Bye bye Big Brave

Gottlieb Big Brave playfield detailLast weekend, after ten years’ loving ownership, I reluctantly parted with my 1973 Gottlieb Big Brave pinball machine.

I bought it from someone who had had the bright idea of providing entertainment for kids at his wedding reception. It did play (albeit erratically) but was in shabby condition with broken playfield parts, flaking backglass, dead bulbs, missing chimes and elastic ponytail bands where some of the rubbers should have been.

Restoring it was a labour of love. I very nervously protected the flaking backglass with Krylon Triple-Thick Crystal Clear Glaze following the instructions here.

I sourced a chime unit on eBay, bought various replacement parts from Steve Young’s Pinball Resource, removed and cleaned everything on the playfield before revealing the glorious Gordon Morison artwork obscured by years of grime, then waxed it to a sparkling shine.

Every bulb was replaced with a new No 47 bulb (cooler than the original No 44 type) and for safety’s sake I replaced the original two-core mains cable with three-core, earthing the transformer and exposed metal parts. Other than these changes, I stuck rigidly to a policy of respectful conservation. I preferred to leave honest signs of wear and tear rather than trying to touch-up the artwork in an attempt to make it like new.

I then painstakingly tracked down and rectified several small faults until the game played perfectly. And play it I did! Having spent a small fortune in arcades, cafés and bars over the years I was now able to add credits at will.

Over the following years of course the novelty wore off and I used to play it less frequently. So recently I began to think about letting it go. A surprisingly difficult thing to do. Why? Clearly I felt a connection with my youth in some way. Also I had invested time and care in its renovation. And I appreciated the kitch artwork as if it were an original Roy Lichtenstein.

I worried about selling it. Was it reliable enough? Would I be able to dismantle the machine into its fragile components and safely hand it over? Was there still demand for 43 year old electro-mechanical amusement machines in the post Grand Theft Auto era?

Well, 43 years ago I would have had to rely on a few carefully chosen words in the weekly Exchange and Mart classified ads magazine to advertise it (peak circulation of 350,000). Nowadays eBay brings buyer and seller together with the click of a mouse, and I duly sold it to someone just 3 kilometres down the road. I was actually relieved that they were a nice couple and it was going to a ‘good home’. They recognised my sentimental attachment I think, because they invited me to go round and have the occasional game.

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