Bally Champion was introduced in August 1939. It is one of three Bally games of the same name. The other two were introduced in 1934 and 1949.
Bally Champion was released during a period of pinball experimentation and innovation. Long before flippers or pop bumpers had been invented game designers experimented with other features and devices to attract players' attention. Bally Champion featured "startling new action which we call the skill-wave scoring system.", and "the super-sensitive wafer-disc bumpers" which "are rubber-tire style-twice as bouncy as coil bumpers, and the new metallic-wafer contact discs respond to the slightest touch of the ball".
The backglass features swimmers and divers at a pool. One of very few pinball machines to sport a swimming theme which is somewhat more common among bingo games.
The backglass artwork has more subtle coloring and style than more modern games. It looks more like a painting with brush strokes and slight variations in color. Hidden in the artwork are two divers that dive off platforms on either side of the glass into the pool at the bottom. They advance down the glass as points are scored.
Looking at the backglass from behind reveals the black mask layer that lets light pass through the backglass in only unmasked areas.
The playfield on this example was in remarkably good condition when it was acquired although it needed a good cleaning.
The bumper rings were heavily tarnished, there was dirt under everything and the metal parts were rusted in places. Note that the spring on the right is mounted to what looks like a bolt since it has a slotted head. Don't try to unscrew these! The posts are actually fluted and won't twist at all. They can however be pulled straight out.
The key features of the playfield are the gorgeous marbleized plastic bumpers. These are the "the super-sensitive wafer-disc bumpers" referred to in the ad above. There are eighteen bumpers altogether in 6 different colors.
Each color is grouped together and members of each color light up in turn as points are scored. The effect is a color changing wave of light working its way from the top of the playfield to the bottom. There's a game play video at the bottom of this page to show the effect.
The bumpers too were pretty dirty. The platters were badly tarnished and the rubber rings had melted into a hardened goo. They all had to be removed, disassembled and cleaned. The metal clip mounted to the back of some bumpers is to keep the ball from coming to rest at the top of the bumper I suspect.
|Patent US2322091-A||Bumper detail|
The bumper design was new at the time and proved to be short lived, after being used on only a small number of games. The design is described in patent US2322091A.
|Step 1: The bumper body||Step 2: The upper conductor||Step 3: An insulating spacer||Step 4: The conducting ring|
|Step 5: The lower conductor||Step 6: A thin insulator||Step 7: A thicker insulator||Step 8: Mounting spacers and nuts|
Reassembling the cleaned parts gives you a better idea how the platter sits between two conducting rings that are held apart with a few spacers. At rest the platter sits on the lower conducting ring. When disturbed by a ball, the platter tilts and makes contact with the upper and lower conducting rings at the same time which closes the circuit and scores points.
There are a couple of factors that make these bumpers so sensitive to the ball. The platter ring is cut from a very thin and stiff piece of copper plated steel which makes it very light and easily disturbed. Also, the two conducting rings have a potential difference of about 180 volts AC which is dramatically more than the 25-50 volts AC that most manufacturers settled on later in the development of pinball. The high voltage hazard may have one reason these bumpers were not used for very long.
Unfortunately for me, one of the green bumpers was missing. It had been completely removed at some point. The prospect of finding another seemed grim.
But I found this mounted to the bottom of the playfield. Without a schematic diagram it took a while to figure out what it was, but it turned out to be a Tilt switch. It makes sense that since the bumpers themselves were so sensitive that players might try to rack up points by pounding on the game to get the platters to move enough to connect the two rings and score points. How better to defeat this than to mount a bumper below the playfield with the same mechanism as a Tilt switch? Very clever, and very good luck for me.
I removed the Tilt mechanism from the game and painted it to better match the missing green bumper with some acrylic paints. A friend found a bumper cap at a pinball show flea market to complete the job.
The painted yellow Tilt mechanism with the flea market cap does a pretty good job masquerading as a green bumper.
The Step Units in this game are very similar to those in more modern games and they cleaned up nicely with some elbow grease.
One thing that is different however is that some of the Step Unit Plungers are spring loaded. There is a compression spring that mounts between the plunger and the coil stop that returns the plunger to its rest position when the solenoid relaxes.
The Projection Unit is how the game keeps track of the number of credits you have earned and was a common feature in games from the late 1930s to the mid-late 1940s.
It has surprisingly heavy duty gears to move the brass plate forwards and backwards as the number of credits change.
Numbers 0 to 99 perforated around the edge of the brass plate represent the number of credits the player has earned. An automotive light bulb shines a bright light through the plate and one of the numbers is focused by a lens, and then projected onto a translucent screen at the top of the playfield. While not explicitly a gambling game, chances are that when enough credits were accumulated the proprietor might let you cash in your credits for merchandise.
If the proprietor were to trade your credits he would want to remove them from the game. This was done with a credit knock off switch hidden out of view on the bottom of the cabinet.
Pressing the button under the cabinet would activate this switch which would subtract credits by resetting the Projection Unit one credit at a time. This switch has a spring to give it a nice mechanical snap each time it is pressed in.
As described earlier, one of the Tilt switches was used to replace a missing bumper but the game has two other tilt switches.
The one on the left is very similar to more modern tilt switches but the one on the right is different. When the game is jostled the spring shakes and the post at the end of the spring that extends through the contact ring will tilt the game if it touches the ring. This same mechanism mounted vertically rather than horizontally was used in an earlier design of scoring bumper. For more information about that bumper design see patent US2109678 A on the pinball Patents page.
After a good cleaning inside and out and some minor troubleshooting the game went back together pretty well. Note that the coin door on the front and the right side panel to access the relay board are from some other game.
The colors and art deco styling really make it pop. Even the shooter rod housing has style.
Here's a short video of a complete game.
Watch carefully as the third ball touches the single purple bumper in the middle of the playfield. That returns a single ball back to the player by dropping it into the ball trough below the playfield. That is an early form of extra ball!
I took Champion to the 2018 Texas Pinball Festival to be part of the History of Pinball booth and the judges seemed to like it too, giving it a plaque for the Best Antique (pre-1960) pinball machine at the show.