model Vintage 1960 Chevrolet Corvair Dealer Promo Model Car"cool"Vintage Amt Promotional Model Car; 1955 Ford Fairlane Victoria, Friction MotorVintage 1968 Ford Thunderbird, Dealer Promo By AmtVintage 1959 Mercury Dealer Promo Model Car"nice"