The Big One

There are few roller coasters anywhere in the world that are as imposing as The Big One. It towers over the Irish sea and every other structure at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, weaving between attractions and crossing over a public road. Launched in 1994 in a blaze of glory, it was the tallest, fastest and steepest roller coaster in the world.

Geoffrey Thompson, the park’s Managing Director had ridden Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point, Ohio in 1989 and immediately concluded that it would serve as inspiration for his next project. Magnum was lauded as the first roller coaster to reach 200ft and is credited with starting the ‘coaster wars’ of the 1990s and early 2000s.

The design and build of the ride was very much a collaboration between a number of organisations and individuals. Among others, Geoffrey Thompson provided the vision and the capital, Arrow Dynamics provided the ride system with structural engineering from Allot & Lomax and manufacturing was completed in Bolton by Watson Steel.

Construction of the ride presented numerous challenges for the project team. Like Magnum XL-200, the Big One was to be built on land that was largely a beach less than one hundred years ago, requiring huge civil works to be completed before any vertical construction could begin. This was time consuming, complicated and expensive. The ride’s initial £5m budget nearly tripled during the construction process and represented the largest single investment in the Pleasure Beach’s ninety-eight -year history.

Furthermore, the designers were not going to have the same luxury that they had in Sandusky when building Magnum, which was constructed on a largely undeveloped site. The Pleasure Beach has rides that are quite literally stacked on top of each other and The Big One was going to have to navigate around various buildings, plus the Monorail, Pleasure Beach Express, Log Flume, Grand National, Big Dipper, Go Karts, Pleasure Beach Express and Steeplechase. The iconic Space Tower was relocated to Frontierland at Morecambe to make way for the ride.

The Big One played a key role in what was dubbed ‘The Year of the Roller Coaster’, so called because three huge roller coasters on an unprecedented scale were to debut in the UK within the space of a couple of months. Opening alongside The Big One were Nemesis at Alton Towers and Shockwave at Drayton Manor.

Whether you ride on a gorgeous day in the summer, or a wet winter Tuesday, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the ride, seemingly perched so precariously above so many other rides, so close to the sea. If you can, make sure you ride at night – it really is an incredible experience. The lift hill, taking you to a height of 213ft above the park, is seemingly endless.

Modifications were made to the ride in 1995 and 1997, with alternations being made to both the first drop and the iconic turnaround over the Grand National station to help improve performance and operations.

The Big One was special and continues to be so. Roller coaster enthusiasts will forever debate the intricacies of the ride experience. Irrespective, it remains an icon not only of the Pleasure Beach, but of the Lancashire coast as a whole.

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UK Theme Park Hall of Fame

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