Lost Coasters of California – Part 2: Whizzer

In Part 1 of this series we explored Corkscrew which left Knott’s Berry farm in 1989 but lives on at Silverwood.  Today we look at another steel classic that left the state a year earlier in 1988 and also lives on, albeit in spirit, at a different park. 

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Marriott’s 1976 entrance into the regional park market was one of the boldest since Disney. Marriott simultaneously opening two near-identical America-themed parks to coincide with the 1976 U.S.A. bicentennial .  Marriott opened one park north of Chicago in Gurnee, Illinois and another south of San Francisco in Santa Clara, California. Many other regional parks preceded Marriott’s two Great Americas. The Great America design team was able to take many lessons from other parks and apply them to the Marriott projects. They came ready with two high capacity Arrow flumes, multiple car rides, flats, and two high capacity major steel coasters.  The large scale Arrow Turn of the Century custom corkscrew coaster filled the role of high thrill coaster while the Schwarzkopf Whizzer provided a family friendly coaster experience.  

The Whizzer at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois.

Anton Schwarzkopf was a German amusement ride designer and a prominent figure in the industry throughout much of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. First introduced in 1971, the Schwarzkopf “Speed Racer” model was a customized version of his Jet Star 2 model of roller coasters.  An extension of the Jet Star model these coasters feature bobsled style cars where guests sit in tandem, originally with no restraints. Beginning with the Jet Star 2 the cars included on board motors to pull the train up a unique spiral lift hill.  The first Speed Racer opened in 1971 as Big Bend at Six Flags Over Texas. Another was integrated into the opening day lineup of Worlds of Fun with Zambezi Zinger in 1973.  With their unique seating and thrilling layouts these coasters were perfect attractions the entire family could enjoy.  The Great America version, originally named Willard’s Whizzer, was designed with one large spiral lift followed by a gradual straight drop into a series of twists and turns. The entire ride was situated over a landscaped corner of the park’s Hometown Square Area.  

Tig’rr Coaster at Indiana Beach is a surviving example of the original Jet Star model, introduced by Schwarzkopf in 1967.

Designed to run multiple trains the Whizzer suffered blocking issues from the time it opened.  The brakes leading into the station would sometimes fail causing multiple collisions throughout the 1970s at both parks.  The attraction remained popular but a 1980 incident at the Santa Clara park led to the death of a 13 year-old boy.  The ride was modified and continued to operate till its closure in 1988. Unlike it’s Gurnee counterpart, Santa Clara’s Whizzer never maintained a fervent fan following and left the park with little fanfare.

2013’s Gold Striker now sits on much of the land Santa Clara’s Whizzer once occupied.

In 2002 the Gurnee Great America, now owned by Six Flags, planned the demolition of their Whizzer. This move was to make room for the construction of the B&M flying coaster Superman: Ultimate Flight.  Significant public outcry led the park to reconsider this decision. The park dismantled its Arrow mega-looper Shockwave instead.  The Whizzer remains a fan favorite and has even made the Golden Ticket Awards’ top 50 steel coasters list multiple years!  While the Whizzer is no longer with us in California we can still experience this Schwarzkopf classic thanks to Marriott’s bold decision to build twin theme parks and the wonderful fans at Six Flags Great America.

Next week we’ll be staying in Santa Clara to look at another Schwarzkopf classic, Tidal Wave.  Join me as I continue exploring the lost coasters of California. 

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