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]

Race Car Toys And Automobilia

Race Car Toys And Automobilia

Paul Chenard's impressive collection of vintage model race cars (mostly European) including Hotwheels, Dinky, Match… [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    

1956 Buick Super 2 Dr. Hardtop - Pro Built 1/25 Hendrix Resin1961 Corvette Red Convertable Dealer Promo Promotional Toy Car In Box Original1953 Oldsmobile 4-door Sedan Promo Car Toy Model By Cruver Chicago Illinois1961 Mercury Comet 1/25 Pro Built1961 Chevy Impala Convertable Dealer Promo Promotional Toy Car In Box Original1961 Chevy Impala Deep Red Dealer Promo With Box Rare Dealer Promotional CarAmt 1969 Buick Riviera Promo Model Car Lot Repainted Cars Of Two Vintage 1960s Lot 10 Of Promo Model Cars. Parts Or Repair 1/24 Scale Usa Johann?1962 Chevy Impala Convertable Dealer Promotional Car Deep Blue W/box Open HoodOrig 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Conv. Indy 500 Pace Car Dealership Promo Toy Car1961 Pontiac Bonneville Original Promo Car, Shelltone Ivory, Nice 1/25 Scale. 1976 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible Jo-han PromoOrig 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe Dealership Promo Toy Car - Rare Red On Red!1965 Plymouth Fury Indy 500 Pace Car Convertible Plastic 1/24 Scale Dealer ModelJo-han Boss Man 1968 Cadillac Convertible - Model Kit C-5368 - No Reserve1959 Chevy Impala Convertable Dealer Promo Promotional Toy Car In Box OriginalJo-han 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass F-85 Convertible Promo Model Car With Box 1968 Chevrolet Impala Ss Promotional Model - Bright Red - Nice!1960 Chevy Impala Convertable Dealer Promo Promotional Toy Car In Box Original1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 Promo Model Jo-han Silver/grey 2 Door 1/24 ScaleVintage 1959 Buick 2 Dr Ht Promo Model Car1940-50s Studebaker P/u Truck National Diecast Connelly Motor Co ChattanoogaJo-han 1972 Oldsmobile Toronado Promo Model Car Very Nice Condtion 1969 Ford Mustang Mach I Candy Apple Red Hardtop Dealer Promo Car Box Only1/25 1966 Plymouth Barracuda Dealer Promo Car Nice Condition Yellow Beautiful ! Orig. 1960 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Dealership Promo Toy Car - Roman RedAmt 1963 Lincoln Continental Hardtop Vintage Built Model Car Kit Must See 1964 Mercury Park Lane Promo (spectacular) Rare Solid Black !1966 Pontiac Gto Convertible Original Amt Promo Car, Montero Red, 1/25 ScaleOrig 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Convert. Dealership Promo Toy Car - Mist Blue Nr!Vtg 1971 1972 Johan Amx Javelin Dealer Promo Car Model Midnight Blue Metallic Nr1966 Ford Galaxie 500 Promo Car Aqua Blue 2 Door Hard Top Nmib 1958 Pontiac Bonneville Promo Model Car 1/251961 Lincoln Continental Sedan Promo Car Black Plastic 1/24 Scale Dealer Model1970 Ford Torino Cobra Promo Model Car 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Tuxedo Black/riverside Red Conv Promotional Model Box1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 Promo Model Jo-han Copper Color 2 Door 1/24 ScalePmc 1959 Ford Ranchero Red, Nos Vintage Promotional Model Car; 1965 Pontiac Bonneville, A Metallic Green Hardtop1961 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe, Amt 1/25 Scale Promo. Lot Of Six Late 1950s Toy Model Promo Cars €Dealer Promo Car 1961 Ford Galaxie Starliner1950s Studebaker Stake Truck National Diecast Connelly Motor Co Chattanooga TennVintage Jo-han **ford Maverick** Orange Dealer Promo Model 1970 Rare!!Vintage Promotional Model Car; 1965 Buick Wildcat, Metallic Blue, Blue Interior1965 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport Promo Car Blue/green1962 Ford Galaxie 500 Model Dealer Promo Car Vintage Advertising Toy Giveaway1962 Chevy Impala Convertable Dealer Promo Promotional Toy Car In Box OriginalJohan 1967 Rambler Ambassador Convertible Promo Model Car Wonderful Cond Dealer Promo Car 1966 Ford Falcon1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Hardtop Promotional - Metallic Gold1968 Chrysler 300 Dr.sports Coupe-very Nice-Orig 1964 Chevrolet Impala 2 Door Cv Dealership Promo Toy Car - Rare Ember Red1940-50s Studebaker Car By National Diecast From Connelly Motor Co ChattanoogaVintage Promotional Model Car; 1965 Cadillac De Ville, Metallic Blue HardtopVintage Promotional Model Car; 1965 Buick Rivera, White Inside And OutVintage Promotional Model Car; 1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88, Red W/ White Interior7-1950s Studebaker Dealer Promo From Connelly Motor Co Chattanooga TennAmt 1964 Chevrolet Impala Convertible Promo Model Parts Car Vintage Hubley Renault Promo Car Model Car Very Nice Nr! Excellent