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Johnny Lightning 2016 No10 Chevy Nova SS

I don’t know much about Johnny Lightning diecast – so meet a man who does!

My toy collection has changed a lot over the last few years. Not only is it a lot smaller thanks to a ruthless downsizing cull, but I’ve found that it has also changed in direction.

For years I have been blinkered in that my diecast bias has been towards 1:43 and European manufactures, and I think it’s because that was all we had available in the UK market when I was a kid. Now, years later, manufacturing techniques and technology have changed, and todays collector is faced with a plethora of choice.

And, it is due to technology, and social media in particular that I have a rekindled interest in Hot Wheels and 1:64. I have decided to re-collect the lost Redlines of my childhood, thanks mainly due to perusing such platforms as Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.

It was on Instagram that I first saw some fantastic photographs of the 1:64 range by Johnny Lighting – a manufacturer that I have never come across before (and I know that may sound bizarre to many of you!).

I was immediately captivated!

I wanted to learn more about this fab range, and in the thirst for knowledge happened to come across the posts of a gentleman named Mac Ragan. The information Mac shares on his Facebook posts are phenomenal and its not surprising given the amazing career he has had in the diecast industry – and of top of that, his photographic work is incredible.

After an exchange of emails Mac has given us permission to use his content on our Toydetective pages.

Take time to read Mac’s profile and I urge our band of readers to follow Mac on Facebook and Instagram.  Mac has also written several books on diecast cars – click the Amazon links below for more information.

Here’s Mac’s first post for us – I hope you enjoy it, learn from it and please, please, share and spread the word!

Happy collecting!


Mac Ragan: Profile

Mac Ragan is occupying three distinct roles in the world of die-cast cars: 1) employee, 2) author, and 3) collector.  He was brand manager of Johnny Lightning models for Playing Mantis and RC2 from 2003 to 2007.  During that time he supervised and personally designed hundreds of vehicles.  Ragan later moved to Greenlight Toys where he designed many popular castings.  His latest position in the industry was director of social media for Round 2’s die-cast brands:  Auto World, Johnny Lightning, and Racing Champions.  At Round 2, Ragan reunited with several former Playing Mantis employees to relaunch the Johnny Lightning brand, as well as Racing Champions Mint.  

Ragan also wrote several important books about toy cars.  He’s probably best known for Tomart’s Price Guide to Johnny Lightning Vehicles, which helped establish Johnny Lightning toys as a true collectible brand.  Ragan’s other books–all about 1:64th-scale die-cast cars–feature close-up photos and informative text.  These include Matchbox Cars: The First 50 YearsHot Wheels Cars, and Die-Cast Cars of the 1960s.

Ragan was inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. He remains active in the hobby via Instagram, Facebook, and personal appearances at die-cast conventions




Hot Wheels 1970 Dodge [Coronet] Super Bee, “30th Anniversary of ’70 Muscle Cars” 4-car box set, 2000.

By the end of the 1990s, Mattel made a big push into the lucrative 1:64 adult collectibles market…a trend already exploited with great success by Racing Champions and Playing Mantis (Johnny Lightning).

This beautiful “Plum Crazy” Super Bee appeared in a “Hot Wheels Collectibles” set alongside a Trans Am, Challenger, and Mustang…all from 1970. It features a die-cast chassis (with painted details), Real Riders, and a separate engine.

While other toy companies have made the 1970 Super Bee through the years, this nearly 20-year-old casting has aged very well. I particularly like the deep 5-spoke rims and the car’s aggressive hunkered-down stance.


Johnny Lightning 1964 Pontiac GTO, Casting No. 096, Rebel Rods release 4, 2002.

Many collectors may recognize this style of car as one of “The Spoilers,” which is absolutely correct. Most models featured a giant exposed engine and racing numbers on the doors. This style was adopted from the original Hot Wheels Spoilers models (circa 1970) when Playing Mantis owner Tom Lowe discovered that the trademark rights to the Spoilers name had lapsed.

First released in the Rebel Rods assortment, the Johnny Lightning Spoilers-themed cars reappeared the following year in the brand’s popular Street Freaks group.*

Playing Mantis didn’t use the Spoilers name in the Rebel Rods series (except for the Road Runner). But by the following year, the Spoilers sub-theme became an official part of the Street Freaks line of custom vehicles.

To make matters even more challenging for collectors, Playing Mantis issued each car with hard plastic tires and soft Real Wheels, as shown here. Complicating matters further, most cars could be found with different styles of die-cast engines. (Was it six?)

If we use six as the number of engine variations, it means that the four Spoilers cars with interchangeable motors, like this GTO, could have 24 variations each. This includes 6 cars with hard plastic tires, 6 with Real Wheels, and the 12 corresponding While Lightning chase versions.

*Note: In 2001, Playing Mantis released several KB Toys 5-car box sets with nine Spoilers-style cars included. Because those models never ended up with the Spoilers name, I didn’t include them in the lengthy discussion above!

Are you new to the world of Johnny Lightning? Are you already a collector? Let us know, send us your comments and photos of your collection!  Use the comments box below – We’d love to hear from you!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. James C

    I love Johnny lightning and it started for me in late 90’s through the hey days of the early 2000’s.
    I know we all persevered throught the late 2000’s. I love this resurgence of Johnny lightning and auto world.
    Please tell me though why the newbies are package openers? To me that is best to see a pristine unopened package.

    1. Si Kelly

      Thanks for your comments! I’ve just started to get into Johnny Lightning and Hot Wheels after many years of collecting. As far as opening is concerned, its each to their own – I must admit, I’ve opened some of mine – which was hard to do as I’ve always been brought up with the collecting ethic of leaving things in their boxes / packages. I do not collect for investment reasons so releasing models I’m collecting presently wont make a difference to their long term value – besides, they’re a lot easir to display and store when opened.

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