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    

1970 Dodge Coronet 500 2 Dr. Ht. Pro Built Vintage 1967 Chrysler Imperial Crown Coupe Promo Car, Plastic, No ReserveModelhaus 1972 Ford Ltd Brougham 2door Pro Built Model Car Scaled 1/25*no Reserve* Vintage Ford Promo Car Lot Mustang Maverick Futura Galaxie 1962 Etc1967 Plymouth Barracuda Plastic Promo Car, No ReserveRare 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst Pro BuiltAmt Blue 1967 Ford Mustang Gt Fastback Promo/friction Model Car1962 Chevy Impala Convertible Promo Amt Met Turquoise 9 Original Family No BoxVintage 1966 Dodge Charger 426 Promo Car, Plastic, No Reserve11-amt Ford Motor Co Promo Cars, Big Variety, Near Mint To Parts, Start $1.! *no Reserve* Vintage Junk Yard Promo Car Lot 1960 Thunderbird Eldorado 13 Cars!!*no Reserve* Vintage 1967 Pontiac Bonneville Promo Model Toy Car Plus Bonus 1970*no Reserve* Vintage 1962 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Promo Friction Toy Car Vtg 1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Dealer Promo 2 Door Screw Bottom Johan Amt Era 1964 Metal Flake Turquoise Pontiac 2drht Tempest Lemans Amt Original Family 1967 Ford Mustang 2dr Fastback Promo Amt Yellow Original Family No Box 91965 Chevy Ii Nova Ss 283 2drht Amt Dealer Promo Mtflk Turquoise Orig Family 91971 Pontiac Grand Prix Hardtop In Aztec Gold Coaster Dealer Promo Car Ob*no Reserve* Vintage 1968 Plymouth Fury Iii Promo Friction Model Toy Car Jo-han 1963 Chevy 2drht Ss 409 Impala Lt Metallic Green With White Top Amt Original Fam1971 Gold Chevy Cheyenne 10 400 Pickup Promo Mpc Original Owner FamilyVintage 1973 Pontiac Dealer Promo Model Car Black 1966 Gto Redline Tires1970 Ford Maverick 2 Door Sedan Promo Freudian Gilt In Original Shipping Box1963 Chevy Impala Ss 409 Convertible Promo Amt Met Blue 9 Original Family No Box1965 Pontiac Grand Prix Hardtop In Capri Gold Coaster Dealer Promo Car Ob1963 Chevrolet Fleetside Pickup Medium Blue Dealer Promo Car Ford Station Wagon Dealer Promo Model Car 1962 Box Original Packaging Nos Nice1964 Pontiac BonnevillePontiac G.m Promo Dealer Model Car Bonneville 2 Door Hardtop 1970Vtg 1965 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Dealer Promo 2 Door Screw Bottom Johan Amt Era1962 Orange Chevrolet Apache Pickup Plastic Amt 9+ Original Owners Family No Box1960 Smp Orange With White Top Chevrolet El Camino Pickup Plastic Friction 1967 Indianapolis 500 Camaro Pace Car Promo Promotional Model As Is1966 Lincoln Continental 4 Door Dealer Promo Car TanVintage Red Dealer Promo Ford Falcon 19641948 Chevrolet Fleetline Fastback Aero Sedan Promo By National Products Inc.1961 Ford Falcon Dealer Model Real NiceNice Amt 1/25 1962 Ford Mercury Monterey Hardtop Red Dealer Promo Model Car HtfAmt 1955? Cadillac Hardtop 1/251963 Pontiac Tempest Lemans Convertible. Promo, Amt Coaster Parts Car1960 Chevrolet Corvair Sedan Coaster Dealer Promo Car Original Box*no Reserve* Vintage 1965 Chevrolet Malibu Station Wagon Promo Model Toy Car 1970 Orange Chevy Cst/10 Pickup Plastic Promo Amt Original Owner Family1964 Chevy 2dr Chevelle El Camino Amt Lt Mtflk Green Promo Original Family 9Vtg 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass Red Dealer Promo 2 Door 4 Screw Bottom Johan Amt Era1971 Chevrolet Corvette Promotional Model, Red, 1/25th Scale1972 Plymouth Barracuda Hemi Orange Mpc Dealer Promo Original Family 9+ No Box1972 Chevy 454 Corvette Coupe Dealer Promo Mpc Metallic Gold Original Family 9+ Pro Built 1972 Ford Ltd Brougham, Scale 1/25 Modelhaus Body1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Ss 454 Convertible Amt Promo Original Family1968 Chevrolet White 427 Impala Ss Promo W/ Original BoxVintage 1969 427 Chevrolet Corvette Promo Car Vg True Survivor...yellowVintage 1968 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Dealer Promo Car 1:25 Johan 1972 Oldsmobile Toronado Dealer Promo 1:25Vintage 1968 Chevy Camero Rally Sport Ss Dealer Promo Model Car(nice L@@k)1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa Convertible Promotional Model 1972 Pontiac Gto Hard Top With Original Box1961 Chevrolet Corvair PromoVintage 1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe Amt Dealer Promo Car1966 Buick Wildcat Amt Kit Built Stock 401 V8 Four Speed Dual Quads