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    

1966 Plymouth Fury - Pro Built Vintage Johan Promo1967 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon - Pro Built 1/25 R&r Resin1963 Ford Galaxie 500 Xl Conv Convertible Pro Built Promo1964 Comet Hardtop Ford Dealer Promo Car Vintage Original Box Ex Condition 1964 Mercury Ford Dealer Promo Car Vintage Ex Condition Amt Ford Galaxie Maybe 1968 Promo Friction Model Good Condition Must See Kit Plymouth H.t. 1966 Fury Iii,dealer Promo Model Car,w/box,mint,rare Collectible.Original 1965 Dodge Coronet 300 Dealer Promo 1/25 Scale NosOriginal Issue 1962 Oldsmobile Super 88 By Johan "attic Find" 62 OldsOriginal Issue 1965 Corvette Coupe Promo Car As Found In A Dark Basement1972 Dodge Challenger Dealer Promo In Hemi Orange W/ Original Box + Decals1961 Ford F-100 1/2 Ton Promo Pickup TruckJo-han Original "1971-72 Ford Maverick" Kit - Factory Stock 1/25 - Very Nice Vintage 1964 Pontiac Lemans Dealer Promo Car1966 Pontiac Gto Dealer PromoOriginal Issue 1964 Corvette Convert Promo Car As Found In A Dark Basement 1950's International Pick-up Truck Promo Model - MibJohan 1959 Dodge Custom Royal 2dr Hardtop Promo1967 Plymouth Fury Promo Coaster 2 Door Hard Top Plymouth Trouble Shooter1964 Falcon Convertible Dealer Promo Car W'box Selling Features On Bottom Ex ConVintage 1965 Ford Galaxie 500xl Dealer Promo Car Vintage 1963 Ford Falcon Futura Convertable Dealer Promo Car "ford Dealership""1963 Buick Electra 225 Promo Car Black On BlackVintage 1960 Smp Amt Corvette Friction Promo Toy Car Convertible Model Nice Nr 1962 Buick Electra 225 Plastic Promo Model Car With Friction MotorVery Old Buick Invicta 50s Amt Promo Friction Model Kit Dealer Curbside Xlnt1964 Continental Sedan Dealer Promo Car Turquoise Suicide Doors Ex Condition Box Mpc 1973 Chevrolet Caprice Promo Model Car With Orginal Box Nice Original Issues 1962 Mercury Monterey And Meteor By Amt "attic Find" 62 Jo-han 1968 Cadillac Coupe De-ville Convertible Promo Model Car Mint With Box Vintage 1/24 Jo-han Dealer Promo Model Car Friction 1960 Oldsmobile 98 2 Dr Nr !Vintage 1968 Amt Ford Xl Gt 428 Dealer Promo Car Excellent Condition 1971 Pontiac Gto Promo Model Car 1:25Wheats Nostalgia 1956 Plymouth 4dr Sedan Promo. Briar Rose/black1965 Dodge Monaco 2 Door Hdtop, Beige /black Roof, 1/25 By AmtVintage 1965 Mercury Park Lane Hardtop Dealer Promo Friction Car Toy PlasticVintage 58 Pontiac Bonneville Plastic Dealer Promo Car 1963 Pontiac Bonneville 2dr Ht Silverleaf Green Promo Amt 1/25 ScaleAluminum Model Toys Amt Studebaker Remote Controled Promotional Model Car 19501953 Chevrolet 210 Business Coupe Dealer Promo Bank 1951 Chevrolet Dealer Promo Bank Amt 1956 Buick Roadmaster Ht Plastic Dealer Promo Model Car - Red Interior Trim1968 Mpc Pontiac Bonneville Hardtop Promo Model Car – Very Nice Cruver Oldsmobile Promo Model Toy Car Rare Vintage Old Parts Kit Dealer1968 Cadillac Coupe Deville, Original Friction Promo Car, Ivanhoe Green, Johan1952 Chevrolet Dealer Promo Bank Nice Clean Vintage 60's Oscar Mayer Wienermobile Promotional Car.1968 Amc Javelin Sst Promo Model Car In 1/25th Plastic By Johan 'new In Box'1963 Ford Fairlane Sport Coupe Scale Model Promotional CarVintage 1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible Amt Promo Toy CarRare Pld Vintage Plymouth Suburban Station Wagon Toy Car Dealer Promo Part Jo-han 1966 Cadillac Coupe De-ville Convertible Promo Model Looks Great 1967 Cadillac Coupe Deville Original Friction Promo Car, Ember Firemist, JohanAmt 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Convertible Promo Model Car Very NiceX-el 1956 Pontiac 4dr Hardtop Promo1953 Chevrolet Dealer Promo Bank 1958 Pontiac Convertible PromoVintage 58 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Plastic Dealer Promo Car Vintage Dealer Promo Friction Car Model Amt Smt ? 1953 54 Plymouth Wagon Nice Nr1965 Pontiac Grand Prix-very Very Nice-