The Story Behind Classic Pinballs

I founded Classic Pinballs website about 10 years ago, to share my hobby with other enthusiasts and collectors.

My interest in pinball machines began in my youth, when I played many of the now classic machines when they were new. For example, I can remember playing a brand spanking-new Gottlieb Spin a Card, at the Ambassador Lanes Bowling alley, Belmont Hill, in sunny Lewisham, S.E London. The machines suppliers had just unpacked and set the game up and left me a few credits on it. That machine is still one of my favourite machines today and I am fortunate to own a quite nice example of it.

My first experience though of a ‘pinball’ machine was in fact was a Bingo machine, a Bally ‘Cypress gardens’! They look very similar at first glance to a pinball machine but are very different animals. Coming home from school on the 36-b Route-master bus could drop me off by a cafe adjacent to the Lewisham Odeon cinema and wide-eyed I saw men playing it and gambling for money on it!

I can remember hearing it making that odd clicking noise as games were being won, plus the heady small of cigarettes [ and worse!], cooking smells and steam inside the place. And of course, seeing men exchanging cash for the credits being won on the machine. No wonder some countries banned these as they were deemed gambling devices, whereas Pinball machines have plenty of notices on them to say that they are for amusement only!

My misspent schooldays were heavily influenced with pinball machines. I knew all the cafes along the bus route to school that had a machine, one in particular comes to mind, a cafe (still there too) a few doors up from Lewisham hospital,  where they had a Williams Apollo. I loved playing that and trying to nudge the ball into the ‘Special’ slot in the head unit. A terrific machine to play and again, I am fortunate to own one of those too. There is a line in the Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard‘ song, where it runs ‘from Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all’ I can at least say that from Sedgehill school down to Lewisham, I must have played them all..

Lastly, lunch hour visits to the local chippie close to my school – Sedgehill, in Catford, with my mates allowed us to play it’s very own Gottlieb Buckaroo!  We would place our sixpences on top of the glass to reserve a game and if money was tight, we pooled our money and played it using a flipper each. Naturally, that often lead to quite a few disputes on who should have flipped the ball at key times to hit a particular number on the roto-target, etc. Great fun, great times. My family are under strict instructions that should the need arise to sell off all my machines should I need to go into a care home, they must keep both Buckaroo and Apollo at all costs for the grandchildren!

And that is what this hobby is all about, the simple fun and enjoyment that these machines can offer. It seems that more and more people are turning away from their play stations and other electric games and having their very own pinball machine set up in a spare room or games-room at home. Great fun for all the family,  at anytime of the year, like Christmas for instance. Now the kids can challenge Granddad and Grandma on a machine that they could well have played in their youth and see who is the best 21st century pinball wizard in the family! Try doing that on a Play station!

Over the last 25 odd years I have built up an extensive collection of machines of about 40 machines, and am now selling some off so as to downsize and keep the rest of my collection manageable, so you might see one of interest to you in the ‘for sale’ section. All my machines are in good condition; I rejected buying or swapping games that were simply too worn out to be of any real use so all that I might offer for sale now wont be bad machines!

Unfortunately, many EM machines lived their revenue earning lives on sea-side piers and amusement halls, often in salt-laden, hot daytime and freezing cold overnight air temperatures and then only usually going onto a worse life in a damp shed after being bought privately from an operator. [Remember that machines were then being made in huge quantities in those days, perhaps 2 models or more in just a month so the supply was great!]

Fortunately for us, because these were ‘over engineered’ with materials that would be hugely expensive to use nowadays, there are many survivors. And better still, specialist parts companies around the globe are now able to supply superb quality reproduction parts, often made from original tooling, so the future is bright for a machine that can sometimes be 50 or 60 odd years old. I purchase all my spare parts from such companies so that all my machines can both look, and play, at their very best.

And if I don’t have one listed, get in touch anyway and I’ll ask around other collectors that I know to see if they might be able to help you find your perfect machine.

Lastly, do remember that these old machines are now classed as Vintage. These suffer a mechanical version of Arthritis, so they soon seize up through lack of use and care. That is to say that they SHALL go wrong from time to time, they WILL need general cleaning and maintenance during your ownership.

BUT, bear in mind that if you treat your machine like an old classic car, i.e you cherish it, you clean and polish it, and more importantly, that you use it frequently, it will keep it nice and supple to give your many hours of fun.

I do not advise you buy ANY pinball machine unless you are both confident and competent in doing basic routine cleaning and adjustments. I always give people details of various websites that offer great repair and servicing tips, etc so you are not on your own. And of course, I am always willing to offer as much repair and general advice as I can, via email, should it ever be needed. So enjoy your machine!

The email address and phone number to contact me is at the bottom of the page.

Thanks for looking.