The greatest Innovation in the 1990’s: a prelude to our look at Inverted Coasters

In the mid 1980’s, two engineers were starting to make a name for themselves working at Giovanola et Freres, an Intamin AG subcontractor based in Switzerland.  Giovanola was responsible for track design and fabrication for a few Intamin products such as the Swiss Bobs (first modern steel Bobsled roller coaster), the world’s only Space Diver roller coaster and two Stand-Up roller coasters:  the Shockwave at Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA) and Stand-Up at Skara Sommarland in Skara, Sweden.


After travelling from Six Flags Magic Mountain to Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ), the ride was sent after the 1992 season to Six Flags Astro World (Houston, TX).  The ride reopened as Batman: The Escape and had theming from the 1993 Batman Returns movie. This picture appears courtesy of


Whereas the original Batman: The Ride used Butler costumes, Batman: The Escape ride operators wore orange jumpsuits that identified them as the Penguin henchmen and henchwomen. This picture appears courtesy of

Cobra La Ronde 2000 3

In 1995 when the city of Montreal purchased Stand-Up, the ride was renamed the Cobra and repainted to yellow track and black supports.  The odd building to the right was an ex water park facility that was repurposed later.


In 2002, Six Flags repainted the Cobra to green track and black supports.

For the Space Diver and Stand-Up roller coaster, Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard were part of the team that designed a new type of track that use a large hollow steel box for the spine and V shaped cross ties.  Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard left Giovanola in 1987, remained in Monthey and rented some office space.  They hired two draftsmen and started working on projects outside the amusement industry.

However, in 1988, they were approached by Six Flags with an interesting proposition:  the chain wanted to move the Sarajevo Bobsleds roller coaster they had helped develop at Giovanola from Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ) to Six Flags Great America (Gurnee, IL), but had concerns about the ride vehicles.  The original ride vehicles have 3 benches and riders sat two to each bench with a lap bar securing them.  Riders sat log flume style in line and this meant that many cars left with only 3-4 riders, making the ride a capacity nightmare.  The ride was officially listed at 1300 riders per hour, but this implied running 8 sleds on a 16 seconds dispatch interval and filling each bobsled with 6 riders.

SFOT-10-20-2007-LaVibora-1 provided us with this picture of the original Swiss Bobs sled at Six Flags Over Texas.  La Vibora still feature those cars and as you can tell, there are only two riders and you can imagine how slow the lines are.

This unfortunately did not happen and the ride was notorious for long, slow lines at Six Flags Great Adventure.  This leads the newly formed Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) to look at the ride design and they designed new cars that were compatible with the existing track and layout.  The end result were sleds that nearly the same length and with a wider fiberglass seating area that extended out to go over the ride wheels.  This extra space allowed them to go to a true 8 rider configuration with 4 rows of two riders, side by side.  A ratcheting L shaped lap bar was designed to secure each riders and an innovative design where riders sat on a suspended seat covered in foam was used to keep the fiberglass shell hollow and as close as possible to the old vehicle weight.  Being a small engineering office, B&M found a quality manufacturer and they built the cars according to their specifications.  As of 2012, that unknown manufacturer had been discovered to be in the French Alps region, but we have no further information as to which company it is and if they are the original B&M car manufacturer or they used Giovanola for this project.

Alpine Bobsleds B M Car

The Bolliger & Mabillard car at Great Escape.

The cars were successful and the ride renamed as “Rolling Thunder” enjoyed a successful run from 1989 to 1995 at Six Flags Great America.  The ride was then removed and put in storage as the park was using the ride area for a new themed area:  Southwest Territories.  Premier Parks (who eventually bought the Six Flags chain in 1998) was scouring parks around the United States looking for quality equipment to bolster their fast growing chain of parks and purchased the Rolling Thunder for their Great Escape/Splashwater Kingdom theme park in upstate New York.  Located in Queensbury and only 1.5 hour away from the historic Lake Placid area, home of two winter Olympics, a Bobsled roller coaster made perfect sense.  Premier Parks repainted the ride trough to a pretty white and purple snowflake design and kept the ride inside running surface white.  The supports were painted dark green to blend in with the scenery.

Four cars were refurbished and repainted to represent four countries famous for their Bobsled teams:  Canada, Switzerland, USA and Jamaica.  Steve Birket Engineering was hired to redo the controls and install a control system compatible with regulations in the State of New York.  Unfortunately, it reduced capacity quite a lot as it went from having a fast lift hill capable of having two sleds on it at the same time to a system with extra safety:  one car at a time on the lift hill and the next car can only engage the slow lift hill once the previous one has cleared the first block brake.

After designing the new cars for Six Flags Great America, Six Flags went back to B&M and asked them this time for a brand new roller coaster project:   a stand-up roller coaster for Six Flags Great America.  This caused B&M to pause, as they had no manufacturing capacities and would have to hire staff in order to get that project on the rails.  They looked at various steel manufacturers in the world and eventually settled on Clermont Steel Fabricators, located in Batavia, OH.  They were impressed with the quality of the supports they had built for Arrow Dynamics for the Vortex (Kings Island in Mason, OH) and Six Flags Great America’s own Shockwave.  Clermont was curious about the proposition and agreed to it.  For the track design, they drafted a new version of what they had created at Giovanola that would not violate any intellectual properties.

Apocalypse SFA

Apocalypse: The Ride at Six Flags America (Largo, MD) is the ex Iron Wolf.  It was relocated to the park in 2012.

B&M and their two new draftsmen (bringing the staff up to 6 at this point) created the Iron Wolf which was a critical success when it debuted in 1990.  It featured a giant vertical loop and a brand new type of Corkscrew called a “Flat Spin” where they went from a regular Corkscrew shape to one that has more of a snap to it, making it a lot more thrilling.  For the rolling stock, they got Giovanola to build them a new version of the trains they had designed for the two Intamin Stand-Up roller coaster, but with a brand new restraint.  Until that point, all Stand-Up restraints were complicated for riders and tended to slow loading quite a lot.  They kept the bicycle seat and designed a large elongated padded oval restraint that goes from over the rider’s shoulders to where it would touch the bicycle seat, fully securing riders 54 inches and up.

Cobra La Ronde restraints

At Intamin, the restraint had one fixed loop where a rider would pass an arm and the other an L that would come down and secure the other shoulder and upper torso of the rider. This is the Cobra at La Ronde.


At Togo, it was a butterfly shoulder loop that riders had to “squeeze” into before pushing both sides together while lifting a spring loaded L shaped lap bar that came out of the floor.  They were both very safe restraints with bicycle seats to force riders to stand and also secure them in case of a health issue, but very slow loading.  B&M solved that with their restraint. The ride in the picture is the Sky Rider at Canada’s Wonderland.

Shockwave Kings Dominion Flex

This is a rear view of the front car on the Shockwave at Kings Dominion.  This picture appears courtesy of .

Apocalypse SFA Flex 2

In 1996, B&M introduced their own rolling stock for Stand-Up Coaster and redesigned the restraint.  In 2001-2002, Six Flags Great America swapped the original restraints on Iron Wolf for the new style, which you can see in this picture.  The rest of the train is still original.