Aluminum Model Toys
Aluminum Model Toys, or AMT for short, was a Troy, Michigan based company that manufactured various pre-assembled plastic promotional models starting in 1948, when attorney West Gallogly, Sr. started it as a side business. Later, a variety of kits became very popular. Most of the company's vehicle products were American cars and trucks in 1:25 scale. In the 1970s, hot rods, customs, and movie and TV vehicles were also produced.
- 1 Startup
- 2 Beyond Banthrico
- 3 Promotionals came first
- 4 Then came kits
- 5 Restoration and resin
- 6 Big trucks
- 7 Star Trek, and other science fiction
- 8 Fire engines
- 9 AMT today
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Because Gallogly had solid connections with Ford Motor Company, he was able to place his first models exclusively in Ford dealerships starting a long promotional relationship (Cawthon 2002). Gallogly's first model was a 1947-1948 Ford Fordor sedan cast in aluminum and painted with official Ford paint (Cawthon 2002). After issuing successful Ford sedan models, the company set up shop on Eight Mile Road outside Detroit (Chrysler 2008).
In 1949, injection plastic molding became available and aluminum was abandoned after only the one Ford aluminum promotional car was made (Doty 2008, 89). Different colors of plastic could be used so the need for a name change was obvious (Cawthon 2002). For example, AMT's 1949 and 1950 Plymouth sedans were among its first plastic models, along with Fords. These promos often had wind-up motors (which could not be seen for the shiny silver windows), metal bases and metal diecast chrome bumpers - a material later dumped for chrome plated plastic. At times, though, official company paints were still applied to the models. De-emphasizing the word 'aluminum' in the name, Gallogly started using the initials of the company – thus AMT. The company's first commercial products were pre-assembled plastic promotional models, only available through automobile (commonly Ford) dealerships.
In the early 1950s, Gallogly turned day-to-day operations of his company over to George Toteff, so West could see to his law firm (Cawthon 2002). Model design was kept in-house, but molding was out-sourced. Continental Plastics in Fraser, Michigan, was one company to commonly mold AMT's models (Cawthon 2002).
AMT was the most successful company in the mid-1950s to mold accurate plastic models in 1:25 scale and sell them to auto manufacturer dealerships, but it was not the first promotional automobile model maker.
National Products of Chicago, Illinois, starting manufacturing pot metal promotional models in the 1930s. Among their models were the 1934 Studebaker, 1940 and 1941 Buick 4-door sedans, and a variety of other cars and trucks. National Products was purchased by Banthrico in 1949. Banthrico started making promotional banks of animals and buildings in the 1930s. After World War II, Banthrico continued with a focus on precision metal replica banks of cars, accurately painted, and mostly in 1:25 scale. According to promo aficionado Clarence Young (accessed 2010), these car models were used as 'paint chips' to display real car colors to prospective buyers. Through the early 1950s, Banthrico was the leader in metal promotional models.
Nevertheless, the use of plastic was on the rise and would become dominant by the mid-1950s. At this time, AMT and its competitors began making plastic promotional models. These were Scale Model Products (SMP), Product Miniature Company (PMC), National Products, and Ideal Models which later became Jo-Han because of the name conflict with the Ideal Toy Company. PMC may have been the first to actually produce a model in plastic, but among these companies, SMP, of Birmingham, Michigan, is the most significant to AMT. Gradually, Banthrico, PMC, and others faded while AMT and Jo-Han gained momentum on the promo scene.
About 1958, SMP started what was to become the plastic modeling craze by introducing the 'annual' kit, often with a 3-in-1 theme where the model could be built in stock, custom, or racing versions. When Aluminum Model Toys bought SMP in 1961, it adopted SMP's logo, then a diamond shape (Doty 2007, 86). Also, the universally recognizable red rectangle with rounded corners shifted from SMP to AMT – with a simple change of the diagonal white letters. Thus, SMP seems to have created the 3 in 1 annual kit and logo, not AMT. It appears that AMT may then have marketed both the SMP and AMT names simultaneously for a couple of years. On promo boxes, the diagonal SMP logo was copied by AMT but that style did not last.
Promotionals came first
AMT then, through the early 1960s, ruled supreme in the promotional (and kit) market rivaled only by Jo-Han. Newcomer MPC (Model Products Corporation) entered the arena in 1964 with their Corvette kit, followed by 1965 promotionals of the Dodge car line. Plastic model makers like Pyro Plastics Corporation and Premier Products came and went, while other kit makers focused on different vehicles. Lindberg rarely touched the promo market. Monogram focused on custom, hot rod, TV, movie, racing cars, aircraft, and ships. Revell did U.S. vehicles, but focused on European Sports and racing cars. Aurora Plastics Corporation specialized in aircraft, TV, classic Universal Monsters, figure kits and 1/32 car kits. Palmer Plastics sold a number of American car models in 1/32 scale for 98 cents each throughout the 1960s, but these models were poorly detailed and lacked basic features such as clear windows and correct wheel covers.
It is important that in the United States after World War II, plastic gradually became the primary material for the modeling and collecting hobby. The thinner labor and business environment supported only the simpler casting of cheaper materials for toys (though in great detail). In Europe, by contrast, complex die-cast metal zamac toys in smaller sizes with many opening features became the norm. These were more complex products for a labor structure driven by a densely populated craft guild environment. These characteristics were not as prevalent in the United States.
Promotional makers like AMT worked very closely with styling departments of American automobile manufacturers (Anderson 2003). One fascinating article appearing in Ford Times (1961) chronicled the manufacturing process of AMT models. Intricate drawings and styling models, just like with the real thing, were first constructed. Larger 1/10 or 1/12 scale clay models would be crafted perfecting details. Accurate 1/25 scale dies (the most common size) would be created from these for plastic injection. Bumpers and hood ornaments are chrome plated and bodies are painted, often in factory colors. Painted bodies are baked in ovens and the models are assembled and packaged.
Often the actual auto manufacturers would foot the bill for tooling – and such costs could range anywhere from $20,000 to $250,000 (Automotive News 1948; Donneley 2009;Ford Times 1961). The model companies were often under the gun to get sales, display, paint and promotional details correct in order to offer the models to Big Three before the real vehicles hit the market. Detroit's annual model changes required last minute alterations in model details and showroom displays had to be finished in advance of the actual cars reaching the dealerships (Anderson 2003).
Models were used in dealerships as "salesmen's samples" or display materials that were not generally sold, or to promote sales to customers (Anderson 2003). Models would be used to show prospective customers what new models would look like. Of course, they could also be purchased at the parts counter for a dollar or so. Commonly, especially in the 1950s, they were simply given away in the showroom after a test drive, usually to children (Ostrander 2011; Gibson 1970 pp. 44–45). For example, a 1958 Edsel ad prompted, "Road Check the Big One, Get a Little One Free" (Feder 1990; see also Clarence Young Autohobby museum).
Though simply cast, promotional models were exquisitely detailed and proportioned, and by 1960, AMT became the main supplier of the pre-assembled model to American car companies. AMT worked most closely with Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation, but promo contracts among the model manufacturers seemed to alternate year to year (See Doty 2009a for a nice history of AMT's Ford Galaxie). Shapes of the vehicles were near perfect, though in the 1950s, cellulose acetate, the plastic of choice, was prone to serious warping. In 1960, AMT and some other manufacturers switched to styrene and by 1964, all of the major model car manufacturers had changed over to the new plastic. This solved the problem and styrene models 50 years later still maintain their form.
Models were molded in different colors, but often painted with actual company paints, a practice that went back to the 1930s. Also, like with the 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix, the roof was cast in "vinyl" black. Script and emblem details were intricately molded into plastic bodies, grilles, and wheels. Hoods did not open and there was no engine detail – and no interiors on most models in the 1950s. Thus promos without interior or engine detail were called 'coaster models' – as opposed to built kits with more detail. With the development of kits, however, viewing the interior became practical and as important as exterior appearance. Speedometer numbers could be read on the instrument panels. Horn rings on the steering wheels were accurately depicted brand by brand.
Early on, AMT chassis were often made of metal, but later, they were usually a single piece of plastic with lower engine, exhaust, and suspension details molded in a single piece with metal axles fit transverse through holes in the sides of the plastic. Normally, on the chassis, there were no operating suspension parts. Wheels were one-piece plastic pressed onto the axles. With parts typically "melted" together, forming a permanent bond, promotional models were much more durable than their counterpart assembled kits. Of course, promotionals had significantly fewer parts than kits, a later development to enhance sales – hoods did not open and suspension details were molded into the chassis. Seats were often, but not always, part of the single bucket of the interior whereas they were usually glued in for construction of the kits. Many promotional models have survived intact for decades, whereas assembled kits tend to fall apart as the plastic cement deteriorates and small parts fall off. What was really fun was AMT's common molding of sales specifications into the chassis, especially on Ford cars. The promo 1962 Ford Galaxie, for example, had 13 different phrases molded on the chassis – from the very factual "Vacation volume trunk - 28 cu. ft" to the more fantastic "Enduring elegance with the power to please."
Commercial versions of AMT promos were marketed in retail toy stores and dime stores like Zayre and Murphy. A few, in the mid-1950s, like the 1954 Buick Roadmaster, 1954 Ford Customline sedan or the 1955 Sunliner, were also offered in remote control versions (Doty 2003, 88; Doty 2004a,86-87). In the 1960s, they commonly were sold for $1.00. Jo-Han also offered friction models at this time.
Differences of retail frictions from the dealer promos were the lack of manufacturing paint schemes (they were simply molded in different colors, like many other promotionals) and usually the addition of a friction motor located on the front axle, noticeable by the studded white vinyl gear that protruded around the axle (and through the oil pan!)(see Gibson, p. 45). By contrast, the promo version often had a special lower engine plate that covered where the friction motor was placed on the commercial model. As collectibles today, the friction models are worth somewhat less than official promos, but the quaintness of the frictions makes them equally appealing. Nevertheless, not all models offered as promotionals were made also as commercial frictions (like the 1964 Comet Caliente, which came as a dealer promo only). Like promotionals, friction car models are extremely durable, using the same basic plastic components as the promos.
Slightly different were unassembled versions of the promo cars, like the AMT 1971 Ford Torino. These were typically simpler and easier to assemble than the full blown kits. In fact, before the 3 in 1 kits, discussed below, promos were offered as kits, without all the extra custom and hot rod parts (Doty 2004b, 88). These were sometimes molded in color (instead of the traditional white for the kits) and easily assembled without glue.
Some cars were only manufactured as frictions or kits, but not promotional models. One example is the 1968 Ford XL Fastback, which was available only in bright yellow as a friction, or as an annual kit molded in the standard white color. Interestingly, the 1967 and 1969 XL were available as promos, however. Other cars were available as frictions and promos, but not kits. An example of this is the 1963 Ford Galaxie 500/XL "boxtop" square-roof hardtop. And, some versions were only available in some forms as hardtops, others as convertibles.
Decline of promotionals
Gradually, perhaps since the mid-1960s, the importance of promotionals began to dwindle. AMT produced their last dealer promos for the 1972 model year, and by the late 1970s, plastic promos were mostly a thing of the past (Anderson 2003). AMT along with MPC and Jo-Han continued to produce promotionals until the 1980s, but it was not the enterprise it once was. Eventually, models were offered only for the most sporty or prestigious cars, and sold in dealerships for steep prices and not given away, so the term 'promotional' hardly applied any longer. Also, the auto companies, which earlier had seen promotional models as easy and free advertising, began to charge fees to modeling companies in the late 1980s for the use of their names and designs (Clor 1990). Thus smaller companies had a more difficult time affording manufacturing licensing.
Models began to appear in dealerships in metal by Ertl, Brookfield, and even Maisto – and in many scales besides 1:25. Through the 1990s, AMT/Ertl continued some plastic promotionals, in the traditional fashion, though metallic flake molded into the plastics was a new twist. These models were now made in China and mainly were Corvettes and Vipers. Plastic promotionals still exist, like the AMT/Ertl 2008 Dodge Challenger, but it costs at least $25.00. Not many kids are getting their hands on them.
Then came kits
It is important to remember that, in the 1950s, promotional models came first, followed by kit development. Jim Donnelly, of Hemmings Classic Car wrote, "...once companies realized that built up promos were already licensed, they could be reintroduced as assembly kits" (Donnelly 2009).
In typical AMT kits, parts were molded onto "trees" and could be easily separated and then assembled. Product lines of stock model cars were soon augmented with parts to complete custom cars and hot rod variants from stock production vehicles. So the 'annual kit' was an extra sales benefit coming from the annual promotional model. As mentioned above, this configuration was soon named the '3 in 1' kit where the modeler could build a car in 'stock', 'custom', or 'hot rod' form by selecting different parts offered in the box. Some of AMT's first successful kits were of 1932 and other early Fords, and these were reissued several times over the years (Doty 2009b,87).
Unlike promotional models, which did not have opening hoods and suspension detail molded into chassis, kits usually had opening hoods, along with many parts to construct engines, interiors, and suspensions. Earlier kits had less chassis detail, and featured promo-like interiors, metal axles, whitewall tires, and metal screws to attach body to chassis. Later kits sometimes had more detail, but metal parts such as axles, chassis screws, and hood clips, were deleted or made in plastic. Often these later kits did not even feature rotating wheels. Whitewall tires, once a regular feature of kits, fell out of style and were eschewed for plain blackwalls.
AMT's 3 in 1 'Trophy' kit instructions in the early 1960s usually came with mini-biographies of popular customizers of the day such as Bill Cushenberry, Dean Jeffries, Alex Kraus, Gene Winfield, the Alexander Brothers, and, of course, George Barris, most of whom were employed by AMT. Gene Winfield even closed his California shop to work with AMT (Cawthon 2002). Further, on the sheets there was often a separate section on 'customizing hints' by George Barris exclusively. An extreme example was the 1957 Ford Thunderbird kit. Instructions gave 5 whole pages to 'stylizing', a practice of adding parts using body putty and sanding which went beyond mere 'customizing'. These were all tips besides the normal assembly instructions. Included in the '57 'Bird kit were additional 'street rod', 'drag bird', and 'Bonneville' styles all suggested by George Barris.
Thus AMT and other kit makers had made serious changes in their product approach by, say, 1965. Whereas the dealer oriented promotionals were previously the lead business – by the mid-1960s a whole new market was tapped involving customizing and customizers. These were often linked to TV and Movie themes which now drove AMT, and other model companies.
AMT offered some foreign car kits, but usually only if they were associated with U.S. car companies or a film favorite. An example was the 1971 Opel GT – a General Motors product made in Germany. Foreign car kits were left to the likes of Monogram or Revell. Custom TV and movie custom cars, often by George Barris, like the ZZR (from the 1966 beach movie Out Of Sight), or the Monkeemobile, were also popular.
By the early to mid-1960s, modeling had exploded in popularity and the business of kit sales easily overcame that of promotionals. Model Products Corporation, known as MPC, entered the promotional and kit scene in 1965, and by 1970 was just as popular as AMT. To fight back, AMT started offering kits for an even wider variety of machines and themes.
Restoration and resin
Today, because of the high value of old promotional, friction, and annual kit cars in 1:25 scale, a 'cottage industry' boom has taken place. Parts for these valuable old cars are being cast in high-quality resin and sold online by such vendors as The Modelhaus, R&R Resin, and Star Models. A skilled modeler can now restore to like-new condition a broken promo that was played with as a toy decades ago. Such parts as hood ornaments, wheels, tires, and even windshield frames from delicate convertibles, are available. Parts that were originally chrome-plated are available pre-chromed for easy restoration.
In addition to parts, complete resin kits in the original 1:25 scale are also available. These are typically reproductions of original promos, and include many of the features of the original kit, including whitewall tires, metal axles, and hoods molded into the body. A good example of a reproduction kit in resin is the 1960 Edsel hardtop. Some offerings are models that were never available when the kits were first issued, but still make interesting subjects. For example, Modelhaus offers a 1:25 scale resin model of the 1973 Chevrolet Caprice Estate Wagon, based in the original Caprice hardtop promo. These new issues typically sell at rather high prices, often $50 to $100 each.
In the 1960s, competition forced diversification and AMT added new product lines, specifically trucks. For example, its early "Dirt Hauler" kit was merely a generic tractor-trailer with dumping trailer. Then, in 1969, AMT released the "California Hauler 359" kit. This new kit was a revolution for model building, a realistic model of a Peterbilt 359 tractor-trailer, the design having been copied from the manufacturer's specifications. It also had an authentic 8V71 Detroit Diesel under the hood. The kit lacked a sleeper cab, but there was a coupon that could be sent in along with 10 cents to get it. The following year, the second version was issued – with sleeper cab. Due to the success of the California Hauler 359, AMT proceeded to issue more truck kits through the 1970s. Examples of offerings were the Chevrolet Titan/GMC Astro, Peterbilt 352, Kenworth W925, Autocar A64B, and White Road Boss. Trailer kits to accompany these trucks, such as box, flatbeds, refrigerated, and tankers were introduced. These kits tended to cost about $5.
When the TV series Movin' On debuted in 1974, AMT made new versions of many of their truck kits with new features such as CB radios, dragfoilers, and sometimes new engines. For example, the Peterbilt 359 kit was given a Cummins NTC-350 diesel engine, a larger-windowed 1100 series cab (as opposed to the small-windowed Unilite cab), and a larger bumper – in addition to the previously mentioned CB radio and dragfoiler.
When Ertl bought AMT in 1983 (forming AMT-Ertl), many of AMT's old truck kits were reissued, but completely new models were rare except for the Kenworth T600A (1991). In addition, some of Ertl's plastic model truck kits were reissued under the AMT-Ertl brand. Many of the old AMT truck kits can be found on auction sites like eBay, often commanding fairly high prices.
Star Trek, and other science fiction
Around 1966, AMT obtained the plastic model rights to Star Trek, and developed a model kit of the Starship Enterprise, beginning a long association between AMT and both science fiction and television. The original model of the Enterprise was equipped with battery-operated lights, but even after the lights were deleted, a number of features from the lighted model persisted in the kit, including a removable "main deflector" assembly (which had covered the battery compartment cap and served as an on-off switch for the lighted model) and little indentations in the saucer section where the light bulbs were to be placed. By the 1980s, an ongoing series of revisions to the tooling to correct various inaccuracies (which unfortunately also created a few new inaccuracies, such as a deflector dish that is far too small, and incorrectly shaped fins on the nacelle caps) and mechanical problems eventually included deletion of the removable deflector dish. There was also a kit of the Klingon ship seen on the TV show, and it too was lighted in its first couple of issues.
By the mid-1970s, the Enterprise kit had been joined by a 1/12 scale figure of Spock, defending himself against a 3-headed reptile on an alien landscape, as well as models of a Romulan ship, a Starfleet Shuttlecraft, a model of the Enterprise Bridge, the Space Station K-7 (from the episode The Trouble With Tribbles), and a 3-piece "exploration set" (consisting of toylike, approximately 3/4 scale models of a phaser, a communicator, and a tricorder). Round 2 has reissued the Spock model, the Romulan Ship, the Enterprise and the K-7 Space Station, all from the original AMT molds. The Klingon ship is scheduled for a 2011 release.
In 1968 AMT also produced a kit of a science fiction spaceship designed by Matt Jeffries (the man that designed the Enterprise for Star Trek), the Leif Ericson. This tooling was reused in the middle 1970s, albeit without several engine and ship parts as well as the original stand and the landing gear to the scout ship, to produce a glow-in-the-dark "UFO" kit. The glow UFO model was reissued in 2010, from the original molds (this time including the missing ship parts and the Scout ship landing gear – although still missing engine parts on the main ship, as well as the original ship stand), by Round 2, which owns all the original AMT tooling. The Leif Ericson model will be reissued in 2011.
AMT-Ertl has also reissued the former Model Products Corporation kits of various Star Wars spacecraft, and has added several new designs based on the prequel trilogy.
In 1971, AMT issued models of at least three different pieces of American LaFrance fire-fighting apparatus, including a pumper, a rear-mount aerial ladder truck, and a rear-mount articulating boom truck. The prototypes were selected to maximize the number of shared parts (e.g., almost all of the cab and diesel motor parts), apparently in order to minimize tooling costs. All 3 kits have been reissued by AMT-Ertl in recent years.
Surprisingly, given the company's penchant for licensing various television series, they did not offer models of any of the vehicles (e.g., the Crown Firecoach that was the first Engine 51, the Ward LaFrance P80 Ambassador that was the second Engine 51, or the Dodge rescue squad) from the then-current Emergency! series; neither did the decals supplied with the American LaFrance kits include markings for the Los Angeles County Fire Department (featured in the series). In addition, they also released a Chevrolet fire chief's car and a Chevrolet rescue van, the latter of which could be built in 4 configurations: stock, custom, fire department, or police department.
In 1978, British Lesney, makers of Matchbox bought AMT and moved the company to Baltimore, closing the Maple Road facility in Troy, Michigan (just outside Detroit). (Cawthon 2002). By this time, prices of plastics had increased, and Detroit was squeezed by government regulations of safety, emissions, and fuel economy. Detroit sponsored fewer and fewer promotionals, and model companies depended more on kits – but the building hobby declined as well. Also, AMT had an incredible display of models and documentary history at its headquarters that was scattered at that time (Anderson 2003).
In 1983, AMT was purchased by Ertl from Lesney, and renamed AMT/Ertl. AMT/Ertl then had a 24 year relationship until AMT was sold in 2007. For a time, AMT kits were reissued by independent companies such as Stevens International and Model King, before AMT came solidly into the stable of Round 2 LLC of South Bend, Indiana. In an ironic turn that parallels other large companies owning several brands that were previously competitors (read Mattel owning Matchbox), AMT now co-exists in the same organization alongside a revived MPC and Polar Lights. Ertl is still in the Round 2 LLC stable as "Ertl Collectibles".
In the early 1990s, AMT released brand new kits with new tooling for some of their old favorites, such as the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, 1966 Ford Fairlane GT, 1958 Edsel Pacer, 1960 Ford Starliner, and 1957 Chrysler 300. These kits sold fairly well and can still be found on auction sites such as eBay at reasonable prices. The details in these kits far exceeded any from the 1960s. In the late 1990s, AMT released pre-assembled and painted versions of these kits. These assembled models were sold in the Masterpiece series, were nicely packaged in foam (not unlike heavier diecast metal Franklin Mint models) and each had a Certificate of Authenticity enclosed as well. These models were beautifully finished and featured whitewall tires along with very detailed and authentically painted engines, suspensions, and interiors, much more detailed than any promotional ever was. They were flawlessly painted in authentic factory colors as well. Models in this series included the 1960 Ford Starliner, the 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS convertible, 1962 Pontiac Cataline SD421, and the 1966 Buick Riviera along with several others. These jewel-like models can still be had for less than $30.00 today on eBay and are one of the best bargains around. As assembled kits they were factory-glued together, but the glue used appears to be of high quality and when cared for properly, they can be kept in good condition for years.
Today, Round 2 is making a determined effort to recreate some of the 1960s glory of the model car business. Reissued classics such as the 1962 Buick Electra 225 and the 1961 Ford Galaxie Skyline kits are now available with many of the original features, including whitewall tires, metal axles, chassis screws, and molded-in suspension detail. Often the same exact artwork as when the kits originally appeared is reproduced for the new boxes. Prices for these re-issues run around $20.00, which is not unreasonable based on the value of the dollar today, versus the early 1960s.
A few 1950s and 1960s models were reproduced and sold as promotionals featuring the sturdiness of the original 1960s promos in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These included the 1966 Ford Fairlaine GT/A (based on the new tool), the 1964 Ford Galaxie 500/XL hardtop (based on the original tool), and the 1953 and 1954 Corvettes.
Today, certain AMT kits and promotionals, especially models from the 1960s, command premium prices on the collector market. Typically, original muscle car promos such as Mustangs, Pontiac GTOs, Camaros and Chevelles command prices in the hundreds of dollars in mint, boxed original condition. Even full-size models of GM cars such as Chevrolet Impalas and Pontiac Bonnevilles and Grand Prixs also garner high prices. Such models, like the reissued kits, are easily obtainable through Internet auction sites such as Ebay.
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