Move Its, Super Starts, Twin Spins...
The second half of the 1990s was determined by the drive to create compact looping and spinning rides. The generic description of such a family of rides would be a circular arrangement of seats that ascended, rotated, and then flipped over on its own axis. An added element on some of these rides would be a rotating base, producing infinite combinations of movements and disorientating effects for the rider. Whilst the initial driving force for such rides were forward-looking Continental companies, the UK manufacturing base also stood up and made itself heard. The importance of these looping roundabouts for UK fairground history is thus twofold, we have seen a slow increase in the number of rides from manufacturers such as KMG opening on our fairs, while at the same time have seen many home-produced rides performing as the ‘big hitters’.
The KMG company from Holland, pioneered by the ever inventive and productive Kroon family, developed the Spin Ball in 1994 for showman Jan van der Beek. The ride was a huge hit, unleashing all the promised movements in a geometry that offered a floored platform of 24 seats, and giving a very hi-tech appearance that thrived on exemplifying the movement of the ride as the power for the aesthetic. The appearance of this ride at Tilburg signalled the start of something new. KMG announced the proposal of the Move It series, starting with an ambitious 32 seater ride. The prototype of this machine (named Overflight) was ordered by a German showman for scheduled delivery in 1995, however the season came and went with no sign of the machine. In effect, the showman had switched suppliers and opted for another prototype developed by Italian company Soriani and Moser – the Top Star Tour. Undeterred, KMG went forward to produce their Move It, but were slightly shaded out of being first in the race with Soriani and Moser. The Top Star Tour debuted in April 1996 on the German scene, giving a 40 rider capacity (10 sets of 4 seat dangly feet cars) and christened with a new name ‘Transformer’, KMG’s 32 seat Move It followed a few weeks later.
Whilst the Move It 32 would eventually find its way to the UK, we have not been in a position to see a Soriani and Moser Top Star Tour (commonly known as Transformer) on these shores. This is in part due to the UK staking its claim in the next parts of the development of these rides. Oxfordshire based company ARM produced the Twin Spin at the end of 1995, debuting with a 32 ‘seat’ model such that the passengers rode standing up on a floor. Willie Wilson took delivery of this ride and travelled it as Stargate, featuring a backflash depicting scenes and imagery from the film of the same name, whereby a portal of rotating lights offers a gateway through time and space. The ARM Twin Spin did not have the extra (complex) motion of the rotating base platform, however a bold colour scheme of red rings on the base platform actually exploited this missing element and provided a strong visual drawing element to the ride. A second twin Spin was constructed soon after for Louise Stevens, the Megaspin having the same passenger capacity but using a seated rather than standing arrangement. These rides proved a huge success, mesmerising both passengers and spectators and still travel as big-hitters on our fairs.
The next development came from Carol and David Ward of Northern Amusements, already a well experienced company due to their family’s single-handed development of the Meteorite into the UK. Spring 1996 saw the sketches of their proposed Super Star and the Autumn of the year saw a ride debut for Patrick Burton. The ride had a different approach to obtaining the looping and spinning motions, lifting a spinning frame of 8 x 4 seat gondolas on a single boom arm which then twists around its own axle. The fact that KMG’s Move It had not arrived in the UK meant that the Super Star demanded a great deal of attention, and after a year of exclusivity the company produced more rides in a quick series of succession. Imaginative individual themes were adopted for each machine, and the addition of a backflash came as an extra incentive. In addition, further Super Star style rides were made by Protech, and so the Super Star remains both prevalent and popular on UK fairs.
On the European scene a new manufacturer, Top Fun of Italy, had created their own version of the original Spin Ball, calling this machine Mega Mix. This ride offered 34 seats in a floored arrangement, and found its way to the UK in 2004, 7 years after its introduction in 1997. However, the vanguard position of construction was rightly taken up by KMG, who announced a three size series of Move It machines in 1997. The ‘junior’ version had an 18 seat capacity (2 banks of 9), whilst the standard version had a 24 seat capacity (6 banks of 4). Gore and DeKoning were the first UK showmen to take delivery of one of these rides, opting for a purchase in the midst of the UK’s patriotism for Super Stars. However, the success of these 24 seater rides (often called ‘Spin Outs’ from their naming in Germany) had meant that production had been farmed out to Richard Woolls Tivoli company. So the eventual successful deployment of these rides in the UK also meant that it was providing an important prop for our own construction business. A further consequence of this fact was the improved appearance of these rides due to using our own backflash artists, who had been nurturing their extraordinary talents with the UK’s rise of the Miami. The KMG produced machines all came with a rather rugged style of artwork in terms of both execution and theming, though gradually many of the machines that reached the UK as second-hand imports have slowly had new artwork incorporated. At present the UK has a good balance of both 18 and 24 seat Move It variations.
At the moment the final say on the development of these rides returns almost to the start point with Soriani and Moser. Whilst their Top Star Tour never made it (as yet) onto our shores, the company went on to divide and develop their own rides. A later development from Moser was the Power Surge, an ‘almost’ variant of the Super Star utilising spinning cars. A model of this machine made its proud debut on the UK scene in 2003, and remains a novelty.
Evolution, Top Scan and the Next Generation
Our first part of this article looked at the race to develop a looping ride that transported a spinning arrangement of gondolas through 360-degrees. Here we will look at the next generation of 'big-hitting' rides that pushed their passengers through the big loop on more imposing constructions - the family of rides around the Top Scan using a gigantic boom to rotate a gondola arrangement through a full circle, and the current craze for more portable 'A-frame' style looping rides, a natural progression of the Frisbee and other pendulum rides popular in the 1990s. This article is written from the viewpoint of such rides having a presence here in the UK, though we must note with some sadness that in this development of thrill rides we finally see UK production fall by the wayside as companies from Continental Europe take hold.
Whilst this article looks at developments in the new millennium we first have to step back to 1992 and the ground-breakingEvolution ride realised by Nauta Bussink in collaboration with the Dutch manufacturer Bailey. This monumental piece of engineering, the "dream" project of Ronald Bussink, brought a gasp from European fairground aficionados. Although the ride pattern was arguably ahead of its time, at over 300 tonnes it was a cumbersome construction to say the least and only three examples were ever built, only one of which is still operational (in the USA).
In terms of motion, the Evolution achieved what most of the current looping roundabouts are premised on - a rotating ring of outward facing riders is taken through a 360-degree rotation with a central shaft and counterweight anchored in an A-frame. In addition the seats positioned around the circumference could tilt along their central axle, controlled by the operator rather than the free-spinning gondolas found on many later looping rides. So, a looping roundabout with three axes of rotation.
It was the Italian company Far Fabbri that would go on to enjoy greater success with the Evolution after reaching an agreement with Bussink to manufacture a more compact version of the ride. Packing onto just three trailers (rather than 16), the first of what would be over 30 units supplied worldwide was delivered to North Yorkshire's Flamingo Land amusement park in 1994. That same year, a French-owned version named 'Discovery' made a one-off appearance at Hull Fair presented by Mattie and Douglas Taylor.
Two years later, visitors to Glasgow's SECC Christmas/New Year Carnival could enjoy upside down views of the River Clyde on board the Fabbri Evolution belonging to Dutch showman Hans de Voer, a ride that would later end up in Scottish ownership, travelled by Raymond Codona from 1998 to '99. If Codona's relationship with the Evolution was relatively short, then Tommy Messham's was positively fleeting. The Fabbri ride toured by the London showman for just three months in 2004 was delivered new to Scandinavia but can now be found at Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach. All of the UK's remaining Evolutions - all by Fabbri - are in fact at permanent sites, the other two being 'Excalibur' at Camelot near Chorley and 'Obliterator', the ex-Flamingo Land ride which found a new home at Pleasure Island in Cleethorpes.
In 1999, Fabbri introduced a new attraction called Jupiter, essentially a looping Frisbee with a similar A-frame construction to the Evolution. It did not enjoy the same success as its stablemate, clocking up sales of just nine units over an eight year period - seven of which were sold to Mexico. None ever made their way onto British shores.
Single Boom Rides
The single boom looping ride really took off with Mondial's introduction of the Top Scan, a slick progression of the Dutch manufacturer's earlier Inferno ride, of which only three were ever constructed, all initially for showmen in Germany - land of the monster amusement ride. Whereas the Inferno featured a giant, unwieldy cantilevered 'boat' or 'gondola' hoisted through the loop by an offset boom, the Top Scan consisted of a cluster of six 'blades' that rotate from a centre point, with passengers sat five-abreast on each blade. This seating moves from horizontal on the loading platform to vertical at full height - the sting in the tail being the free-swinging of each blade driven by the gravitational forces. Forward and backward flips and full somersaults are experienced by the intrepid riders as they are swept through the sky.
Making its debut on the Continent two years earlier, the Top Scan arrived in the UK in February 1998 when Elliot Hall presented his 'Top Buzz' at Leeds Valentine's Fair, the name a nod to the popular rave scene of the time - and the rest became history. By British standards it was a massive ride, representing a quantum leap in motion, thrill and architecture, not to mention investment. A story in the 13/2/98 World's Fair newspaper talks of traffic jams on the M1 motorway as startled motorists caught a glimpse of the ride going through a test run at the showmen's winter quarters in Selston, Derbyshire.
Top Buzz quickly became established as the machine to see and ride at the fair, attracting a mythology that still exists to this day. In 2002, Hall maintained the edge by adding 'Top Buzz 2' to the mix before setting up a new business focusing on city centre Ferris Wheels. In this time the UK had seen a smattering of static Top Scan rides at static sites including Fantasy Island near Skegness and Thorpe Park/Chessington World of Adventures.
It would be 2006, much to the excitement of the nation's enthusiasts, that the Top Scan would grace the British fairground circuit once again, with the ex-Hall Top Buzz 2 returning after a trip to the Far East under the new ownership of Alan Crow and the Mellors family picking up a ride ('Space Roller') from Switzerland. Only Crow's are now keeping the 'Buzz' alive.
KMG constructed their rival to the Top Scan in 2002, the Tango, and here in the UK we were lucky to see a machine at an early point with Billy Crow's investment. KMG were known for engineering thrill and transportability, though it was a serious question (and to some extent still is) as to whether you could 'engineer' transportability into such an imposing and monolithic ride as the Top Scan. There is a strand of thought that suggests the jaw-dropping nature of rides like the Top Scan (and Evolution before it) comes in part from the illusion of their powerful immovability. It becomes something (for now) beyond a fairground attraction. For us enthusiasts that might be easy to say, but obviously for the showmen advances in portability could prove invaluable.
UK enthusiasts were scattered around the ground of Doncaster's racecourse keenly awaiting the arrival of Crow's machine. By the 2000s the internet had pushed up communication capabilities and, as well as being able to share information, there was also a competitive element of being the first to know, the first to see and record, and the first to report back on the various website forums! The arrival of Crow's machine was such an occasion. The family were known for innovative and imaginative name choices, and the nomenclature of 'Equinox' fitted with their family of names (the 'Extreme' Orbiter and the - soon to follow - 'Exposure' Miami).
The Tango was, and remains, a hard ride to judge. It is clearly a clever ride but it also sacrifices the presence of the Top Scan. Whilst at ground level the potential of the ride is partially hidden, with the boom emerging through the backflash. The seating is also minimised to give more of thrill (less points of contact) but it appears equally sparse and unimposing. The Crow family travelled this ride for just short of a decade, and in the mid 2000s it was joined by a second Tango ("It takes two..." as they say). Overall production of the Tango was steady but not prolific from the KMG factory, though the company quickly moved on to new developments.
The Ultra Max was developed by Mondial in 2003 for the Fantasy Island complex at Ingoldmells near Skegness. This extreme yet compact attraction offered two axes of rotation with a ring of outward-facing seats swung through a loop via a vertical arm connected to an offset boom. It was expected that this ride would prove a commercial success based upon the reputation that Mondial had built with the Top Scan, but no travelling models were sold until the company developed an A-frame structured version of the ride called the Jet Force, more of which later.
The boom structure ride was updated with a radical shock to the system by Fabbri in 2010. The Italian firm's Inversion owes a lot to the ride of the same name from KMG (see section on A-frame rides below), but in sheer size and stature could easily rival a machine from Mondial or one of the German manufacturers. The attraction featured a large boom set marginally off the vertical, taking on the look and feel of Fabbri's successful Booster propeller ride, but instead of a single car on each end of the boom there were four short spokes with similar back-to-back rotating seating on this third axis. At the time of writing no Fabbri Inversions have opened in the UK, although the Dutch showman Ad Ordelman did present his 'Inversion XXL' at the Funderland event in Dublin over Christmas/New Year 2011/12.
Looping A-frame rides
The A-frame construction had provided the perfect basis for a swinging cradle, seen most obviously with the Victorian Steam Yachts and updated with the Pirate Ship in the 1970s and 1980s and more recently the Frisbee and its various derivatives. In these constructions, the A-frame was not utilised for a complete loop. Instead, much like a playground swing, it provided support as the boat or gondola swung in a pendulum-like motion. The A-frame swing ride then began to evolve with a rotating ring of seats that might be facing inwards (first on the Huss Frisbee and then the KMG Afterburner) or facing outwards (various park-based giant swing rides). The extra forces on the swinging support structure generated from a rotating ring of seats meant that construction was paramount though, once perfected, this kind of ride became a focal point for thrill seekers on many fairgrounds.
It was surely only a matter of time before someone would produce an A-frame swing ride that went fully 'over the top.' The debut of Zierer's big, impressive and expensive Star Shape occurred on the German fair circuit in 2003 with Kaiser's 'High Energy'. The ride almost bridged the gap between the single boom construction and the A-frame support and could perhaps be described as an Evolution with a Top Scan style blade/spoke seating configuration. The difference to the Evolution was that the boom swings from side to side as it turns through 360°, providing more of a 'diving' sensation for riders. Two further examples of the ride were built, both for British customers - Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 2004 (since sold to a park in Zierer's native Bavaria) and proud showman Abie Danter Jnr, who debuted 'Air' in 2011.
Mondial perfected the Jet Force in 2007, taking the same outward-facing seating configuration and swinging/freefall boom motion of the Ultra Max and applying it to a portable A-frame structure. One of the first examples was delivered to Dizzyland Amusements in Northern Ireland and although this ride made a few early appearances in England, to date it has not seen a companion in the UK.
Founded in the Netherlands by the Kroon showman family, KMG has carved a reputation for building extreme rides with maximum portability. The firm was a major player in the 'first generation' of looping roundabouts with the Move-It, and then the very successful Afterburner/Freak Out series of swinging pendulum rides. The Inversion, which debuted in 2008, took the same single trailer-mounted A-frame structure as the Freak Out but replaced the swinging 'claw' seat configuration with three short spokes with double back-to-back seats on each spoke - offering capacity for just 12 riders. In terms of rotation we had three movements, with the seats twisting on the axis of the spoke. Once again, with the UK showmen keen to buy into the workmanlike functionality and ingenuity of the KMG products, we saw an early adoption of this ride over here with Graham Sedgwick's 'Rock Rage'.
The Italian manufacturer Technical Park, which had already enjoyed great success around the world with its Afterburner-style Streetfighter ride, updated the concept in the late 200os by introducing the Streetfighter 360. As the name hints, this took passengers right over the top. The first unit was delivered to an Austrian showman 2010, and Technical Park also converted two (at the time of writing) standard Streetfighters so that their respective owners could offer added thrills to the French and Spanish fair-goers. Alas none ever reached the UK. The Loop Fighter, meanwhile, was Technical Park's answer to KMG's Inversion, featuring a very similar and compact A-frame but with seating lifted from its own Pegasus ride. Here riders are seated four-abreast facing outwards in each of four gondolas that 'flip' through 360° once a brake is released mid-way through the ride. In summer 2012, two years after the first Loop Fighter debuted in Spain, British showman Stanley Reeves Jnr took delivery of a version called 'Atmosfear'.
The SBF/Visa Group, also from Italy, was one of several other manufacturers that produced Frisbee/Streetfighter style attractions, and at the 2011 trade shows it unveiled a compact ride called the Midi Dance Party 360. Aimed primarily at the family entertainment centre or 'FEC' market, it was essentially a looping Frisbee with 12 outward-facing seats, reaching less than 36ft (11m) high. Clacton Pavilion added such a ride in 2012.
Of course, the European scene and further beyond have seen other rides both pass through fleetingly and also make an impact - rides that remain singularities such as the awesome Flying Circus, and other rides that achieve a modest run of production. It is beyond the scope of this article to document all such machine types. However, we hope that in years to come examples of these rides will make an impression on the UK scene and we can revisit this article and update it accordingly.
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