Q&A with Alberto Zamperla, designer of Coney Island’s new Thunderbolt roller coaster

Designed by Alberto Zamperla, inset, the new Thunderbolt is expected to open in early June.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro and Getty Images

More than a decade after Coney Island’s wooden Thunderbolt was torn down, a new version has replaced the old favorite.

Expected to open at Luna Park in early June, the Thunderbolt is Coney Island’s first custom-designed roller coaster since the Cyclone debuted in 1927. The bright-orange steel ride was designed by Alberto Zamperla, president and CEO of Zamperla Group. The family-owned ride designer and manufacturer has crafted coasters and other attractions for amusement parks around the world.

Metro spoke with Zamperla about the Thunderbolt, what sets it apart and why he loves roller coasters.

Metro: How is the new Thunderbolt different from other roller coasters?

Zamperla: We have a new way to restrain the passengers, with a restraint over the waist and legs. … Because the upper body is going to be free, they’re going to be more excited. Usually the coasters start with an incline…we’re taking up the car vertically, very straight. … Usually you have two or four seats in a row. This time we have three because a lot of families have only one child. Sometimes people don’t want to sit next to somebody else, so if it’s a couple, we’re only losing one seat, or if we have single riders we can accommodate single riders.

Are there any design similarities with the original wooden Thunderbolt?

After so many years, the conditions are so different. Now, safety is very important…Out of respect, we named it the Thunderbolt. If you’re going to the facade at the entrance, you will see we, in some ways, tried to reproduce the same kind of design that they had at the time. 

How do you think this coaster will stack up to the Cyclone?

The design of the Cyclone inspired many coasters…Coney Island — it deserves something new, something different.

What are some features of the ride?

The first drop is a vertical drop — so the people are going to be very excited right away. In a few seconds you’re going to be around 55 miles per hour and you’re going to have 5 gs of vertical acceleration. The coaster is going to have 5 inversions, you’re going to be 5 times upside down. There’s going to be a loop, a corkscrew, there’s going to be a heartline and a completely new design of curl where the car is going to be perpendicular to the ground.

When the ride reaches 5 g — what does that mean for riders?

The passenger is going to feel five times his weight. The coaster also has what we call positive g, so you feel like you’re floating on the air.

Have there been any setbacks to building the coaster? The opening was originally set for Memorial Day weekend.

The weather didn’t help us at all. Even when we were putting down the foundation, it was freezing and you cannot pour the concrete when the temperature is low. Another major concern is the safety — I don’t want to speed up the date and rush my people to gain the time that we lost.

Are you happy with how it turned out?

It’s a work of art…just to look at that is very impressive.

Are you excited to ride the Thunderbolt?

Of course.

What do you love about roller coasters?

The speed, the accelerations, the feeling that you’re flying. To be able to be free and go these high speeds is exciting.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


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