Monday, November 28, 2011

1963-1968 Dealer promo model cars are like 1/25th-scale memories

I think dealer promotional models are fascinating little bits of automotive memorabilia. Most people can’t just go buy every old car they ever wanted, but many of those cars were rendered in bright, colored plastic, in the just perfect size to fit in your hand.

Dealer promotional models, or “promos,” as people like to call them, aren’t typically made for new cars these days. But 30-50 years ago, they were pretty popular. People anticipated the arrival of the newest models, and going to the dealership was considered an event. So while dads drooled over the latest creations from Detroit, his son was often treated to a highly detailed 1/25th-scale version of the actual car.

I think it was a great idea. Car companies don’t expect to cease operations after their last car sale. Once those kids grow up, they’re going to be shopping for cars themselves. It didn’t hurt to build a little brand loyalty with a fun toy that they could intimately play with and enjoy.

By the 1960s, companies like AMT and Jo-Han were making some excellent models. From the quality of the plastic to the fine details, promo models from the mid-to-late ‘60s were state-of-the-art. To this day, there are kits sold in hobby stores that are built from the same molds as the annual promos and kits of the 1960s. Add authentic colors, smooth paint jobs, and other painted details, and you’re looking at some of the most popular, as well as some of the most valuable little models ever made.

My dad started collecting promo models in the late 1940s. Of course, my granddad was a used car dealer, so they spent a lot of time traveling from dealership to dealership buying and trading inventory. So over the years, dad built up a pretty good collection.

By the time I came around, the collection had sort of stalled out. All the cars were basically boxed up in various closets and storage places, and no one was really able to appreciate these gems as they hid in the darkness. I knew they were there, though. And even though they were off limits, I’d still sneak them out of their little boxes, study them vigorously; play with them lightly.

As time went on, dad obviously recognized that I was taking an interest in his dormant promo collection. Plus, there was no way that he accumulated such a group and didn’t still have a soft spot for them. We started spending more time with them—getting them out, looking at them, talking about them. My mom scored a big, glass display case, and a few of them saw the light of day after decades of neglect.

Once they were starting to come out, holes in the collection began to emerge. Back then, you couldn’t buy things on the Internet, so you had to find them at swap meets and model shows. Dad and I traveled to all kinds of places, and in addition to the models themselves, we accumulated lots of stories and memories to go with them.

Dad helped me get the models out for the pictures in the slideshow under this story. And I still enjoy hearing about the circumstances by which each car was acquired. When it comes to cars, no one has a memory like my dad. He can tell you what dealership each model came from, and usually what kind of car he was driving or rode in to get there. It’s like the day he got each model is being replayed in a video in his mind. I like that kind of stuff.

And it also makes me feel good to know that I had something to do with some of them. Whether we bought it together, or maybe I found one or another somewhere, I like it that I am a part of “our” collection too. I know that sounds kind of nerdy or sappy or whatever, but it doesn’t really matter.

With the Internet, you would think that collecting these would be easier than it was when my dad and I were out chasing them down, but I'm not so sure.  Yes, they are more simple to find than ever before.  Within a month, I wouldn't be surprised if you could find every car in my slideshow on eBay.  But they've also gotten much more expensive.  I mean, I guess it's nice that they're valuable if you have them, but they're not worth much if you never want to sell them.  There are lots of models I'd like to have that I probably never will get now because I'm not willing to pay the price.  Besides, having them readily available sort of kills the thrill of the hunt.

This slideshow contains dealer promo models starting in 1968 and going back to 1963. Why did I choose these particular models from these particular years? I guess I could say that I was picking cars that were sold during Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential term or something, but that’s not really it. Mainly, it’s because these models were pretty easy to get to, so I didn’t have to work very hard to take the pictures. We didn’t have to dig through any boxes or jump through too many hoops. But in spite of my uninspired selection process, I think there are some really neat little models in there. A few of them are the X-EL Jo-Han reproductions from the 1980s, but the majority of these are original-issues. My favorites were the GTOs and Bonnevilles—love those silver-painted exhaust systems! Check ‘em out.  Or click this link for a nicer version of the slideshow.


  1. Nah, not nerdy or sappy , but cool.
    Love dealer promos! Thanx for sharing. Only have a handful myself - getting too expensive to add to the collection as you stated.
    Wonder why the Pontiacs had the painted exhaust whilst others did not? Clever 'upmarket' advertising ploy, or difference in manufacturing plants? Also wonder when they stopped doing that - my original-still-in-the-box 70 GTO doesn't have that feature.

  2. Thanks, john.

    Yeah, it seems like it was only like '66-'67 that they painted the exhaust like that on the Pontiacs. They also painted some of the dashboard silver and little things like that.

    Nearly every car in these pictures has its original box. My dad was really good about keeping that stuff. Of course, I learned not to throw anything away, which isn't a quality my wife finds very adorable.

    I think the box on our '70 GTO has some kind of contest pritned on it that matches up to the license plate on the model. Something about getting a discount on the purchase of a real car. I love all those little gimmicks they used to have. Good stuff!

  3. You are correct about the box! There's a list of letters ; depending upon the letter on the plate , it tells how much 'discount' you got on the purchase of any new Pontiac [if purchased before December 15, 1969 - I went and looked].
    Mine came by way of a good friend of the family - David and Sue had bought a new 64 GTO when first married. They were on a local dealer's mailing list apparently. David got a card in the mail about a special showing/event/promotion/whatever at the dealer's. "food fun and prizes" or something similar I imagine. Anyway, David and my Dad went just to look around [David had moved on to a Corvette by then] and obviously, I was there salivating and dreaming. [This would have been just before my 10th birthday] Anyway, they gave David the model, and David handed it to me.
    And you are right - never throw the box away!

  4. marlin was cool. (the model, not the car!)

  5. Craig:
    Excellent find.

    Wish I still had my 1958 FORD promo (friction-powered) cars (Galaxie and Ranchero) that Dad got for me.
    I was a kid...and things got tossed...damn shame.
    I remember them as being BETTER than any model you could build...and the plastic used was a lot stronger! Fantastic detail.

    Then, there was that (huge) cast metal '55 vette in fire engine red with REAL rubber tires.
    (played with that until the paint wore

    Great post.

  6. That is a wonderful slide show. You and your Dad are lucky to have such a fine collection. And to think you have many more waiting to be opened! May you and your Dad have many more happy, healthy years to enjoy them.

    Please join the Promotional Model Cars Forum (, to share your model photos and your knowledge of promotional model cars.

    Thank you,
    Mark Crowel

  7. I wish the tools could be found to reproduce a lot of these Memorable automobiles in some form . I won't hold my breath on anything Jo- han did , but the rest still...............

  8. Hi Craig,
    Just found your great site. I have been collecting promos for most of my life. For many years others thought it a bit odd that a grown man collected plastic cars, but now most of my "non-car" friends and family, when visiting, ask if I have anything new and end up in my display room.
    Although I do use eBay for new acquisitions, it is still a special thrill to turn a corner at a swap meet or antique mall and find another, especially one I do not yet have.
    Thanks for creating this web-site. Hope to see it expanded.

  9. I enjoyed your slide show. You and your father have a nice collection. I'm sure that you have many fond memories. You should consider writing a journal when you two are looking at your collection. That way you will have all those fond memories in writing and they can be handed down. Someone was commenting on the Pontiac's having the exaust painted silver. MPC out of Mount Clemens MI was producing the 1966 Pontiac's and they have the painted chassie. I have a 1966 Dodge that also has it's exaust painted.

  10. ha dale here great collection.i have some promo models and i have been collecting for a long time .it must have taking you a long time to have saved all of those cars.i have about 300 cars alot of dirt mods that i made myself .they take along time no kit's i make them from scratch and part's from other kit's .mainly motors and tires,the frame ,body,headers,ect. i make myself.well happy modeling .