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Johnny Lightning is a brand of car models originally produced by Topper Toys, similar to the successful Mattel Hot Wheels. Their claim to fame at the time was that they were extremely fast compared to other brands of die-cast cars. Their most important technology was to mold into a small hook under the front axle so that they could be propelled by a lever-operated catapult, much faster than could be obtained by gravity or by battery-powered “supercharging” devices.

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    Topper closed in 1971

    And production of Johnny Lightning cars ceased for 23 years. In 2003 Thomas Lowe obtained the trademark rights to Johnny Lightning’s name for his company Playing Mantis. Playing Mantis manufactured toy cars under the Johnny Lightning brand from 1994 to June 2004. At that time Playing Mantis (including the Johnny Lightning brand) was purchased by RC2 Corp. which in turn was purchased by the Japanese toy company TOMY in 2011. TOMY discontinued the Johnny Lightning line of die-cast cars in 2013. The brand continues to be followed by a loyal group of collectors. In early 2016 Round 2 LLC, a toy company owned by Thomas Lowe (who also owned Playing Mantis), revived and reintroduced Johnny Lightning vehicles into the toy market for the second time.

    In 1969, Topper Toys introduced Johnny Lightning’s cars and tracks in response to the growing 1/64 scale foundry market. New Jersey inventor and author Henry Orenstein owned Topper toys and is responsible for their creation[1] Johnny Lightning introduced 11 cars and several sets of hard plastic that year. Topper based all but one car, the Custom Turbine, on real cars of the time. Flexible plastic rails were also sold, as well as accessories such as a loop and curved sections. In addition, Topper sold a Johnny Lightning helmet and carrying case.

    By 1970, Johnny Lightning introduced 31 new models, most based on fantasy vehicles. Seven of the new models were “Jet Power” cars. These cars contained a plastic bladder that could be filled with pressurized air that, when released, sent the car at full speed down the track. Topper also produced numerous new track sets for 1970.

    Johnny Lightning sponsored five Parnelli Jones cars, including Al Unser, in the Indy 500 races of 1970 and 1971. Unser was able to capture those victories in his decorated blue ray Johnny Lightning Special. After the initial 500 victory, Johnny Lightning’s car sales increased dramatically, from initially having sales well below Mattel’s, to selling one Johnny Lightning for every three Hot Wheels cars.

    Only five new models were introduced in 1971, all of which are part of a series called “Custom Cars. Each came packaged with pressure plastic parts so children could customize the cars to their liking. In late 1971, Topper Toys was forced to close due to a commercial fraud that put an end to Johnny Lightning’s cars.

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