Thunderbolt coaster recalls Coney Island's past

A new $10-million roller coaster paying tribute to Coney Island's past marks another step in what New York City officials hope will be a rebirth of the seaside amusement park known as "America's Playground."

Set to debut this summer, the new Thunderbolt steel coaster will be built on the original location of the landmark 1925 Thunderbolt wooden coaster, which was torn down in 2000 when then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani deemed the standing-but-not-operating ride an eyesore.


The new 125-foot-tall coaster will occupy a 45-by-800-foot parcel near the restored B&B carousel and the new Steeplechase Plaza on a narrow 12-acre vacant lot in the Coney Island amusement area.

Though ride enthusiasts have clamored for the return of Thunderbolt, a new wooden coaster was never considered for the site, said Valerio Ferrari, president of Zamperla, which operates Coney Island's Luna Park as well as the historic 1927 Cyclone wooden coaster.

The original wooden Thunderbolt closed just a few years after being immortalized in the 1977 film "Annie Hall," in which the childhood version of Woody Allen's character lived in a home underneath the coaster.

The new 65 mph out-and-back steel Thunderbolt will feature a 110-foot lift and three inversions -- a loop, corkscrew and Immelmann twist. Zamperla's designers are deciding if they will add a heartline roll to the second half of the ride, which already includes a double-down drop and a series of bunny hops.

Italian-based Zamperla, which uses Coney Island as a proving ground for its new rides, plans to create up to three layouts of the 2,000-foot-long Thunderbolt track for theme park customers around the world.

The reinvention of Coney Island began in 2010 with the addition of Luna Park. In 2011, Zamperla took over operation of the Cyclone, investing $700,000 in a systematic coaster retracking project that will take five years to complete. This year, the Steeplechase Plaza parachute jump tower was restored with 8,000 LED lights as a visual icon for the seaside area.

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