Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Convertible Dealer Promo models. Drop top fun no matter the weather

As I’m sitting here typing this, temperatures have dipped below zero here in Kansas City.  We are definitely not experiencing convertible weather.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t check out some cool convertibles.  Back in the day, Dealer Promotional Models (often referred to as “Promos”) were 1/25th-scale replicas that depicted the colors and body styles that were available on new car showrooms.  They were often given or sold to prospective new car buyers or their kids, and they made a tangible reminder of just how stylish a new car could be.  So on this cold wintery day, I decided to focus on convertibles.  Many of these cars have belonged to my dad since they were new, while we picked up others along the way.  But we both enjoyed digging them out to present to you.

I love this ’51 Chevy convertible Promo.  There isn’t really a romantic story to go with this.  I just picked it up on eBay last year.  Then I ordered a reproduction windshield and steering wheel to make it complete.  Believe it or not, there are actually places you can buy replacement parts for these just like real cars.  The color is called Moonlight Cream, which I know because it’s stamped across the trunk lid.  The red seats and grey top boot really set this car off.  These were actually coin banks, with a little metal door on the bottom engraved with the phrase, “To help you save for a rainy day or help you buy your new Chevrolet.”  These were made by PMC, and there’s just something about them that really draws you in.

There are two of these ’55 Buick Century convertibles in the slideshow.  One is a pristine deluxe dealer model.  The other is this light green machine.  My dad got this one in 1955, and since it was one of his favorites, it didn’t escape a few period modifications.  The most obvious are paint-related, as dad decided to detail out the wire wheels and emblems.  It also has some neat little dual exhaust tips that were soldered to the metal chassis.  The pristine model came from a model swap meet a few years ago, but truth be told, I like this one better.  It might not be as nice, but it lets me see through a little window to my dad’s childhood.

Here’s another one that dad got when it was new.  ’57 Thunderbirds are among the most common early Promos there are.  Well, they’re common if they’re molded in red.  Ford did a promotion where they send out jillions of red Thunderbird Promos to people.  You’ll notice a red one in the slideshow, but there is also a green one and this blue one.  These colors are harder to find, and worth considerably more.  This blue one was treated to some small changes by my 13-year-old father as well.  The wheels were replaced with chrome units from a full-sized Ford car, and dad painstakingly painted narrow whitewalls on them just like the custom cars of the day.  He always tells us that he did that with a one-haired brush.  I sure think it looks neat that way, though.

Here’s an interesting little footnote in Promo history. Back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, a company called JoHan built models for Studebaker, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and others.  In the 1980s, the molds were purchased by a guy who called his company X-El Products, and he reproduced several old promos, like this ’62 Studebaker Lark.  They usually had shinier finishes and harder plastic that resists warping.  A few of them had really bad painted finishes or weird details like incorrect dashboards.  Not this Studebaker, though.  It’s a nice as could be.  Today, these repops tend to bring as much money as the originals on the used market. 

This is an original JoHan Promo.  It’s a ’65 Cadillac convertible.  Dad picked this one up new as well, and the nice thing about the models from this era is dad was too old to play with them at this point.  That’s why they’re all like brand new and still have their boxes.  These were simple models, but well-built with good detail.  Most of them didn’t warp by this time, and they were spray painted in factory colors.  This would sure be a pretty car for real.  Plus, styrene plastic never rusts—especially when it hasn’t been driven on a salty road like this model!

In the late ‘60s, no one made better Promo models that Pontiac.  This ’67 GTO convertible was really desirable, with separate chrome gauges, silver painted exhaust, black painted grille, and redline tires.  That stuff all came like that.  My dad didn’t even need to break out the model paints.  They also made Bonnevilles and Firebirds, and they were very nice as well.  Model companies were getting very good at making well-proportioned, detailed replicas during this time, and there are still plastic model kits that you can buy new in hobby stores today that are based off of molds from this era.

The traditional 1/25th-scale plastic promotional model has basically been gone from the market for many years, with the exception of Corvettes and Camaros.  It isn’t likely that a dealer will give you one anymore, because they’re too expensive.  More likely, a serious collector will order one off the Internet.  They’re sure nice models, though.  Take this Camaro convertible.  It depicts the pace car from the 2011 Indy 500.  The graphics are excellent, the gauges are legible, and if it wasn’t small enough to fit in your hand, you’d swear it was real.  They just never could make anything this detailed before the age of computers. 

We put together an 87-photo slideshow of convertible Promo models from basically the early ‘50s to today.  I also threw in a few Franklin/Danbury Mint convertibles because they were easy to get to, and they’re pretty models.  You’ll be able to identify them by their incredible attention to detail and lack of warping.  See the photos below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. Love these old model cars!

  2. where can i get a reproduction windshield and steering wheel for 1949 thru 1954 chevy conv???