In The Beginning…
In 1958, Oscar Koveleski founded Auto World in the basement of his home, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The small mail order hobby business soon grew to great proportions and became well known for its annual product catalogs, which were filled with every car-related item an adolescent hobbyist might desire. From plastic model kits to large-and small-scale slot racing cars, gas-powered cars, hobby tools, scratch-building supplies, paint and spray guns — Auto World was a one-stop mail-order shop for young modelers everywhere.
In 1994, Thomas E. Lowe, an entrepreneur with a love of cars both big and small, founded a company named Playing Mantis. He then proceeded to resurrect the long-lost Johnny Lightning brand of small-scaled die-cast cars, originally made by TopperToys. Eventually, interest in slot car racing and plastic model kits began to resurface and Playing Mantis responded with Polar Lights automotive, figural, and sci-fi plastic model kits. Tom also decided to recreate two slot car racing chassis to market under the Johnny Lightning brand. One was marketed under the ThunderJet 500 name and the other was the very popular X-traction. In 2004, Playing Mantis was purchased by RC2 Corporation.
The Second Time Around
Tom’s continued passion for small-scale slot cars prompted him to start a new company, appropriately called “Round 2.” He needed to come up with a new brand name for the ThunderJet 500 and X-Traction lines. Something familiar, with a retro vibe… Tom knew that the Auto World name and logo would be instantly recognizable to long-time hobbyists, filled mostly with adults who had rediscovered some of their youthful pastimes. So, he contacted Oscar Koveleski and successfully purchased the rights to the Auto World mark, making it the new brand for ThunderJet and X-Traction slot cars.
Auto World continues to work with top licensors, not only in the world of slot cars but also American Muscle 1:18 scale die-cast replicas, AMT, MPC, and Polar Lights model kit lines. “We are a busy team with plenty of ideas”. One of those exciting plans is the creation of the Auto World webstore and catalog! We hope to take you back to the good ol’ days when browsing the latest paper catalog, mailing in your order, and pulling your package out of the mailbox was just pure fun! autoworldstore.com offers you hundreds of die-cast vehicles, model kits, slot cars, race sets, and accessories, plus limited edition exclusives that you can’t find anywhere else.
Meet Our Master Mechanic
Tom Lowe is the Founder and President of Round 2.
As a boy, Tom frequently ordered slot cars and model kits from the Auto World catalog that arrived in his family’s mailbox. And like many other youngsters who built and collected model cars, Lowe says he dreamed of visiting the company’s one and only retail store in Scranton, Pa. But I never got to go,” he says with sadness in his voice. If you have ever talked with Lowe about slot cars and die-cast vehicles, you might feel for him never having had the chance as a youngster to visit the mecca of hobby stores that ended up closing in the mid-1980s.
Lowe cannot hide his passion for collectible cars as an industry, his enthusiasm for the way the cars are crafted and designed, and his pride in the various lines that he had a direct hand in developing, manufacturing, and putting on retail shelves.
You see, when Lowe took over the Auto World brand from founder Oscar Koveleski in 2005, he already had years of experience behind him. Lowe, son of the late Cassopolis entrepreneur Edward Lowe who developed Kitty Litter, spent much of the 1990s building a Mishawaka- based company called Playing Mantis after he acquired the rights to the Johnny Lightning name. Playing Mantis, which employed about 50 people, manufactured die-cast collectible cars in China while its staff created, designed, and marketed model kits and collectible figures in Michiana.
In 2004, Lowe agreed to sell his privately held company to suburban Chicago toymaker RC2 Corp. “Not only did I sell the brands and the tools and everything, but you sell part of your life with it,” Lowe says. “It’s kind of a common thing for large public companies to buy smaller companies and think they can do it better. They try to weld smaller passionate companies into their culture and in many instances that can’t work.”
Lowe worked at RC2 for more than a year, before it began moving in a different direction, as he puts it, and away from the die-cast car brands. This allowed Lowe to buy back the Johnny Lightning slot car line and tools he had sold them, along with a few other brands he had sold them, and he also purchased a few other model kit lines. He began making new slot cars and selling them under the Auto World trademark.