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    

Vintage Smp 1959 Chevy Corvette Convertible Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage Smp 1961 Chevy Impala 4 Door Hardtop Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage Mpc 1969 Maize Pontiac Gto Convertible Promo Car No Rsv Collection 11Vintage Amt 1962 Gold Chevrolet Impala Ht Promo Car No Rsv Collection 3Vintage Amt 1962 Ford Falcon 2d Sedan Friction Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original Box1961 Ford Custom Cab Truck For PartsVintage Amt 1962 Ford Galaxie Sunliner Friction Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage Amt 1958 Pontiac Bonneville 2d Sedan Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage Chrysler Turbine Experimental Car Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage 1962 Ford Country Sedan Station Wagon Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage 1966 Red Ford Mustang Philco Promo Car Radio P-22Amt 1965 Buick Riviera Hardtop Astro Blue Dealer Promo W/original BoxAmt 1961 Burgandy 2-door Pontiac Bonneville Dealer Promotional CarFord 1969 Gulfstream Blue Torino 390 Dealer Promotional CarVintage Jo-han 1961 Oldsmobile Super 88 4 Door Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxVintage Amt 1969 Dk Red Chevrolet Chevelle Ss Promo Car No Rsv Collection 8Mercury Early 1971-1972 Knight White Comet Dealer Promotional Car ExFord 1966 Bronze Mustang 2-door Promotional Car W/ Philco RadioPontiac 1962 Bonneville, 1968 Gto, 1970? Pontiac Kit Cars For Parts (3)Vintage Amt 1963 Green Pontiac Bonneville Conv. Promo Car No Rsv Collection 2Vintage Mpc 1968 Dodge Charger Ht Tourney Of Roses Promo Car No Rsv Collection 6Vintage Joh 1972 Purple Amc Javelin Amx Coupe Promo Car No Rsv Collection 10Vintage Jo-han 1960 Chrysler New Yorker Hardtop Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxRare!! 1960 Edsel Ranger Convertible Promotional Model Car By Amt In White1956 56 Ford Vintage Country Sedan Station Wagon Promotional Promo Model CarFord 1958 Gray Edsel 2-door Dealer Promotion Car ExVintage Joh 1966 Plymouth Fury Indy 500 Pace Car Promo No Rsv Collection 71968 Pontiac Gto Conv 1/25 Scale Built Amt Kit Model - Junker 4 Parts Or RestoreFord 1963 Dark Blue Falcon Convertible Dealer Promotional CarRare Vintage 1968 Dodge Coronet R/t Yellow Promo Model CarPlymouth 1972 Green Roadrunner 2-door Promotional CarAmt 1958 Desert Beige Ford Fairlane 500 Convertible Dealer Promotional Car ExFord 1958 Light Blue/gold Edsel Convertible 2-door Promotion Car1965 Pontiac Gto Dealer PromoFord 1972 Light Blue Gran Torino Sport Dealer Promotional Car Ex#14 Old 1962 Lincoln Continental Promotional Promo Car BlackPlymouth 1959 Fury, 1961 Plymouth Wagon, 1950s? Belvedere Cars For Parts (3)#8 Old 1964 Ford Thunderbird Promotional Promo Car Black In Box From Ford Vintage Jo-han 1959 Plymouth Fury Taxi Cab Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxRare Vintage 1966 Dodge Monaco Mauve Promo Model CarJo - Han Promo Car In Original Box - 50s DesotoVintage Jo-han 1961 Rambler Classic Station Wgn Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxFord 1969 Light Green Torino 2-door Dealer Promotion Car ExJo-han 1968 Laredo Tan Amc Amx Dealer Promotional CarOldsmobile 1960 Cream Ninety Eight Coupe Dealer Promotional Car1969 Cadillac Convertible In Firemist Blue " Very Rare"Vintage Amt 1959 Ford Galaxie 2 Door Hardtop Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original Box1963? Corvair Kit Car For PartsJo-han 1970's Ford Maverick Promo Car Vintage 7" Long1973 Camaro Promo Car Orange With Box Amt Chevy Chevrolet Beautiful CarVintage Amt 1955 Studebaker Dealer Promo 1:25 With Rare Original BoxPontiac 1969 Dark Green Grand Prix 2-door Promotion Car ExJo-han Promo Car With Original Box - 50s PontiacJo-han 1971 Mustard Yellow Amc Javelin Amx Dealer Promotional Car LnVintage Mpc 1969 Gold Chevrolet Corvette Ht Promo Car No Rsv Collection 9Vintage Wiking Volkswagen Vw Dealer Promo Cars, 4.5" Bee2tle, Bus, Truck Lot 2Ford 1958 Mint Edsel Convertible 2-door Promotion CarVintage Promo And Annual Model Kit Used Chevy Car Lot For Repairs Or RestorationVintage 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 2 Door Dealer Promo 1:25 W/original BoxJo-han 1968 Taupe El Dorado 2-door Promotional Car