Johnny Lightning

Aurora’s Johnny Lighting toy cars were originally branded under the Topper Company. Their owner Henry Orenstein wanted jump into “the toy car” game that was booming. He was claiming  he could build a better and faster car. Better than ALL the rest!

This short lived company (1969-1971)  had the wildest designs you could find even by today’s standards. They made their cars competitive by imitating the “Newman’s Hot Wheels Wheel Design” combined with a much heavier die-cast car. The wildest addition to the manufacturing line was the addition of whale oil to the plastic wheel bushings. This was all for increasing speed. Did it work?


Not only were they producing  cars they also designed and created a coupe sets and accessories too.

 I have yet to make a video of this gift. Wow what a HUGE great set. I still have to inventory this set to see if all the pieces are there. I know the cars are not. Lucky for me, I have found a few in my travels.

These were not hugely popular back when they were introduced. They didn’t have the budgets to compete with the giants.However, they did partner up with some Indy 500 racers. These are legends in racing, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones.. 1970 Indy 500 created their biggest success with Al Unser Jr. He escorted Johnny Lightning’s logo/band to the winner’s circle. For all the world to see. This brought a ten fold increase in sales that year.

However this still fell short of keeping the company alive.

Topper planned to introduce 15 new car designs into the market in 1969. They fell short by 4 cars. There were prototypes produced for all 15 cars. I wonder where those missing four prototype cars are today? I bet they are really cool!

These cars are part of a Hot Wheels case from 1969. I have not created individual videos of them yet. These are all Topper cars. However you can see them in the case video on our YouTube channel.

The original Johnny Lightning models had opening doors and hoods. This made their cars really combine the best of Matchbox and Hot Wheels. Unfortunately, the car bodies changed to a solid body to cut production costs. Of the 81 car designs introduced in their three buyer catalogs, only 50 made it to final production. I bet there are some really cool Johnny Lightning Buyer guides too. Some of these had to survive throughout the years. Someone is sitting on two or three of them and they should share with us. Right? 🙂

This is an original Topper Johnny Lightning Whistler.

It was found in a dollar bag at the thrift store. It was a lucky day.

People claim these cars were actually FASTER than Hot Wheels. However they never could catch up or close the gap to matching the enormous sales of Mattel.

I would like to try this match-up and see which is faster, Hot Wheels or Johnny Lightning. Do you know the results? We will have to check the Toy Car Case videos archives. Check them out and see for yourself.

This is a Playing Mantis commemorative re-pop Johnny Lightning Triple Threat from 1995.

You can see the full video on our Youtube Channel, by clicking this underlined link.

Any way you look at these cars, they are unique and have a place in the founding of wild 1:64th scale cars. It is recorded they promised but under-delivered to toy buyers.

Playing Mantis Johnny Lightning T-N-T from 1995.

You can see the full video at the underlined link on our Youtube Channel.

Johnny Lightning has also been distributed under the names Playing Mantis (1994), RC2 (2004), and TOMY/Tomica (2011). I don’t know if they are being produced today Some sites said they stopped production in 2013. Either way if you have an opportunity to add a Johnny Lighting to your collecting, do it! You wont regret it. I really hope someone will start producing these great cars again.

This is a Playing Mantis commemorative re-pop of a  Johnny Lightning Moving Van. This is a real heavy one,  great for the track.  You can see the full video on our Youtube Channel, by clicking this underlined link.

After 20 years out of production  Thomas Lowe (creator of Kitty Litter and Tidy  Cat) bought the rights to the brand. He reproduced a good number of the original cars and then added to the series with movie and cartoon cars and even made a series with KISS Cars. These started their released in 1994 and he has added to the catalog each year. Here are a few examples.

 Fright’ning Lightning was a great set of TV and movie cars. It was hard to find the correct color that matched the hang card artwork. These were all iconic custom cars.






James Bond 007 series was extensive. They replicated each car from every James bond movie to date.  These packages included a trading card from each movie. There were multiple choices for the movie trading cards.
This was a four car series featuring each member of the KISS band.  Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss all had a variety of trading card choices in these individual packages.

The KISS Army must have cleared out the store shelves, because these were hard to find.


This is a Playing Mantis Johnny Lightning VICIOUS VETTE, Commemorative Limited Edition.

You can see the full video on our Youtube Channel, by clicking this underlined link.

Back in the day, I did manage to have a few show up in my collection. Being a huge Tom Daniel model design follower. These designs were weird and wild in the best of ways. And in the 1990’s these two worlds combined in a fantastic Tom Daniel set.

When collecting and gathering cars later in life, it was an easy choice to pick up every early Johnny Lightning car I found. It did not matter the condition. I had to have it. It is like a rescue from going into the land fill.