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    

1978 Ford Ltd Landau 4 Dr Pillared Ht. Pro Built Resin Pro Built 1972 Ford Ltd Brougham 1/25th Scale ModelhausSpectacular Collection Ford Dealer Promo Cars Sixties Seventies Amt 1961 Mercury Comet 2 Door Hardtop Dealer Promo Friction Model Car Vintage Mpc 1970 Dodge Challenger Plum Crazy Promo Car No Rsv Collection 61969 Promo Pontiac Firebird Ht -windward Blue W/redline Tires NibAmt 1/25 Slot Car Promo Kit 1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone Gt Indy 500 Pace Car MintOrg Vint Amt 1962 Chevrolet Hardtop Dealership Promo Model Car1966~ford Galaxie 500~7 Liter~salesman Sample Dealer Promo Model Car~muscle Car~Vintage Joh 1962 Chrysler 300 Convertible Promo Car No Rsv Collection 51969 Promo Pontiac Gto Ht -ve Dora Green W/redline Tires Nib1965 Buick Wildcat Convertible Red Promo1960 Amt Ford Galaxie 4d Blk White Dealer Promo With Box Original 1969 Plymouth 440 Gtx Dealer Promo Scorch Red With Redline TiresOriginal 1971 Plymouth Road Runner Dealer Promo Metallic Brown Excellent Cond.Original Amt 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint 2 Door Hardtop Promo Red Good ShapeOriginal 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Dealer Promo Sublime GreenVintage Amt 1967 Chevrolet Pace Car Camaro Promo W Dome Case No Rsv Collection 71970 Oldsmobile 442 Sebring Yellow Promo Johan Built Excellent ConditionNicelly Built 1967 Dodge Polara Ht. Dark Terquoise Metalic Poly By John Labeots 1965 Ford Falcon Sprint Hardtop Promo Model Amt W/ Box Dynasty GreenVery Nicely Built 1975 Ford Torino Fiery Orange Poly Promo Style By John Labeots1962 Ford Falcon Dealer Model W/box1966 Chrysler Imperial Crown Coupe Plastic Car Salesman Sample Dealer Promo Guc Vintage Smp 1961 Chevrolet Impala Convertible Promo Car No Rsv Collection 21970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Rallye 350 Johan Detroit Built Model Kit Promo 442 1/251965 Chrysler 300 Hardtop Promo Model By Jo-han1965~ford Galaxie Xl 6 Cyl.~dealers Promo Salesman Sample Advertising Model Car~1964 Chrysler Imperial Crown Coupe Plastic Car Salesman Sample Dealer Promo Guc Vintage 1968 Chevrolet Impala ConvertiblePromo Model Car Amt 1967 Ford Galaxie 428 Xl1965 Amc Rambler Classic Cross Country Station Wagon Dealer Promo Johan Detroit1966 Ford Thunderbird Promo Model Cars Large Lot Parts Four Cars 1970 Pontiac Gto Hardtop Promo, Bermuda Blue, Mib1967 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Promo Model By Mpc Champagne Met.1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Convertible-nice-Vintage Chevrolet 1967 Convertible Impala Ss 427 Dealer Promotional Car1962 Mercury Comet Promo Model Amt Detroit Friction Rare Dark Blue Ford Vintage1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Convertible-nice-1962 Chevrolet Nova Ii Dealer's Promo Automobile Model1963 Chevrolet Impala Promo Factory Assembled Model1970 Pontiac Gto Dealer Promo Mpc Detroit 1/24 1/25 Amt Johan Vintage Original1964 Chrysler Imperial Ht Super Nice1967 Amt Ford Thunderbird Promo And Model Cars Parts Lot Vintage Junk Yard 1966~ford Fairlane 390~salesman Sample Dealer Promo Model Car~metallic Burgundy~1962 Amt 1/25 Ford Galaxie Conv Dealer Salesman Plastic Promo Raven BlackVtg 1963 Ford Fairlane 500 Sport Coupe Dealers Promotional Model 1971 Plymouth Road Runner Red Plastic Car Salesman Sample Dealer Promo Guc Rare Vintage 1962 Pontiac Tempest Promo Model Car Excellent Condition1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria Friction Promo Model With Original Box AmtVintage Joh 1956 Oldsmobile 98 Holiday Hard Top Promo Car No Rsv Collection 41966 Ford Mustang, Fairlane, Galaxie, Thunderbird, Falcon Promo Box OnlyVintage Rare Master Caster Promo 1953/54 Hudson Hornet Die-cast CarVintage 1965 Buick Wildcat Dealer Promo Car Blue 2-drht. Excellent Minus Con.1968 Ford Galaxie 500 Xl 428 Dealer Promo Amt Detroit Friction Vintage Car Kit1964 Ford Galaxie Promotional Car Blue Please Look At All Pictures1961 Mercury Comet Annual Built Model Kit By Amt Detroit Vintage Dealer Promo *vintage 1960 60 Ford Lincoln Continental Mark V~2 Door Hardtop ~blue~1:25~amt*1962 Chevrolet Impala Promo Factory Assembled ModelVintage 1961 Impala 4 Door Hardtop Chevy Dealer Promo Car