In 1969, Topper Toys of Elizabeth, New Jersey launched a line of high-speed die-cast cars to compete in the rapidly expanding market for three-inch toy cars introduced 15 years earlier by Matchbox. Speed was all-important, and owner Henry Orenstein had the design and production resources available to create 15 different cars, from concept to retailer, in less than a year. Topper was a powerhouse toy manufacturer, producing popular products like Suzy Homemaker appliances and the mod Dawn fashion doll.
Their most important technology was to mold in a small hook under the front axle so that they could be propelled by a lever-driven catapult, far faster than could be obtained by either gravity, or battery powered "supercharger" devices. Topper closed in 1971 and production of Johnny Lightning cars ceased for 23 years.
Johnny Lightning became a subsidiary of Playing Mantis (from 1994-2004) and is a company primarily known for their die-cast collectible cars. They have also produced several small plastic representations of Star Trek vessels, entitled "Legends of Star Trek", since 2004.
In January 2016, three years after its second disappearance from the market, the Johnny Lightning die-cast brand was relaunched once again by Thomas Lowe and his Round 2 toy company which also produces the Auto World and Racing Champions brands of die-cast cars.
Lines include: Zingers, Speed Racers, Monopoly Cars, Hot Wheels, Muscle Cars and more.