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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.
Because Gallogly had solid connections with Ford, 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 Ford 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 Run Road outside Detroit (Chrysler 2008).
In 1949, injection plastic molding became available and aluminum was abandoned, since different colors of plastic could be used (Cawthon 2002; at times, though, official paints were still applied to the promotionals). De-emphasizing the 'aluminum' Gallogly started using the initials of the company and the name became AMT. The company's first commercial products were pre-assembled plastic promotional models, only available through automobile (usually Ford) dealerships.
During the 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.
The company came on the coat-tails of Banthrico, which 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.
In the mid-1950s, contemporary competitors to AMT making plastic promotional models were Scale Model Products (SMP), Product Miniature Corporation (PMC), and Ideal Models which later became Jo-Han because of the name conflict with the Ideal Toy Company. 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 - the diagonal white letters were simply changed. Thus, it is not well-known that SMP created the 3 in 1 annual kit and logo, not AMT. It appears that AMT may 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.
A main idea is that in the United States after World War II, plastic became the most important 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. Such was absent 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 to perfect 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 details correct in order to beat the Big Three themselves to production - in supplying sales, display, paint and promotional information to dealerships. 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).
Promotional models were exquisitely detailed and proportioned, and 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 duties between the model manufacturers seemed to alternate year to year. Shapes of the vehicles were near perfect, though in the 1950s, cellulose acetate, the plastic of choice, was prone to serious warping. By 1960, a change to styrene solved the problem - 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, there were no operating suspension parts. 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 the 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 or the 1954 Ford Customline sedan, were also offered in remote control versions (Doty 2004a,86-87). In the 1960s, they commonly were sold for $1.00.
Differences from 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).
Even 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, unassembled 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.
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 thing of the past (Anderson 2003). Eventually, models were offered only for the most sporty or prestigious cars, and sold in dealerships for steep prices - not given away. Also, the auto companies, which earlier had seen promotional models as easy and free advertising, began to charge fees 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 and Brookfield - 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 $30.00. 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 2009,87).
AMT's 3 in 1 'Trophy' kits 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 closed his California shop to work with AMT (Cawthon 2002). Further, on the instructions, 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 th '57 'Bird kit were also 'street rod', 'drag bird', and 'Bonneville' styles all suggested by George Barris.
Thus AMT and other kit makers had made serious changes in their market approach by, say, 1965. Whereas the dealer focused promotionals were previously the most important business, by the mid-1960s a whole new market involving customizing and customizers, often linked to TV and Movie themes was driving 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. A prime example was the 1971 Opel GT which was a General Motors product. Foreign car kits were left to the likes of Monogram or Revell. Custom TV and movie custom cars, often by George Barris, like the ZZT, 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.
In 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.
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 suburban 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, Polar Lights, and - Ertl, which Round 2 also bought up.
Anderson, Art. 2003. History of Promo Car Models? Antique Automobile Club of America on-line forums.
Automotive News. 1948. Assembly Lines of a New Type Gain Favor. September 27.
Cawthon, Bill. 2002. 3 in 1:87, Promotex Online Articles, December 15.
Chrysler Museum. 2008. Display text. Model display in museum basement. Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Clor, John M. 1990. Squeeze Play, AutoWeek, December 3, pp. 17–19.
Donnelly, Jim. 2009. Promoting the Past, Hemmings Classic Car, April, P. 37.
Doty, Dennis. 2004a. '54s for Every Taste, Collectible Automobile, 20/5:86-89.
Doty, Dennis. 2004b. 'Birds in the Hand, Collectible Automobile, 21/1:88-90.
Doty, Dennis. 2007. A Ton of '61s, Collectible Automobile, 24/3:86-89.
Doty, Dennis. 2009. A Mountain of Models to Scale, Collectible Automobile, 25/6:86-89.
Feder, Ann. 1990. Preoccupied by Promotionals, AutoWeek, December 3, pp. 20–21.
Ford Times. 1961. Treasure in the Toy Box? February.
Gibson, Cecil. 1970. Commercial Vehicles. A book of the Troy Model Club Series. Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd. London, United Kingdom.
Ostrander, Steve. 2011. Michigan Scale Model Companies, in Seeking Michigan, an on-line source of the Michigan Historical Museum.
Young, Clarence. 2010. Clarence Young Autohobby website. Accessed February 5.
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