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Ride Profile: Colossus
Ride Type: Roller Coaster
Manufacturer: International Amusement Devices
Model/Style: Wooden Double Out and Back
Year Built: 1978
After literally turning the roller coaster world on its head in 1976 with The Great American Revolution, the world’s very first looping modern roller coaster, Magic Mountain really went big in 1978 with Colossus. Dubbed “The Greatest Roller Coaster in the World,” Colossus is a massive double out and back wooden racing coaster, the likes of which had never been seen before. When it finally opened to the public on 29 June 1978, it was the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the world!
As soon as Revolution was complete, Magic Mountain knew they wanted their next roller coaster to make an even bigger statement. They travelled the world looking at the best coasters out there and quickly realized that many of them had been built by International Amusement Devices, Inc., or IADI, out of Sandusky, Ohio. Building amusement rides since 1919 as National Amusement Device Company, IADI had already built 45 roller coasters before starting on Colossus, which ended up being the biggest project the company ever did. They worked very closely with Magic Mountain’s own team of designers and engineers to plan the ride, and they hired Bernards Bros., out of the San Fernando Valley, as the general contractor to build it.
Although dwarfed by many of today’s roller coasters, including the 235′ tall Goliath and 415′ tall Superman: Escape from Krypton, Colossus still sits prominently in the front of the park and is admired both by people in the parking lot and on the passing freeway:
Colossus is so massive that it sits on a whopping 10 acres of land! It was built on part of the parking lot, between the park and the freeway, so that everyone driving by would see it and want to come ride it. This is the station being built with the coaster behind it:
Due to the size and expense of this roller coaster, Magic Mountain really wanted to ensure that it would stand the test of time. Wood was chosen over steel because of its “durable flexibility.” After spending several months visiting major logging forests all over the world, they chose the strength of Douglas Fir from Oregon and Northern California for the main structure. Long Leaf Yellow Pine from Louisiana was selected for its “elasticity,” which was needed for the track work. Every piece of lumber was kiln dried for a low moisture content, impregnated with an insect killer, and sealed with a special primer that was created specifically for this project. Additionally, every single cut and drilled bolt hole was coated with a weatherproofing insecticide, for extra protection.
This is the main lift hill while it was under construction:
There is 2,100 cubic yards of concrete, contained within 1,258 footers, supporting this roller coaster. The structure is made from 1,209,687 board feet of lumber, held together with 228,922 bolts and 22,300 nails. That’s more than twice the amount of lumber that went into building the second largest coaster of the day. It takes 12,000 gallons of paint to make it pretty. When done, it had taken a total of 150,000 man hours to build.
This next photo shows the second turn around being completed. What looks like rows of lumber on the ground is actually the base for where the storage track would go, as well as both tracks returning to the station, which is the block structure in the lower-left:
When Colossus was done, it definitely commanded attention. As seen in this next photo, it absolutely dwarfed everything in the park. Even the Showcase Theater, which holds thousands of people, is but a third of Colossus’ size, if that:
Colossus is 1,608′ long, which was 33′ longer than the largest ocean liner at the time. The top of the lift hill is 125′ tall, with a first drop of 115′. It’s second drop is 105′, which made it the first coaster in the world that had multiple drops over 100′ tall. There were originally 14 hills that made you weightless 11 times. Both tracks combined were 9,203′ long, with each track averaging just over 4,600′ long. The ride had a top speed of 60 MPH and a maximum G-force of 3.23. Total ride time from start to finish is 3:30 minutes. The total cost to build Colossus was $6,000,000, which was triple the cost of Revolution.
This is what the entrance to the ride looks like today, mostly unchanged since day one:
One thing that has changed over the years is the landscaping. Much of the ride is virtually impossible to see from within the park from all of the mature tress and bushes:
As a racing roller coaster, there are two mirrored sides. One train exits the station to the right and loops around to the lift hill while the other loops around to the left. There is a little viewing area on both sides of the station where people can watch their friends ride the coaster. The mature landscaping prevents you from seeing much today, except a partial view of the train being dispatched, but it’s still a nice area to sit and wait. This is the viewing area on the left side of the station:
The Flash Pass entrance is located on the right side of the station. Even if they’re only running the left side, you would still enter here and it leads you to the back of the station, close to the main ride operator. The path to the right of this entrance is the exit path for the right side and the path for the right side viewing area is to the right of this:
As you enter the station, you either turn left or right, depending on which side they are running, and/or which side you’d like to ride. This is the left side entrance:
At the end of the entrance path is a few switchbacks before you end up at the air gates:
There is a handicap entrance that bypasses the switchbacks for those guests who need it:
Both sides are almost identical. This is the right side load/unload area:
The main ride operator control panels are located on small risers at the very back of the station. Since the back of the station is elevated, there is a stairwell underneath the right side ride op area that leads down to the maintenance area:
The left side ride op control panel is mirrored right behind it, but without the stairs:
Directly across the track from the primary ride operator is another ride op station. A third ride op is placed at the very front of the train, which you can see in the photo of the handcap entrance above:
This is one of the current trains as it enters the station:
In December 1978, just six months after the ride opened, there was a tragic accident in which a young woman was ejected from the train while on the track and fell to her death. The ride was immediately closed for an investigation, but there were no safety issues found with the coaster and the park was cleared of any wrong doing. Despite not being at fault, the park still installed seat belts on the ride before re-opening it to the public.
Just a few months later, in late May 1979, Colossus closed again for a major overhaul. Six Flags bought the park and took ownership on 4 June 1979, renaming it Six Flags Magic Mountain. They were severely concerned about how much downtime Colossus was experiencing and wanted to fix it. The coaster had been open less than a year, but it had been down for maintenance almost 50% of all operating hours during that period. Six Flags was serious about making the necessary changes so that it would conform to their standard of less than 5% maintenance downtime, committing $2,000,000 during phase 1 of a $6,000,000 capital improvement project just to fix Colossus.
The first thing they did was hire roller coaster design firm Dan Rosser and Associates to figure out what was wrong and how they could redesign it. They also hired Bill Cobb and Associates to handle the structural engineering. Both firms had been heavily involved in all the existing wooden coasters at the other Six Flags parks. Lastly, they brought in Frontier Construction Corporation to do the actual work, the same company that built the Texas Cyclone at Astroworld and Rolling Thunder at Six Flags Great Adventure.
In order to help smooth the ride and eliminate some of the extreme negative G-forces that were causing rider discomfort, 10 of the 14 hills were either raised or lowered by up to 20′, including a very extreme speed hill just after the second drop. 200,000 board feet of lumber ended up being replaced, including every inch of the 9,203′ of track. Variable-speed motors were added to the lift hill allowing for faster climbs, yet still slowing at the top for a better first drop. All new air-actuated sled-type brakes were also added for smoother stopping, especially in the station. After all of the changes were made, over 200 hours of testing was performed using 12 different types of tests, checking things like G-forces, speed, and braking. Colossus reopened to the public on 22 December 1979.
The original trains consisted of five six-passenger cars, allowing for 30 riders per dispatch. These trains were heavy, rough, and hard on the track. As part of the 1979 redesign, they were replaced by lighter trains manufactured by Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC). These new PTC trains had four six-passenger cars, for a total of 24 riders per dispatch. These were not only easier on the track, but the top speed was now increased to 62 MPH. The new trains also had individual lap bars for each rider, eliminating the need for seat belts.
The PTC trains would remain in service for the next nine years. In 1984, the park turned the train around on one side to run backwards during their annual Fright Fest event. It was so popular that they kept the train backwards after Fright Fest, giving riders the option of riding either forward or backwards. In 1988, the PTC trains were replaced by sleek fiberglass “California”-style trains from Morgan Manufacturing. These trains have six four-passenger cars, still allowing 24 riders per dispatch. Unfortunately, because there was no headrest, the new Morgan trains could not be operated backwards and riders no longer had a choice. Here’s the lead car of a current train:
In 1998 Colossus borrowed two of the Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) trains from the other wood coaster in the park, Psyclone, to run backwards during Fright Fest. When Psyclone was closed down in 2006, all the B&M trains became a permanent asset of Colossus. Here is one of the B&M trains installed backwards on Colossus for Fright Fest:
There are no lockers or cubby holes for guests to use on Colossus, but they do let you just drop your stuff on the ground on the other side of the train when you board:
This is the view from the front of the “left” side train. Since the front of the train faces the entrance, you actually loop to the right as you exit the station for the lift hill:
This is the train on the “right” side being dispatched, as seen from the right side viewing area. It loops to the left and passes underneath the exit path for that side:
With all of the mature landscaping, and other new coasters that have sprung up since, it’s virtually impossible to see Colossus running from anywhere inside the park. This is the best shot I could get of a train on the 125′ tall lift hill. Even though it’s a racing coaster, it hasn’t raced in quite some time, which explains all the rust on the right track. I honestly can’t even remember how long it’s been since I’ve seen a train run on that side:
Here’s an old Six Flags photo of a PTC train cresting the top of the lift hill:
As seem from the parking lot today, here’s a train on the first drop:
Back in the “good old days” they would actually race trains. Both sides would be loaded and dispatched at the same time. It would usually be a pretty even race starting at the first drop, as seen here, but differences in weight would produce different winners:
This next photo, which I believe came from a postcard, is the only picture I could find of the very original trains, loaded with 30 passengers each:
In this next publicity photo from Magic Mountain, people are having the time of their lives as the train climbs the second hill after the first drop. Check out how barron the area is all around the coaster. It’s definitely not like that anymore:
After the first drop, the train climbs back up to the first turn around and prepares for the second drop, which is 105′ tall. Compare Colossus’ second drop, seen here, to Goliath’s second drop behind it. There’s roughly a 100′ difference between the two:
The train goes through a double-up element as it climbs the third hill:
There’s no denying that Colossus is big! This is the second turn around on the third hill:
This is the third drop after the second turn around on the massive structure seen above:
There are a couple of places where the track actually dips slightly below grade:
After the third drop, there used to be a double dip element where riders would get a pop of airtime. However, that was smoothed over in 1991 so that a new brake block could be added. With the new block, Six Flags could now run three trains per side, or six total at a time. This gave Colossus an incredible ride capacity of 2,600 riders per hour! If you look at the side of the coaster from the parking lot, you can see where the dip used to be with the new flat block section over the top of it:
Here’s an old Six Flags PR photo I found from before the double dip was neutered. You should also note that one of the trains is really pulling away from the other:
After the third drop, the track goes up and into the structure for its final turn around:
There are a few more small hills before the train hits the final brake run and makes its way back into the station. However, there is no way to get photos of those from the ground and cameras are not allowed on the ride.
Colossus is so iconic and huge that it’s been used in countless movies, tv shows, commercials, and promotions. Its most famous role was arguably as the Screemy Meemy roller coaster at the fictional theme park Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Even to this day, you’ll still see it make appearances when you least expect it. Here is a photo of the trains wrapped to promote the 2012 movie The Three Stooges. To further promote the movie, they even temporarily renamed the ride to Curly’s Colossus:
The transfer track for the maintenance area is just before the train reaches the station:
Accessible from either side, the transfer track feeds three sections of storage track, each capable of holding two full trains each, or six trains total. I think it’s been a really long time since the park has had that many trains for this ride:
The side of the white structure facing the freeway is lined with several four-headed light fixtures, each with a different color filter. When working properly, they light up the structure at night in alternating colors, making a very dramatic display for passers by:
Here’s another old postcard that has some nice photos of Colossus in its prime:
As seen today, surrounded by several more modern steel roller coasters, Colossus is not quite as imposing as it once was. If you look closely, you’ll even see that the support for Goliath’s second hill is actually inside the Colossus structure:
From a direct aerial view, Colossus looks quite basic. If you look at the station in the middle on the left, you’ll see the two tracks exit and loop around to the lift hill:
Here’s a great video from different news teams on Colossus’ media day in 1978: