Coaster Kingdom


One of the biggest criticisms levelled at steel coasters is that they can often be gimmicky, and that the novelty soon wears away. You now look at Alton Towers’ Corkscrew, for example, and wonder why people in the early-to-mid 1980s could have been so willing to drive across the country and stand in everlasting queues for the thrill of two inversions, with only their Rubik’s Cubes to ease the boredom as they slowly inch toward the loading platform.

As hard as it is to imagine now, an inversion was a great innovation back then. As long as a ride turned you topsy-turvy, you would conveniently ignore the fact that it lacked grace, looked and felt unwieldy, and required you to bury yourself in a skip-like car with bulky restraints. More importantly, the novelty factor of the inversions would give you such an adrenalin rush that you would be blinded to the fact that the rest of the ride was as bland as a McDonald’s menu. That was all superfluous – all that really mattered was that you could tell your friends at home that your world had been turned upside down. After all, this was the cutting edge of technology, wasn’t it?


Goudurix - like the Corkscrew, does the job... just badly.  

Well, no it wasn’t. If the Corkscrew and its ilk were the cutting edge of technology, then how was it that one man was able not only to turn riders upside down, but also to place his inversions into beautifully fluid, smooth-as-silk-yet-intense-as-hell masterpieces, while still allowing us to ride in sleek, comfortable trains that didn’t subject you to straitjacket-like restraints? Oh yes, and just in case that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he’d design many of these rides in such a way that they could be packed onto lorries and tour the German fairs, where they would also fulfil the showmens’ sky-high capacity demands. Even today, with the likes of Vekoma still struggling to conjure up a coaster with a decent shelf life, how come this man’s rides are still light years ahead of the competition, even after his own sad death?

The answer is easy – it’s because that man was the greatest. His name was Anton Schwarzkopf. The question I cannot answer, however, is why his works of art don’t seem to get the level of recognition that they so richly deserve.

The inspiration for the article came from the announcements that Alton Towers was to rid itself of The Black Hole, a Schwarzkopf Jet Star; and that Flamingo Land was keen to sell its two unique ex-travelling Schwarzkopfs, The Bullet (AKA Wiener Looping) and Magnum Force (Dreier Looping). In a year that will see several brand new rides opening around the country, it seems wrong to overlook the fact that we could be losing up to three original Schwarzkopf rides.

Let me tell you how I came to be a Schwarzkopf devotee – it’s a story I remember vividly:

Round 1: The first steel coaster I ever really enjoyed was a Schwarzkopf, the short-lived Looping Star at Southport’s Pleasureland. Operating separately from the majority of the rides, it stood alone in the car park, and each ride cost the then-extortionate sum of a pound. It was worth the money, though, as the Looping Star proved to me that steel coasters really could be smooth and enjoyable, and that inversions could be properly integrated into the ride, and not give the impression that they were just slotted in as a marketing ploy. Best of all, you could ride with the sense of freedom that came from not having to bury yourself in an overhead restraint. It was simply glorious. I still can’t visit Pleasureland without reminiscing about the ride, and that long lost day when my pound notes flowed like confetti. If they still made them, I would lay a pound note where it stood as a tribute. But they don’t, so I won’t (anyway, it’s the thought that counts).

Black Hole entrance

Alton's Black Hole was an enjoyable family coaster

Round 2: Standing outside the entrance to Alton Towers’ brand new Black Hole, I was nervous about what to expect. The park’s gatemap, somewhat bizarrely, showed the ride as being similar to the Corkscrew, but in the dark. The Corkscrew was always bad enough in daylight, but going through that ordeal without seeing where you were going and prepare accordingly? No thanks. Fortunately, the ride turned out to be a Schwarzkopf Jet Star, and was just the sort of highly enjoyable ride the park needed as it began to form itself into a fully-fledged theme park. Balancing a sense of wildness with a nice smooth ride, it was by far the best thing the park had to offer. Even up to the rather abrupt end to its time at the park, it remained popular with all ages. 

Round 3: A lot of time had passed, but this was the occasion that would finally turn me into a Schwarzkopf nut. It was my first visit to Flamingo Land, and as I pulled into the car park, I saw to my left, the blocky and unwieldy form of a Vekoma Corkscrew; to my right were the elegant curves of The Bullet and Magnum Force. To think that these rides all came from the same era just served to make the Corkscrew look all the more feeble.

Noon arrived, and Magnum Force finally opened, so I joined the achingly slow queue, bemoaning the fact that the park was operating it to a fraction of its true capacity. Eventually, though, I was in my seat, nearing the top of the lift hill. The train ceased climbing and began to accelerate down the first drop. That’s when it happened. Over the course of the next 90 seconds, I was to become a die-hard Schwarzkopf fanatic. When the train hit the brakes, I felt like a golfer who had just hit a hole-in-one at every hole, as the elation was tinged by the sad thought that my search for perfection had come to an abrupt halt. From now on, I’d be saying “piffle” to Pepsi Max, “nuts” to Nemesis, and “cobblers” to Colossus. This triple looping tour de force had annihilated them all.

So what was it about Magnum Force that hooked me so? Well, I make no secret of the fact that I love a ride that asserts its supremacy on its riders. This, however, usually means having to be generous in forgiving what many would call roughness, and leads to a ride that, like Marmite, you either adore or despise. For an example of a Marmiter, look no further than my previous number 1 coaster, Oscar Bruch’s portable powerhouse inverted coaster, EuroStar; a ride that I adore for much the same sense of overwhelming aggression that lead others to hate it. Magnum Force, however, combines the ferocious intensity of EuroStar with the sort of smoothness, grace and elegance that defy the ride’s age.

Better yet, the ride was no short-lived novelty. Repeat rides exposed some of the ride’s subtler features. The trains’ lack of overhead restraints meant that you didn’t have the sense of isolation that most looping coasters give, while the ride itself was packed with highlights, such as head-choppers, floating airtime, and a manic finale. A place for everything and everything in its place. Magnum Force had everything I could ever have asked from it, and as a bonus, the sense of bravado and the magnificent staging of the design that made it as much a joy to watch as to ride.

Magnum Force

Magnum Force holds its own against newer rides like Colossus

After an hour of riding my new number 1 coaster, a roar from behind the trees signalled that The Bullet was ready to commence battle against its bigger brother. Again, just watching this ride is enough to reveal the amazing mental gymnastics that went into its design. So many things make The Bullet unique. Its station sits inside the loop (sadly the park refused to allow riders onto the platform to see the train somersault overhead); it features a powerful launch down a steep incline; and it packs all this into a space not much bigger than the average kiddie coaster. Riding it was no disappointment, as it offered the most ferocious blast of intense power I’ve ever known, and an unrivalled sense of speed as it blasted maniacally through the station. It may have failed to topple Magnum Force’s newfound status as my favourite coaster, but it certainly deserved an “A” for effort, as no other coaster gives quite such a incontrovertible impression that it is trying its little socks off to impress you.

The only downside of these two amazing rides was that Flamingo Land had obviously not lavished too much attention on keeping them looking their best. Somehow, though, the fact that they managed to overcome this handicap just provided me with further proof of what special rides they were. For example, many of the lap bars on both rides had had all their padding worn away, and yet the fact that the they could be so ferocious, and yet not be uncomfortable even with a solid metal lap bar waiting to punish the slightest indiscretion, just made me even more amazed at the sheer quality of the rides. As I drove home that day, I knew that I was now a fully-fledged “kopf-head”. But the story didn’t end there. Continues...

Coaster Kingdom Magazine
Issue 04: Mar 2005

Issue 04
A Legend's Legacy
What impact did Anton Schwarzkopf make?