Q: Greg, I am a model car lover and remember all the great model car companies of the 1950s through today. I was wondering if you know of the heritage of these companies, including Jo-Han, AMT, Monogram and the others. I used to build these cars when I was a youngster, and still enjoy the hobby although my eyesight is not as good as I'm now 76 years old. I know you like models, too, as I read your column on them a while back. Matthew H., Easton, Pennsylvania.
A: Matthew, I indeed love model cars and when time permits I still enjoy building a few. I started building models in the 1950s, one of first being a 12-passenger VW Bus from Monogram.
The major model companies I recall are:
1: AMT - founded in 1948 with the initials standing for Aluminum Model Toys. However, in 1950 AMT began using plastic injection molding and to this day AMT is still the premier model company. Along the way, AMT was sold to Matchbox in 1978 and then to its present day owners, Ertl, in the 1980s. I've probably built 500 AMT models in my day and still have several cases of new models. Memorable are the "3 in 1" kits, which could be built stock, slightly modified or fully customized. My favorite to this day is the 1940 Ford Coupe and Sedan.
2: Jo-Han - always a favorite of mine as they released models of cars that weren't as popular as a Corvette. Jo-Han offered Rambler station wagons, police cars and even a hearse if I remember correctly. Founded in 1947 by John Hanley (thus the Jo-Han name), the company made its mark building promotional models in 1955 for General Motors that were given away by the dealers to consumers. Jo-Han's famous plastic model kits include the Richard Petty Plymouth No. 43 from the 1960s, the Chrysler Turbine show car and several of the off-brand kits mentioned earlier. To this day, Jo-Han models are popular on the internet sites.
3: Monogram - I think every modeler loved the Monogram kits as they were really cheap and offered a different series of cars than Jo-Han and AMT. Who can forget the first kit, namely a Midget race car with driver figure that debuted in 1953? Next was a "big car" Indy Offenhauser racer, similar to the midget kit in that you actually glued each side together. Monogram then got real serious, releasing the 1/24 scale "Black Widow," "Green Hornet" and other popular kits that to this day are in demand (and many re-released). Monogram is also big with airplane models, too.
4: Revell: Perhaps the granddaddy of the big model kit companies, Revell was founded in 1943 and began its foray into plastic kits in the mid-1950s. You'll notice today that sometimes Revell and Monogram appear on the kit box as these companies merged in 1986 and to this day continue to release great kits, especially muscle cars and drag cars.
5: MPC - Model Products Company (MPC) came about when then AMT president and model world "Godfather" George Toteff resigned from AMT in 1964 to form his own company. MPC to this day also sells re-released models to hobby shops nationwide by the name "Round 2." Great kits, I might add, including everything from Connie Kalitta's "Bounty Hunter" to a '78 AMC Pacer!
6: Lindberg - this company, based in Illinois, rounds out our top six major model kit manufacturers. Lindberg is also known for muscle and drag racing cars. I still have the 1964 Dodge Ramcharger and a 1961 Chevy 409 SS yet to be built.
All of these companies still offer models at hobby shops and numerous websites. Thanks much, Matthew, for taking our readers down model kit memory lane.