Thursday, July 14, 2016

Vintage Postcards - Schwarzkopf Speeders

Today, Ken Martinez mixes things up a little bit! Here's Ken:

Schwarzkopf's Speed Racers

For today's post I'm featuring a specific kind of coaster that appeared in four different theme parks in the United States during the 1970's. Only four of these were built and only two are left standing and operating, one in its original location in the United States and the other in the country of Columbia.

Anton Schwarzkopf, one of the pioneers in modern coaster developments, had designed what was to become known as the Speed Racer roller coaster. All of these coasters utilized an electrical spiral lift with vehicles that contain electric motors in them to assist the trains in climbing up the spiral to the top and releasing them through the circuit. In addition the curves were severely banked at the bottom of the ills. The Speedracer has its origins in the earlier portable coasters like the Jet Star and Jumbo Jet coasters. Pictured here is the Jumbo Jet coaster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

The first of these custom built custom known as the "Big Bend" opened in Six Flags Over Texas in 1971. It was unique in that it featured two spiral lifts of 81 feet and 57 in height.

Here on the Texas coaster you can see the lap style seating with three seating areas per vehicle. I've seen photos of Big Bend with moth two-car trains and three-car trains in operation. The coaster thrilled park visitors for nine seasons before closing in 1979.

Zambezi Zinger in the Africa section of Worlds of Fun in Kansas City opened in 1973. It had a four train operation with three cars per train for a total of 18 riders per train. It thrilled riders at Worlds of Fun for nearly a quarter century. After closing in 1997 it was moved and rebuilt at Parque Nacional Del Café in Columbia in 1999.

When the Marriott Corporation decided it wanted to build theme parks it opened two in the same year coinciding with the bicentennial in 1976. Both theme parks were nearly identical with the same theme areas and attractions. Here's an image of the spiral lift on what is supposed to be "Willard's Whizzer" in Santa Clara. It closed in 1988. This along with its sister coaster in Illinois had a three-train operation with four cars per train. Apparently they used the same photos for both parks.

Here's a supposed image of "Willard's Whizzer" in Gurnee, Illinois. Can you tell the difference between the California and Illinois coasters? Of course not. It's the same photo. When Marriott first opened their theme parks they used the same pictures for both parks and even later published them as interchangeable between both park's publications even when the parks grew differently. There was a campaign to save the speed racer coaster when it was going to be torn down for a more modern mega-coaster. The campaign worked as the "Whizzer" as it's now known was saved and is the only one standing and operating in its original location.

One of the things you might've noticed is that the track style for the Speed Racer is the same as found on the looping roller coasters like the Revolution at Magic Mountain. That is because they were designed by the same company. I hope you enjoyed this bit of coaster history.

Information Source material:
Roller Coaster Database:

Thank you Ken! I know very little about the companies that design so many of our famous roller coasters, so this was an interesting lesson in the Schwarkopf Speeders.


Nanook said...


More great memories. Willard's Whizzer was a fav. Even got to ride the Big Bend before its untimely removal.

Thanks, Ken.

Scott Lane said...

There was one, called the Supersonic, on Morey's Pier (now Morey's Surfside Pier) in Wildwood, NJ in the late 70's and 80's. It looked very much like the Jumbo Jet in that first picture.

Tom said...

Willard's Whizzer was my favorite. Lived fairly close to Santa Clara back in the 70's and 80's and we went to Great America quite a bit.

stu29573 said...

I loved the Big Bend! Unfortunately Six Flags Over Texas decided that low ride capacity and technical issues with the lifts were too much to deal with. Then, the urban legend crowd took over and everybody's best friend's cousin was killed in a huge wreck on it (sorry, NEVER happened). After being disassembled, it was placed in storage and it literally rotted away. Sad.

stu29573 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

So many fun places I've never seen. Thank you!


K. Martinez said...

Nanook, I loved Willard's Whizzer too! Unfortunately, I just missed Big Bend by a couple of years. There was a lot I missed at SFOT by a few years. Darn it!

Scott Lane, The coaster you probably rode was also called "Jumbo Jet" at Morey's Piers and it was the same model as the coaster in Cedar Point. The coaster called "Supersonic" was a Pinfari Zyklon model and operated on the nearby Sportsland Pier.

Tom, Living over the hill in Santa Cruz, I grew up on Marriott's Great America in the 1970's through mid-80's too. In fact it's the only amusement/theme park I ever visited within it's first week of its grand opening in March 1976.

stu29573, Oh yeah, The great crash of "Big Bend". The greatest tragedy that never happened. I was hoping when they shipped Big Bend's coaster parts off to Six Flags St. Louis they would resurrect it at that park, but indeed it was sold for scrap metal. Hard to believe only one is left standing and operating in the U.S. at Six Flags Great America in Illinois.

JG, There will be more places to visit you've never seen. Stay tuned.

Clyde Hughes said...

I really enjoyed the Big Bend, and it had that rare combination of great ride and great design and scenery. It wound and dove gracefully through the trees and skirted along the terrain. The other rides nearby, such as the "Happy Motoring Speedway" (a la Autopia) had great views of the Big Bend, as it would criss-cross and dive in close proximity to the car track.
The video of the old Zambini Zinger (from Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, now in Columbia) is excellent... I believe there is a video of the ride in each location.
Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any 'point of view' videos or films of the Big Bend...yet.

Thanks, Ken!

Nancy said...

Very cool! Thanks for this history lesson, Ken. Nice to hear that people could make a difference and save that coaster! :-D

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks Ken! I wonder how the cars got their power. Did they have batteries or was the power conducted through the track somehow? I want to go zipping UP that spiral track!

Monkey Cage Kurt said...

Thanks for sharing these Ken! And thanks, as always for all the awesome contributions you make to this blog.

Dean Finder said...

Disney uses the same image for multiple parks, too now. The Dumbo photo on some recent guidemaps for WDW show DL's Dumbo.

K. Martinez said...

Clyde Hughes, Sounds like your memories of Big Bend are solid and detailed. I loved the motion of the Speed Racers. There was a certain gracefulness in their movement. Especially in the upper turns before hitting the lower banked curves. They would almost crawl.

Nancy, It's rare in the amusement industry to have something saved by a campaign. It was cool that they saved it. Instead they removed the huge Shock Wave coaster for the then new Superman - Ultimate Flight coaster.

Anonymous, There were electric motors under each vehicle and they were powered by the center rail on the spiral lift itself.

Monkey Cage Kurt, Glad you enjoyed these. It's also good to have you commenting here more regularly.

Deanfinder, Yes, Disney does it too. I've even seen footage for DL's Pirates of the Caribbean used for WDW in early promotional films back in the 1970's and even more recently seen DL Big Thunder Mountain footage used for WDW. DL and WDW geeks know the difference. Casual visitors do not.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ken, thanks for answering my question about the power supply. I was "Anonymous" above and forgot to identify myself after my comment!

Chuck said...

Ken, thanks for this post.

The postcard of the Jumbo Jet is bittersweet for me - it's the only coaster that was standing in the years I've been going to Cedar Point that I never rode. I was probably still too short to ride when it was removed at the end of the 1978 season and probably too scared as well. It's interesting to read that particular coaster's subsequent history, moving to parks in Maine, Sweden, Russia, and finally Belarus, where it was dismantled in 2014.

I did, however, ride a clone, the Glissade, at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in the days when it was known as "Busch Gardens: The Old Country." I was riding with my family, spiraling down the outer ring, when the emergency braking system came on. My mom's handbag went flying out of her lap, which she just barely caught before it tumbled off into the inevitable detritus of combs, sunglasses, and cameras that surround the base of every coaster on the planet.

We sat in that spot, banked at an angle, for at least 20 minutes, long enough for a supervisor to walk up the evacuation catwalk to talk with us for a few minutes and reassure us that we would be moving again momentarily and could ride again without waiting if we wanted. I remember thinking how peculiar it was that the catwalk had no safety railing - the track itself was apparently intended to be a handrail, which sounds incredibly dangerous with the third rail system that Ken describes here (although this part of the ride was gravity-driven only). Maybe organizations like CalOSHA do have their place after all...

K. Martinez said...

Chuck, In my days as a ride operator whenever the Jet Star broke down, I used to climb the structure of the coaster with a co-worker to push the coaster cars after over the top after the manual break release. We had to chain ourselves to the structure with a safety-harness once we arrived at the coaster that stopped on the brake zone. It was sort of scary when we had to do that but at that young age I was an adventurer and loved what I was doing.