Theme park fans live in an age where coasters are pushing the envelope to new extremes. But behind every new coaster innovation that is springing up across the world, there will always be the first who dared to dream and create.
Join us as Theme Park Tourist takes a look back through the modern coaster era and selects the best prototype coasters that helped revolutionise the industry into a thrill seekers paradise we know today.
12) Booster Bike (Toverland, Netherlands)
In the early 2000s a new type of coaster emerged. But surprisingly, the latest roller coaster to launch onto the theme park scene came from Dutch supplier Vekoma. Unlike conventional coasters, the Booster Bike trains restrain the riders in a position as though they are riding a motorcycle.
Reception from industry experts was initially positive winning ‘Best Idea in Show’ at the European Attraction Expo in 2003. Toverland in Vekoma’s native country of Holland was quick to snap up a model and debuted the first Booster Bike in 2004. The new family thrill ride catapults riders from 0-45mph in seconds and navigates a course aiming to resemble a motorbike course.
The ride has been relatively successful not just in Europe but also across the world. The biggest order came in 2005 with Flamingo Land in Yorkshire opening the popular Velocity coaster that remains a flagship attraction at the park.
11) Vid Sivinet (Bon Bon Land, Denmark)
Not many coasters claim to have a beyond-vertical drop, but in 2003 relatively unknown theme park Bon Bon land in Denmark set a new craze. As the first Euro-Fighter coaster built by German manufacturer Gerstlauer, the attraction was one of only a handful of coasters to plummet riders down a drop beyond 90 degrees.
To intensify the ride experience even further, designers incorporated a terrifying vertical climb to the summit. The Euro Fighter concept has certainly caught the attention of many designers and has since broken records for the world’s steepest drop as well as popping up across theme parks all over the world. The UK alone is home to three Euro-Fighters, each boasting their own unique layout full of surprises.
10) Nemesis (Alton Towers, UK)
While Nemesis was technically not a prototype roller coaster, it was indeed one of the first coasters to use terrain and landscape to its full potential helping create a truly incredible thrill ride. Built by Swiss engineers Bolliger & Mabillard and designed by John Wardley, Alton Towers’ flagship ride was the first inverted roller coaster to take flight in Europe and is still regarded as one of the world’s finest roller coasters. The unique ground-hugging layout and close near-miss elements with the rocky landscape tells the tale of an alien creature discovered within the Forbidden Valley sector of the park.. The detailed and intricate backstory combined with one of the most extreme thrill rides on earth put Alton Towers on the theme park map in 1994. Two decades down the line, the legendary status of Nemesis has lived on inspiring many other Merlin-owned theme parks. Sister park Thorpe Park in Surrey introduced another B&M inverted coaster in 2003 with Nemesis Inferno. Alton Towers recycled the Nemesis story yet again in 2012 with Nemesis Sub Terra. Despite their popularity with guests, neither attraction managed to repeat the success of the original steel monster.
9) Olympia Looping (Touring Germany and Mainland Europe)
Europe is no stranger to a quality travelling fair. But German showman Oscar Bruch is the proud owner of one of the world’s most spectacular portable rides. Olympia Looping is the name of the largest travelling roller coaster on the planet and is the only transportable one to feature 5 inversions. The stunning attraction was designed and manufactured by legendary Anton Schwarzkopf and took four years to construct.
Debuting at the Oktoberfest beer festival in September 1989, the ride has since graced the skyline of some of the most iconic funfairs in Germany and Europe. The Schwarzkopf brains behind Olympia Looping were that fundamental within the industry, another one of their original coasters features later within our countdown.
8) Millennium Force (Cedar Point, Ohio, USA)
Sandusky, Ohio is home to one of the world’s greatest amusement parks. Cedar Point, located adjacent to the picturesque lake Erie Bay, likes to smash records in order to be the best. And to welcome the new millennium the park unveiled an incredible roller coaster that smashed, at the time of opening, 10 world records. Yes, TEN.
Millennium Force is the name belonging to one of the world’s most celebrated roller coasters. Currently ranked number one in the world by the lucrative Golden Ticket Awards, the coaster was the first to ellipse the 300ft barrier giving birth to a new breed of machine. Dubbed a Giga coaster by manufacturer Intamin, Millennium Force’s colossal length, awe inspiring drops and 93mph top speeds make it a force to be reckoned with.
7) The Bat (Kings Island, Ohio, USA)
The Bat was one of the hidden treasures of King’s Island, Ohio. During the early 1980s, Arrow Dynamics were already responsible for some of top thrill rides across the world but were about to push the boundaries even further by unleashing a new thrill ride. Dubbed the suspended roller coaster, the new coaster type tore the rulebook to shreds by positioning riders not above the track but suspending them below to create a totally new experience.
To intensify the experience even further, the trains on The Bat were allowed to pivot freely from side to side as the cars navigated the tight and twisted layout. The Bat was an instant hit with the public and despite lasting just two seasons at the park, the coaster’s legacy still lives on. Arrow went on to prefect the suspended coaster and built many other, slightly tamer models across the world.
6) Raptor (Gardaland, Italy)
Ever wondered what it is like to crest the sky on the wings of an aeroplane? Gardaland aimed to make that dream a reality in 2011 with the introduction of what they claimed to be the most extreme ride operating in Italy. The Merlin-owned theme park worked with world-renowned Bolliger & Mabillard to build Raptor. As the first winged roller coaster, the trains place the riders not on top, below but on the sides of the track.
Through the clever use of themed elements that run closely to the ride’s tracks, the unique roller coaster takes advantage the special vehicles. Raptor’s highlight comes near the end of the circuit when the trains complete an inline twist element narrowly missing items of theming in its path. Since its debut, The winged coaster concept has really taken off for B&M with most parks building taller and faster versions than the original design.
5) Air (Alton Towers, UK)
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? It’s actually neither. The majestic blue beauty cresting the skies at Alton Towers is Air; the first flying roller coaster. At the time, Air was such an advance in technology, the project was pushed back on numerous occasions. The first was towards the end of the nineties when thrill ride consultant John Wardley expressed an interest in building such an attraction for Alton Towers. The plans were seen as too ambitious at the time so the world’s first vertical drop roller coaster, Oblivion, was built in its place. But in 2002, the concept was revisited and Air took flight over the Forbidden Valley section of the park.
The revolutionary ride system, which positions riders as though they are Superman was an instant hit. Rather than intimidating the public with intense inversions and immersive, complex backstories, Air took a much simpler approach by inviting riders to assume the position...and fly. The coaster has since gone on to be one of the most successful for Swiss supplier Bolliger and Mabillard renowned for their smooth and intense coasters.
4) Top Thrill Dragster (Cedar Point, Ohio, USA)
By the early 2000s, competition was fierce amongst parks to be the best. But cresting the 400-foot barrier seemed like an impossible engineering feet that Cedar Point was keen to crack. The concept for their latest thrill adventure was to smash two records to make it one of the most famous coasters in the planet. Cedar Point was about to be home to not only the tallest but also fastest roller coaster operating on earth. Working with Intamin, who were responsible for the incredibly successful Millennium Force ride, a new breed of speed took to the skies.
As the first Strata Coaster on earth, Top Thrill Dragster accelerates from zero-120mph in just over two seconds. The dragster then takes a sky-scraper detour up 420-feet before plummeting back down to earth via a vertical, spiraling drop. Restrained by just a seatbelt and lapbar, Top Thrill Dragster opened to critical acclaim and is still a colossal draw at Cedar Point since having its records smashed two seasons later.
3) Magnum XL 200 (Cedar Point, Ohio, USA)
By today’s standards, the 200-foot barrier seems rather small for a flagship roller coaster. But in 1989, Cedar Point wanted to unleash yet a new coaster concept after branching into the thrill ride market. Running alongside the scenic Lake Erie, Magnum XL 200 would become the world’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster. Built by Arrow Dynamics of Utah, the Hyper Coaster was born. Capable of steep drops, hills and banked curves, Magnum set a new trend. A few years later, the Hyper Coaster broke more records at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the UK with The Big One that still remains a big draw to the park today.
2) Outlaw Run (Silver Dollar City, Missouri, USA)
For a traditional wooden coaster to ride the loop and invert riders completely upside down seemed like a distant dream for most coaster enthusiasts. In 2000, Kings Island in Ohio attempted to make that vision a reality by opening Son of Beast; the only roller coaster in the world to feature a vertical loop inversion. After numerous safety complaints and accidents, a few years later the signature loop was ripped out. The coaster ran without the signature inversion intermittently before being shuttered in 2009.
But Rocky Mountain Construction, a specialist in new coaster technology invented a new style of track system which has enabled wooden coasters to successfully achieve what most thought was impossible. Outlaw Run opened at Silver Dollar City in Missouri in 2013 and remains the only coaster to feature three inversions. It was the first coaster to employ Rock Mountain’s new engineering tricks. From record-breaking drops to a double barrel roll finale, the dream of having a functioning looping wooden coaster has at last become a reality.
1) The Great American Revolution (Six Flags Magic Mountain, California, USA)
A staple for modern day roller coasters is the inversion - a segment of track that completely turns riders upside-down. While many designers have dreamed up more terrifying inversions to turn the stomachs of riders in recent times, it wasn’t until the late 1970s roller coasters began to feature the simple vertical loop within their layout. Six Flags Magic Mountain’s iconic Great American Revolution was the first coaster to successfully achieve what most thought was impossible. Many generations before had attempted to achieve such a feat, but all failed.
However, in 1976, things began to change as The Revolution opened to the public featuring a signature vertical loop situated within the Centre of the Californian valleys. It was an overnight success with thrill seekers flocking far and wide to experience what was, at the time, the world’s scariest roller coaster.
The ride was the brainchild of legendary German coaster engineer Anton Schwarzkopf, who went on to develop a highly successful roller coaster manufacturing business. Now regarded as an ACE coaster classic, the coaster is still thrilling riders at Six Flags Magic Mountain over three decades later. Without The Revolution, roller coasters may look very different to what thrill seekers are used to today earning the coveted number one spot in our list of top prototype roller coasters.