Our old plastic cars became collectibles, a toy show hit

Our friend, Carl, is holding the Holy Grail of promo cars—a 1969 Ford Mustang fastback that, in perfect condition with its original box, would fetch in the neighborhood of $1,800.

Funny, this promo car looks just like one of those plastic toy cars we used to roll across the floor, bashing them into table legs, chairs, and baseboards.

“That’s just what they are,’’says Carl, a Greater Bostonian who owns, as of this writing, 1,540 of the little vehicles that used to be given away by auto dealers or sold for a dollar. “Dad would buy a new car and a child would get a promo of the same model.’’


Carl, who prefers not to use his last name, will be one of many dealers and buyers at the Greater Boston Antique and Collectible Toy Show on Dec. 9 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Dedham.

Carl considers his collection to be complete, but he’s always on the lookout to upgrade one of his vehicles with a better example. The acetate plastic used until the 1960s wasn’t stable, so most of those models show some warping.

If he’s not happy with one of his cars, Carl sends it out to Dale and Pat Horner of the Little Motor Kar Company of Reading, Pa., who will be one of the dealers at the Boston show.

Besides dealing in the promos, Horner’s store—named after a realTexas start-up motorcar company from the post-WorldWar I era—does restorations, including paint jobs and re-chroming.

“This is the kind of work he does,’’ says Carl, showing a Ford sedan that had a gleaming paint job and shiny chrome.

“The chrome really isn’t chrome,’’ says Horner of his restoration work. “It’s an aluminum, which oxidizes over the years, turns dull, and eventually wears off. The oils and acids from your hands accelerate this process.’’


Carl has a full box of replacement grilles and bumpers from Horner’s shop. “You can handle them,’’ says Horner,“because after we refinish them, we put on a clear coat.’’

Carl got into this hobby in the 1970s while stationed in Puerto Rico with the US Navy.

“I was building model cars when I ran into a guy selling promos,’’he explains. “In the fall of 1972, I could have bought every model in every available color, but I just bought one of each brand. That’s where it started for me. You didn’t have to paint them, and I never saved the boxes in those days (important to many collectors).’’

Horner says Carl’s hobby followed a normal progression. “Many promo car collectors are frustrated model builders. These cars give them instant gratification.’’

Horner was a model-maker when a neighbor, a lifelong Ford Guy, bought a new 1967 Chevrolet Camaro. “He had it for six months when he traded it for a Mustang and offered me the promo he’d gotten when he bought the Camaro. “I had that promo for years but didn’t have much interest in it until I moved to Pennsylvania and got into the hobby.’’


“I still have it,’’ says Horner. “If my collection all goes away, this will be the last to go.’’

It’s also not a hobby for youngsters.

“Most collectors are in their 30s or older. The kids don’t remember ’63 Chevys or ’72 Cudas [Barracudas]. It’s not their bailiwick,’’ says Horner. It also can be pricey as cars cost between $10 (late-model Corvettes) and the $1,800 for a pristine ’69 Mustang fastback. “That [Mustang] is rare and only came in what Ford called Candy Apple Red,’’says Horner.


A lot of the newer promos come in boxes marked “Collector’s Item.’’

“When it says that, you can be sure it isn’t,’’ says Horner.

Instead promo collectors chase the older, rarer, models, most of which were stamped “Made in the USA.’’

“You can compare it to those people who’ve bought full series of baseball cards thinking they’ll be worth a fortune someday,’’says Carl. “Instead, they’re a dime a dozen.The valuable baseball cards are the ones your mom threw away in the ’40s or ’50s.’’

Or the promo cars you bashed around the kitchen floor as a kid or devised creative ways to wreck.

Mr. Fixit

Whoops.The bridges of New England needn’t worry.The L.L. Bean Bootmobile, pictured here last Sunday, is 13 x 20 alright; however, it’s only 13 feet high and 20 feet long, not the other way around. Otherwise, some underpass would have reduced it to an ankle boot.

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