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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
In 1969, the Topper Corporation of Elizabeth, New Jersey introduced the Johnny Lightning brand of diecast vehicles. They are one of the many brand names of Deluxe Reading, a toy manufacturer also based in Elizabeth, that made toys under Deluxe Topper, Deluxe Toy Creations, Deluxe Reading, Topper Corp., Topper Toy Group, and Topper Toys. The Topper Toys brand was the one most often used in print advertisements and children's based television commercials.

Topper was a power house toy manufacturer owned by Henry Orenstein. They designed and produced a range of (15) different customized and fantasy castings fitted with 'speed type' wheels and metal bases that made up the initial range of Johnny Lightning castings. They based all but one car, the Custom Turbine, on other real cars of the era. Along with their 'fabulous' 500 track sets, a carrying case and helmet - they moved from design concept to retail, in less than a year. Blister card tag phrases included "The Challengers" and "Beats Them All" in direct reference to Mattel's Hot Wheels offerings and indirectly Matchbox's Superfast line.

Unique to the Johnny Lightning cars were the “Accelerator Loop” design portion of the chassis base plate. This worked with Johnny Lightning track sets to move cars along faster than just gravity. As the car passed over the launcher in the track - the “driver” would catch the built in 'Accelerator Loop' (hook) - and hurl the car around the closed track circuit for another lap.

In 1970, they added (32) - mostly new fantasy vehicles and numerous different track sets. A section of the new car line up was called 'Jet Powered'. These models were powered by an inflatable bladder contained inside the casting.

Only (5) new models were introduced in 1971. These were called "Custom Cars". Each came with plastic snap-on parts, so they could be customized to personal taste.

By the end of 1971, after marketing a total of 47 different castings and numerous track sets, Topper Toys was forced to close. Topper had gone bankrupt, after a failed public stock sale. Although one site notes it was due to business fraud. Ending the Johnny Lightning line up - for the first time.

Four models that were in development and never released were only known from their test shots and prototypes. These four 'lost' Toppers were castings never mass produced for market in the USA. They were a Camaro, a Charger, a Lincoln Continental and a Mustang. These four castings were; however, mass produced and marketed - along with many others castings from the Johnny lightning line - in Mexico, under the brand name Lili Ledy called "Los Bolidos".

In January 1994, Tom Lowe, an entrepreneur from Cassopolis, Michigan had just founded Playing Mantis in 1993. after 23 years, he secured the molds and unprotected trade mark name of Johnny Lightning and began making JL diecasts again.

From the original 1:64 scale models, (8) were reintroduced. These were the Bug Bomb, '32 Ford Roadster, El Camino, GTO, Jag XKE, Movin' Van, Vicious Vette, and Wasp.They were updated with new metal base plates, body colors, and wheel sets. More realistic models and concept cars of mostly American cars followed. And in an industry first - collectors were introduced to the 'Chase' car. Playing Mantis had begun releasing a limited number of each model painted in a pearl white paint. They were initially called 'A Bonus' on the packaging but evolved into the popular "White Lightning" Chase car.

"Muscle Cars U.S.A." debuted in late 1994 and became the bedrock of the new Johnny Lightning brand. With each passing year, Playing Mantis introduced new themes for their cars. Adding dragsters, pickup trucks, pace cars, Corvettes, James Bond, police, Mustangs, military, Hollywood, and Coca-Cola series lines.

In 1995, Playing Mantis released a 'Commemorative Line' called "The Lost Toppers". This line up included the original four 'lost' Toppers Camaro, Charger, Lincoln, and Mustang.. Also included were (4) previously unmade Toppers that were slated for introduction in 1970 and 1971, but were never even developed as prototypes. These were the Beep Heap (Jeep), Commuter, Skinni Mini, and the Tow'd (a hot rod tow truck). "The Lost Toppers" also included a 'First Shots Series" (assembled as bare metal unpainted zamac bodies) and other 'Hobby Store Exclusives' castings. Other exclusive castings were available at K B Toys.

In the mid 1990s, a line of smaller sized muscle car diecasts called "Speed Rebels" were also made. These did not carry the Johnny Lightning brand name on their base plate or their blister card packaging.

In 1998, they made a series of James Bond 007 casting models for marketing and distribution by Corgi in Europe. These also did not carry the Johnny Lightning brand name and instead were labeled as Corgi made products.

They also made a series of plastic pull back friction cars called "Polar Lights" based on Playing Mantis' line of slot cars.

They also revived the "Sizzlers" brand name fitted with electric motors similar to the original Mattel series of electric motored cars.

In June 2004, Playing Mantis brands were sold to the RC/Ertl company who later became RC2 and the Johnny Lightning line - for the second time - came to an end.

But, before that had occurred - the Playing Mantis staff had created a series of internet blogs based on their diecast, model kits and slot car lines that eventually (around 2000) became the same HobbyTalk forum you are visiting today.

For a short period, Johnny Lightning vehicles were also marketed by Learning Curve Inc. They were a formerly known subsidiary company of RC2 .

The Johnny Lightning diecast products continued to still be made for and distributed by RC2 from the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Illinois. RC2 had started as Racing Champions and also produced NASCAR die-cast models. Mac Ragan remained with RC2 after Playing Mantis was purchased as a designer and author. He was responsible for many of the most popular models that were issued and had also written the comprehensive guide - at the time - on Johnny Lightning cars titled Tomart's Price Guide to Johnny Lightning Vehicles. Both Ragan and Tom Lowe were inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 2005, RC2 brought in die-cast designer, Eric Tscherne who had worked for Hot Wheels and then Jada Toys. Tscherne was inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame in 2011.

In 2006, Johnny Lightning under went an image overhaul. A new clam shell style package began to be used, in January 2007, with the release of the new "Johnny Retro" series. A new logo treatment was also used with the logo and new package design eminiating from a partnership with Design Force and directed by Tscherne, et al. Additional updates of the brand image included the long-time collector favorite series of "Classic Gold" and "Muscle Cars". New packaging graphics were developed in the West Coast office by Jeremy Cox and Tscherne. A large price increase also went along with the new packaging. Which left many collectors unhappy with RC2 's changes.

In September 2007, Mac Ragan left RC2 for Greenlight Toys.

In 2007, Johnny Lightning introducing 'Battle Wheels. They were a line of remote controlled robots that battled one another. They also introduced the world's first transforming RC vehicle the V_BOT.

In 2011, RC2 Corp was bought by the Japanese toy company TOMY and the Johnny Lightning line of diecast cars in 2013 was discontinued - for the 3rd time.

Tom Zahorsky remained the Johnny Lightning design manager until RC2 discontinued production in 2013. Later on he became the Director of Strategic Branding of TOMY International. He was inducted into the Diecast (3009) and the Model Car Hall of Fames, for his work designing Johnny Lightning (?) diecast cars for Tomica. He had started his diecast design career in 1995 with Racing Champions, working on both the Racing Champions Mint and Racing Champions NASCAR series line ups.

In early 2016, Round 2 LLC, a new toy company owned by Thomas (Tom) Lowe (who had previously owned Playing Mantis), licensed the Johnny Lightning name and vehicle line from Tomy and was again making Johnny Lightnings once more. Along with their new sister brand of Auto World and the revived Racing Champions line. The Playing Mantis logo also returned to the front of the packaging - for continuity with the previously produced Playing Mantis Johnny Lightning cars. In addition, Tom Lowe hired four original Playing Mantis designers back to work on the new Johnny Lightning lines.. They were Tony Karamitsos, Mike Groothuis, Mac Ragan, and Scott Johnson (from Pitcock Design).

In 2020, Johnny LiIghtning castings can still be found commercially at many major retailers and by on line sales.

Sourced references -

Encyclopedia of Small-Scale Diecast Motor Vehicle Manufacturers - Sahakangas, Foster & Weber (2006)
About Us | JohnnyLightning.com
Johnny Lightning - Wikipedia
Johnny Lightning | hobbyDB
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32,866 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
This list of series offerings needs to be grouped by Topper, Playing Mantis, Round 2, etc and by year.

10th Anniversary Edition
1/18 Scale Vehicles - Johnny Lightning
2.0 - Johnny Lightning
30th Anniversary Series
3rd Generation Ford Thunderbird
4th Generation Chevy Corvette
4th Generation Pontiac Firebird
5th generation Chevy Corvette
60's Sizzle
AD Rods
American Beauties
American Blue
American Chrome
American Heroes
America's Finest - Johnny Lightning
Auction Insanity
Big Blocks Series
Big Boats 5 Car Set
Black And White TV Series Edition
Black Bandit Series - Johnny Lightning
British Invasion - Johnny Lightning
Calender Cars
Calender Girls
Celebration of Independence
Cereal Series
Chevy Series - Johnny Lightning
Classic Car Collection - Johnny Lightning
Classic Gold Collection - Johnny Lightning
Classic Plastic
Clue Series - Johnny Lightning
Collector's Choice
.Com Racers
Cover Cars - Johnny Lightning
Custom Woodys & Panels
Dragsters U.S.A.
Dukes Of Hazzard - Johnny Lightning
Fearless Funny Cars
Flames the Series
Forever 64
Fright'ning Lightnings
Gold Series - Johnny Lightning
Gone Fishing Series
Graveyard Cars
Heavy 70's
Holiday Series - Johnny Lightning
Hollywood On Wheels - Johnny Lightning
Hot Rod Series - Johnny Lightning
Import Heat
Indianapolis 500 Champions Collection
James Bond 40th Anniversary R1
James Bond Series - Johnny Lightning
JL Collection
JL Corvette Series
JL Custom PT Cruisers Release 1
JL Direct Exclusive
JL Direct Special Edition
JL FAO Schwarz Muscle Cars Box Set 1
JL Fireball Tim
JL Hobby Exclusives Texaco Fleet
JL Hot Rods
JL Muscle Cars Collection 1 Box Set 1
JL Popular Hot Rodding
JL Speed Racer
JLs to edit
JL Texaco Exclusives
JL The Saturday Evening Post Series (2005)
JL Volkswagen
John Deere - Johnny Lightning
Johnny Lightning Beat the Heat
Johnny Lightning Off Road
Johnny Lightning Toppers
Johnny Retro
Kay Bee 5 Pack
K-B Toys Exclusive
KB Toys Exclusive
K-B Toys Exclusives - Johnny Lightning
Lightning Rods
Lightning Speed
Lightning Strike
Lost Toppers
Magmas Series
MiJo Exclusives
Military Series - Johnny Lightning
Monopoly 70th Anniversary - Johnny Lightning
MoPar Series - Johnny Lightning
Motor Trend - Johnny Lightning
Motor Trend Magazine - Johnny Lightning
Muscle Cars U.S.A. Collection
Mustang & Fords
Mustang & Fords Release 1
Mustang Series - Johnny Lightning
New Cars - Johnny Lightning
Official Pace Cars
Official Pace Cars - Johnny Lightning
Off Road - Johnny Lightning
PEZ 50th Anniversary
PEZ Series - Johnny Lightning
Pinup Cars
PMD Exclusive
Poker Series - Johnny Lightning
Pontiac Series - Johnny Lightning
Pony Power
Popular Hot Rodding
Primedia Automotive Group Magazine
Pro Collector Series
Promo Edition
Pro Street
Q Car
Racing Dreams
Racing Legends
Racing Machines
Ragtops - Johnny Lightning
RCHTA Exclusives
Real Wheel Series
Rebel Rods
Red Card Series
Retro Rods
Road Trip U.S.A.
Rock'N Rollers
Show Stoppers Round 2
Speed Rebels
Street Freaks - Johnny Lightning
Super 70s
Sweet! Does that thing gotta hemi?
Team Lightning
The Challengers
The Classics Series
The Fabulous Motorama
The Lost Toppers
Those 70s Cars
Thunderbird Collection - Johnny Lightning
Thunder Jet 500
Thunder Wagons
Tour 1997
Toy Fair Exclusives - Johnny Lightning
Toys Cars Models
Truckin' America
U.S. Postal Service Series
Wacky Winners
White Lightning
Wicked Wagons
Working Class Trucks and SUVs

1/24 Scale Vehicles - Johnny Lightning
40 Years of Johnny Lightning
Coca-Cola Series - Johnny Lightning
Commemorative Series - Johnny Lightning
Fast and Furious - Johnny Lightning
JL Official Heritage Texaco Products
Marvel - Johnny Lightning
Muscle Cars - Johnny Lightning

1969 Authentic Commemorative Replica
30th Anniversary Patch Cars
Autoknow Promotion
Collector's Edition
Culture Art Rel 2
Dragsters New Year '98
Hot August Nights
Red Card Issues R1

32,866 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
While updating the production history today - I probably learned more about Johnny Lightnings and their entire run of production series then ever before! Most collectors I know will only talk about the original Topper Models and only begrundingly acknowledge the newer castings or that the Johnny Lightning line still exists! I vaguely remembered hearing about the "Lost" Toppers and dont ever remember hearing about the other 4 castings designed but not made until Playing Mantis finished them.

I also found it interesting to read about the Tomica made Johnny Lightning era and wonder when it started and if it is still going on?
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