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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1976 Cadillac Coupe De Ville Modelhaus Resin Pro Built Amt 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Promo In Candy Apple Red Very Rare!1960 Oldsmobile Dealer Promo Citron ColorVintage 1960 Ford Falcon Sedan Dealer Promo CarJohan 1966 Olds Toronado Promo Oldsmobile1957 Oldsmobile Friction Promo Vintage 1961 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Tradewind Blue Promo Model W/ BoxPromo Model Car 1967 Pontiac Bonneville 1/24th Scale Amt Ford Falcon Hard Top Promo Mib1964 Chevelle Malibu1964 Cadillac Coupe De Ville PromoVintage Amt 1961 Buick Invicta Convertible Built Model Kit 1972 Chevy Corvette Promo Mille Miglia Red1960 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Built Up Dealer Promo Model Kit W/ Screws 1/24Amt 1960 Mercury Parklane Built Up Annual Custom Promo Car Kit W/ Screws 1/24Promo Model Car 1966 Pontiac Gto1962 Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan Dealer Promo Car Johan Friction Laurel Mint In BoxLot Of 5 Vintage Amt Smp Johans Korris Kars Dealer Promo Car Friction Cadillac1959 Ford Convertible Amt Kit Restoration ProjectAmt 1962 Chevrolet Corvair 2 Door Built Up Annual Promo Car Kit W/ Screws 1/241967 White Plymouth Fury Iii Jo-han Promo Model Car. Gorgeous!!!Promo Model Car 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix5 Dealer Promo Cars In Poor Condition Junkyard And One Ertl Bank Lot Johan1959 Pontiac 4 Door Ht. Memory Lan1966 Cadillac Promo Vintage Rare 1970 Ford Maverick Dealer Promotional Prom Car By JohanPay Attention..1956 Plymouth Original With Box Straight!1963 Pontiac Lemans Tempest Dealer Promo Model Car - 1/25 ScalePromo Model Car 1963 Pontiac Tempest ?Vintage 1/25 1956? Ford Fairlane V8 4dr Ht Victoria Amt Promo Model Car Vg1950 Chevy 4 Door Fleetline Promo Car Banthrico Bank Car Promotional Model Car Old Original * 1940s Vintage Dodge Banthrico Promo Purple Color Car Metal BankVintage 1968 68 Gm Oldsmobile Olds Toronado~orig. Box!~amt~1:25 Scale~near MintRare Vintage Buick Orange Bowl Press Car Amt. Inc Birmingham Mich1964 Pontiac Grand Prix Hardtop 1/25 Scale Promo Vinyl Top Custom Painted Amt 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 Built Up Annual Customizing Promo Car Kit W/ Screws 1/1961 Corvair Roman Red1962 Chevrolet Apache Pickup Truck Builtup Dealer Promo Model Kit W/ Screws 1/24Pay Attention..1956 Plymouth Original With Box, Straight!1959 Cadillac Johan Friction Promo Perfectly Straight! Near Mint!1961 Chysler New Yorker 2d Coupe Built Up Dealer Promo Model Kit W/ Screws 1/241949 Dodge Desoto Promo Car Banthrico Bank Car PromotionalOld Original * Early 1950s Vintage Chrysler Banthrico Promo Car Metal Bank1963 Cadillac Coupe De Ville PromoAmt 1965 Chevrolet Impala Ss 2 Door Hardtop Promo Car Friction Drive Nice Shape 1962 Lincoln Continental Pro Built 1954 Buick Skylark Friction Promo1956 Pontiac Chieftain Memory Lane1958 Ford Promo 1960 Chevrolet True Dealer Promo Horizon BlueAuthentic Scale Model Blue Mack Tanker Truck By National Products Inc. PromoJohan 1965 Rambler AmericanVintage Promo Car 1963 Chrysler Imperial1950 Plymouth Amt Remote Control Promo1950 Ford Promo Car Banthrico Bank Car Promotional Model Car "master Caster?"National Products 1950 Mercury Promo Car1967 Chrysler Vintage 1/25 1957 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Dealership Promo Model Car Pink Amt 1950 Chevy 4 Door Styleline Promo Car Banthrico Bank Car Promotional Model Car 1955 Pontiac Sedan True Dealer Promo