Found in the Letterbox

The following are e-mail responses to 'Tales of Toy Cars' and The Breithaupt Miniature Motorcar Museum. Your letters are welcome and may be submitted via the 'Guest Book'.

The following is in respons to last month's editorial on the Johnny Lightning Custom 'L'. One of our readers advised me that the editorial had generated quite a bit of response at, a bulletin board that covers Johnny Lightning. If you are interested, you can follow the story of the Custom 'L'.

Just ran across this and thought you others would be interested. /tced1200.htm


Interesting reading. He made many good points and I really had no idea that the custom L was so far off. I think its funny about the rear tires being larger on a front wheel drive car....


Mattel owns the rights to use the Cadillac name. That could have something to do with the changed casting. Who knows. It's a Custom L, not a Custom Eldorado.

Brian from JL

Obviously, He isnt aware why we HAD to make the changes, I think we went over that on here a long time ago didnt we?


Hi, Good topic at a good time. I just recieved my Topper Series yesterday. Thanks Kid Grid. I think Doug Breithaupt (a very knowledgable guy regarding diecast toys) makes very many valid points here. Here's my opinion. Good: Overall quality of the product in typical PM style. Good job. Bad not a knock against Al or the rest of PM. Just my opinion) As far as the name is concerned, I have given up on Custom "L" gripe.Just sounds lame. Fine, so PM can't use the name.Ok.

As far as the casting on this car, I agree totally with him. Its way off. Is it that difficult to copy? Maybe it is? The hood looks nothing like the Topper car.This has been a constant problem with these repro's. Not enough attention to ACCURACY. If you are going to reproduce these cars, I expect to see a clone. Yeah, I am asking alot. Black interior? Yuk!!!!!How about red? Or white. Tires. STILL,STILL,STILL DON'T LOOK LIKE TOPPER TIRES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The other cars in the series look good, especially the Stilleto.

Brian from JL

Mod, Al and I have explained this many times. Will do it one more time.... The reason it is not the same, is WE CANT MAKE IT THE SAME... Mattel owns the rights to that line of cars, name, likeness, EVERYTHING... Even if we made it just like the topper and changed the name.. we will be sued.. plain and simple... we cant name any car with ANY type of caddy name,or make one that even looks like a likeness of the caddy..

Well.. we can... as long as you have a great lawyer and VERY deep pockets to help us out and no we cant please everyone..alot of folks love these.. Thats the beauty of the see thru paks...dont like it.. dont buy it.

southern gent

Doug wasn't aware of the Mattel deal with Cadillac. He is now. He's a nice guy and has a good site.

Al Die cast

FYI... Tom L picked the name. Also all were made from Topper originals that we sent to the mold makers in China. They are exact copies of original Topper cars. Tom L and myself looked at them carefully to make sure they were the same. The only exception was the Custom Eldorado needed to be changed for legal reasons. I reshaped the hood and sides trying to keep as much as the original look as possible. We will be using different color interiors for this car on future releases, black just happened to be the 1st one. The second release was supposed to have an off white interior, but factory did not do it. I`m just glad everyone noticed the authentic green glass in all of these, second release has clear. Also what about the black exhaust pipes on the Mad Maverick? We chromed them, not original but looks cool!

We cannot replicate the wheels exactly due to new child safty standards. We do have the wheel from the 1st commemoratives which we may use on these. Also I put the large rear tires on the Custom L to fill in the wheel wells. It`s not a Cadillac so who says it can`t be rear wheel drive? It can be whatever you want it to be. Also I`m glad everybody noticed the rear exhaust pipe extensions on the Custom Dragster, you know the ones that break off of the originals easily. Ours are a lot tougher. If you want one like they used to make them then buy an original. These are our versions of them, like em or leave em!!

T/A Tom

Base on the Caddy thing with Mattel, we will never see the Cadillac casting in the Pace Cars set again, correct?

Brian from JL

yes... you are correct, Also guys keep this in mind... Two companies can own rights to the same thing at the same time.. BUT.. when one company signs an EXCLUSIVE contract with another.. all other contracts are void. That is what Mattel has done. They have an EXCLUSIVE contract with them.. no one else but them can do a caddy now...


Hi Brian & Al,

I completely understand the "Custom L" thing. I realise you can't use the El Dorado name. I am not blaming PM for this. Its out of your hands. I know this. I still think it sucks you can't use the original name. I'm mad at the situation. Not PM.

Al, as far as the lack of accuracy in the car, as a designer do you get the opportunity to review prototypes? I'm a digital retoucher. Most of what I retouch is automotive (all of Detroit, and much of Japanese cars). I work each image at least 25 times before it ever goes to print. The designers/manufactures are constantly changing the cars as I work them. For legal reasons, for copywrite and sometimes because the manufacture decides to make changes. We get the opportunity to change things before a final is ever ok'd for print.Thats why I am such a stickler for accuracy. Because it has to be right.

Does it work that way with you? Do they send prototypes back from China for you to look at and make changes? If so,who/how many folks look at these and make recommendations for changes?

Maybe more folks should look at these before you make final ok's. Extra sets of eyes to spot mistakes and inaccuracies.

The wheels I just can't understand why they can't be duplicated more closely (sans the removable tires and bushings). Look at a Hotwheels 25th anniversary car compared to an original redline. They look VERY similar.

Lastly, I do like these cars. And I do plan on buying all series (except the WL's).-Peter


I also am not complaining and understand, BUT now knowing this mattel issue I would think it would have been better just to not have redone the car and do one of the other Topper cars.... The line is called TOPPER and they ARE suppose to be copies of original JL cars and Topper did not manufacture a Custom L.... The cars do look nice otherwise.




I think Brian's point was that the Custom L is NOT inaccurate. It was purposely designed differently because they were not allowed to make it look like a Cadillac, and the original Topper looked like a Cadillac. How would more people looking at it have made a difference?


Personally, the best thing about this thread is the news of clear windows in future releases. Didn't really like the green ones, no matter how authentic, but that's just my opinion.


I like the Custom L better than the Topper. Also I have to work in an area where I have seen Eldo's and Toronado's and other front wheel drive cars jacked up in the back.


I had the same thought as jlightning. Why do it at all? Why go ahead with the changes when you could have said, "It won't look authentic, let's not waste our time. We'll do something else."? Just a simple question. I am very interested in the answer.


PW,Brian and Al, Yes, you are correct.

After re-reading what Al had said, I now stand corrected.I misread the statement. I got confused insofar as what Al was refering to in regard of having to make changes to the car itself and PM having to change the name (both for legal reasons). Not only can PM not use the Cadillac name, but they are forbidden to use any likeness as well. Disregard my earlier comment. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

However that being the case, I would then agree strongly with Jlightning.

Why do the car at all if it deviates that much from the original?


Well this all is a moot point by now with the product on the shelves, but here's my question...

When Tom bought the rights to the Johnny Lightning name, isn't it assumed that he bought the rights to all previously released products and their designs? And if so, doesn't this allow PM to re-issue a product that has been previously marketed under the Eldorado name and its design. It would seem to me that Cadillac relinquinshed any claims back in 1970 when the original Custom Eldorado was created and sold, and that that name and design as a die-cast model are property of Topper nee Playing Mantis. Where would Mattel have the right to infringe upon PMs own design that are solely owned by PM. This would even include the Allante and Eldorado pace cars, which were successfully marketed without contest, and should be allowed to re-issue either at any time.

This may be also moot as the agreement with Mattel may stipulate ALL Cadillac names and designs including ALL previously released products. sounds like copyright infringement to me...

Brian from JL

When you get "rights" to do a car or anything... that does not mean you can do it forever... Rights usually only last a year, you have to sign a new contract every time you want to do another.. Let me see if i can give you an example..

Lets say we want to do a 1929 Pogostick( new sicktrix line )

We get the rights to do that model in red, blue and black, for a contract of one year..

If we want to do a pink one, well. thats a whole new contract ontop of that one, more money we shell out.... Now, Mod, comes along to the owner of the rights and says " I have this check right here ( the zero's go from the front of the check.. all the way to the back) and I want to be the only one to make these pogo sticks.. " I want exclusive rights".. they accept...

Now they tell us... You cant make them anymore, you cant even make one that LOOKS like them... no one can....

Does that help explain it a little better.. I know it can be confusing.. it is to us too.

But, it doesnt make a difference what we made in the past... Even though we own the toppers rights, we would have still have to get the rights again to do a caddy...and they are not available....


So in essence it sounds like General Motors' rights usurp your own rights by both the terms of the contract and the rights of the original design and name belonging to General Motors.


Well you wanna know what I'm not happy with...the photos on that someone needs to learn to use their digi. cam or imagign software before they post...LOL. Is it just me...or were those puppies dark?


I'm disappointed with Cadillac for selling "exclusive" rights. Not only did this agreement hurt the Toppers, but we all missed out on the American Chrome version. The choices now are $8.99 for a decent HW collectible done in about a 1:54 scale, or $1 for typical HW casting crap(you know, the cigar shaped '59) done in unrealistic colors.


Thanks for the info Brian and Al. I think I understand the "rights" issue better now Too bad legal issues have to effect "toys"


This story made some bad jabs at AL and PM. Now you say this guy is a real nice guy... He may be. But he didnt do his homework before he wrote this.. Now that he knows the whole story, will he add a retraction to his story? I hope so... Im glad they did the car..I think it looks cool... Would have rather had the original.. but hey, ill take what i can get..


One of the readers of 'Tales of Toy Cars' mentioned that a discussion of my recent editorial on the new 'Custom 'L' had generated considerable discussion. Perhaps I can clear up any confusion. I was not aware of the legal restrictions faced by Playing Mantis in trying to re-produce the Custom Eldorado. After reading all the comments on this topic I can see the challenge was to find a balance between doing a nice Topper re-issue and not ending up in court. While I think the final product is clearly safe from litigation, it is hard to consider it a re-issue of the wonderful Custom Eldorado as the packaging clearly states. All things considered, it might have been better to wait to do this model until the rights could be obtained. Then again, if it could be litigated in Florida, Johnny Lightning might have been willing to take the risk. I will be happy to publish the complete story in my next issue </toycar.html>.

I am curious why Maisto, Anson, Racing Champions and even Tootsietoy are able to use the Cadillac name if Johnny Lightning cannot? Is the 'Custom Eldorado' name part of the problem because it was used first for the Hot Wheel model?


That is a very good question. I thought (according to everything I have read here and from other Hot Wheels gurus), that the Cadillac name and likeness(es) was a Hot Wheels exclusive? By the way , welcome talesoftoycars. I do highly value your opinions and you are a very good source for diecast info. Good to have you.


The cars that you see on the shelves could be old stock from the other toy makers. There are still Cadillac Pace Cars by JL on the shelves in a couple of stores. It all boils down to when and how long HW got the contract for. Hopefully not long so JL can release the 59, if the mold didn't get destroyed before finished. I'd love to see that one.


Cadillacs currently in production include the 2000 De Ville in 1:60 and 1:18 by Maisto, 1959 Eldorado 1:60 (Classifieds series) by Racing Champions, 1992 Seville 1:64 by Tootsietoy and Anson does the '73 Eldorado, 1999 Seville, 1948 Series 62 and the 1932 V16 in 1:18. Yat Ming also offers the 1949 Coupe de Ville and 1958 Eldorado. There may be others but all these are currently in the catalogues of these manufacturers. All are licensed.


Two comments. 1st, I'm guessing mattel will license to anyone. I could be wrong. Also, anything in production right now has probably been in the pipeline a year or maybe several years.


Welcome talesoftoycars!!! I realy enjoy your site. Sorry if sharing your story here caused you some flack.

Hope you can stop back here often.


Maybe the catalogues were printed before the rights were lost, or maybe the cars are already made and sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Who knows?


Just some speculation here...

I don't know when the Cadillac/Mattel agreement took effect, but the Pace Car series was released barely a year ago. In addition, American Chrome, as I'm to understand, was supposed to include a Caddy but since it was axed we ended up getting double Lincoln. Understood even if it's not fair. Besides with Cadillac's current reputation in the REAL marketplace you'd think they'd want MORE people pushing their products and likenesses. I can't ever envision myself paying $10.00 a pop for any 1/64 Caddy (Hard Rock or whatever).

But here's one thing many probably have not considered...

As a perspective, imagine buying a Topper Custom Eldorado in 1970 as a kid. It didn't mean much other than it was a toy to play with. OK, it was probably the coolest of the Toppers. But that was about it. Today's Custom L has something the Custom Eldorado didn't have in 1970. A story behind it, a sort of instant history. Why the Custom L came to be as it was way back in 2000. Something you could honestly tell you grandkids about.

As much as we seem to resent the "flaws" of the Custom L, it may in fact end up being the most sought after simply because of the lame Caddy/Mattel agreement.

Time will tell.


Kash, that's a very interesting point. Something as odd as all this could make this an interesting collectible in the future. It kind'a reminds me of the Racing Champions Nascar Lake Speed Nebraska car released in 1996 (or '97, don't remember for sure). The University of Nebraska pulled out of sponsoring Lake Speeds car before it was ever raced, but not before it Racing Champions released the car in minerature to the stores in both 1/24 and 1/64 scale. Both scales became instant collectibles. History, and a story (which the Custom L now has) makes for a good collecible.


The Matchbox "Sunburner" released in 1993(I think it was 1993, anyway) was a Viper gone bad(Tyco didn't have the rights yet so they altered it, too), but it never has gained any great value.

southern gent

I also suspect that Mattel is more likely to sue Playing Mantis than Racing Champions or Maisto. Not exactly what they consider competition


It does appear that little love is lost between Mattel and Playing Mantis. While I am sure that Mattel would be unlikely to admit that they treat Playing Mantis any differently, their actions speak for themselves. Perhaps the best revenge for Playing Mantis is to continue to produce great diecast and provide them at good value ($3-4 per car, not $10). The result is that JL cars fly off the pegs while HW collector cars (and those $7.99 Matchbox) gather dust. As a Mattel shareholder (My original Matchbox International stock), it's clear that the big diecast dog is not getting all the bones.

That being said, the 'Custom L' is still a big dissapointment and should not have been produced at this time. My dad always tells me "I don't have the time to do it right, but I have the time to do it over." Let's hope the real 'Custom Eldorado' is someday possible.