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|23rd August 2010, 7:33 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jun 2001
Scratch Built Atari Star Wars Cockpit Cabinet
This project has been a long time coming.. probably something like the 24 years to be precise - the first time I played this game at my local bowling alley.
It was an amazing period and one day that stands out clearly in my mind - I was Star Wars mad and the thought of being able to pilot an X-Wing fighter in 3D was nearly too much..
But for me it wasn't (and isn't) just the game-play that makes it so desirable but also the awesome cockpit cabinet design with it's complex angular shapes draped in the most gorgeous side art depicting the evil Darth Vader and the powerful Death Star not to mention the battle between the X-Wing and Tie Fighters. Add to all of that the unique yoke controls that just ooze the Battle of Endor and that futuristic molded plastic bezel and you start to understand the draw card that is the Star War Cockpit Cabinet for a 12 year old... And thats just before you start to mention the sampled voices from the movie and the gorgeous, crisp vector graphics..
And so this cabinet has remained a dream of mine.. the one above all others that I HAD to have in my collection.. my "Holy Grail" of cabinets if you like..
The problem with that dream was that there were just under 2500 units produced world wide some 27 years ago of which maybe 50 or 60 might of made it down under. Then factor in the conversion "era" and the water damage that these cabs are so renowned for and the reality of finding one was never looking good..
So my only option was to start searching for the parts that made up a Star Wars Cockpit (SWC) and build my own.. just as I had done with my Centipede and Galaga scratch built cabs.. Now this has not been an easy task either and taken the best part of two years continually searching on Ebay and RGVAC for the required parts. As time progressed I managed to pick up a cockpit bezel in beautiful condition, the coin door complete with mechs, coin box and control panel, (mint) cockpit manuals and the seat joiner piece (rare!)
The biggest boost to the project came about when I found a guy on RGVAC in the US parting out a complete cabinet - I explained to him what I needed.. a price was set and a few weeks later the project was in full steam.. I now had every part of the cabinet including the yoke and rare cockpit control panel apart from the actual timber cabinet..
The next step (and probably the most difficult) was getting all the measurements of tha cabinet itself. With my other scratch built cabinets, I worked out a fair amount of the details based on just measurements and photos, but the more information and pictures I collected on the SWC, the more daunting it became.. The measurements and angles were critical in pulling this off and without some VERY accurate details, it would be at best, very difficult.. I struggled big time until a fellow arcade collector, JohnG helped me out.. Well that is an understatement.. John went beyond the call of duty and created a template of his very nice SWC - the part that blew me away was he wanted nothing but my satisfaction as his reward - a true gentleman..!!!!
This along with my "stock photo files" collected from all over the net enabled me to construct some very accurate plans for my very own SWC.
So now I had the dimensions and angles the next step was to transfer all of this to a couple of sheets of MDF and carefully cut it out..
The next step is to carefully block out the panels with the necessary set back - here is one side about 90% done. There remainder of the blocking will need to be done once the cabinet is essentially together. Having all the original parts like the bezel and control panel really help here..
With most of the blocking out completed (although not glued in yet) I set about cutting all the center panels for the cab. I've said it before - the SWC is a pretty complex little cabinet and so getting all the angles right was a bit of a challenge as I wanted this to be BETTER than any cabinet that rolled out of Atari in 1983..
The first shot shows the foot well area inside the cockpit just under the control panel - basically demonstrating the accuracy with the cuts that I am aiming for. The screws that you see in place will be totally hidden and just part of the blocking process.
Again another area where looks can be deciving is the bezel area - with a lot of the support pieces being covered with the plastic molded bezel. It needs to be pretty strong as these brackets also mount the control yoke and screen plexi..
The seat area is pretty much finished although the original speaker grilles are just screwed into place at this point - in an original SWC, these grilles are recessed 2mm and fitted with security screws. You can also see the seat angle piece which is in fact an extruded aluminum bracket - a very rare piece indeed..
The top part of the cabinet was probably one of the most difficult to pull off as there are quite a few complex angles that need to be cut - since I don't have a table saw, I just relied on a straight edge and a circular saw.. In the end I am very happy with how it turned out. You can also see the original vents and the plexi-retainer plate sitting in place.
As you can see there is still a bit to do - the most obvious is the canopy "hoops" and the top of the marquee.
So to keep things moving along, albeit a little slower than I'd like, I have started getting stuck into restoring the various metal parts like the control panel, yoke and coin door..
The cab that I got my control panel from was converted to an Atari Hydra and so they decided to completely stuff up a totally good panel and bore some dirty great holes in it for two push buttons..
Initially I thought that the control panel overlay might of been an original Star Wars but it turned out that they'd replaced it with a generic overlay and then sprayed it black..
The yoke overlay had seen better days as well and couldn't be saved..
So the first step involved removing the yoke controller and stripping off the CP overlay - this was a pretty crappy job as it really had bonded to the metal panel. Once I'd stripped off the overlay, I was left with this thick, sticky glue that took a while to get off as well.. it certainly wasn't one of the more enjoyable jobs.. After all the glue was removed, the panel was lightly sanded..
Next up I needed to fabricate a couple of filler panels to cover up the holes. I spent a little time making sure they were a decent fit after which I then grabbed the mig and welded them in place..
Next up I pulled out the angle grinder and cleaned up the welds and then finished up with the sander to smooth off the rough grinding and also give the filler something to bind to..
To fill any of the imperfections, a skim of filler was smeared over the welds and left to harden..
..and then this was sanded down leaving a really nice, smooth panel. I then shot a couple of coats of satin black over the front and back to seal everything down and give the new overlay something nice to adhere to..
The yoke itself had seen better days with lots of surface rust and scratches..
Internally things weren't much better either - there was lots of rust, dust and 23+ years of grime..
I set about stripping down everything to their basic components and then cleaned up all the rust with the wire wheel - I followed up with a wipe over with some de-oxidene to ensure the rust wouldn't return..
As you can see in both the follow and previous photos, I masked up the sintered bronze bearings after I'd cleaned them up with some fine steel wool.. this just gave them that new look that would further be enhanced once everything was painted. Even the rear bracket was cleaned up even though it can't be seen when installed - it's the little details that count..
I also rubbed down the handles which were VERY scratched - interestingly the right hand handle was quite dented from what I can only assume was from rings. I carefully filed out these dents followed up with a light sanding - the end result was pretty bloody good if I do say so myself.
While the paint was drying, I de-greased all the springs, gears etc and set everything out ready for re-assembly. As you can see, the original manual was invaluable in getting everything back together in the correct order..
The bumpers that limits the pitch and yaw travel on the Star Wars yokes are almost always buggered - the original bumpers turn into chewing gum and the end result is very harsh end of travel.. Although Ram Controls now offer replacement parts for these bumpers, at $40US (plus postage) - this would run out to around $60AUD by the time I took delivery of them for nothing more than some rubber..!! I was determined to find another way around it and so came up with the following method..
On the left is how most of my bumpers looked when pulled out of the controller - pretty much screwed. What I did was take the original nut and bolt along with a "spacing" nut to form an arbor of sorts - this was then placed in my drill press and with the use of a file, the original rubber was removed, leaving nice clean metal.. as seen on the right hand side..
A quick snap of how I used the file to remove the old gummy rubber..
I then took some extruded rubber which I cut into 10mm slices and then punched a hole into each to form a thick, rubber washer - this was then slid over the original metal bumper hub. The result actually works really nicely and at a fraction of the replacement costs from Ram controls - hopefully this can help out others out there..
The end result looks 100 times better than the original piece did and feels a lot smoother and much more crisp.. I am awaiting the overlay for the metal cover for the yoke - I have manage to find a NOS overlay which is on it way down under and will complete this part of the cab..
For the side art, I am using repro'd prints..
The details are crisp and sharp and the colours very vivid - the blacks look very very nice and solid and the blue is just.. well.. sexy..!!
A quick close up..
John did a awesome job of copying the main outline but short of him pulling apart his cabinet, we were never going to get the all the outlines for each of the three elements that make up the hoops.
The project recently got a shot in the arm when I saw dezbaz's Starwars Cockpit Restoration thread where he'd removed the hoops from one cabinet to fit on his keeper. I shot Dez a PM asking if he would be willing to make some tracings of the three panels while he had it all disassembled - which he kindly agreed to do. A couple of weeks later the tracings arrived.. He did an amazing job and wouldn't take any payment for his time or even postage. I can not thank him enough - Dez is a top guy..
The first job was cut out the tracings to form a template.. Looking at them certainly shows how detailed they really are and how impossible it would of been to try to replicate them from just measurements alone. Dez did an amazing job and put in lots of detailed information which made this whole process just that much easier.
Next up I transferred the templates onto 18mm MDF and cut out a "master" template - the master was used with my router and a laminate trimming bit to cut out the 4 outer pieces and the bottom edge of the 2 inner pieces. One day and a shit load of MDF dust later and I had all the pieces made.
The next step was to test fit them to the cabinet - I was stoked to find that they matched up perfectly with the back rest and the rear edge of the main cabinet.. something that I really struggled with with version 1 of the canopy hoops. I also need to do the cut outs in the outer panel for the decals for the hoops. The issue here is finding a 30 degree router bit that will cope with the 18mm MDF - so far I've only found a 45 bit which will do a 12mm deep cut, leaving a 6mm edge on the inside.. probably not a massive deal, but I'd prefer to make this as accurate as possible.
The inner hoops support the acrylic canopy - the plan is to give these to the plastic supplier so they can bend the acrylic perfectly to suit the angles. My little helper was also hard at work helping daddy..
Using the master template meant that all three hoops lined up with each other perfectly.. The edge looks a little wobbly in the photo, but trust me that it's just an optical illusion brought about when I compressed/resized the photos.
On a brighter note, I did manage to find screws that are a pretty good match to those used in the original SWC cabinet - not 100%, but probably as close as I'll get. I'll hit them with some satin black paint prior to final assembly.
I have been working on the cleaning up the hoops and making them fit nicely over the seat backrest and cutting the slot for the cross brace - the latter doesn't seem like a big deal, but for some reason, it took me 10 times longer to do than I thought it would.. anyway, the end result came out pretty good and really stiffens up the whole assembly.
With this done, it allowed me to get on with cutting the upper and lower panels for the marquee. These were pretty challenging since both panels have angled cuts on both their edges (20° and 30° on the upper, 15° and 20° on the lower). One day I might invest in a table saw, but for now it was all circular saw and straight edge.. The end result actually surprised me with my freaky accuracy (read: assing it). The only thing that I am a bit concerned about is the upper marquee retainer seems to be a little too narrow :unsure Since it's an original off of a SWC cab, I don't quite get it.. maybe they were just like that? Either way, it'll do for the time being but I will probably remake this part for a more accurate fit.
You can see in this shot the repro marquee from Rich over at ThisOldGame. Rich did a limited run of these on glass using the original films from Atari. Although I haven't peeled off my protective mask yet, all accounts from other owners say they are as good, if not better than the originals. I was so nervous about breaking the marquee, I made up a template out of 6mm MDF to check everything would fit..
I can't wait to see this puppy all lit up..
I spent a good part of yesterday and most of today making the jig for routing the cut outs on the hoops. For me, these cut outs are one of the stand out features of this cabinet and something I really remember from when I was a kid..
Like most things on these scratch builds, they are complicated by the fact that you are reverse engineering the cabinet - it is very frustrating and bloody time consuming. These routed cut outs were no different and it took a fair amount of working out. To that end, I made up some clear templates taking into account the final openings of JohnsArcade and Dezbaz's tracings, the decals and my 10 million reference photos :blink:
After around 3 or 4 hours of mucking around, I had the inside edges of the openings transferred to the clear plastic sheet. I then used a scapel to carefully cut out these out - the reason for the clear sheet is that I could check the clearances around the decal versus the actual opening.
Here is the clear template sitting on the original hoop I made waaay back at the start of the project:
I'm figured using the original hoop was a good idea since it was fairly close to the correct shape and the plan was to use it as a jig for the router - waste not, want not.. I clamped one of the new (accurate) hoops to the old hoop and ran the router along the bottom edge - this was so I could use this edge as a point of reference and align both sides..
Then I transferred the openings from the clear sheet to the jig. I then used the jigsaw to rough out the openings and the router and a straight edge to clean up the edges. For the curves, I made another router jig with the correct 17.5mm radius.. It took a HEAP of time but it would make the actual routing stage so much easier, accurate and repeatable..
Here is the finished jig - note that the openings are only referenced to the bottom edge.
I then transferred the openings over to the hoops and rough cut them out.. Our old outdoor table makes a great outdoor bench and it doesn't matter if I cut it
And then the jig was clamped down using the bottom edge to line everything up..
From this point on, it only took about 3 or 4 minutes to do the actual routing.. It was a strange feeling looking at these edges that I'd built in my head a 100 times before - I couldn't believe I'd actually pulled it off..
Just for shits and giggles, I jammed the decals between the outer and middle hoops to see what it looked like. The bevel doesn't really photograph that well (cause I am a crap photographer) but it looks really nice. You can also see that I've routed the t-molding slots on the bottom edge as well..
That's just about it for the hoops - the only thing left to do is route the slot for the wide t-molding on the top edge. I am waiting for a shipment from Ram Controls with the repro 1 1/2" wide t-molding before I do that - hopefully it doesn't take too long for that to arrive..
Next job, cut out and route the recess for the speakers and speaker grilles.. then I'll just about be finished making dust (for this cab) :cry
Last edited by hoopstar; 2nd May 2011 at 8:11 PM.
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|24th August 2010, 9:50 AM||#10|
Join Date: Jun 2002
Absolutely brilliant... nice work mate!
|24th August 2010, 12:56 PM||#12|
Join Date: Jan 2009
WOW. That is awesome!
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|24th August 2010, 1:02 PM||#13|
Join Date: Mar 2007
Wow, that's mega cool
-x- Asrock Z68 Pro 3 -x- Intel i7 2600k -x- Noctua NH-D14 -x- GSkill Ripjaws X F317000CL11D-8GBXL -x- HIS HD6950 1GB -x-
-x- Intel X25-M G2 80GB, WD 1TB, Samsung 2TB x2 -x- Corsair NeoPower 650W -x- Fractal Design Core3000 -x- Dell 2707WFP & 2405FWP -x- Windows 7 x64 -x-
|24th August 2010, 5:42 PM||#14|
Join Date: Jun 2001
There is talk that a company in the US (Ram Controls) are going to be re-making the 25" Vector monitors and boards.. along with a remake of the Star Wars game boards and even the cabinets (both cockpit and upright)..
If this actually pans out, then I'd definetely invest in one - freight could be the killer on the deal though
Last edited by hoopstar; 24th August 2010 at 5:44 PM.
|25th August 2010, 9:15 AM||#15|
Join Date: Jun 2001
I was at a meet on the weekend where there was an original Star Wars (upright) cabinet. Got to play it for a little while, and had a laugh.
It's threads like these that make me want to build more dedicated cabinets for old games, rather than generic "all in one" cabinets.
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