Arcade Raid! Old Trafford, UK

Fortune favours the brave they say. I’ve written on this blog here before that the collectors who do the hunting and investigating are the ones who tend to come across large stashes of abandoned arcade cabinets.

But sometimes arcade collectors are just plain fortunate and can stumble across amazing opportunities. You make your own luck in this game, and this is the story of one such “arcade raid”.

So last year, a collector over here in the UK, saw an auction on eBay for a couple of arcade cabinets. He purchased them and on collection, asked about their history. The seller explained that he had bought the cabinets from a larger job lot a few months previously, and was happy to pass the details of the original seller onto the new owner. The collector followed up this vague lead and stumbled across a very impressive haul of classic arcade cabinets.

It turns out the original collection was a stash of machines previously owned by a serious UK-based collector. The guy emigrated to the USA some 8 years previously, taking with him about half of his cabs. The remainder were placed into paid storage. At some point, the payments for the storage dried up, and despite the storage owner’s best efforts, he was unable to make contact with the seller. With the outstanding rent payments starting to mount up, the landlord obviously wanted his space back. But they were unable to get any firm commitment to clear the debt.

After the initial first year of non-payment and cease of contact, they continued trying to contact the owner, including contacting extended family that were still here in the UK. However after many promises of payment even the relatives stopped contact. After 3 years, it was decided that enough was enough and the relevant parties were informed that due legal process was being pursued, and the machines would be sold or scrapped to facilitate the recovery of the debt – and even then no further contact was made. Presumably the amount of debt wasn’t considered worth paying, in lieu of the now not-insignificant storage rent that was owed.

At the point where contact had been made with the property owner, it seems he was about to trash the majority of the arcade cabinets, thinking it was largely a collection of old junk. Negotiations began, and a price to clear the space was eventually agreed. I’m not privvy to how much that was, but assume it was not insignificant given the amount of outstanding rent on the place, and one has to assume that the property owner sensed that he was dealing with enthusiastic buyers – but I’m guessing here. What matters is that both parties were happy with whatever deal was struck!

The timing was an incredible stoke of luck. To have made contact with the property owner  at this critical point was pure chance – if left any longer, it is highly likely that these rare machines would have been scrapped forever without anyone knowing!

So it turns out the machines were located in four separate locations in and around Trafford Park, Manchester. (Home of Manchester United soccer club if that helps our American readers). So, a group of buyers was quickly pulled together, and a date was arranged and the raid was on:

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On arrival at the raid location, it was established that one of the rooms was essentially a metal tin shack on the side of a larger warehouse.

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Not feeling too confident about what they would find inside, the team of nine collectors clambered in:

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Although you can’t see it from the pictures, sadly the majority of these games were severely weather damaged. These machines were literally falling apart at the bottom and very wet – including some lovely Atari vector cabs. It seems the shutter door was far from waterproof, and the elements had got in. You can make out two Space Duels, Gravitar, Dodgem, Roadblasters, Tapper, Indiana Jones, Lunar Lander, Paperboy, Xybots amongst the stash. Mostly waterlogged! Very sad. But, as one member of the team put it:

We were able to still take these water damaged games and strip them for valuable parts. Luckily the other games in the other units had fared much better.

So all was not lost.

Onto the next room. This was packed in very tightly, and actually didn’t have a door! The only way to see what was in this room was to stick a camera over a wall and snap away to see what was in there. The results were promising:

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Through the darkness, cobwebs, dust and junk, not one, but two sit down Space Harriers could be made out sitting on the left there! Things were looking good for the team.

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Next up was a temporary storage area, where a lot of cabinets had been moved to by the property owner. Things started to get very interesting.

Two Star Wars sit down units and a Stun Runner can be seen here:

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A filthy Atari Badlands:

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Mortal Kombat, Slick Shot and a Gauntlet II:

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A Baby Pacman!

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A very mucky Atari Food Fight:

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And many a collector’s holy grail – an orignal Atari Major Havoc, and a Crystal Castles to the left there. This was fast becoming an arcade raid of truly epic proportions:

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Onto the third room. Again, this was very tightly packed, and the only way in was to clamber over the machines to get to see what was there. Let’s just say it was worth it:

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Some good stuff there. But then, hiding in the darkness, another unbelievably rare game. An Atari I-Robot:

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This was truly an incredible find. Very few of these cabs are left in the world, let alone over here in the UK.

Onto the fourth room. Again in darkness, but a bit of investigating revealed some real gems, including an Atari Centipede:

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So enough poking around, it was time to get these games out into the open and onto the vans. These pictures give you a much better view of the cabinets saved, and plenty of other arcade gems not originally spotted, were pulled from the warehouse. As the cabinets were shifted away from their dark resting places, even more rare games were revealed. There are a LOT of pictures here. Enjoy:

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This was a truly incredible haul. Probably the best raid ever carried out here in the UK. Not so much the numbers of cabs, which is impressive in itself, but the quality and rarity of the titles – many of which were dedicated Atari cabinets from the ’79-’85 era – the Golden Age of arcade video games.

A video was taken during the day. Several clips edited together which may give more detail than captured in the pictures

Congratulations and props to the team involved:

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I am as always hugely indebted to my colleagues over at UKVAC arcade collector forums for allowing me to reproduce these pictures and record them here on the blog for posterity. Stories like this can only come about when the community gets together and organises these raids – all to save these fabulous pieces of arcade history. Cracking work gents.

All told, the tally of rescued arcade cabinets was an incredible 89, and all were distributed to new homes for restoration. A truly outstanding haul, one unlikely to be repeated over here in the UK.

Thanks for visiting this week. More documented arcade raids coming soon!

Cheers

 

Tony

5 Comments Add yours

  1. NobbyWallis says:

    Some good finds there and another good article

    Like

  2. Neil McEwan says:

    Another good write up Tony. I knew about this from the original ukvac posts, but you can never tire of reading about such raids and the photos are a great accompaniment. Great stuff.

    Like

  3. Wolfsbora says:

    This may not be a Centipede update, but it certainly sufficed my need for great arcade news!! 😀 Great story, Tony!

    Question: how do the games get divvied up? For instance, how is it determined who gets the Paperboy and who gets the iRobot? Is it based on who found the haul?

    Your pal,
    Wolfy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tony says:

    Hey Wolf. I think every raid is different. You can’t involve everyone as it would be chaotic, not to mention risky. For the most part, collectors are pretty respectable to each other and it’s known who wants what – and yeah, you’d like to think the lead guy gets first dibs.

    Like

  5. Barrie Ellis says:

    Jealous! Would have loved the Lunar Lander. And the Asteroids. And the Astron Belt. And the Star Wars. And all the 70s stuff. Oh, and a huge room to put them all in of course. Did the Lunar Lander and Astron Belts work, do you know? Great post.

    Like

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