American Thunder at Six Flags St. Louis is a Great Coasters International woodie that I feel flies under the radar for many enthusiasts. Originally, it opened back in 2008 as “Evel Knievel” after the American daredevil of old. In 2011, however, a then recently-bankrupt Six Flags dumped the branding in a cost-cutting move, giving the ride its more generic and patriotic moniker of today. Although the actual coaster layout remains the same, American Thunder is still the most recent custom-built coaster at the former Six Flags Over Mid-America — and also one of the best rides there.
The Set Up
This midwestern GCI has a decent amount of patriotic theming, likely because it’s pretty easy to convert from a daredevil color scheme to an Americana one. What’s interesting to note, though, is what each piece of scenery used to be. Take the giant door stopper-like entry sign, for instance. In the Evel Knievel days, it was actually designed to double as a ramp, complete with tire tracks leading up to a blue cutout of Evel himself. Now it’s simply a cool, angular shaped sign (which, if you look closely, still has the same tire tracks on it).
Another piece of scenery that has been converted is a line of information boards that parallels the first part of the queue. Once dedicated to Evel Knievel facts, they now show a continuous timeline of roller coaster history, which fits the theme nicely. Roller coasters may have had Russian ancestors, but they were born and raised here in America. Having these boards here was a great touch; cudos to the park for collaborating with ACE on this.
After that, you walk underneath the coaster’s structure to get to the station. In just that short distance, the track crosses over you three times! This is definitely an indicator of the tightly-twisted, classic GCI design you are about to experience. Climb a few stairs and soon you’re boarding the coaster’s red, white, and blue Millennium Flyers, which are comfortable as always.
The Ride Experience
As the train dispatches from the station, it turns underneath wooden support structure before catching the lift chain. After an 82 foot climb, the chain relinquishes control and you fall into the twisting drop GCI has become synonymous with. This drop actually turns you 90 degrees before you’re rising up into another trademark GCI feature: a raised turnaround with a slight dip in the middle (as seen on Wildcat, the Roars, etc.) — just to ensure there’s never a flat section of track.
you’re constantly tilting some way — either up, down, left, or right until the brakes arrive.
Next, you fly over two small, close-to-the-ground hills, crossing underneath the structure (again) and getting some great airtime all the while. These are followed by a banked turnaround, and from then on its a flurry of twisted airtime hills, little bunny hops and turns. This coaster maximizes space by almost overlapping its previous course — save for a few track crossovers — and it results in what is a decently long ride time (1 and a half minutes) for a coaster only 80 feet tall.
There are some great sequences of poppy airtime hills on this coaster; you’re constantly tilting some way — either up, down, left, or right until the brakes arrive. It’s pretty well-paced and smooth to boot! GCI has developed some trick to have their coasters not only open running smoothly, but stay that way for many years. American Thunder is certainly evidence of that!
A nice touch you don’t realize until after you’ve disembarked is how close the coaster flies over the winding exit path below. On the second pass by the station, there is a low-cut airtime hill that barely clears the exit path. Even when the ride is technically over, it still interacts with its guests. The train rumbles by right overhead, catching former riders off guard and providing a fantastic photo opportunity!
American Thunder is a good wooden coaster, but it falls just short of being a great one. I’d rank it on a pretty similar level with the recently reviewed Wooden Warrior at Quassy. Although it’s great fun, it still lacks that over-the-top awesomeness factor that the very best woodies like El Toro and Lightning Rod have.
Six Flags St. Louis is a hilly park, so it’s a shame this ride doesn’t capitalize on that — it’s really just located on a flat plot of land. It isn’t special enough to attract enthusiasts from far away like the aforementioned rides, but still fills a feature role within this park’s coaster lineup… and is most definitely better than the Boss.
I do feel it wrongly gets the short stick among the GCI coasters, though. American Thunder is definitely on-par with Thunderhead and Lightning Racer from a design standpoint, and deserves more attention.
Final Rating – 8.0
(Enjoy this decade-old footage of American Thunder, taken by the park)
What do you think about American Thunder? We’d love to hear your stories and thoughts below!