PINBALLS MADE IN
Date: February 2014
Report by Waldemar Banasik
Nobody can take away the leading role in the pinball industry from the Americans, or the title of 'Pinball Capital of the World' from Chicago, but they were not the only ones who built intriguing pinballs. Many of those also came from Spain, and they will be the focus of this article.
The dictatorship of Franco led Spain into isolation following World War II. However, in the fifties Franco's Spain was militarily involved with the United States, concluding in a military alliance (outside of NATO) which in turn began the liberalisation of the economy. The effects of such an union started showing up not too long afterwards as the industrial development and enrichment of society led to an increased demand for leisure entertainment.
Many Spanish entrepreneurs from the sixties saw this as a chance to imports U.S. amusement machines. One such entrepreneur was Juan Paredes Hernandez.
Together with three partners - Celestino Zoreda, Julio Marroqui and Adolfo Morilla - they founded PETACO (Proyectos Electromecanicos de TAnteo y COntrol) and began their operation by importing US-made Gottlieb pinballs and adapting them to the Spanish market.
Later, in a workshop in the northern district of Madrid, they began to build their own production facilities.
And Petaco were not the only ones. Barcelona had Talleres de Llobregat, and their Madrid 'neighbours' had Maresa pinballs.
Of course, these are the bigger companies, but all in all there were at least a dozen smaller workshops and factories creating pinballs throughout the period. During those forty years, dozens of pinball manufacturers have risen and developed. Combined, they have released about 450 different models.
Going back to Petaco, their first home-grown model was a soccer-themed pinball called Competicion. Prior to that, the company mainly tried to copy Gottlieb pinballs. One of those is La Escalera de Color from 1965 which is a copy of Gottlieb's Sweet Hearts that was produced two years earlier.
As often happens in life, after a few years the partners went their separate ways and Juan Paredes tried his luck with new associates. Morilla and Zorida were replaced by Juan Pedro Van den Bergh and Francisco Arbos. The latter is the father of Manolo Velazquez, a soccer player for Real Madrid who had the chance to play with one of the biggest soccer stars of the time, Alfredo Di Stefano.
By 1972 the company has grown to such an extent that it became necessary to move into Madrid's suburbs, to the Hos Garcia Noblejas (en Canillejas). The company stayed there until 1982, while also changing its name to Recel. They had used this name since 1971 to market their export models.
I was not able to discover much about the other Madrid-based company, Maresa, which started producing pinballs in 1960. Perhaps the answer to the question why there's so little information about them is in their name - MAquinas REcreativas Sociedad Anonima, which roughly translates to the Anonymous Society of Amusement Machines.
In any case, between 1960 and 1976 Maresa released more than 40 different models of pinballs under their own name. The first two were the electromechanical King Ball and Boxing, and their last was the western-themed Laramie in 1976. Many of them are copies of Gottlieb machines, such as Crescendo, and Big Brave.
Similarly, little is known about Talleres del Llobregat (Workshops of Llobregat). Llobregat is a town which took its name from the second largest river in Spain, and is now a suburb of Barcelona.
Before 1972, when the local nuclear power plant that can be seen from the highway connecting Barcelona with Valencia was completed, Llobregat was best known for the production of pinballs. In a black and white picture that I found online on a Spanish pinball forum called Petacos (which, incidentally, is the common name for pinball in Spain), you can see several Talleres del Llobregat models from the late sixties.
The picture was taken at the ATEI exhibition in London in 1971, and introduced the first Spanish pinballs intended for export. The games shown above are: Big Fair, Rallye', Apollo 9 and Ana Bond.
Going back to that photo from London, on the left you can see Eulogio Pingarrón, who I'll come back to in a moment. Talleres del Llobregat ceased operations in 1973 and did not survive into the era of electronic games. The company's last model was their electromechanical, single player, 1-2-3.
Petaco and Maresa both created replicas of Gottlieb's models, but during the seventies another company was established in Madrid, who, instead of copying Gottlieb, concentrated on recreating Williams' products.
They were called Sega S.A., and their logo was stylized as Segasa. If the name seems familiar to you, well, no wonder, because it was indeed the Spanish branch of the Japanese video game giant. Sega imported American pinballs during the sixties and seventies and, after seeing how popular they were, decided to make their own.
Fate brought me to Recel in 1983, when I bought a pinball called Mr. Doom.
Made in 1979, it was produced by Recel, which was the brand under which Petaco sold their export games. It was my first solid-state pinball after several years' experience with electromechanical machines from Williams and Gottlieb.
I remember what a surprise it was for me and my associates that we were able to open its backbox with a single twist of a hex key, especially since the American pinballs available at the time in Poland forced you to remove the glass, open the plywood panel which housed the lighting, and then remove two long bolts to do the same.
Recel first applied this patent in a machine released a year earlier, Poker Plus. It took a while before American companies adopted this great idea.
Another Spanish innovation that took the Americans some time to utilise was the special epoxy used to cover the playfield, which meant the playing surface looked like new even after many, many years of use.
Mr. Doom used the LED displays introduced by Recel in their production machines in 1978, and it included the so-called System III CPU, which was based around a Rockwell PPS4 chipset - identical to the one used in contemporary solid-state electronic Gottlieb models.
The LED displays used by the Spaniards were much larger and placed differently compared to those used in U.S. models, and the counters were arranged one above the other.
The turn of the seventies and eighties brought some excellent Recel pinballs that showed those giants from Chicago a thing or two about making a good pinball. Among those were Crazy Race, Don Quijote, Cavalier, Flipper, and The Game. Many of them made also their way to the Polish market.
At that time you could find models from Playmatic and Inder in Poland. The first of those companies produced their machines in Barcelona, while the second was based in the Recel neighbourhood in Madrid. Both used a characteristic arched, rectangular overlay bumpers that were recognizable from afar by players at the time.
During the twenty-odd years of their existence, Inder has produced several models, from electromechanical pinballs such as Seven Winner to electronic dot-matrix display games such as Bushido. This latter game was quite wittily advertised with a slogan saying - "American pinball? No, it's Inder!"
Along the way, the company released Canasta 86, which has since become the inspiration behind recently-released MarsaPlay pinball entitled New Canasta, which may yet become a torch-bearer for the resurgence of Spanish pinball industry.
Francisco Mestre was the director of Inder for many years. He is pictured above in 1985 with the company's Brave Team.
Later, in 1988, Electro Plastic Barcelona also utilized this idea and produced two models of the so-called Super Pin-Ball: Speed Ball and Music Ball.
When talking about Spanish pinballs, we can't forget about Eulogio Pingarrón Fulgencio, a famous designer who made his way to Petaco by total accident. Yet his subsequent developments made him a key figure in Spanish pinball industry.
A self-taught electrical engineer, he began his work for Petaco in 1962 and during more than 14 years he designed and created more than a dozen pinballs. Working alongside Juan Paredes, he began by improving Gottlieb machines. His Rey de Diamantes - the Spanish version of King of Diamonds - piqued the interest of Gottlieb engineers, a delegation of whom travelled to Spain to witness the changes introduced by Eulogio first hand .
Pingarrón simplified the unreliable backbox drop-card mechanism and replaced them with a backlight, and moved elements on the playing surface in such a way that the game played much faster. Petaco has sold hundreds of copies this model. Suffice to say he is the holder of several pinball patents.
In 1977, Pingarrón left Petaco and, with the financial help of Juan Paredes, established his own company called Peyper SA.
His company has launched some exciting new models like 1997's Tally-Hoo and Fantastic World in 1985. The last model produced by Peyper was Sir Lancelot in 1994.
Since May 2000, Pingarrón is the Chief of Patents and Innovation at Recreativos Franco, a company operating on the global casino market.
The three others shown above accompanying Pingarrón and Paredes are not anonymous either. Those are Jose Maria Inigo (in the red shirt) a well-known Spanish television presenter, Jose Maria Garcia (black tie) a columnist and sports commentator, and Lauren Postigo (blonde hair) a music critic and presenter from the Cantares TV show that aired on Spanish public television in the seventies.
Back then, Spain was still copying the American ideas of pinball. But in a role reversal, Bally's Dave Christensen followed in the Spaniards' footsteps and, as a joke, he pasted Norm Clark, chief designer of the company, into Nitro Ground Shaker's backglass.
The eighties were when production of electronic pinballs flourished. Playmatic's Cerberus, Recel's The Flipper Game and Inder's Topaz are just some of the models released back then. Players went crazy over electronic models, but were also slowly moving more and more onto arcade video games.
In 1984, Juan Paredes founded a company named Juegos Populares. That year, 7 new models were released on the Spanish market, produced mainly by Playmatic.
In 1985, that number had increased to 14, and a year later the number went all the way up to 33.
New producers were popping up all over the place. Playbar, Rumatic, IDSA, Cic Play, Videodens and even companies making gambling machines such as Cirsa Unidesa and Recreativos Franco all tried their hand at pinball.
Unfortunately, in 1987, the moving spirit of the Spanish pinball industry, Juan Paredes, was killed in a car accident near Seville. Players moved onto gambling machines and video games, and pinball begins to lose its popularity.
In 1989, no new Spanish models are released onto the market.
In the next few years, one-off models are produced by Inder and Sleic/Petaco - a company revived by Paredes' friends and colleagues. Both of these companies experimented with using dot-matrix displays. The first Spanish pinball with this kind of display was already mentioned earlier, being Inder's Bushido, released 1993. Sleic used a matrix display it in their Pin-Ball game a year later.
The year 1996 marks the end of pinball production in Spain. The last and only pinballs released that year were Dona Elvira 2 and Io Moon both by Petaco/Sleic, Jolly Park and Verne's World by Spinball, and Mac's NBA.
Williams, Bally, Midway and Sega Pinball survived in America for just three more years. From 2000 for the next eleven long years there was only one manufacturer of pinball in existence anywhere in the world - Stern Pinball.
2011 brought a refreshing change - pinballs are making a comeback. The USA has Jersey Jack Pinball and Zidware Pinball. Spaniards do not lag behind with MarsaPlay. and their modern remake of Canasta 86 called New Canasta.
Also in Spain, pinball enthusiast Antonio Ortuno will start manufacturing his Captain Nemo Dives Again any moment now.
The future looks bright, and Spanish pinballs are returning to the market after a long absence.
Special thanks for Eulogio Pingarrón and Juaney from tecnopinball.org for their help with this article.
You can find more details about it here.
© Pinball News 2014