Skip to main content
In depth

The Coney Island Thunderbolt: An Icon Reborn

In July 2014, Luna Park in Coney Island opened its first-ever vertical lift steel roller coaster, the Thunderbolt, adding to its impressive arsenal of thrill rides.

Just as Luna Park is named to commemorate the identically named amusement park which existed elsewhere in Coney Island from 1903 until its destruction by fire in 1944 and was immortalised in Harold Lloyd’s 1929 movie ‘Speedy’, so the new Thunderbolt is named in tribute to its predecessor, the historic wooden Thunderbolt coaster.

Operated by George Moran from 1925 until 1982 it was built over a house and made famous as the childhood home of character Alvy Singer in Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall.

The original creaky wooden coaster was deemed a dangerous eyesore and torn down amidst some controversy in 2000 after having been shuttered for nearly two decades, and the new steel Thunderbolt bears little resemblance to its rickety precursor and namesake. 

Thunderbolt rollercoaster Coney Island by ZamperlaBlooloop spoke with Zamperla’s Marketing Manager, Marco Mazzucchi, who was instrumental in compiling a mixed-media timeline of the new Thunderbolt’s construction from the breaking of the ground to its long-anticipated opening. He said of the Thunderbolt: “It’s an amazing roller coaster, and it’s also in a nice place. Coney Island is very iconic; a strange place for the amusements: not a normal theme park. Everything is special up there.”

It was in 1982 that Zamperla, the operators at Luna Park on Coney Island, first planned to construct a new steel coaster which would bear the Thunderbolt name. The dream didn’t become a reality until 2014, when the reborn Thunderbolt took its place alongside the historic B&B Carousell, an antique merry-go-round that underwent an extensive restoration and reopened in summer 2013; the new Steeplechase Plaza, and among over forty attractions, among them thrill rides which include the Cyclone Roller Coaster, the Soarin’ Eagle, the Coney Island Raceway, the Boardwalk Flight and Air Race. More than twenty of the rides are by Zamperla.

One of the biggest attractions manufacturers on the market, Zamperla delivers dozens of installations annually worldwide, and also manages Coney Island. Coney Island thus functions as a giant showcase and market research facility for their creations, including the impressive new Thunderbolt. Zamperla has plans to create up to three layouts of the 2, 000-foot-long Thunderbolt track for theme park customers around the world. 

In March, developers and elected officials broke ground on the construction of Coney Island’s new Thunderbolt.

The Coney Island Thunderbolt: An Icon Reborn“We come to Coney Island to respect the memories that are already here, ” said Alberto Zamperla, the president of Central Amusement International and Luna Park.

The opening of the Thunderbolt was originally planned for May 22nd (Memorial Day, which is the last Monday in May), but there were numerous hold-ups: the last bits of construction were delayed because they couldn’t be completed in the rain.  Alberto Zampera, CEO of Zamperla Group refused to compromise on safety simply in order to make up lost time. Freezing temperatures as well as rain had slowed certain aspects of the construction, including the pouring of concrete for the foundations, which can’t be done when the temperature is too low.

Eventually, however, the much-anticipated opening took place on the 14th of June. Once again, a Thunderbolt shared the Coney Island skyline with the Cyclone, the 87-year-old ride that is one of the most famous coasters in the world.

The Coney Island Thunderbolt: An Icon Reborn

Luna Park is known as New York’s Playground, and now, with the creation of the new Thunderbolt, possesses a ‘loop’ coaster in New York for the first time in over a century. 

Custom built for an area measuring only 15m by 260 m the Thunderbolt has has 681m (2000 feet) of track. The ride lasts two minutes and reaches speeds of 65 miles per hour (105kph). 

The reborn Thunderbolt, manufactured by Zamperla at a cost of US $10 million, is Luna Park’s first custom roller coaster since the Cyclone coaster was built in 1927, and the park’s first ever vertical lift steel roller coaster. 

The innovative 9-passenger seat capacity is unique to Zamperla, as is the patent pending lap restraint which makes the Thunderbolt’s three cars the only ones of their kind in the world. 

Thunderbolt rollercoaster Coney Island by Zamperla

Coney Island has long been a roller coaster pioneer, dating back to the unveiling of LaMarcus Thompson’s Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway in 1884. 

Thunderbolt rollercoaster Coney Island by Zamperla

The new addition  – which is the first coaster in the area since 1910 to send riders upside-down in a vertical loop – will be the fourth roller coaster Zamperla has at Coney Island’s Luna Park, joining Soarin’ Eagle, Steeplechase, and the Tickler (they also operate the historic Cyclone, built in 1927, though it isn’t part of Luna Park). 

Some locals are still sorry to have seen the demolition of the old wooden coaster, and therefore welcome the Thunderbolt’s resurrection, albeit in a totally new form – and minus the house over which the original operated. 

Thunderbolt rollercoaster Coney Island by ZamperlaThe Coney Island Revitalisation Plan was adopted by the City Council in 2009. Creation of the cutting-edge Thunderbolt coaster represents the largest single private investment in Coney Island’s resilient entertainment area in decades, and its creation contributes significantly towards realising the goals of the Plan, which is anticipated to be instrumental in building new housing, community and commercial space, investing in district-wide infrastructures and preserving the historic amusement area, all of which will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic growth. 

The new Luna Park, which has been open since 2010, and the reborn Thunderbolt both contrive to acknowledge and celebrate Coney Island’s rich heritage, while utilising the most cutting-edge of ride technology for 21st century adrenaline rushes. The Thunderbolt is a work of art and top-of-the range thrill ride construction. 

Thunderbolt rollercoaster Coney Island by Zamperla

Custom built by Zamperla in Italy for an area measuring a mere 260 x 15 metres, standing 35 metres tall and with 681 metres of track, the ride reaches speeds of 90 km per hour and sends passengers upside-down four times in a series of inversions which comprise a vertical loop, a corkscrew,  a zero-G roll and an Immelmann loop – where riders enter a half loop and then go through a half twist and curve out in the opposite direction – and culminates in a number of bunny-hops which create a floating sensation.

The Coney Island Thunderbolt: An Icon Reborn

Designed with Zamperla’s unparalleled expertise in thrill-ride technology, the reborn Thunderbolt is a ride for the intrepid roller coaster connoisseur. A Times reporter, offered the first ride on the coaster, was too scared – although his nine-year-old daughter proved braver. 

The Coney Island Thunderbolt: An Icon Reborn

So much more than a ride which epitomises the peak of coaster technology, the Thunderbolt is an evocation of a time past; an icon reborn from the ashes of Coney Island’s glamorous and prosperous history. 

The Coney Island Thunderbolt: An Icon Reborn

Search for something

More from this author

Related content

Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Find out how to update