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Johnny Lightning Gets to Take a 50th Anniversary Victory Lap

johnny ;lightning 50Hot Wheels took the lion’s share of diecast journalism attention in 2018 with their elaborate, year-long 50th Anniversary celebration. With that in the rear view mirror, Johnny Lightning turns the big 5-0 in 2019, with some special retro packaging and old castings in the works. Several people involved in the brand are also celebrated as Inductees of the Model Car Hall of Fame.

Of course, it hasn’t been a continuous half century. The original Topper cars were made only until 1971 when the company went bankrupt for missing the mark on other toys. It’s a shame they went out of business, because JL was giving Hot Wheels a run for the money at the time. For a sense of how heated the race was between Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning during the Topper years, check out this article from Sports Illustrated from 1970. The brands were not only banging fenders at 1/64 scale, they were duking it out on real tracks. While Hot Wheels was all-in with their Snake and Mongoose drag racing efforts, JL was busy sponsoring -and winning – in Indy Cars. The peak for Topper was Al Unser winning the Indy 500 in a blue car covered in those familiar lightning bolts.

tom lowe

In 1995, Tom Lowe (MCHOF ’10), who enjoyed those original cars as a kid, secured the license to the name and the designs and started reproducing them. Collectors of a certain age were thrilled to see the original designs, but that wasn’t all he had in mind. That lasted a good decade until 2013.  Lowe has also worked tor AMT, Auto World, Hawk, Lindberg, MPC and Polar Lights. As the CEO of Round2, he was able to secure the brand again and begin producing new Johnny Lightning models in 2016.


Mac Ragan (MCHOF ’10) helped steer Johnny Lightning from 2003-2007, with a hand in designing hundreds of vehicles during his tenure. He left for Greenlight Collectibles, but eventually found his way home again. As Social Media Director for their various brands, he was instrumental in the latest comeback for Johnny Lightning.

judson bryanSeveral designers who have contributed to the Johnny Lightning garage are also inductees in the MCHOF.

Judson Bryan (MCHOF ’15), right, is another diecast designer who has done some of his best work with Johnny Lightning. Bryan has worked with several other  large diecast brands, including Muscle Machines, Jada Toys, and Johnny Lightning.

Tony Karamitsos

Tony Karamitsos (MCHOF ’17), left, currently serves as Brand Manager and senior designer for Round2.  Tony is known for his attention to detail having designed hundreds of highly detailed die-cast replicas for numerous scales for Johnny Lightning, Auto World, Racing Champions, American Muscle, Legends of the Quarter Mile, Silver Screen Machines, slot car replicas, resin models & model kits throughout the years which are all currently owned by Round2.

tom daniel

Then of course, there’s Tom Daniel (MCHOF ’18) He’s best known for his crazy, far-out model kits, often a take on a familiar theme such as circus wagons, paddy wagons, beer wagons (he really likes wagons!) Several of his cars have been licensed for smaller scales by Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning. JL’s models included the “Plastic Fantastic” series, which came with miniatures of the model kit boxes. His custom 1960 Chevy Panel Wagon has also been produced in 1/18 scale by Johnny Lightning.

auto world ford galaxie

The MCHOF has even recognized one of the descendants of the Johnny Lightning brand as model of the eyar. The Auto World ’64 Galaxie (MCHOF ’18) won that honor for 1/64 scale cars.

Even though the timeline has some gaps, Johnny Lightning has been an important part of the diecast world for the better part of the 50 years since their debut. Here’s hoping they celebrate in style as the year rolls on!

A Bigger Mission, a new name – Slot Cars, Model Kits and Scott Bader joining the Selection Committee

At the Hall of Fame, we’re revving higher and higher, and it’s time to upshift. We’ve been steadily adding scales, classes and dozens of new inductees, becoming one of the biggest communities of model car enthusiasts in the world. To best reflect this new status, we’re excited to announce our transition from the Diecast Hall of Fame into the Model Car Hall of Fame, now also covering Model Kits and Slot Cars.

We’re introducing a new logo this year that eagle-eyed followers may have noticed shows a particular brand of car. In fact, it’s last years inductee for Automotive Brand of the Year, BMW, but not just any BMW, the beautiful 507. Rather than have a generic silhouette, we decided to showcase the previous year’s winner because we celebrate striking, standout models in 1:1 or other scale. To show anything less in our own logo would be letting you all down.

As we have more and more brilliant models to pour over during nominations, we need keen collectors from across the industry to join our Selection Committee and help us pick the very best. This year, one of our new categories is slot cars. Who, we thought, would be a better judge than Scott Bader?

Scott not only collects the vehicles but also trade packs, prototypes and everything widely slot car related

Scott, while an enthusiast of many types of models and full size cars, has become something of a patron saint of the slot car hobby. Starting in childhood, Scott has maintained his love for slot cars to today. He has started the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum, a new home for his vast collection of everything slot car related and one of the few establishments of its kind in the world and is also at the helm of Electric Dreams, which he turned it into one of the go-to site for the slot car enthusiast, giving the community also another news source and forum to share their passion. 

Some of his 1,000s of models ready to race

The LASCM houses thousands of slot cars, including nearly all the different types of kits produced during slot cars’ first heyday, professional racing hand-built cars, motors and other parts. Beyond slot cars, Scott also has a very significant collection of rare model kits (the Museum could also be called the Los Angeles Slot Car and Model Kit Museum, but maybe that would be too long). Through these enterprises, Scott helps countless folks relive great memories and continue the hobby. Both  the LASCM and Electric Dreams continue to bring updates, memories and the cars themselves to thousands of grateful hobbyists. We have no doubt that Scott will be a great member of our Selection Committee, and continue to be a standout in the model car world. 

With these new additions, we’re excited to have our biggest year yet. Stay tuned for nominations and event information by subscribing to our email newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Hall Of Flames: Hot Wheels In The Model Car Hall of Fame

The Model Car Hall of Fame is dedicated to the people and products that make diecast vehicle collecting so special, but no brand has a bigger representation in the MCHOF than Hot Wheels. Someday, when an actual museum is built, there should probably be a strip of orange track that leads to a dedicated Hot Wheels room.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Hot Wheels completely turned an industry upside down and altered the meaning of what a toy car could be. Playing with miniature cars changed from slowly scooting them around by hand to letting them rip down the track at scale speeds that real cars could only dream of. Hot Wheels’ designs were wilder and more colorful than anything seen before. And they ushered in the idea of “collecting” like no one else (It even says “Matching Collector’s Button” right there on the original packages).

hot wheels snake mongoose
Every kid wanted to be either Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen or Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.

Since 2011, the MCHOF awards have added more categories and honors for specific scales, opening up more space to recognize other diecast brands. In the early days, proceedings were dominated by 1/64 cars, and Hot Wheels garnered several accolades for Casting of the Year.

Early awards were like a traditional Hall of Fame, recognizing older models such as the 1940 Woodie (whatever name you choose to call it), the Custom Corvette, and the Custom Camaro. Later classics were honored as well, including the Volkswagen Drag Bus. Last year the award has changed to honor a new casting from the current year and Hot Wheels promptly won the 1/64 Scale category with the Fiat 500D Modificado, which, honestly, would have fit in perfectly as an original Redline. The same could be said for the ’55 Chevy Panel, the 2105 winner.

Hot Wheels Redline
Larry Wood, Otto Kuhni, and Ira Gilford were among those who contributed to the early success of Hot Wheels.

The people behind those designs are well represented in the MCHOF, too. Anyone who has spent any time in the hobby knows the names of Ira Gilford, Howard Rees, Bob Rosas and Larry Wood. All four were vital to the original look and feel of the early Redlines. Hot Wheels simply would not exist without their wild imaginations.

Otto Kuhni is in the Hall, as well. He is only credited with one actual car design, the Custom Otto, but he’s as responsible for the early images of the brand as anyone else. Kuhni was the artist who illustrated the early blister cards, advertisements, carrying cases, and lunchboxes that fueled the imagination of kids around the world. The Custom Otto, by the way, is the blue coupe shown on the very first Redline cards… it wasn’t based on any particular car or any Hot Wheels car, but was eventually commemorated in diecast form in his honor.

jimmy Boxman Chavez
Many diecast customizers, such as Jimmy “Boxman” Chavez, have worked for Hot Wheels over the years.

Several other inductees have worked at Mattel in other capacities.  Amy Boylan was the Marketing Director for the entire brand, which is a pretty huge task. Chris Parker kept Hot Wheels collectors informed (and entertained). Many of our inducted diecast customizers such as Dave Chang, Jimmy “Boxman” Chavez and Luis Tanahara worked for Hot Wheels at some point. Tom McEwen had maybe the wildest job of all, driving the Mongoose funny car that inspired dragstrip rivalries in basements and rec rooms everywhere.

Hot Wheels didn’t end with the Redline era, of course. More recent contributors are in the Hall as well. Michael Heralda, Mark Jones, Carson Lev, Phil Riehlman, Eric Tscherne, Steve Vandervate, and MiQ Willmott all played a huge a part in moving the brand forward and upward and through all kinds of loop-de-loops, over the last couple of decades, taking advantage of new casting technology and improved graphics possibilities.

Bruce Pascal office
Bruce Pascal is one of many authors who knows a thing or two about Hot Wheels.

It’s not just employees of Mattel who are honored in the MCHOF. A side industry of books, websites, conventions and diecast sales has sprouted over the years, many of them solely based on Hot Wheels. Model Car Historians are honored by the Hall each year for their contributions to the hobby. Jim Garbaczewski, Rob Graves, Bob Parker, Bruce Pascal, Chris Walker, Joe Wiggins, and Mike Zarnock (whose Altered Dragster even got its own 1/64 version) have all authored histories, price guides, or directories of Hot Wheels cars.

Hot Wheels books
Here are just a few of the Hot Wheels publications from MCHOF inductees!

There are several websites allowing collectors, to research, deal or just connect with one another. Paul Biddle, Charles Kitson, Michael Otte, Anita Smith are all pioneers of the online Hot Wheels world.

And speaking of connecting, Mike Strauss was one of the founders of the National Hot Wheels Collectors Conventions. Think about how many people have met at these events to share their hobby. Speaking of whom, let’s not forget that the Hall recognizes customizers and collectors as well.  Folks like Sherry Abbey, Joe Alvarado, Kevan Bence, Chojiro, Rick Early, Jay Holt, Dino Laspada, Kazy, Lee Pearlman, Vince Mosley, Bryan Pope, Paul Spradlin and Chris and Marcia Walker based their work extensively or even exclusively on Hot Wheel castings creating beautiful diecast art.  And many of our Collectors of the Year or R.A.O.K award winners are Hot Wheels collectors – as none of all of this would matter if not for the folks who hunt the pegs and dig through bins to collect them all!

Hot Wheels 50th
Hot Wheels’ 50th Anniversary is an occasion to look back fondly at the brand’s history.

As Hot Wheels celebrates its 50th anniversary, their freewheeling cars show no signs of slowing down. It’s a certainty that the Model Car Hall of Fame will continue to recognize how cool Hot Wheels can be.


You will be able to find profiles with more information on each of the individuals or models
mentioned here on the Hall’s Official Archive page on hobbyDB.


2017 Financial Year End for the Hall

We just closed to the books on the first year of the Diecast Hall of Fame under new management.  We made a loss of $20,386.65 for 2017 which hobbyDB funded in full.  It is with regret that that means there is no excess to donate to There With Care.

17 was a good year for the Hall

That being said the Hall has become much stronger over the year with more than 40 Community Supporters. We will return to fundraising for children in need as soon as possible.