Johnny Lightning turns a 24 Year Old Muscle Car Casting Into an Off Road Machine

Model: 1969 Plymouth Road Runner

Line: Johnny Lightning Street Freaks, Release 6, Version A (orange) and Version B (blue)

Buy these Off Road Road Runners on eBay

Johnny Lightning has turned a nearly 25 year old muscle car casting into a must-have off-road machine — and all it took was a little outside the box thinking.

Before we dig into the new Dirty Birds, a little casting history is needed to fully appreciate the work that has gone into these cars.

Johnny Lightning’s ’69 Road Runner (RR) showed up in their Muscle Cars U.S.A line in 1996…and the third release in blue was among my first Johnny Lightning (JL) purchases ever. The casting was developed while JL was under the ownership of Playing Mantis (1994-2004), and as the brand was seeing a come-back after a 23 year hiatus from the market.

While not as popular as some of the Mattel brand offerings of the day, the RR casting was very well executed, and thanks to a metal body and chassis, weighed as much as a real Plymouth…well, almost as much. It featured beautifully sculpted lines, an opening hood, and great paint detail. It rode on American Racing Torque-Thrust looking wheels mounted on thick plastic tires. The one downfall to the casting was that it sat higher than most 1/64th scale trucks did…but that didn’t stop the JL team from bringing this beast back from the dead.

I got the dark blue ’69 Road Runner on the left for my 10th or 11th birthday, along with the same release white ’68 Charger and orange ’70 Challenger. I still have the RR and Challenger, and was able to pull the RR out for a little side-by-side comparison.
1996/2020: a few added details to the front end really brings this casting into the new millennium.

Jump forward to 20 years later. JL has been bought and sold three times since Playing Mantis closed in 2004, but Playing Mantis wasn’t totally out of the JL picture yet — wild, right? The OG behind the 90’s JL resurgence, Thomas Lowe (who also owns R2 – the makers of Auto World and Racing Champions diecast), re-launches the brand around 2016 and once again brings us that sweet JL gold to store shelves: and I am glad he did.

As a JL fan I was very excited to see them make another come-back, and they seem more determined to succeed than ever. They have itroduced more lines, new dioramas, new castings (some even shared with Auto World), new trucks and trailers, storage tin cars, double-packs, more Hollywood cars — the list goes on. In addition to some of these new lines, we are seeing new life breathed into older castings, and this is where the ’69 RR comes into play.

Out of production for 23 years, the JL team, namely Chad Reid (Marketing Manager for Round 2), came up with the idea to “off road” the RR casting. According to the“Freak Facts” from the version A card:

“Chad Reid, the Marketing Manager at Round 2, first came up with the idea of this Off Road Plymouth Road Runner.”

The card goes on to say:

“With a simple wheel swap, this older casting was transformed into the perfect Street Freak mud hog for the Off Road series!”

A simple wheel swap. All it took was a bit of out-of-the-box thinking to swap some mud tires onto an older casting to give us these amazing, Gambler 500 vibin’, off road Mopar monsters. And. I. Love. It.

The casting, including the chassis, is identical to the original 1996 Muscle Car release. They didn’t even have to change the wheel openings to fit those knobby mud tires on it — but the wheels and tires do make all the difference. The “dirty” tampos and dirt colored wheels/tires perfect the off road look.

The casting has been covered with a bit of a “dirty” theme in itself. A big ’69 on each door adorns both castings, with a giant gasser-like name DIRTY OL’ BIRD on the rear fenders.

69? Dirty Ol’ Bird? LOL we see you JL – and we love you more for it.

The cars also have great details and tampos all around too. From detailed grilles to painted bumpers, licensed sponsors on the fenders and detailed hood – these birds look ready to tear up the dirt track or trail.

One of the cooler, smaller details on the cars are their unique license plates. Both cars have vintage Alabama plates, with the blue car’s saying FOWL and the orange car’s reading CHKNFRY.

I absolutely love these Road Runners and hope this is a sign of things to come from the bolt brand — here’s to hoping JL sees this and turns more of the Muscle Car line into off road juggernauts 🏁

See more of the cards, card art, and the Road Runners on the turn-table in this unboxing video:

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