Posted 8 years ago
The AMT Turnpike slot car was a great idea in 1962, but expensive. The AMT model kits that required glue and assembly began in 1958 from their dealer promo line of years earlier and had the 4 screw posts and metal screws for assembly. The Turnpike idea was to run most any of their bodies from the model kits on their own slot car track. This was a large track to be in 1/25th scale and the packaging box was too big to start with, even though it could not be formed any smaller. The layout itself was much larger than any other slot car sets on the market in 1962.
This idea debuted at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, and took off well, but the track sets came with only one car. A second car could be purchased with another steering controller as an accessory set, and due to the high price of the layout set, as well as another car expense, this extreme cost was the beginning of the end of this idea. The set was released later with two cars, but this may have been too late.
The concept of driving a slot car forwards, backwards, and turning around all in a little steering wheel was ahead of its time. All the parts were priced expensive for repairs and the cars, which were equipped with "trolleys" to run in a large groove in the track, limited the racer to run at home with their own set, instead of the local hobby shop to compete, unless the store had an AMT Turnpike layout. After a while, the original sales and demand dropped somewhat, and the designers created a conversion of the chassis, which was a close copy to a model car kit chassis from its beginning. Particularly the AMT, because the Turnpike slot car chassis required the same type screws to hold them to the body as did the model kits. The rear screw holes were in various lengths, which came to be known as the "lettered" chassis A-E. This was to allow different AMT model car bodies in various lengths to be raced, as well as the dealership promotional cars. The AMT Turnpike also had its own service kit, which was a large black, folding box with paper envelopes numbered with various chassis and track parts. Every piece of the chassis had a number and could be purchased and stored in the service kit. This is a very highly sought after item today.
To help marketing and sales, there was major change on all the chassis that were not shipped. This change was to remove the trolley and add a plastic slot pin or blade, that was to fit in any standard hobby shop store with a speedway running 1/32nd, or 1/25th size slot cars. These Turnpike cars were relabeled with a pink sticker on the box end flap, and sold in the hobby shops. Some hobby shops repaired their own inventory themselves to help move it. This improved the sales of inventory surplus, along with repainting two of the original five 1962 American car bodies AMT produced, with a factory red spray paint job.
The first car released was with the sets, and it was a 1962 Ford Thunderbird. This is the most common car found, because of production numbers. The T-Bird when new in the box in 1962, was a near snow white, but after 50 years, they are usually found a faded white, some even into a tan or cream. Depending on storage, air temperature and humidity, and residing location of where the car spent most of its time since 1962, this plays an effect on this white/tan color of the body. Color brochures advertising the sets and in modeling magazines from 1962 also show the T-Bird as almost a light yellow. As a 40 year collector of these cars, a yellow car has yet to turn up.
The second car of the five was the 1962 Pontiac Bonneville. This car was released in the second layout set which had two cars. It was also released as an accessory package with the steering controller in a box just over shoe box size, and also longer, with a clear window in the box front. This car was molded in a light blue. Again, depending on the criteria of before, this blue could be slightly off but most found today are the same. All though, in the collection above, there is an almost white Pontiac. The blue has to be seen in the light and this car was molded this way, possibly as an error. This one was discovered out in the midwest shortly after the millennium. The Pontiac was produced in such a large surplus, it was one of two cars that received the factory red paint job, to help sell. The blue body was sprayed over in red before the chrome, and clear glass were added.
The third car of the original five was a 1962 Mercury Monterey molded in a light pale yellow. It was also sold as an accessory set car. It is unknown if this car left the factory as part of the two car sets, or if it may have been switched by the dealer at the hobby store. These three cars, are the most common to be found, with the exception of the red Pontiac, at a flea market, toy show, estate sale. or from someone's basement or closet because they were the most produced.
The later part of the 1962 run was the Ford Galaxie. This car was molded in a sweet pea green. However just recently, this car has been found in the same yellow molded color as the Mercury. It is an EXACT mold color. Some confuse this with the AMT auto dealership promotional cars given away or mailed by the Ford dealerships to their customers. This yellow Galaxie is NOT the same car body. There is one in one of the photos next to the green Galaxie. Even though the first four AMT Turnpike slot cars have molded sealed hoods as did the dealer promo line. There are two ways to tell a dealer promo body from a Turnpike body, specifically in 1962, their only full production year model line. An avid collector knows them, and well. This Galaxie was sold in a much smaller box, the same size as the dealership promo box. It was very narrow and a close fit box with Galaxie graphics. The car came also with the carriage trolley. The Galaxie was also one of the two cars that were retrofitted from the factory after production with the carriage removal and the track blade wired in, or added to the chassis.
The fifth an final car of the original five AMT Turnpike slot cars was the 1962 Chevrolet Impala. It was also sold in the smaller box with the Impala graphics, matching the car and it too was later fitted with the multifunctional track slot pin. It was the least produced, and the most desirable of all of the cars today, and by far the most expensive when found. The Impala was also the second car that received the factory red spray painted body. The car was molded in tan, and when the body is removed, the over spray is shown on the tan body. This is also true of the Pontiac in red, over the blue. The Impala body was platformed from the AMT model assembly kit with the opening hood, which was molded in white. The Turnpike Impala is the only one of the five with a non molded hood, which is factory glued shut. Traces of the glue are certainly visible with the body removed. As the rest of the 1962 cars can be, this Impala Turnpike body can be spotted from a dealership promo. GM had another company also involved with their dealer promo line and FOMOCO had a contract with AMT for their dealer promotional car. In a photo above there are both colors of the Impalas. The Impala was also fitted with a driver and this is possibly by the selling hobby store.
As an avid and long collector, I personally am on the look out for something new, meaning an unseen color. This leaves the wonder of tan Pontiacs as shown on the layout set box, pea green Mercurys , and so on. There were some proto type show cars made as late as 1964, for promotional items, and given away at auto shows. including a rare 1964 Galaxie Hardtop. This car is in my collection shown above and has a very special rear trailing bar, to keep the car on the track when it was debuted at an auto show with an AMT Turnpike display, sometime in late 1963 for the 1964 car line. This is the ONLY car in forty years, that I personally have even seen with this extra bar on the bottom of the chassis. Once again, this rare 1964 body sports the trademark of a Turnpike slot car, and not a dealership promo push car.
With the help of the internet, and eBay in 1996, these cars and their accessories are being discovered and sold on line. More so in the last 2 years than the last 35 years prior combined. The AMT Turnpikes are one of the most sought after slot cars in toy racing history.
It has been 5 years since I originally wrote this article. This 56 year old idea from AMT has been turned over from many rocks in their history, thanks to the internet. Because of a half of a century has passed, many of those involved in mid-century AMT history are gone, or don't remember this concept's details. It has taken 50 years of slot car fever for me to get this far and so deep into the passion, highlighted by the AMT Turnpike.
With AMT's sinking ship, the "Turnpike" from 1962 , and revisions into 1963, there was one last straw that the average hobby person would never know going to the hobby shop as a little racer kid. Grown up now, things have gotten clearer over the last few years, with many of the puzzle pieces now fitting, and again, thanks to the social media/internet world. There was an auto dealership involvement AMT had with the auto makers everyone in the dealership promo world knows and understands. But there was also a Turnpike part of it. It is very important NOT to confuse this final chapter of the AMT Turnpike with the dealer promo part of their history.
In the fall of 1963, and the auto makers were sailing into the 1964 model year, AMT was also already into the promo contract obligations as well. However, the Turnpike project was also getting one last gasp of air. AMT had created a dealership showroom display. This actually included a folding table/track attached and a 1964 model car. These actually DID debut at the 1964 Auto Show in Detroit, however, the slot car public already had a sour taste of the pricing since 1962 and this idea was virtually ignored. The 1964 AMT Turnpike cars are very rare indeed, more so than the Impala from the later part of 1962, into 1963. The final straw Turnpike cars included a 1964 Galaxie Fastback, in a powder blue, off shade to the '62 Pontiac. These displays with a track and car were available to order by the dealership, which also included GM dealerships. But not every dealership across the country got a Turnpike display track. Even though all the Detroit auto makers had the option. I own a 1964 Galaxie and KNOW it is a Turnpike, and not a converted dealer promo, and for over a decade been researching to find the origin.
The connecting puzzle piece missing, came with a post on a social media page for AMT Turnpike a couple of years ago had a post from someone with a pair of 1964 BUICK Turnpikes and a folding track, mounted on the table. The concrete evidence was when another post came up about the 1964 Bonneville AMT Turnpike showed up in SD. Its story from the family member whose family owned the Pontiac dealership in the 1950's, and into the 1960's, when the Pontiac Turnpike car appeared in the dealership's marketing material.
This truly concretes the history of the AMT Turnpike into early 1964. These cars without ant doubt, are the RAREST in all of AMT Turnpike history.