O F F - T H E - S H E L F

The following editorial reflects the personal thoughts of Doug Breithaupt relating to our common hobby of miniature cars. It is intended to generate discussion relating to 'Tales of Toy Cars'. Your letters are welcome and may be submitted via the 'Guest Book'.
Blazing a New Diecast Trail


When Playing Mantis bought the rights to the Johnny Lightning (JL) name who could have imagined the reprocussions. Almost singlehandedly, JL has revolutionized the diecast market and it is time for credit where credit is due.

The original Topper Johnny Lightning (JL) story is well known and I won't bore you with it here. When Playing Mantis offered a revived JL brand to the market, everyone, except Mattel perhaps, was pleased. Collectors snapped up the new castings of old JL diecast. JL did not just re-issue new from old castings. Instead, they began to offer some of the most innovative and desirable cars to ever reach the 1:64 scale market. If you love Corvettes or Mustangs, JL now represents more models than anyone else. Hot rods, muscle cars, dragsters, funny cars, trucks, James Bond and Indy pace and race cars are all offered by JL.
The best thing about the JL diecast is that the paint is in authentic colors, most have engine detail and many have rubber tires. Even the most expensive are about $5, so prices are well in line with the quality. It is true that some of the early castings suffered from toy-like detailing but then they are really toys you know. More recently, the castings for every series have shown JL to be a leader in quality and realism. Complaints about solid wing-windows and narrow-track tires must be balanced with applause for the variety of castings and unique models represented.

Did you realise that without JL, Oldsmobile 442/Cutlass collectors would have three castings, all from Hot Wheels? Two '69's and a '78 were it. Today, JL has added another '69, a '70, '72, 74, convertible, a '77 stock car and a '67 funny car, all in the Cutlass/442 model range. All this has been produced in just the past five years or so. How about Dodge and Plymouth models? JL has filled so many gaps, especially with the muscle Mopars that you wonder which JL designer has a Hemi under the hood. Who but JL would do an Aston Martin Lagonda or the Boot Hill Express?

For me as a collector, the true test of good diecast is if a manufacturer can get me to buy a model of a truck. I do not collect trucks. I decided to draw the line years ago and even sold off the few trucks I had. While I have not bought them all, JL's American Truck series offed more than I could refuse. My favorite is the L'il Red Express, a '78 Dodge truck that was faster than most cars of the same year. The example shown above is a delight to the eye and does what the best diecast do, make me want the real thing. What more can you ask for and at $2.99, why would you?

The '59 Cadillac Ambulance better known as Ecto 1 is another great model. It just seems to say "I ain't afraid of no Hot Wheels!" The '71 Dodge Challenger Indy Pace Car is a recent offering and perfectly captures the brash style of this American classic. Last, who would have thought that Joe Friday's basic Ford Fairlane sedan would ever become a diecast star? Yes Ma'am, Playing Mantis gets the job done.

Thanks JL, even if Racing Champions, Mattel and others are following your lead, you did it first and your products just get better. Recommendations for the future, I have a few. How about a Chrysler 300 or Cadillac Eldorado series? The Bond series was wonderful and more European classics would be nice. This is great stuff!

Editor's note: Please tell me about your diecast interests and why you collect. I would love to share your story with 'Tales of Toy Cars' readers. Your contribution may be submitted via the 'Guest Book'.