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    

1960 Lincoln Continental 2 Dr. Ht. Pro Built 1966 Chrysler 300 Dealer Promo Car1966 Pontiac Gto Hard Top Promo Toy Car Burgundy # 591965 Corvette Stingray Convertible Promo Car 1/25th Scale Silver 1968 Plymouth Fury Iii Dealer Promo Car CreamVintage 1965 Oldsmobile 88 Convertible Promo - Super Rocket Engine UsaVintage 1970 Dodge Charger R/t Promo Model Car 1/25th Scale Blue Sharp. 1963 Chevy Nova Silver Wagon Promo9731wyandotte Roi-tan Sophie Tucker Chevrolet Advertising Promo Car (vtg 1939)!!1963 Chevy Nova Station Wagon Promo Car Being Sold For Parts1968 Plymouth Fury Iii Dealer Promo Car Blue1965 Plymouth Fury Iii Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Dealer Promo CarJohan 1969 Plymouth Satellite Roadrunner Gtx Bronze 1/25 Scale Dealer Promo Nice1967 Plymouth Fury Iii Dealer Promo Car Tan1969 Chevrolet Camaro Ss Promo Model 1/25th Scale Orange Nice.Rare Vintage 1965 Plastic Chevrolet Chevy Corvair Convertible Promo Car Model Near Mint Original Boxed 1966 Chevrolet C-10 Pickup Truck Coaster Promo - Red Vintage 1965 Ford **galaxie** Promo Car & BoxVintage Ford Station Wagon Promo Car & Box1967 Plymouth Fury Iii Dealer Promo Car WhiteOld Vintage 1967 Camaro Dealer Promo Car Toy - Chevy1963 Ford Pickup Built Kit1963 Ford F100 Pickup Promo Model Some Custom Work Needs HelpPmc Promo Junkyard Lot - 1959 Ford Wagon & 1957 International Harvester PickupVintage '68 Chevy Impala Ss 427 Promo CarPromo Model CarsMpc 1966 Dodge Monaco Hardtop 1:25 Promo Black WhiteVintage 1963 Buick Electra 225 Convertible Promo Friction Model Car Red On Red 1973 Jo-han Cadillac Eldorado Promo Toy Car Gold Top # 631972 Pontiac Gto Promo Toy Car Quetzal Gold # 581960 Mercury Ht Super Nice1965 Chevy Chevelle Malibu Wagon Sierra Tan Promo With Box1967 Plymouth Fury Iii Dealer Promo Car Green1960s Plymouth Valiant Promo Toy Car ( 2 ) A Pair One Black One White # 67 1966 Chevrolet Impala Convertible Dealer Promo Very Nice Original 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Hardtop Friction Promo - Red 1951 Henry J Promo Model By Lincoln Line 1/25 PlasticVintage Johan 69 Plymouth Gtx Promo Car With Box1963 Chevrolet Impala Dealer Promo Car With Nice Box, Low Starting Price1969 Cadillac Deville Dealer Promo Car, Very Nice, Low Starting Price1962 Ford Fairlane Dealer Model New In The Box1965 Ford Galaxie 500 Xl Convertible Promo CarVintage Amt 1968 Ford Galaxie 500 Gt 428 Dealer Friction Promo Car Yellow Vintage Amf Wen-mac 16" Plastic Motorized 1966 Ford Mustang Gt Promo Car Orange1968 Cadillac Eldorado Amt Promo Model1966 Super Sport Impala Chevrolet Ss Dealer Promo Car1949 Studebaker Truck Promo--promotional Model--national Products1963 Ford Fairlane 500 Sport Coupe Promo1971 Chevrolete Sunflower Yellow Impala 454 Convertible Dealer Promo W/ OriginalWhite 1969 Chevy Impala Promo Car 1958 Ford Hard Top True Dealer Promo Nice 1973 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Promo Model 454 Promotional Impala Coupe 1958 Pontiac Hard Top True Dealer Promo 1967 Chrysler 300 Dealer Promo Car Green1969 Pontiac Bonneville Promo Toy Car Burgandy / Black Top Top # 65Vintage Philco Corp. P-22 Am Radio Ford Mustang Gt Fastback Promo Rare Turquoise1965 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Promo Type Model Car Parts Or Resto 1/25 ?1970 Ford Thunderbird Promo Toy Car White # 661965 Covair Amt Promo Model1965 Covair Amt Promo Model