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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
In 1969, the Topper Corporation of Elizabeth, New Jersey introduced the Johnny Lightning line of diecast vehicles. 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 making up the range of castings. They based all but one car, the Custom Turbine, on real cars of the period. Along with their 'fabulous' 500 track sets, a carying case and helmet - from 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,” portion of the chassis which worked with Johnny Lightning track sets to move the cars 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 new - mostly fantasy vehicles and numerous track sets. A section of the car line were 'Jet Powered' by an inflatable bladder inside the casting. Only (5) new models were introduced in 1971. Called "Custom Cars" each came with plastic snap-on parts so they could be customized to personal taste.

By the end of 1971, Topper Toys was forced to close which brought an end to the Johnny Lightning cars.

But, by 1971 after marketing 47 different castings and numerous track sets Topper was bankrupt after a failed public stock sale (one site notes it was due to business fraud) and the Johnny Lightning line ended - for the first time.

In 1994, Tom Lowe, an entrepreneur from Cassopolis, Michigan founded Playing Mantis and secured the molds and unprotected name of Johnny Lightning and began producing 8 of the original castings of the 1:64 scale models again with new updated metal bases, 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 released a limited number of each model painted in pearl white paint. They were initially called “A Bonus” on the package 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. Addin dragsters, pickup trucks, pace cars, Corvettes, James Bond, police, Mustangs, military, Hollywood, and Coca-Cola lines

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

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

They also made a series of pull back friction cars in plastic 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 seies of cars.

In June 2004, Playing Mantis brands was sold to the RCErtl company who later became RC2 and the Johnny Lightning line came to an end again - for the second time.

But before that occured - 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.

Johnny Lightning products were still being made for and distributed by RC2 in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Illinois. RC2 had started as Racing Champions and 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 and had also written the comprehensive guide at the time on Johnny Lightning cars - 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. Tscherne had worked for Hot Wheels and then Jada Toys. Tscherne was inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame in 2011.

During this time Johnny Lightning received an image overhaul in 2006. A new clamshell 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 eminanting 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 like "Classic Gold" and "Muscle Cars". New packaging graphics were developed in the West Coast office by Jeremy Cox and Tscherne. A large price increase went along with the new packaging and left many collectors unhappy with RC2's changes.

In September 2007, Mac Ragan left RC2 for Greenlight Toys. Tom Zahorsky remained the Johnny Lightning design manager until RC2 discontinued production in 2013. Zahorsky no longer works for RC2/Tomy.

For a short period, Johnny Lightning vehicles were sold by Learning Curve Inc. They were formerly known as RC2. 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.

In early 2016, Round 2 LLC, a new toy company owned by Thomas Lowe (who had previously owned Playing Mantis), liscensed the Johnny Lightning name and vehicle line from Tomy and are again making them once more - along with their new sister brands of Auto World and Racing Champions. The Playing Mantis logo 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 to work on the new Johnny Lightning lines.. They were Tony Karamitsos, Mike Groothuis, Mac Ragan, and Scott Johnson (from Pitcock Design).

Sourced references -

Encyclopedia of Small-Scale Diecast Motor Vehicle Manufacturers - Sahakangas, Foster & Weber (2006)

27,249 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
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
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