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]

Race Car Toys And Automobilia

Race Car Toys And Automobilia

Paul Chenard's impressive collection of vintage model race cars (mostly European) including Hotwheels, Dinky, Match… [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    

1961 Dodge Phoenix Convertible Pro Built Nice! Dart Fury 61 Mopar1969 Chrysler Newport Custom Pro Built1959 Plymouth Fury - Pro Built Original Jo-han Kit 1/251967 Corvette-all American Sports Car-Oldsmobile 98 Dealer Friction Car Vintage Advertising Collectible Jo Han Nr1963 Cadillac Coup Deville Promotional Car-johan Models-1:25 Scale-very GoodAmt Resin Built 1964 Ford Falcon Ranchero Promo Model Car Original Vintage 1954 Ford Crestliner Dealer Promo Car Toy,4 Door Model,2 Tone Johan 1968 Chrysler 300 Convertible Promo Model Car Rare Color & Wheels 1964 Buick Wildcat Dealer Promo2015 Ford Mustang Gt Auto Show Edition As Built In Red(8) Amt/ Smp Promo / Friction Cars Lot / For Parts Or RepairVintage 1958 Ford Fairlane Model Car/promoAmt 1964-1966 Ford Mustang Fastback Promo Model Car Very Nice 1952 Pontiac Chieftain 4 Door Wind Up Promo Model Car By AmtVintage 1959 Dodge Promo Car Automobilia Nice 2 Door Ht Jo-han Great ModelChrysler Corporation Turbine Promo Car No ReserveVintage 1962 Ford Galaxie Sunliner/ 1963 Thunderbird Dealer Promo Car Model ConvVintage 1964 Ford Thunderbird/ 1963 Lincoln Continental Dealer Promo Car ModelPlymouth Torsion Driver Education Dealer Vintage Advertising Johan Mopar Nr1950 Plymouth Station Wagon Promo---promotional ModelBlue Memory Lane 1953 Pontiac Sedan Delivery Promo Car With Display Case1965 Ford Mustang Fastback Dealership Promo CarVintage 1959 Ford Galaxie 500 Convertible Dealer Promo Car Pair Model ProjectVintage 1951 Dealer Promo Model Chevrolet Chevy 2 Door Car Bank Blue Gray KeyChrysler Dealer Friction Car Vintage Advertising Collectible Jo Han Nr1956 Amt Ford Fairlane Sunliner Promo Car - Spectacular Condition - Salmon Vintage Johan 1968 Oldsmobile 442 Promo Model Car By Jo-han Teal Blue Vintage 1967 Amc Ambassador 2 Dr. Promo CarAmt 1961 Mercury Hardtop Friction W/box WhiteJohan 1968 Oldsmobile 442 Cutlass Friction Dealer Promo!! Rare Circa 1968!Amt 1969 Ford Thunderbird Promo Model Car Great Condtion In Red Amt 1961 Lincoln Convertible Flywheel Model, Black ( Promo ) W/box Vintage 1968 Amc Javelin 2 Dr. Promo Car Red1951 Chevrolet 4-dr Original Dealer Promo Model Car Bank 1961 Hubley Ford Country Sedan Promo Car - Wagon - Mint Green Vintage 1957 Oldsmobile 98 Promo Dealer Plastic Jo-han Model Car,good ConditionOriginal Vintage 1950 Ford Dealer's Promo Toy Car, 4 Door Model, V8 1960 Jo-han Chrysler New Yorker Dealer Promo Friction Model Car Red1965 Ford Galaxie 500xl Hardtop Dealer Promotional Model Car - Blue ColorDecent 1956 Ford Country Sedan Station Wagon Friction For Parts Or To Restore1965 Ford Mustang Gt Fastback Promo Model W/boxJo-han 1967 Rambler Ambassador Hardtop Promo Model Car €Amt 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 Friction Promo Model Car Very Nice 1979 Light Yellow Cadillac Plastic Johan Detroit Model Car In BoxRare 1963 Ford Thunderbird Convertible Red Promo Car Roadster1966 Ford Mustang Gas Engine Promo Model Car By Amf Wen MacPlymouth Torsion Dealer Car Vintage Advertising Johan Ex-l Mopar NrVintage 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 Dealer Promo Car Model Project1971 Pontiac Castellian Brown Firebird Promo CarVintage 1950's Plymouth Suburban Promo Dealer Model Car Truck Brown Suv Wagon Original Vintage 1952 Ford Customline Dealer's Promo Car Toy, 4 Door ModelVintage 1965 Plymouth Fury Iii Hardtop Built Kit Red/white 1:25 Scale1963 Buick Electra 225 Convertible Promo1953 Ford Truck Promo---promotional Model---banthrico BankPromo Models 1965 Galaxie 500 Xl Convert.1960 Dodge Phoenix,1963 Ford Wagon 1961 Amt Mercury Comet Promo Car - 2 Door - Silver - Plastic Chassis 1953 Or 54 Plymouth 4-door Sedan Friction Promo For Parts Or Restore1955 Chrysler New Yorker Banthrico Bank2015 Ford Mustang Gt Auto Show Edition As Built In Red