Manufacturer: Bally
Released: 1981
Designer: Jim Patla
Art: Paul Faris
Added to my collection: February 11, 2005
Current Condition : Working 100%

My Machine


When does the pinball obsession become official? If it's with the purchase of the second machine within 12 months, I guess you can color me "obsessed."

Having The Addams Family in the house really rekindled my love for pinball. I play pinball almost every day now, and the memories of the pins I played "back in the day" have come flooding back to me.

Centaur is definitely a milestone pinball machine in my personal history. When I played my first pin, I must have been all of seven years old. From that time up until the middle of the video game craze in the 1980s (the height of my first bout of video game obsession), I thought the only object of pinball was to keep the ball in play as long as possible. I had absolutely no clue that there were goals to accomplish in the game.

That is, until I played Centaur. (Actually, truth be told, it was Centaur II. The two games are identical in game play. The only difference is the cabinet. More on that shortly.)

As I shot one of countless balls into play (I had taken to the game because of the voice--a rare thing in any coin-op game at the time, much less in a pinball machine), I noticed that pressing the flipper button moved the light from one rollover lane to the next at the top of the playfield. "Hmm," I thought, "I can actually affect which lane gets lit by changing the one that the ball is heading for to unlit just before the ball goes through." I did this a couple of times and got all three lanes lit. "2X completed!" the game announced. "Wow!" I thought. "I just increased my bonus multiplier. Bonus multiplier?" That got me looking at the playfield. I quickly caught on to the rules--hit the O-R-B-S targets to lock balls for multiball. Shoot another target to release the balls into play. It was like a light had gone on in my head! Pinball had suddenly become a lot more interesting!

Anyway, to make a long story short (as if that's possible now), flash-forward to the present. With The Addams Family rekindling my pinball passion, I started thinking about what other games I might want to add. Like the video games, I have to be picky and choose only the machines I know I'll play. So, I tentatively decided to have three pinballs representative of the three major eras of pinball to which I have been a witness: the complex, ramp-and-toy creations of the 90s (The Addams Family); the early solid-state machines of the 80s (my favorite from the era, Centaur); and a 70s electro-mechanical bells-and-clacking counters model (to be determined).

We'll see how long "I just want three" really lasts.

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My Machine

Whereas my taste in classic video games tends to run to the cheaper, more obscure titles, my pinball taste is (unfortunately) a bit expensive. The Addams Family is a bona fide collector's item and is constantly increasing in value. Seems Centaur is in a similar category popularity-wise. Centaur is also a little harder to find, especially in good condition. Only 3,700 machines were built (compare that to over 20,000 for The Addams Family). On top of that, the backglass art tends to flake away badly on machines of this era, and the playfields also get rather beat up.

Two years after the original was released, Bally released 1,500 Centaur II machines. The playfields of the two games are identical, but the cabinet for the second release was different--and much less attractive artistically, in my opinion. When I started thinking about this machine, I looked up Centaur and Centaur II on the Internet Pinball Database and compared them. After seeing the art for the original, I knew that was what I wanted.

After only a brief search, I lucked out and found a machine that was within driving distance and in (mostly) working condition. I knew from the get-go that the sound had issues (lots of background hiss and fading in and out), and that the score displays weren't working properly. Other than that, I confirmed that the game played reasonably well when I went to pick it up.

Physically, it's far from perfect. There are a couple of spots where the playfield is worn down to the bare wood. Only one of these is really noticeable--a dime-sized spot near the bonus numbers to the right of center. The playfield art is quite yellowed, but mostly looks good. The exterior of the cabinet is battered as well, but not horribly so.

The one real score physically is the backglass. There are some thin scratches in the art, one of which was repaired, but none of them are noticeable even when the machine is lit up. It's a definite 9 out of 10, a true rarity on Centaur machines.

Overall, I'm really happy with this addition to the collection. I had to sell Donkey Kong to make room--which saddens me a bit, considering all of the restoration work I put into it--but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Plus, Centaur will give me a chance to try my hand at pinball restoration!

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Centaur presents the following technical and restoration challenges when I picked it up, each of which I will document fully as I tackle them:

Score Displays

This turned out to be an easy and cheap problem to solve. There are five digital display units on Centaur--one for each of the four players and one for the credit/match display. When I opened the backglass, I noticed that two different types had been installed. Players 1 and 4 had 6-digit displays. Players 2 and 3 and the credit/match display were 7-digit units. After some research and some great advice from the pinball enthusiasts on, I found out two things:

I immediately swapped the 6-digit display in Player 1's position with the 7-digit display in the credit/match slot and unplugged the 6-digit Player 4 display. When I switched on the machine, the problem had gone away.

I found a working 7-digit display on eBay to install in the Player 4 position. Once that's installed, I expect the score display problem will be a thing of the past.

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Sound Problems

I went out to Radio Shack with a list of capacitors in hand. I bought the capacitors and a new soldering iron (couldn't find a tip for the one I had). I took the sound board out, sat down at my desk in the arcade, plunked in an 80s music video DVD and set out to re-cap the sound board.

An hour later, I had de soldered one capacitor. One.

Ten minutes later, I had the replacement soldered in its place.

Five minutes later, I had reinstalled the board and turned on the machine, only to discover that my intermittently semi-working sound board was now not working at all.

Two days later (after getting some advice from a nice fellow collector on the pinball newsgroup), I had sent the sound board off to Clive at Coin-Op Cauldron for repair. I returned the capacitors to Radio Shack for a refund.

Two and a half weeks later, my sound board arrived back at the house.

Twenty minutes later, I had installed the board and was awash in the sounds of Centaur.

Problem solved. Lesson learned.

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Cleaning the Playfield and Plastics, and Changing the Rubber Rings

Every pinball gathers dust and grime. It gets all over the playfield. Most people would expect that in a 24-year-old machine like Centaur--and, indeed, you could see the dirt in this one. But I'm here to tell you--even if you can't see the dirt, it could be there. When I replaced the flipper on my Addams Family, I decided to wipe down the playfield while I was at it--and I ended up with one dirty towel when I was done. Moral of the story: clean your pinball machine regularly to prevent a build-up of nastiness that can affect play and, eventually, damage the playfield.

Centaur was dirty enough to warrant removing everything from the playefield to get to all of the hidden corners--and to clean the plastic parts, which were also covered with a thick layer of dust and grime. I browsed the pinball newsgroup and asked experienced collectors what to use for cleaning. I ended up using Wildcat 125 for the playfield itself, and Novus 1 for the plastic pieces (hereafter referred to as "plastics," the commonly-used term among pinball folks who are in the know). You need to use a very gentle cleaner on the plastics--Novus 1 seems to be the best choice out there. You can get both of these products at pinball parts dealers on the Internet, including Marco Specialties and Pinball Resource.

I'm always hesitant about disassembling complex things with lots of parts--and a pinball machine playfield certainly fits that description. Prior to starting my cleaning project, I browsed the Web for tips. One was to take lots of pictures for reference prior to removing pieces, and I did so. The second was to lay out the pieces on the playfield glass in the same arrangement that they appear on the playfield so you have a rough idea where everything goes. That turned out to be the best advice ever--only once did I have to refer to a picture. The rest was mapped out for me right there on the glass. Very cool trick! (See the pictures below--I highly recommend this method.)

I meticulously removed all of the plastics and cleaned one section of the playfield at a time. Pour a little Wildcat on the towel, rub it in gently, buff the section with a clean towel. Repeat over and over again. As I completed a section, I replaced the rubber rings in that section--the bands that wrap around posts, are strung across slingshot targets, and so on. The dealer who sold me the machine included a rubber ring kit (a complete set of replacement rubber rings sized to match all of the existing rings on the machine). You can find kits for most machines at Marco Specialties for around $15. These rings get really dirty and loose elasticity over time, and replacing them makes a HUGE difference in how the machine plays. Some machines, Centaur included, originally used black rubber rings. Many people recommended white replacement rings instead, because black rings give off black residue that makes the playfield dirty. All of the rings are white now.

After the entire playfield had been cleaned, I began reassembly. As I was about to install each plastic piece, I cleaned it with Novus 1 and buffed it dry. What a difference! Although the yellowing that is common over time will never come out, the nasty film of dust and gunk disappeared, and the plastic is now shiny and much nicer looking. The biggest difference can be seen on the translucent red lane guides and bumper caps, which now sparkle like new. I hadn't realized how dirty they were!

Along with the playfield proper, I wiped down all of the metal trim and the sections that are covered (these sections--like the section under the metal apron at the bottom of the playfield, around the outhole--were filthy). I wiped down the tracks in the outhole as well to ensure that the balls didn't pick up more gunk and drag it onto my now-clean playfield.

Finally, with the machine reassembled, I inserted five brand new balls to replace the old scratched ones. Using scratched balls can damage the playfield--and new balls are really cheap anyway.

I'm fairly pleased with the way the machine looks now. I was a bit disappointed that the yellowing of the playfield art was unaffected by the cleaning. Apparently, the playfield was clear-coated at one time, and the mylar is yellowing. It's also not very clear in spots, most noticeably over the bonus light inserts, but it can't be removed without wrecking the artwork underneath, so I guess I'll have to live with it. Everything else is rather sparkly now, and the new rubber and clean playfield took my high score from about 500,000 to over 2.5 million! Sweet!

The playfield before cleaning (it's dirtier than it looks).

The plastics, laid out on the playfield glass for easy reference.

The bare playfield.

The final, reassembled, clean product. (Pictures don't do it justice.)

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Ball Shooter Rebuild

I figured from the beginning that this would be the easiest task, and it was. So easy, in fact, that I didn't take pictures of the process. (Sorry--it was the last task of the day, I was tired and, unlike the playfield disassembly task, I had a pretty good idea where all of the pieces went. There are only six.) Anyway, the procedure was as follows:

  1. Lift up and prop the playfield.
  2. Remove the two nuts that hold the shooter assembly in place. These are on the inside of the cabinet, and the one on the right was hard to get to because of the flipper switch.
  3. Remove the inner plate. After it has been removed, the entire shooter assembly can be pulled free from the outside of the cabinet.
  4. Remove the rubber shooter tip.
  5. Remove the c-shaped ring that holds the inner (long) spring in place. This is similar to the clip that holds a joystick assembly in place (if you've ever taken an arcade joystick apart), and it slides off with a little coaxing from a flat-head screwdriver. After the clip is off, remove the long spring.
  6. Slide the shooter rod out through the outer assembly.
  7. There is a plastic inner sleeve on most shooters, and this one was no exception. Along with the springs, I purchased a replacement sleeve. Unfortunately, the plastic sleeve on Centaur was different. So, instead of replacing it, I used a Q-Tip and lots of Novus 1 to clean out the black gritty gunk inside the original sleeve.
  8. Remove the outer barrel-shaped spring from the shooter rod.
  9. Wipe the gunk off the shooter rod to get it nice and shiny.
  10. Put the new barrel spring on the rod.
  11. Slide the rod through the outer assembly and the plastic sleeve.
  12. Insert the assembly into the cabinet from the outside.
  13. Slide the inner plate into place, and secure it with the nuts.
  14. Place the new long sleeve on the shooter rod and secure it with the c-shaped ring.
  15. Slide the new shooter tip (which was included in my rubber ring kit) onto the end of the rod.
  16. Lower the playfield and close up the machine.

Lots of steps, but the process is really, really simple and the results are astounding. You get so much more power from a clean shooter with shiny new springs than you do from a gunked-up shooter with rusty old springs. Total cost: about $3 (including the plastic sleeve I didn't use) and 10 minutes of time.

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Replacing the Drop Targets

Until I started looking at a bunch of Centaur pictures on the Internet, I didn't realize that the machine I bought didn't have the original drop targets installed (for the most part). Centaur uses 12 drop targets in four banks of four each: one bank where the targets are labeled "O-R-B-S," one where they are labeled "1-2-3-4," and an inline bank of black targets with silver spoked wheels embossed upon them. My game had three of the four spoked wheel targets, but all of the others had been replaced with generic drop targets.

I did some searching on the Web, and came across a full replacement set of 12 targets at Steve Young's Pinball Resource. The targets I have work fine, but I figured that, if I'm in this deep, another $50 won't kill me. I placed the order in anticipation of the great playfield cleaning, but didn't get the targets in time.

When the targets arrived, it was time to open the machine again. Here's the procedure in a nutshell:

  1. I opened the playfield and secured it with bungie cords to the back box (you can't get at the underside of it very well if you don't open it all the way).
  2. I removed the ORBS target assembly from the playfield. Because I'm terrible at soldering, I kept the wires attached. They are long enough so that the assembly can rest on the side rail of the machine (luckily).
  3. Upon examining the assembly, I discovered that getting the targets out was harder than I thought it would be. You have to do all of the following to get the old targets out:
  4. I replaced the targets one at a time (to avoid losing small parts).
  5. I reassembled the target assembly and replaced it on the playfield.
  6. I switched on the machine, coined up a game, and tested the function of the targets. Inevitably, you'll knock the switches out of alignment. Simply bend the leaves on the switches to get them to register properly. (Admittedly a trial and error process that takes some time to master.)
  7. I then repeated the process with the 1234 and the inline targets.

As it turned out, the ORBS assembly was the easiest one to work on. The 1234 assembly (which I tackled second) is a bit more complicated architecturally because it has additional hardware that can spot the targets remotely when you hit another target.

The biggest challenge of the three was the inline assembly. Even with the playfield all the way open, you just can't get to the screws that hold it on the playfield, and it's a royal pain to get back in after you've removed it. I actually messed up something in that assembly when I put it back together--the front target pops up to far from time to time, causing it to stick. Not a major problem, but definitely an annoyance.

One thing I did learn when reassembling the target assemblies was that even a slight misalignment of the back plate (or side plate in the case of the inline targets) can cause the targets to jump out of their tracks when they reset. The misalignment in my case was that I screwed the plate on in front of the tabs rather than behind it (there are fold-over sections on the sides of the ORBS target assembly, for example, that kind of wrap around the plate to hold it in place). That extra 1/8" is enough to cause the targets to function improperly.

I know that's probably not enough detail for you to go on--I should have written this right after I completed the project, while it was all still fresh in my mind. Hopefully, though, it will help to get you started. I actually photographically documented the ORBS target replacement. That should help you out a bit.

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More Centaur Pinball Info:

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