Throwback Thursday–Whizzer at California’s Great America

Whizzer opened in 1976, in both Great America Parks (California and Illinois) as Willard’s Whizzer, named for the parks owner Willard Marriott.  An electric motor beneath each car powered the four-car trains to the top of a unique spiral lift hill, where gravity then took control and delighted riders with a series of swooping dives and ground-hugging turns. whizzer lift

Guests sat in comfortable, tandem-style seats that were originally designed without any form of restraint device but seatbelts. From the start, both Willard’s Whizzer roller coasters suffered from problems with the braking system that would sometimes allow the trains to collide in the station.  Unfortunately, no immediate solution was put forth to remedy this problem. In one four-year period, from 1976 to 1979, there were at least 11 recorded instances of the Whizzer at California’s Great America colliding in the station, resulting in an unknown number of injuries.  Then on March 29, 1980, a 14-year-old boy was killed and eight others injured when two trains collided at the station on the Santa Clara Whizzer.  Following the accident, both rides underwent several changes. Seatbelts were added, the braking system was modified and the number of trains that could be run at once was reduced from five to three. Willard’s name was also dropped, leaving the ride’s name as simply “Whizzer.”  After Marriott sold California’s Great America to the city of Santa Clara under management of the King’s Entertainment Company, the Whizzer continued to operate until it was subsequently demolished in 1988. whizzzer woods

A few cement footers still remain, outlining the spot where the ill-fated Whizzer once stood.  After the Whizzer was initially demolished, the station remained standing for years until Xtreme Skyflyer was built in the late 1990s.  As-of the 2013 season, this spot is now partially taken by a new wooden rollercoaster, Gold Striker.  Guests were seated two per seat (toboggan-style, with the taller person sitting in the rear and the shorter person sitting in front) and fasten their seatbelts. The train was dispatched from the station and quickly engaged with an electrified center rail at that base of the lift that provides power to an electric motor beneath each of the train’s four cars. Riders make their way to the top of the 70-foot spiral lift where the train disengages the electrified rail and allows gravity to take over.  After leaving the lift, the train slowly picks up speed as it travels down the first drop at a shallow angle.

whizzer drop

At the bottom of the first drop, the track banks sharply to the right and turns around 200 degrees before beginning to ascend the second hill. There, riders have a chance to catch their breath as the train slowly makes a 220 degree turn to the left. Before long the train is accelerating rapidly down a swooping turn to the right where riders are treated to the most exhilarating portion of the ride, a 270 degree turn through the trees and within feet from the ground. After re-emerging from the foliage, the train ascends to the middle brake run where the train could be stopped if the need arose. After passing through the brakes, the track banks to the right and the speeding train hugs the spiral lift with a 200-degree turn (during the late 1970s, when the Whizzer ran more than three trains, riders would pass right by the next train full of riders making their way up the spiral lift). Next, the train dips down over a small pond and up into a few more dips and turns before completing the ride with a large 585-degree helix. Riders finally exit the woods and head into the brake run before returning to the station.

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