Let’s go back…way back…all the way to 1925. That was the year that a wild and wooly roller coaster sensation called the Thunderbolt opened! This ride was the real McCoy, designed by the seasoned thrill ride veteran John Miller. It was built solid with a state of the art steel structure! Steel! The ride occupied a space on the west side of W 15th street and butted up against the boardwalk. The ol’ Kensington Hotel formerly operated on the property. Was it knocked down? Get outta’ town! It was left in place and the coaster was built around it! As George Moran, the owner of the property, said “You don’t tear down buildings in Coney Island if you can help it.”
2000. Thunderbolt, after sitting abandoned since 1983, was demolished by the city in a move that was later deemed illegal by federal courts. So much for Moran’s words of wisdom.
The site sat an empty lot for the next 14 years before Luna Park began construction on the new Thunderbolt, a steel coaster manufactured by Zamperla, owners of Luna Park. The coaster would actually be on the city owned portion of the lot; the original Thunderbolt site was just west and owned by Horace Bullard who purchased the lot, and subsequently the original Thunderbolt, in 1985.
Before Thunderbolt, Zamperla wasn’t exactly known for building unique coasters. They had designed major production models such as the Volare and Pony Express as well as wild mouse and kiddy coasters, but never a major custom coaster. If they were going to make a splash, then they had to go for broke with Thunderbolt.
Construction of Thunderbolt began in late March of 2014 and finished by late May; take that, every other park! The ride officially opened on June 14th 2014, ushering in yet another step forward for amusements in Coney Island.
The entrance to the ride is adorned with a large sign with the name ‘Thunderbolt’ in red lettering. Admission when I rode in September of 2014 was $10; a little steep, I thought. There’s a modest queue line setup, but nothing like larger amusement parks with a half mile of switchbacks. Near the station is a booth where an attendant takes your loose items and puts them in a cubbyhole in exchange for a bracelet with the cubbyhole’s number. Cyclone has a similar service, and it’s wonderful!
The trains consist of one car with nine seats, three rows with three seats across. That’s an odd arrangement I thought as usually you see two and four across. The seats are bucket style seats with a high back. The restraint is an overhead lapbar with two straps that go over riders’ shoulders. The lapbar seems to rest on your thighs more than lap and has a pointed bottom. The straps just kind of rest on your shoulders.
Out of the station the train navigates a 180° turn and begins its ascent up the 114 foot vertical lift. The lift has several magnetic anti-rollback fins that retract into the hill when the train travels over them. The lift takes about 25 seconds in total and riders see nothing but track and sky going up.
At the top, the train lurches over the peak and immediately falls into a 90° drop. There’s some pretty good air on this drop, it is vertical after all, but the restraints make it slightly painful. The discomfort really came from the two straps that have no give at all. After the drop, the train enters a large, 98 foot tall vertical loop. The car has a little shake to it, but I didn’t think it was too bad. Kind of a similar shake to some older B&M coasters. I’ve seen people lament that Thunderbolt is “rough as all hell,” but I think they’re just too spoiled by ultra smooth coasters. I mean come on, it’s a roller coaster, not a couch!
After exiting the loop, the train hurtles into a zero-G roll taken at a modest pace at the top. You get a bit of hang time on this inversion which is equally great and uncomfortable thanks to the straps. Next up, the train curves to the right and into an overbanked turn that tilts riders 112°.
Next comes the turnaround which is in the form of a dive loop. I think dive loops are one of my favorite inversions due to the hang time, unfortunately the only coasters I’ve been on that use a similar variant of this dive loop are TOGOs. This particular one rolls to the right and drops into a curved turn. Next, the train makes a slight right and hurtles into a small bunnyhop. The car must be going at like 45mph into this thing and the resulting airtime rivals that of El Toro’s final drop.
After the first bunnyhop, the train traverses a second, equally ridiculous ejector air bunnyhop before heading into the final inversion, a corkscrew. The car navigates one last bunnyhop, this time with a tilted peak for some sideways airtime, before hitting the brakerun.
Thunderbolt is a really fun and thrilling coaster. Its addition not only added a much needed new major attraction to Coney Island but also filled in an area that had been vacant for the past 14 years. It also showed that Zamperla is capable of making a solid, major roller coaster with a unique layout.
The drop, airtime hills and inversions were all great. The pacing is non-stop with element after element thrown at you. Like I mentioned, the car has a bit of rattle to it, but I really wouldn’t say it was rough. The first half of the ride is taken a little slow, but that provides some nice hang time on the inversions. Conversely, the back half is taken at a furious pace with lots of airtime moments.
The lapbar on Thunderbolt wasn’t so hot. It digs into your thighs a bit during the vertical drop and bunnyhops thanks to the pointed bottom, but the biggest issue is with the shoulder straps. During airtime and hang time moments, your shoulders will meet these straps in a fairly unpleasant way. If they simply weren’t there, then this ride would be better. If the lapbar was completely redesigned, then it would be even better.
For the ride itself, I’m going to have to give Coney Island’s new Thunderbolt a 7 out of 10. It would be an easy 8 or 8.5 with better restraints. However, as an addition to Coney Island it’s a 10 out of 10. It’s nice to see a major ride come to Coney especially since it was only five years ago when the future of rides in Coney Island was in doubt.
Here’s an off-ride video of Thunderbolt that I took in September.
And here’s an on-ride video to get a first hand view of the layout.
Have you ridden Thunderbolt? What did you think? Would you like to see a custom designed Zamperla coaster at your homepark?