Williams Robotron (EU) Restoration 1

You might recall I picked this cabinet up last year. It was in unrestored condition having been bought from an operator some 20 years ago, then stored. A good honest cab overall. If you missed the post I made at the time, do take a look here.

It was an opportunity simply too good to pass by. What made this particular cabinet so attractive to me, was that it is the original European upright version of Robotron. It differs to the US built cabinet in many ways – the obvious one being the artwork on the sides is predominantly black rather than silver. They don’t turn up often – probably because there aren’t many of them about – and this one was saved in the nick of time from a seaside resort arcade here in the UK – it was about to be trashed!

Well it has been sat safely in my garage for over 12 months now, so I thought it really was time to make a start on the restoration. The cabinet was pretty much complete, but dirty:

My EU Robotron. Everything is there which is a good start!

First things first. The electronics! Things weren’t looking good in that department. Although complete at first glance, it was clear that some over-voltage had occurred at some point – several connectors were burnt, and there’d been a few operator short cuts made over the years in an attempt presumably to keep things running:

The guts of the Robotron. Fuses had been bypassed and wires soldered straight to connection points
And here’s the power supply. Trusting nothing at this point, I decided to play safe and this would go off for an overhaul too

I made the assumption that nothing was likely to work, so had no plans to plug anything in before getting the PCBs fully checked out. A collector friend who knows his way around Williams boards far better than I do offered to take a look at everything for me. So I stripped out the lot and got it over to him:

Let’s breathe some life back into these boards. The journey begins!

With the PCBs and Power Supply now in safe hands, I decided to give the cabinet a good clean. After stripping everything out, I started with the vacuum to get the worst of the dust and cigarette ash out. The thing was absolutely full of muck:

Inside the coin door. Note the layer of dust and fag ash!
The base didn’t look much better. The clean part in the middle is where the PSU sat
This picture is brought to you by Dyson vacuum cleaners

So with the insides clean, it was time to give the outside a wash.

It took three buckets of hot soapy water to get everything clean
What I didn’t realise was the film of nicotine tar that coated every surface. It took a lot of hard work to remove.
An hour of scrubbing got everything clean
Not bad at all. Cosmetically, this cabinet is a real looker

So that was one job out of the way. Time to move on to the practicalities. I knew the control panel was going to be a big job, so decided to get on with that. What I like about the look of the panel, is the wear marks on it. Years of use and abuse are pretty obvious to see, but somehow it tells the story of this cabinet, and I decided that I wanted to keep that worn out look, and in the process preserve some of its history:

It’s certainly lived a life!
Look closely and you can see just how grubby the panel is. Top right looks like dirt, but is actually a significant amount of burn from countless cigarettes being rested there as people played the machine. Common practice during the 80s, when smoking was allowed indoors. Those yellow buttons are stock, and would have shipped straight from the factory. It’s very unusual to find them still complete. A nice bonus.

So after stripping out the hardware, I took the blank panel and gave it a wash:

Nothing particularly clever here. Detergent, a brush and shower head gets the job done
All cleaned up
That wear looks great. You can make out the shapes of the thousands of wrists and hands that have played on this cabinet.

The stubborn area top right that I mentioned earlier was attacked with a magic eraser which removed the worst of it.

When the panel dried out, I wasn’t happy with the way the colours looked. They were very faded and tired looking. After posting a picture or two on a Williams Players’ Facebook group, someone suggested that the best product to fix this was going to be some Auto Glym Bumper & Trim Gel. Although designed for work on bringing old worn out car panels looking like new again, I figured it would work just as well here. So I got down to it with a dry cloth and elbow grease:

Spent around 20 minutes giving the panel a good application of the gel
You can see here the difference this product made. The left hand side is treated with the gel

The colours are really popping now:

A huge improvement!

Onto the biggest challenge. The joysticks. For some reason, European Robotrons do not use the nice Wico sticks found on the USA version of the game. What we have is a bizarre, Frankenstein version of those sticks:

The sticks mount via a spring and ball bearing into the cup on the right
This was the right hand one. Notice the plastic shavings evident here. These things were seriously worn out after years of abuse in the arcades
Not really knowing where I was going, I started with a good clean
Things are looking better, but….

I asked around about these sticks and the consensus was that they were always horrible to use – even without the catastrophic wear I was trying to deal with. Sure enough, reassembled, the sticks didn’t feel right at all. They wouldn’t centre properly as the cup was so worn on both of them. The usual smooth movement simply wasn’t there. As much as I’d like to keep this cabinet as original as possible, there was no way I was going to be able to repair these. Parts are simply unobtainable, and trying to fix what I had, was going to be nigh-on impossible. I had to accept that they had come to the end of their life – pure and simple.

Thankfully, I had an idea. 5 years ago I bought a pair of Leaf-Pro joysticks from GroovyGameGear.com along with a couple of Robotron-esque sticks to complement them. They reviewed very well and players were saying at the time, that these are excellent replacements for original USA Wico joysticks. I pulled them out of my parts bin, and got planning how to mount them on the panel.

The new Leaf-Pro stick from GroovyGameGear.com

I’ll rebuild the original sticks and keep them in the cash box of the cabinet, so at least they will remain with the cabinet, even if they are no longer useable.

To get these to mount on the original panel was going to take some doing. The original sticks mounted via four bolts in a diamond shape around the joystick holes. That wasn’t going to work here. These mount in a square shape on each corner.

Another collector friend came to the rescue – Victor (from tenpence arcade podcast) came up trumps and offered to make some mounting plates for me. He came through in a couple of days, and produced these bad boys:

So in simple terms, the holes on each side will mount into the orignal holes on the panel. The new joysticks will be mounted to the remaining holes in each corner

This solved a big headache – and of course I don’t have to hack around with the original layout of the control panel – meaning the integrity of the cabinet is kept intact. So while prepping everything there, I gave the two yellow start buttons a good clean and polish:

Eww. 37 years of muck
A good soak in hot water and a drop of our car polish got them looking like new again

So getting the joysticks to our panel wasn’t quite plain sailing. I had to drill out some holes in the plastic base to accommodate the mounting bolts, but after some trial and error, I worked out the best way forward:

I used M5 bolts to mount everything

It wasn’t too difficult, other than having to run up and down to the garage for further Dremel and drill work. But it came together after a few hours and I had both sticks mounted perfectly to the underside of the control panel:

Everything is tight and secure

Wiring next. This was a pain in the ass. Whoever built the original loom decided to solder the wires directly onto the old leaf switches. So those had to be cut off and replaced with crimped connectors. Not a pleasant job, but necessary:

Crimping. Not something I want to do for a living

So with that done, it was time to mount the sticks and buttons to see what we have:

Delighted with that. One clean panel, silky smooth sticks and the wear really sets it off!
Ready for play

Really pleased with how that panel has turned out. We’ve breathed new life into it, upgraded our sticks and cleaned up the grime and buttons. It’s going to look great on the cab. Here’s a before/after:


The sticks sit just a few tenths of an inch higher than the originals, but it’s perfectly acceptable. I might resolve this at some point by getting the sticks milled down slightly, so they better match the height of traditional Wicos. As for feel, they are very close to the originals.

There was more good news too. The boards came back from repair – fully working and ready to go!

Connectors have been replaced, chips replaced where required, and we’re now running 4164 ram rather than the notoriously delicate and unreliable 4116 type. These should be bulletproof for the foreseeable future. Thanks again Phil!

So there you go. Part 1 of this restoration journey. In Part 2 we’ll get back to the main cabinet, where some wood repairs are required!

See you next time.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew says:

    That’s really amazing. I don’t know why they didn’t go with black in the U.S.; it looks better. Normally I’m not a big fan of “patina,” but you can literally see people’s fists clenching the joysticks! How appropriate for Robotron!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pete* says:

    Glad to see my old Robotron cabinet coming back to life…looking forward to part 2!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony says:

    Hey Pete! Thanks for stopping by sir. More to come!


  4. Steve MM says:

    Looks amazing, Tony! Great work!!! Did you consider some dust washers on top of the control panel there? Might make for a bit of a cleaner look, but overall this came out great and I completely agree with your decision to leave the control panel a little bit grunged up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tony says:

    Yeah I take your point. The dust washers sit underneath the panel, but with the plate there too, it sits quite low. I might dismantle the joysticks again and move them up top.


  6. Nigel Ashworth says:

    Nice blog.

    Just realised my Robotron is an EU one then.

    Who was your repairer and do you know if he is open for sorting other board sets out ? I think I have RAM issues.

    Waiting for the second part as I have a few holes made by a security clamp.




    Liked by 1 person

  7. Would have been very tempting to go with a new control panel overlay, but I agree with some of the other comments it looks great. Look forward to part 2. Cheers. Roly

    Liked by 1 person

  8. If you need your shaft shortening – I know a guy! HUR!
    NIce work so far!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. neil1637 says:

    Nice work as usual pal. Love the CP as is too. Weirdly I love crimping, I find it most therapeutic! Looking forward to the woodwork..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. this is very interesting! i love how you have brought it back to life!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dave Mac says:

    You’re an inspiration sir. You’ve accomplished what I could not. Ive a full set of Robotron boards stored away that have t seen the light of day for 20 years. I’d longed to bring the amazing sounds from this game back to life and relive my misspent youth from those smoke filled arcade days, but my family happened. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wesley says:

    Did part II get omitted or just not written? We are a year down the road, Looking forward to an article about the additional challenges that no doubt came up.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s