Ride History: Colossus
On March 22nd, 2002, Thorpe Park opened the ride that would change their image forever. The Intamin giant featured more inversions than any roller coaster that had ever come before, promising to send riders upside-down ten times in fifty seconds and transform the Staines family park into something far bigger. They called it Colossus.
To tell the story of this history-making ride, we must start in 1998, when the Tussauds Group bought Thorpe Park. The Tussauds Group, which began with famous wax museum chain Madame Tussauds, had already purchased Chessington Zoo and Alton Towers and redeveloped both into leading theme parks in the UK. Such a drastic transformation wasn’t necessary at Thorpe Park, which was already an established family park with attractions such as Thunder River (now Rumba Rapids), Depth Charge, Loggers Leap and X:\No Way Out (now The Walking Dead: The Ride).
However, the new owners felt that none of those attractions filled the position of E-ticket attraction. They wanted something bigger, something that had never been done before, in order to draw in a new audience: thrill-seekers. For any serious theme park at the time, the only way to do that was to build an enormous and expensive rollercoaster. That’s exactly what the Tussauds Group did.
Colossus was primarily inspired by Monte Makaya, an eight-inversion Intamin which operated at Terra Encantada in Brazil between 1998 and 2010. Thorpe’s extra two inversions came from a redesigned finale section, which takes riders through five consecutive heartline rolls before re-entering the station. This design change would mean Colossus had more inversions than any other roller coaster in the world at the time of opening, snatching the record from PortAventura’s Dragon Khan and hanging onto it until The Smiler opened at Alton Towers over a decade later. This world first was, and still is, heavily utilised in the marketing of the ride.
When designing Colossus, the Tussaud Group- with the involvement of legendary attraction developer John Wardley- referred to the ride as ‘Project Odyssey’, continuing the Alton Towers practice of giving codenames to major ‘coasters in development. An Odyssey is a long and tumultuous journey, more specifically taken from a poem by Homer about Greek mythological hero Odysseus. Odysseus spent ten years travelling to Ithaca, often over sea. This codename reflected the ten inversions on the ride, as well as the Atlantean (a city beneath the sea) theming of the Lost City area.
The ride hit its first major snag shortly after opening- Intamin’s trains were designetd similarly to their Mega Coasters, which meant anyone riding Colossus could easily manoeuvre their outside leg out of the car. This isn’t so much of a problem on the spaced-out Mega Coasters, but for the tighter and more packed-in Colossus it was a huge safety concern, particularly with tight regulations in the UK. That’s why the cars we see now rolling overhead in Lost City have short barriers on each side- keeping wandering feet where they’re supposed to be.
After this issue was overcome, Colossus became one of the UK’s most popular roller coasters. It played a crucial role in transforming Thorpe from a family to a thrill park, as the ‘coaster’s success allowed for the opening of Nemesis Inferno a year later, which paved the way for the development of three more thrill ‘coasters on the island. Stealth, Saw: The Ride and The Swarm. Over time, the Lost City area where the Intamin 10-looper was situated became a hotspot for most flat rides in the park; Colossus stood tall as the only roller coaster in the land, despite the extreme proximity of Saw: The Ride.
This is the tragedy of Colossus: in spite of the key role it played in elevating Thorpe Park, the opening of Nemesis Inferno just a year later meant Intamin’s record-breaker was swallowed up over time, forgotten about and swiftly shuffled further and further down the priority list at Thorpe Park as more and more new, shiny rides were built. Over two decades, the issues mounted up. First, queue times started to swell as the ride went from three to two and sometimes even one train operating at a time. On top of that, maintenance-related closures were frequent, with Colossus being the most oft-unavailable roller coaster at the park for many a year. Finally, a huge proportion of riders feel that the ‘coaster is too rough to be worth a ride, with some even reporting headaches after leaving the experience. In 2019, the water below Colossus was completely filled in to allow for easier access for engineers. More convenient? Sure. Less attractive? Definitely.
And yet, there’s still plenty to like about Thorpe Park’s forgotten beast. Ten inversions is not to be sniffed at- even almost twenty years after opening, still just one ride boasts more- The Smiler. It interacts brilliantly with terrain and scenery, and we have to mention the soundtrack, which can stand hairs on end. For me, though, the one thing that makes Colossus really special is the history. In many senses, this is where it really started for Thorpe Park. If they’re willing to invest more in their first ever big thrill ride, then even now, two decades on, it still has potential to get better.