Home » MUTANT COASTERS: The Hybrid Breed of Multi-Manufacturer Rides Fusing Old and New Into One!

MUTANT COASTERS: The Hybrid Breed of Multi-Manufacturer Rides Fusing Old and New Into One!

Things are getting weird in the roller coaster world…

Once upon a time, fans knew their coaster manufacturers forward and backward. Arrow. B&M. Intamin. Premier. RMC. But increasingly, something very unusual is spreading across the world of thrill rides: “Mutant Coasters“. These unique hybrids are literal fusions of new and old; of wood and steel; and even of multiple ride manufacturers whose dissimilar pieces are literally bolted together in plain sight. Like a chemical reaction, these unlikely combinations together create something entirely unique.

Today, we’ll take a look at six wild case studies of mutated rides, made of unusual pieces that build into one complete whole. We think you’ll agree that in most of these cases, we’re lucky to have seen what happens when these parts hybridized into something new…

1. Phantom’s Revenge

In the 1980s and ’90s, it was the rare amusement park that did not include an “Arrow multi-looper.” Developed by then-leading steel coaster manufacturer Arrow, the “multi-looper” model send riders swirling through a complex layout of double loops, double corkscrews, batwings, and more. From Six Flags Great Adventure’s “Great American Scream Machine” to Kings Dominion’s “Anaconda”; Adventuredome’s “Canyon Blaster” to Kings Island’s “Vortex”, these extra-large loopers are either treasured classics that need preserved… or too-big-for-their-britches leftovers, depending on whom you ask.

One of the largest was Kennywood’s “Steel Phantom.” On board, riders climbed a 160 foot lift hill, providing incredible views of the steel factory-filled valleys and quarries that the elevated Pittsburg-area park is built around. Uniquely, Steel Phantom’s first drop wasn’t its largest. Instead, it was just a tease. The ride’s second drop then dove over the edge of a cliff, 225 feet into a ravine. From there, the coaster jerked its way through four inversions: a vertical loop, a batwing, and a corkscrew. Many Arrow multi-loopers feel rough and rickety in a world now filled with Intamins and B&Ms, but Steel Phantom was particularly violent, banging riders heads against over-the-shoulder restraints in its wild race through the ravine.

Just nine years into its life, Steel Phantom was retired. Kennywood called in a different ride manufacturer, Morgan, to make some changes. Morgan’s portfolio is small, but pretty mighty, specializing in airtime-filled hypercoasters like Worlds of Fun’s “Mamba,” Dorney Park’s “Steel Eel,” and the coaster that almost beat Millennium to the 300-foot height limit, Nagashima Spa Land’s “Steel Dragon 2000.” Basically, Morgan preserved what worked about Steel Phantom (the lift and first two drops, including the iconic cliff dive) and started from scratch from there.

The ride re-opened in 2001 as “Phantom’s Revenge”… essentially, a brand new coaster. The modified ride is 200 feet longer, drops 3 feet farther, and doesn’t have any inversions or over-the-shoulder restraints. In fact, Phantom’s Revenge is regarded as one of the best hypercoasters on Earth. But for those who know to look for it, you can see not only where the old Arrow track is fused to the differently-designed Morgan track, but where the ride’s supports change from Arrow’s lattice design to Morgan’s round support columns (above), creating a literal hybrid mutant ride! (Even the park’s Nanocoaster souvenir got the mixed-up supports right!)

2. Lightning Rod

Anyone who calls themselves a coaster fan knows the transformative power of Rocky Mountain Construction – the company whose I-Box track has turned many overbuilt, painful, ’90s wooden coasters into massively popular modern steel headliners. But don’t forget that RMC also offers another kind of industry-altering track technology: Topper Track. Essentially adding a thick, steel “box” running rail to layered wood, enthusiasts tend to agree that the four rides built from-scratch using RMC’s Topper Track do count as a wooden coasters… even if they can do things that traditional wooden roller coasters of the past could not…

Opened in 2016, Dollywood’s Lightning Rod did what many thought was impossible by combining Topper Track and an uphill LSM launch. Yep, the world’s first launched wooden roller coaster. Lightning Rod was an engineering marvel… but it was also a prototype. The ride quickly became known for its unreliability, spending days, weeks, and even months at a time not operating. All the while, fans watched from the midway as RMC engineers seemed to make small and large alterations to the lift, trains, launch motors, and more, running substantial tests. 

Ultimately, the solution they decided on happened in the 2020 – 2021 off-season, when approximately 57% of the ride’s track – including the launch – was swapped from RMC’s wooden Topper Track to steel I-Box track. You can even see where the two track types meet just outside of the ride’s station and again just before the final brake run, above. (The other section of track that remained wood is far out in the hills where the ride takes place.)

That makes Lightning Rod the first RMC to be “RMC’ed!” And more to the point, it makes the Dollywood ride perhaps the first true “hybrid” roller coaster on Earth, with some wood track and some steel track – a phenomenon we explored here on Theme Park Tourist! (Fusions of steel and wood look likely to continue with GCI’s new steel “Titan Track” being used on particularly problematic sections of wooden coasters.)

3. Drachen Fire

It was one of the strangest roller coasters ever made… And weirdest of all, the Declassified Disaster: Drachen Fire wasn’t actually built by more than one manufacturer… it just tried to pretend that it was.

Basically, in the early ’90s, it was clear that the roller coaster field was changing quickly. Whereas Arrow had once dominated the field with its classic (and by modern standards, rickety) Double Loops, Corkscrews, mine trains, and multi-loopers, newcomers B&M and Intamin had launched onto the scene with increasingly ambitious projects that would shape the Coaster Wars to come. B&M’s inverted masterpieces and sleek, smooth, four-across coasters were clearly the way forward, and suddenly, the once-leading Arrow found itself playing catch-up.

As the story goes, Busch Entertainment (owners of Busch Gardens and SeaWorld) approached B&M with a proposal to add sister coasters to their Tampa Bay and Williamsburg parks. But with a calendar filled with requests, the young B&M could only produce one of the pair: Busch Gardens Tampa’s Kumba. If Busch Gardens Williamsburg wanted a counterpart, it would need to shop around. Armed with plans for Kumba, Busch allegedly found a response to its request for proposal from Arrow, who offered to interpolate B&M’s DNA into what they hoped would be their own relaunch.

And yep, 1992’s Drachen Fire looked like a B&M, right down to the familiar round support columns, corkscrews, and “cobra roll” that would become B&M standards in the ’90s… but it sure didn’t feel like a B&M. Infamously rough, Drachen Fire was a misery-making “franken-coaster”; Arrow’s best mimic of plans for Kumba, but remixed with the worst of Arrow’s lingering multi-looper legacy. The ride was so notoriously painful that just two years after opening, one of its inversions was removed entirely. The ride closed forever after just six years. It was standing but not operating for three more before being “recycled” in 2002.  

4. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

When it comes to telling the stories of coaster manufacturers, fans tend to jump right to competition, trying to eke out who’s the best or who got the job over anyone else. But that’s not always the case. Look no further than one of the most complex roller coasters on the planet, disguised as something much simpler: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Orlando.

Okay, okay, one of the chief complaints about this headlining ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is that Gringotts isn’t “enough” of any one thing. It has some coaster elements, some dark ride elements, and some simulator elements, but that – especially in the wake of Islands of Adventure’s technologically-groundbreaking Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Gringotts doesn’t feel very jaw-dropping. But consider just how much work went into bringing this hybrid coaster to life.

Noted coaster manufacturer Intamin reportedly developed the ride’s track and propulsion system; fellow manufacturer Premier Rides (creators of Revenge of the Mummy) are thought to have developed its unique ride vehicles, which undergo controlled rotation during the ride; and Disney’s go-to coaster manufacturer, Vekoma, reportedly provided Gringotts’ three special track sections. Along the ride, guests park on a track section that physically disconnects to lean riders forward, one that “see-saws” guests from side to side, and of course, the opening “tilt track” that dangles guests face-down until it connects with and releases them down a hidden drop. (Kuka – the manufacturers of Forbidden Journey’s robotic arms – also have a role on Gringotts, by way of a pull-away screen that’s lifted out of the ride’s path just before it launches straight into it.)

Just think of the communication it takes to ensure that work from these four leading ride manufacturers all works together seamlessly to create the experience on Escape from Gringotts… Not to mention the communication that would’ve been needed during the ride’s design, development, manufacturing, and installation to ensure that every piece of the attraction “speaks the same language” as the rest, fitting together perfectly… Talk about a mutant coaster!

5. Thunderbolt 

Believe it or not, a second Kennywood coaster makes our list of mutant, hybrid rides. It makes sense. Not only has Kennywood itself been around a very long time (1899), but it’s also a park that massively celebrates its history… and it’s got a lot of it. In addition to having the oldest operating dark ride in the world (1901’s The Old Mill), Kennywood includes three of the surviving eight coasters designed by the legendary designer John Miller.

Well… kinda. The legendary “Pippin” opened in 1924. Using the very same ravine that would one day house Phantom’s big dive, the Pippin was unique in that the ride’s station was built right on the cliff’s edge! So instead of being dragged up a chain lift, the train merely exited the station and dipped into the first drop! Yep, the image above was the view from the ride’s loading platform!

In 1967, the park’s maintenance supervisor, Andy Vettel, oversaw a major expansion of the Pippin. Though the initial drop into the ravine and the return dip toward the park remained, Vettel’s reimagined ride gained a whole new middle act: a chain carries the ride up to the top of a brand new (well, as of 1967) lift hill, with a new drop, a double-lap race along the midway. Only then does the ride reconnect to the original “Pippin” and head back for the ravine, where the last drop – yes, the last drop – is the coaster’s largest!

The result is that Vettel took an existing classic and basically inserted a whole new ride right in the middle of it. Today, that ride – “The Thunderbolt” – is considered a classic in its own right… so much so that most riders probably don’t even realize it’s a mutation of the original Pippin! 

6. Top Thrill 2

It’s the story everyone in the coaster community has been talking about, and it’s soon to be the most well-known “Mutant Coaster” on Earth… Top Thrill 2. 

A ride that could only have come about in the flurry of the Coaster Wars, the Lost Legend: Top Thrill Dragster opened in 2003 as the tallest and fastest roller coaster in history, manufactured by the only company who’d be bold enough to attempt to make such an out-of-this-world concept real: Intamin. The incredibly complex ride was the apex of Intamin’s “Accelerator” model, using a hydraulically-powered winch to accelerate trains from 0 to 120 miles per hour in four seconds, rocketing vertically up a 420-foot tall tower, then racing back to Earth in 17 seconds of adrenaline-soaked bliss.

But like many of Intamin’s boundary-pushing creations, Top Thrill Dragster was riddled with operational issues. The final straw occurred in August 2021 when a piece of hardware physically separated from a launching train, striking a waiting guest in the head and allegedly causing life-altering medical issues. Many assumed that nearly 20 years after its opening, the troublesome, expensive-to-operate, and aging “stratacoaster” would be removed for good – a costly and problematic nuisance whose time had finally come.

Instead, after months of growing hints and mounting speculation, August 2023 saw the answer revealed. Top Thrill 2 will do away with the former ride’s problematic hydraulic, cable-based launch system in favor of a much less troublesome (and much less powerful) electromagnetic LSM launch system. And given Cedar Fair’s understandable distaste for Intamin, it’s lesser-known manufacturer Zamperla who’ll tackle the reinvention of the stratacoaster. In addition to the new launch system and trains, Zamperla’s new track will replace the entire launch and brake segments of the ride (as well as adding a new, 420-foot tall spike to the ride’s rear), while Intamin’s initial supports and track will remain on the iconic 420-foot tall top hat itself. 

Will the fusion of these two manufacturers’ work successfully revive Cedar Point’s iconic coaster? We’ll find out in 2024… Until then, it’s wild to think that this landmark ride will now join our list of “Mutant Coasters,” serving a true hybrid of old and new…