Racing Down the Ramp: 10 Greatest Car-Themed Pinball Machines Ever
Classic pinball games that captured the thrill of racing
There was a time when the cool place to hang out was the arcade. Kids from around the neighborhood would be gathered in packs to watch their friends achieve high-score records while slamming on buttons and dumping quarters into slots. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon to find a car- or racing-themed cabinet being hammered away on by an enthusiastic boy hooked on high-octane adrenaline.
While The News Wheel has already looked at the best arcade racing games from yesteryear, we have to pay homage to that other form of arcade gaming: pinball. As I’m always eager to share nostalgic memories, let’s dust off those flippers as we look at the top car-themed pinball games of all time.
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The most recent release on the list, specially created by Stern Pinball for the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, this console pays homage to the legacy of the pony car. It updates some characteristics of the first Mustang-themed pinball game by the Chicago Coin Company while adding hi-tech video and audio innovations.
A fantastic tribute to the Corvette from Bally Manufacturing, every detail in this machine evokes the style, culture, and thrill of America’s sports car. From the track-like launch ramp to the V8-shaped lane, Chevy’s mark is all over this treasure. Every previous generation of the Corvette makes an appearance on the playfield.
Grand Prix (2005)
Going by the officially-licensed theme of NASCAR in the United States and originally branded as Grand Prix in Europe, Stern’s racing-themed game is a wild ride of twisting tracks and looping lanes. Filled to the brim with racing references like pit stops and test cars, this game is certainly not easy, but it’s quite rewarding to play.
Viper Night Driving (1998)
A bittersweet entry in this list due to the model’s recent retirement, this SEGA pinball machine might look dated now, but you can bet that it’s a hot collector’s item (with little more than 1,000 made). Not only is the Dodge supercar a great theme, the flow and lighting design on this machine is terrific. Plus, you can team up with other players!
Car Hop (1991)
D. Gottlieb & Co.’s simple but nostalgic tribute to 1950s drive-in diner culture had a single-level playfield with all the standard targets, but its use of classic music and aesthetics is what makes it memorable.
Nitro Ground Shaker (1980)
Another entry from Bally (no surprise), this innovative machine was the first to utilize background noise. Accommodating up to four players, Ground Shaker was an in-your-face tribute to drag racing and featured many homages to classic muscle cars in its artwork.
A groundbreaking machine that launched pinball into its glorious final lap in the 1990s, Data East’s tribute to the global racing circuit not only featured the first dot-matrix display on a pinball machine, it also allowed the player to select from one of six music genres when playing.
Race Way (1963)
From the days when pinball games were about real skill, this classic Midway console had a simple playfield with targets below the backbox that caused two actual miniature race cars to move along a circle track inside the backbox when hit. It’s really a unique design!
Twin Win (1974)
An oldie but a goodie, Twin Win wasn’t Bally’s best racing machine, but it had colorful art and a real patriotic flair. The ball actually launched up from the drain between the flippers, making for a thrilling start to the game — like a real race!
The Getaway (1992)
Infamous for having technical problems, but still highly esteemed by fans, Williams Electronics’ high-speed escape adventure had running traffic lights and blazing down the highway while operating an actual gearshift to launch the balls.
What was your favorite pinball game you liked to play when you were young?
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a Hyundai Veloster Turbo (which recently replaced his 1995 Saturn SC-2). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.