Johnny Lightning Hot Rods

Mike Pigott looks at this range from 1997 that was based on real American street rods.

When the Playing Mantis toy company revived the Johnny Lightning marque, dormant since 1972, the first models made were reproductions of those from the 1960s, called the Johnny Lightning Commemorative Series. However, soon a range of new castings were introduced, including classic muscle cars and American dragsters. One of these early ranges was a set of ten street rods which was first released in 1997. Unlike Matchbox and Hot Wheels, which produced mainly fantasy hot rods, the Johnny Lightning Hot Rods were all based on real cars that were well-known on the American street-rod scene and had won awards in custom car shows. Some were quite famous cars built by big-name customizers. The vehicles modelled ranged from the 1920s through to the mid-’80s.

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Evel Knievel by Johnny Lightning

Mike Pigott looks at the small range of diecast models produced by Johnny Lightning based on legendary motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel.

Skycycle X-2

While the Evel Knievel stunt bikes and diecast miniatures produced by Ideal Toys in the 1970s remain the most well-known toys based on the famous stuntman, they weren’t the only ones. In 1998, American company Playing Mantis produced a new wave of Evel Knievel toys, including a small range of line diecast vehicles in its Johnny Lightning range.

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Johnny Lightning: The Lost Toppers

Mike Pigott looks at a range of Johnny Lightning vehicles from 2001 that was based on unfinished Topper Toys prototypes from the early 1970s.Custom CamaroJohnny Lightning was a range of diecast vehicles produced by Topper Toys of New Jersey from 1969 to 1971. The range was produced in response to Mattel’s successful Hot Wheels line, and was largely influenced by them. However, the Johnny Lightning range was quite short-lived, as Topper Toys suffered from financial mismanagement and went into liquidation in 1971.

In 1993 the independent toy company Playing Mantis acquired the rights to the defunct Johnny Lightning trademark, and began manufacturing replicas of the original diecast vehicles. Eight Commemorative models were released in 1994, and a further ten in 1995. However, Playing Mantis moved on to original castings, starting with a range of American muscle cars, and it was several years until another batch of Topper reproductions was released, the Topper Series from 2000.

The final batch of Topper-style models was produced in 2001. These were called Lost Toppers, and were based on models proposed by Topper Toys, but never actually put into production. The second series of Johnny Lightning Commemoratives from 1995 had included two vehicles, Custom Continental and Custom Mustang, which were based on unreleased prototypes. The Lost Toppers consisted of six more unproduced items, although it was not clear whether they were modelled from original pre-production samples, or whether they were based on catalogue illustrations. The series included two realistic muscle cars, two hot rods and two bizarre fantasy vehicles.

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Johnny Lightning Topper Series

Mike Pigott looks at this small range of classic Topper Toys reproductions made by Johnny Lightning in 2000.

Flame OutThe Johnny Lightning range of diecast model vehicles was first introduced by Topper Toys of New Jersey in 1969. Intended to take on Mattel’s successful Hot Wheels range, Johnny Lightning had a much shorter lifespan, as the brand was discontinued when Topper Toys went broke in 1971. The brand lay dormant until 1993, when it was revived by a new toy company called Playing Mantis. The first of the new Johnny Lightning models was the Commemorative Series, which consisted of eight reproductions of early Topper Toys cars. A second series of ten Commemorative editions was produced in 1994. Playing Mantis moved on to original castings instead of reproductions, although five commemorative models were reissued in a metallic paint finish as the 30th Anniversary Series in 1999.

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Johnny Lightning 30th Anniversary Series

Mike Pigott looks at a small range of Johnny Lightning models released to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the brand in 2000.

Anniversary Series packaging with woven cloth patch

Johnny Lightning was a range of diecast vehicles produced by Topper Toys of New Jersey from 1969 to 1971. The range was produced in response to Mattel’s successful Hot Wheels line, and was largely influenced by them. Although most of the Topper cars were not particularly good replicas, they were heavier than Mattel’s cars and ran faster on plastic tracks. However, the Johnny Lightning range was quite short-lived, as Topper Toys suffered from financial mismanagement and went into liquidation in 1971.

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Johnny Lightning Commemoratives: Series 2

In the second part of our series on the Johnny Lightning Commemorative Series, Mike Pigott looks at the reissued classics produced in 1995.

Custom Thunderbird

Johnny Lightning was a brand of diecast cars produced from 1969 to 1971 by Topper Toys of New Jersey. The models were largely knock-offs of Mattel’s Hot Wheels range, but were quite popular until the Topper company was shut down due to financial problems in 1971.

In 1994, the Johnny Lightning brand was reintroduced by Playing Mantis Toys, and eight of the original models were re-cast and sold in facsimile original packaging called the Commemorative Series. These reproductions of almost-forgotten vintage diecasts proved remarkably popular with diecast collectors, and the following year a second collection of Commemoratives was released.

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Johnny Lightning Commemorative Series

Mike Pigott looks at the the first series of revived Johnny Lightning models, produced by Playing Mantis in 1994.

bug bomb

Johnny Lightning was a brand of diecast cars produced between 1969 and 1971, made by American company Topper Toys. While the original run did not last long, the marque was revived in 1994 by a different toy company, Playing Mantis, producing exact replicas of the models first made in the ‘60s.

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Blade Runner by Ertl

Now that 2019 has finally arrived, Mike Pigott looks at Ertl’s small range of diecast models based on the cult sci-fi classic starring Harrison Ford.

ertl bladerunner

Blade Runner, first released in 1982, is one of the most respected and influential sci-fi movies of the 20th Century. Directed by Ridley Scott, and loosely based on the 1968 novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K. Dick, it follows the adventures of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a police officer called a ‘Blade Runner’, a type of bounty hunter who specializes in catching runaway androids called ‘replicants’.

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Gerry Anderson’s TV21 vehicles in diecast

Mike Pigott gives a concise but detailed history on all of the diecast models based on Gerry Anderson’s futuristic TV programmes, from the 1960s through to the present day.


Over the past 60 years, the television programmes produced by Gerry Anderson and AP Films (later TV Century 21) have entertained and fascinated several generations of children, and have remained firm favourites with those who grew up with them. From the The Adventures of Twizzle in the 1950s, through to the current Thunderbirds Are Go!, Anderson’s programmes have captivated children all around the world. Many of his shows had science fiction themes and were set in the future. The ingeniously designed future vehicles featured in the shows have been reproduced as toys, including many in diecast. This article gives a detailed overview of the diecast metal models produced by a number of diverse toy and hobby companies over the past six decades, including many little-known foreign releases.

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Tom Daniel’s Wacky Winners by Johnny Lightning

Mike Pigott looks at this 1994 range from Johnny Lightning that was based on the classic, crazy construction kits of Tom Daniel.


In the late 1960s, plastic construction kits were all the rage, especially those of wild hot rods and dragsters that represented the custom car culture of the era. Many of these kits, from companies such as Monogram, AMT, Revell, MPC and Aurora were based on real cars built by famous car customizers like George Barris, or were exclusive designs by specialist stylists such as Tom Daniel.

In 1996, the newly-revived Johnny Lightning company, which had achieved great success with its reissues of Johnny Lightning diecast cars from the late 1960s, introduced another retro-styled range based on construction kits of the same era. This range, called ‘Wacky Winners’ consisted of ten former Monogram construction kits designed by Tom Daniel between 1967 and 1973.

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