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October 16, 2021
Having grown in up in Indy my first visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in 1965. Funny that Mattel launch the Hot Wheels brand in 1966. While Mattel owns the market share in diecast genre my favorite die cast for Indycar collecting is Johnny Lightning due to the fact their later designs are much more detailed and realistic.
Al Unser 1970 Johnny Lightning Special
As you can see they were staying with a more Hot Wheels exaggerated designs during this period.
Playing Mantis: 1994-2004
Kids could play with them and adults admired them. Lowe reasoned that if there was a market for replicas of these old toy cars then adults would also be interested in die-cast models of some of their favorite real cars from the period. Muscle Cars U.S.A. debuted in late 1994 and soon became the bedrock of the new Johnny Lightning. Going into the late 1990s the die-cast toy car business grew rapidly in the United States, and Johnny Lightning rode the crest of that wave into the 21st century. Playing Mantis remained in the South Bend, Indiana area for its entire ten-year existence.Tom Lowe, the ever-watchful businessman, felt that perhaps the bubble might not last and he put Playing Mantis on the market in 2004.
Sales were strong in 2004 and it didn’t take long for a buyer to appear. RC2, a company formed a few years earlier from the purchase of the venerable Ertl corporation by Racing Champions, bought Playing Mantis in June 2004. Tom Lowe stayed on in an advisory capacity but RC2 moved the Johnny Lightningbrand and a small number of designers to its headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. There, Johnny Lightning continued to release high-quality replicas of mostly American cars in roughly 1:64th-scale. As the market for adult collectible toy cars began to taper off after 2007 the production runs became smaller and less frequent. Tomy, a Japanese toy company, purchased RC2 in 2011 and their U.S. headquarters remained in Oak Brook. Eventually, most cars were fitted with plastic baseplates to save money. The last assortment of Johnny Lightning cars from Tomy appeared in 2013.
Round 2, LLC, a collectibles and toy company in South Bend, Indiana, licenses the rights from Tomy to produce Johnny Lightning cars today. In a curious twist of fate, the owner of Round 2 is the former owner of Playing Mantis, Tom Lowe. He also assembled the core marketing and design team from the Playing Mantis days to develop the new Johnny Lightning cars.
No Brand Indycar Made in Hong Kong
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