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    

1985 Chevrolet Impala 4dr Sedan Modelhaus Resin Pro Built Pro Built 1961 Oldsmobile Super 88 1/25th Scale ModelhausVtg 1972 Dodge Challenger R/t Red Crazy Promo Mopar Chrysler Pristine/newYellow 1959 Pontiac Convertible Model Car Dealer Promo Car Screw BottomVintage 1963 Chevy Impala Hard Top By Authentic Scale Model Car BrownJohan 1970’s Era Amc Javelin Amx - Dealer Promotion Model In Butterscotch/goldYellow 1959 Buick Convertible Model Car Dealer Promo Car Screw BottomBlue 1966 Chevy Impala Ss Super Sport Model Car Dealer Promo Car Screw Bottom1973 Chevrolet Vega Metallic Deep Green Coaster Promo Original 61 Ford Country Sedan Wagon Factory Built Dealer Promo 1/25th Scale Vintage Amt/smp Original 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 Hard TopVintage Plastic 1962 Ford Galaxie Sunliner Convertible Friction Promo Model CarAmt 1960 Ford Falcon Dealer Promo Car BoxedJohan 1970’s Era Amc Hornet Notch Back- Dealer Promotion Model In IvoryJohan 1970’s Era Amc Hornet - Dealer Promotion Model In Mustard YellowVintage Johan Gm Dealer Promo 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass S Plastic Model Car 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass Promo Car In Great ConditionYellow 1959 Chrysler New Yorker Model Car Dealer Promo Car Screw Bottom1956 Mercury Ht Super NiceJo-han Amc 1966 Rambler Ambassador Promo, Original Very Good Condition1958 Chevy Impala Plastic Promo Friction Drive Model CarVintage Ford Fairlane 500 Promo Model Car Blue/white FrictionTriple Diamond 1956 International Pickup Cream And Blue 1/20th Promo Truck Corvette 1968 Promo, Yellow Color For Parts.1962 Chevrolet Impala Ht Dealer ModelVintage Johan Gm Dealer Promo 1968 Oldsmobile 442 Plastic Model Car Vintage 1954 Corvette Friction Promo Car Creme Color1958 Desoto "sportsman" Black / Beige....straight Johan Boxed Promo Car1968 Oldsmobile 442 Promo Model Car1969 Pontiac Grand Prix Dealer Promo1955 Cadillac Convertible Pro Built Resin Kit 1/25 ScaleVintage Johan Gm Dealer Promo 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass S Plastic Model Car 1962 Pontiac Tempest Convertible Dealer Model/kit1978 Dodge Monaco Sedan 1/25 Scale Pro Built Original 1974 Chevrolet Corvette Dealership Factory Built Promo Mib Amt Model Car Oldsmobile 1998 Intrigue Black W/ Tan Interior No BoxVintage Johan 1960 Oldsmobile 98 Promo Model CarVintage 1959 Chrysler "imperial" Smp Near Mint True Dealer Promo Car1969 Camaro Promo Convertible Buick Wildcat Promo Jo-han Amc 1968 Javelin Promo Original Good Condition (broken Windshield)*vintage 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 Xl Factory Dealer Promotional Model~1/25 Scale*Vintage 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 Xl 2dr Promo Model Car 1/25 ScaleJohan 7" 1970 Dark Yellow Gold Ford Maverick Dealer Promo Car Small CrackVintage Johan Gm Dealer Promo 1974 Oldsmobile Cutlass Plastic Model Car Pro Built 1953 Hudson Hornet1/18 Porsche 911 (997 Ii) Gt3 Cup 2011 Promo Car Minichamps1962 Rambler American Custom Sedan Dealer Promo Model 1/24-1/25 Excellent Chevrolet Impala 1962 Promo, Red Color For PartsVintage 1962 Ford Fairlane 500 Promo Car Promotional BlueChevrolet Impala 1960 Promo,brown & Grey Color For PartsVintage Ford 1949 4 Door Sedan Windup Promo Car- Red - Very Good Working Cond.1973 Amc Hornet Promo 1/25Vintage Chrysler Corp. Turbine Car 1/25 Scale W / Original Box - Nice!Vintage 1964 Ford Thunderbird Convertible - Promo Model Car With Ford Motors Box1959 Vintage Chrysler Imperial Hardtop Promo Promotional Model CarChevrolet Impala No Year Promo, Pink & Grey Color For Parts1958 Chevrolet Bel Air - Dealer Promo Car - 2 Tone - Friction Wsw Tires - 4dr1957 Ford Fair Lane 2 Tone Cream And Mustard Yellow, Dealer Promo Toy CarMercedes Benz Gl-classe Promo Model Car In 1/43rd Diecast By Norev 'new In Box'