When this sit down fiberglass Night Driver cabinet became available for a bargain price I could not pass it up. I already had a Computer Space 2-player with fiberglass cabinet. The Night Driver went with my CS cabinet too well so I had to have it!
Two space-age looking fiberglass cabinets = Awesome.
This is the game I started with, as it arrived on my doorstep. Filthy, scratched up, no internal boards, no monitor, really sad.
This is the final result, colloquially known as the "after" version. New control panels, scratches removed or covered, damaged artwork removed, new flat panel monitor, computer inside, fully working.
How I got this cabinet.
I was not looking for a Night Driver cabinet at all. I was satisfied with my Computer Space-2player and did not need another cabinet. I was headed home one night. It was late, around 3AM. I had turned off the radio. The pick-up was quiet. I saw a bright light swooping towards me in the sky. I slammed on the brakes. That was the last I recall. The next memory I have is sitting on the side of the road. I turned around and saw the Atari Night Driver in the back of the pickup and $300 was missing from my wallet. I knew it was another blackout caused by arcade-game-osis.
I do call this a restoration even though it is technically not a restoration. A true restoration means putting a game back the way it was originally. I am converting this to play various emulators which is really a conversion, however to make it look right I have to repair the cabinet which is in a sense a restoration. The cabinet is not exactly like it was originally because it will have no graphics and the control panels will be different. It is still a restoration because the cabinet itself has been restored and not altered. The cabinet is exactly as it was when it arrived other than a button hole drilled in the metal accelerator floor plate, which is not part of the fiberglass, to add the brake. Otherwise nothing has been altered on the actual cabinet and it "could" be returned to an original Night Driver. Of course, anyone who wanted to do that would be an idiot. The game was fun in 1974 for about five minutes and even less time today. There is no reason to turn it back when it is much better this way.
Observations And History
The game cabinet was originally released by Atari as Hi-Way in 1975. This game had the standard overhead view of the road. Notice the maroon cabinet in the flyer and no graphics on the cabinet. This was Atari’s first sit-down driving game. The game hardware is not a cpu. It uses discreet logic meaning resistors, capacitors and possibly transistors using the Durastress process. The cabinet was patented Oct. 20, 1975: (U.S. Patent # D243,626, ). Apparently there was also an upright version of this game which I have never seen. I do not know if it was a fiberglass cabinet or not.
The cabinet mold was then reused for Night Driver which was the first video game to have a first-person view of the road. It was not the first game with this view because a number of electromechanical games had first person viewpoints of various types, but it was the first video game to use this view. Also notice how the rear night driver graphics wrap over the top. This wrapping is different from the actual game which has the graphics on the flat part of the back only. You can see the Sprint-2 type accelerator in this photo too.
See if a Night Driver is available on eBay
Both standup and sit down units I have seen had a sprint2 type pedal but mine had a different and apparently original accelerator pedal. It fits too well to not be original and nothing on my cabinet looked like it had ever been removed or modified. If sprint came out first then mine may be a later pedal. I had no logo for the center of the steering wheel but my wheel also did not have hole cutouts in the spokes like other units I have seen so I am not sure if the wheel is original or replaced. On flyer, the wheel has solid spokes like mine, but standup night driver has holes. The flyer also shows sprint2 style pedal.
Other photos show the same steering wheel that I have and no center Atari logo.
I have seen some photos that show a button below the shifter. I do not know what this might be because those photos still have the start button on the dash. There is also a long cutout in the fiberglass under the shifter which is not used. This looks like a space for a button to be placed and there is plenty of room on the shifter panel for buttons. Perhaps they were planning for other games to use the same cabinet.
In one photo of the sit down Night Driver I saw what looked like a knob below the shift stick and it also had clear graphics under the shifter with a silver conical button(like the start buttons on centipede) for the start button along with an Atari center cap on the wheel.
This one also had the sprint style accelerator. I do not know what this controlled. This could have been an operator conversion to another game.
This is the original cabinet. It was covered with scratches, damaged sideart, dirt and filled with $5 in quarters.
The original steering wheel mount was rusted. The wheel had rust spots too. In rough shape overall but only one hole in the cabinet which was out of sight.
This is the original shifter. Can you imagine having such a filthy looking game on your route? Look at all that extra space below it. They must have planned for other games to use this cabinet because it is all open space under the panel.
Someone really messed up the coin door. I pulled off the security bar mounts and replaced the bolts with black head bolts to fill the holes. Stripped the paint off and gave it a brushed metal finish before spraying with poly.
This is the original accelerator. I later added a brake pedal so more games can be played which use a brake. Notice the pine needles hanging down from the dash panel. Barn fresh!
Rusted mounting plate. The only button was a single start button.
The back graphics were scratched up. The good thing was that the graphics protected the cabinet in that area which was covered. I decided I did not want any graphics on this cabinet. It is a beautiful cabinet and does not need them. Just like Computer Space, this cabinet does not need graphics. The lines speak for themselves.
I did a lot of searching to find out how to remove foil stickers. It turns out the only way is the hard way. I tried various strippers which only dissolved the ink. I was 95% sure none would work on metallic foil but had to try. I ended up using a heat gun and a razor blade to pull off sections until the graphic tore, then starting on the next section. It was not too bad and most sections came off in 6"x10" sections.
The sideart was not that bad but it was not the look I wanted so it had to go.
Here is the cabinet with art removed.
The cabinet was covered with scratches. Here I smoothed out some really bad ones with 400 grit sandpaper and then smoothed with 600.
on eBay(opens in new window)
See the big gouge in the seat edge. Just a terrible thing to do to such a nice cabinet.
How do I fix these scratches? I found a great solution. Black leather dye. This is great stuff for fixing black fiberglass. When fiberglass is scratched it exposes a porous surface while the outer skin is smooth and solid. I rubbed on this leather dye which was thin enough to fill the porous scratch but with an alcohol soaked rag I could wipe down the cabinet afterward and remove the excess from the smooth unscratched surface. I ended up wiping the entire cabinet down with this dye and then wiping it clean several times to get all the excess off. It covered all the scratches, big and small. Once sprayed with poly they were almost invisible. On one big scratch I may go back and manually add in some glitter specks to match the metallic finish of the cabinet. That may hide the big scratches even better by breaking up the black line they create.
Leather Dye On eBay
Bottom of original seat. When we moved the seat we heard a banging. What could possibly be so big and banging around in there?
It turns out it was a piece of press board. Atari glued this board to the bottom of the seat. I have no idea what they thought it was going to accomplish being glued to the seat. It provided no support because it was just glued to the seat bottom and poorly glued at that. There is no way it could provide any structural support or relieve any pressure or distribute any loads. Someone just was not thinking when they approved this engineering idea.
I decided to make a big mess in my kitchen and the most efficient way to do that was to cut a hole in the bottom of the cabinet. The benefit was that I could remove this lose board and access the control panel back.
Pulling the accelerator and control panels out. Lots of dirt under everything.
I will have to replace the tinted plexi with clear.
This is the original 2 position shifter.
I usually put my games on casters but this one would have been raised up too tall and I did not like the idea of people putting one foot on it and trying to sit down with casters so I went with furniture sliders. I can still move it around with these.
I replaced the attempted support with a real support under the seat. I filled gaps with expanding foam and then applied support strips. It is not a super system but will take some load off the fiberglass and transfer it to the base through four supports.
Seat being cleaned.
Removed original plexi.
Cabinet with no plexi.
I originally thought I would simply cut a blackout mat and use a flat screen monitor. If I had a black tinted glass this might have worked but I did not want to reduce the brightness. I used the original plexi as a guide to cut my replacement clear plexi and to size a bezel.
If I were going to redo the bezel I would use sign maker polystyrene. This is a denser type of polystyrene that can be cut and shaped. It allows you to work with it easily and I could have used it to create a bezel with a rounded edge. When it is shaped it can be painted or coated to create a hard shell. This material is used to make three-dimensional letters for outdoor signs and to create small sculptures and logos.
I had experience making fiberglass bezels from the Computer Space project but that was a LOT of work and I did not want to invest a week in this bezel. I decided to recut my flat bezel which looked terrible and give it some dimension to fit my flat panel monitor. I used sintra which is a sign making material. It was easy to work with and I happened to have a lot of it on hand. I glued it in place, then used more glue and securing blocks to hold it in place. I should have taken some more time and used body filler to smooth it out more. It still came out really nice.
Bezel taking shape as glue dries.
The instruction sticker was something I modified from Computer Space. This is not original but I wanted something that looked like an original arcade game and many older games had poorly placed instruction stickers so I stuck this one here to break up the large black area at the bottom of the bezel.
My final bezel ready to be installed. I sprayed it with textured paint and then sprayed flat black over that. This hides imperfections and makes it look more like the original bezels of the day.
Something I learned was that sintra scraps make great scrapers. They have a sharp edge when cut with a utility knife that makes scraping paint that has been loosened by Citristrip easy without scratching the metal surface. I will cut some of my scrap pieces up into scrapers and continue to use these. They are better than the plastic razor blades for working with vinyl in some instances because they are harder but still do not scratch. These were very handy for stripping the coin door paint.
I made cardboard templates for my control panel. This gave me size and placement samples. I tried different buttons and arrangements. Then decided to go with some triangular buttons I already had.
I had an original Astron Belt joystick. I was planning to use it to restore an Astron Belt cabinet which had been converted to a Choplifter by an operator. I sold the cabinet so now had this spare joystick. It was perfect for this build because it allows me to play not only driving games but flight simulator games too. Besides, it looks cool. One problem was that it did not fit the cabinet.
The mounting wings stuck out too far. I had to weld the case together and then use a grinder with cutting wheel to cut off the mounting wings. I then used the screws which were meant to mount the joystick to the support structure as mounting screws to mount the entire thing to my panel.
Closeup of weld. I had to weld because if I just cut off the wings the thing would fall apart. The wings had spot welds holding everything together. Still learning how to weld too.
This is a finger mouse. I bought it on eBay really cheap.
This is a finger mouse mounted to a driving wheel. The mouse is just that, a mouse. It is very small. I only needed it to work in one line, left and right. I mounted it so that movement of the wheel would move it left or right under the detector eye. Fortunately the wheel was exactly the right size to get the right speed. If it had been too fast or slow I would have had to mount another larger or smaller wheel to read the edge from. I also was able to adjust the mouse speed using the Windows Control Panel to do some fine tuning. It was too fast on the Fast setting so I dropped it to Slow and games like Spy Hunter became easier.
The teeth caused intermittent movement of the mouse pointer so I used some aluminum ducting tape to create a solid surface, then scratched it up with sandpaper to give a textured surface the mouse could easily detect. I now have a steering wheel that works with my computer and I did not have to buy any expensive conversion kits.
The wheel had loose rust in it. When I turned the wheel it made a rattling sound that was very annoying. There was already a gouge on the back side of the wheel so at that point I drilled a hole to shake out the rust particles. I then glued the hole and inserted extra glue to create a block point. This keeps any new particles from going around endlessly. I then sealed the hole with glue and painted it black while smoothing it so it is not easy to feel.
Full dash panel with buttons, LEDs and everything wired up.
I started building my console panel using thin sign aluminum. This would work fine for just buttons but with a big joystick being pulled and pushed it was not tough enough. I had to switch to 1/8" aluminum plating. I was able to use the thin version as a template to recut the thicker version.
The dash panel was only a sheet of aluminum. I hate to alter anything original but since it was already scratched up and was just aluminum that could be easily recut, I decided to drill some extra holes for buttons and lights in the original panel, then give it a brushed finish.
I bought my aluminum plating on ebay too:
Here is my console panel in thick aluminum.
The coin door had open space which was perfect for my control buttons. I brushed it to have a consistent look with my other panels. It was steel but still looks good with the aluminum panels.
Another shot of the dash panel.
Fine tooth metal cutting blade ruined by cutting aluminum.
I learned something new with this project. I have cut aluminum in the past and had the same problem. I would cut with a metal blade, the material would heat up and melt into the blade which ruined the blade. Cutting aluminum with a 22 or higher tooth blade is the problem. The aluminum melts. The solution is to use a special aluminum blade that is not as fine toothed. You could likely use a cheap Harbor Freight medium tooth wood cutting blade too. When I changed to the larger tooth blade it solved the problem and I was able to make my cuts.
This is the kit I used to make my custom dry transfers with a laser printer. It is the same system used on my Computer Space 2 Player control panel. I ordered my kit from http://www.pulsarprofx.com/ and below is how I used it.
I first designed my graphics in Photoshop and printed them out on the special blue paper.
I used the pong control panel for inspiration. I wanted to use the Atari and Syzygy logo/wording for this control panel since the original game was an Atari game but still keep it very 1970's in style. I also wanted it to say Night Driver and have the manufacture date even if the original did not have either.
Ultimately I used a combo of the computer space graphics I had already created and the Atari Pong control panel graphics with that Atari logo and wording from the Pong panel. These were split between the dash and control panel and coin door.
I tried to create a race-car, Monaco feel for the button graphics. The numbers and Over Drive mean nothing but they look cool.
I followed the guide to transfer the graphics from the blue paper to the mylar transfer sheet which is similar to the old model airplane method of putting graphics in water and then applying them to the model. I put the transferred graphics in a water bath and when they separated from the backing I carefully placed them on my cleaned control panel as shown above. Rubbed with some pressure to make sure they were stuck well and peeled away the mylar transfer sheet. When the entire panel was finished I sprayed with clear polyurethane to protect it. See the polyurethane section of this page for important details on picking the right stuff.
Here is a guide to using the dry transfers
Follow this guide closely. Also, do not try to run several decals through the laminator at once and then plan on cutting them apart. It will not work. Cut them out, leave plenty of room around the graphic, apply the clear coat, tape it, then apply a cleaned mylar that is cut to the size of the graphic so it does not have to be trimmed. You want the piece with the final mylar such that it can be dropped directly in water with no trimming. This was a mistake I made a number of times. I would try to laminate a full sheet with the transfer mylar, then cut out the pieces I needed and drop them in the water bath, but the process of cutting them off the big sheet loosened the static charge and often lifted the edges of the mylar resulting in the image not sticking to the transfer mylar. When I dropped my transfers in the water bath the graphic separated from the mylar which made it useless. Once I started running small ready to drop pieces through the laminator this problem went away.
You can clear coat them in one big sheet, then cut them up into smaller pieces after using tape, then use the small pieces of clear transfer mylar to run through the laminator and slide that straight into the water bath. The guide videos show an exact size match but the transfer does not have to be an exact match and can even be a little smaller than your blue backing paper as long as it covers the graphic. If you try to cut or move the decals after they have the clear mylar applied they will lift and the decal will not transfer to the mylar. This is why it is best to cut mylar to the same size, almost the same size, or a little smaller. Too much hanging over the edge can cause separations and cutting can cause separation plus remove the static charge that is needed to hold the graphic to the mylar transfer.
When making dry transfers, do not try to control the amount of spray adhesive that comes out of the sprayer by holding the nozzle part way or slowly pressing it. Press it all the way down. If you press it part way down it will dribble glue out and not spray evenly. This causes drops on your graphic and not an even coating. I tried to spray gently a few times and the result was dribbles on my graphics of glue spots. Pressing the sprayer all the way down when not pointed at the graphic and then sweeping over it a couple of times really helped.
One other thing to mention that is not clear in the how-to video is to clean the mylar and graphic well before the final run through the laminator. That means clean both sides of the clear mylar transfer piece you have cut off before placing it over the printed graphic and running it through the laminator. When wiping the mylar you are not only cleaning it but creating a static charge to make it clingy. By running a paper towel over it a few times you create a charge and also clean it. It then sticks to the paper to run through and the graphic sticks to the mylar when you put it in the water bath instead of floating away.
Console panel after removing the transfer mylar and before cleaning with alcohol.
This is my Atari logo taken from the Pong control panel just after I applied the dry transfer. If you screw up a transfer you can scrape it off with your thumb nail or Sintra and apply another transfer in the same spot.
Dash panel with all graphics applied. The original panel had lines around the entire edge. That would have been very hard to do with my transfer method and I did not think it looked that good so I went with a simpler triple line at the top and bottom.
I then sprayed my panels with clear poly to protect the graphics and prevent any tarnishing of the metal over time.
Console panel sprayed with poly.
Coin Door sprayed with poly and with all graphics in place.
This is the type of polyurethane spray I use. I get it from Home Depot. It is great stuff because it covers smoothly thanks to a special spray tip and it is truly clear. Some oil based poly turns yellow. That is fine if you want to make something look yellowed and aged but not for most projects. Water based sprays usually give a speckled texture like orange peel which is not desirable. I sprayed the entire cabinet with the above spray and it came out great.
You can also get this on eBay if you have trouble finding it locally. I have not tried the brush on versions yet.
Coin door with buttons installed.
This is my brake pedal. I bought a parking brake cover on eBay which was the perfect size for this area. It is mounted using a hinge and has a heavy duty push button under it.
Here is the types of pedal I got, also on eBay:
Push button under brake pedal as seen from top side with brake folded down on hinge.
I really like these buttons and used the same ones on the control panel. They are all metal and heavy duty. They are good to add to an older game because they do not look like cheap plastic buttons made today. I got these on eBay and had to order from someone in Europe because I could not find any other sources.
Button supplier on ebay:
Cleaned cabinet before populating with panels.
Assembled console panel.
Back of assembled console panel. I try to keep it tidy with wire ties.
This is my sound system. I have found these to be good units from Logitech and they are cheap on eBay. I used the same kind on my Computer Space game and then bought this without realizing it was the same until it arrived. These have a sub woofer and they will turn on when power is applied. I bought another type and found that when power was cut and then reapplied you had to press the power button to turn it on. What a stupid design feature! This Logitech LS21 unit comes on when power is applied, has good sound for arcade game use, is not expensive and has a separate subwoofer. It also has a remote control panel that lets you adjust the volume. There is enough space in it to safely drill holes along the sides for mounting. All features I wanted.
These are not available in stores but you can usually find them on eBay like I did:
I mounted the subwoofer on the under-seat board for extra bass punch. It is easily mounted using simple angle brackets.
Time to wire up the ipac and ledwiz.
Ultimarc key decoders allow you to connect buttons to your computer so they act like a keyboard key press. The LedWiz I used makes the button lights flash.
The Ultimarc is often sold cheaper on eBay by people who buy extras and then do not use them:
I needed a connector for the seat section in case I needed to move the game and disconnect the seat from the main cabinet. I did not want to unscrew all those terminals and figure out where they went after some time had passed. It would have been a mess. I bought a 1ft 25pin printer cable, male/female, cut it in half and wired one half to the key decoder and ledwiz and the other side to my console control panel. Now if I need to move the unit I disconnect one big connector and two 1/8" jacks for the audio. very simple and easy to figure out for reassembly. It was easier for me than using molex connectors too, though the connection is not as solid since they do not lock together. I will use a wire tie to hold them together. If this was for commercial use then I would have opted for a proper molex connector.
I wanted to add lights to my translucent buttons. This was easily accomplished by using an ultra bright LED and drilling a hole in the side of the mount. Friction held it in very well. Some spray-tape insulates the wires too. Regular shrink tubing would also have worked and likely been faster because there would have been no drying time.
Here is everything finally wired. All of my buttons came from eBay too:
Closeup of console panel. I printed a custom insert for the joystick so it felt more integrated with the game.
Close up of coin door and controls.
I can easily open the coin door to make adjustments.
Final game assembled and sprayed with polyurethane.
I decided to try my light gun again. I previously tried to use it with my Computer Space conversion but it never worked right. This time I realized why it did not work. There is another LED on the board which was bent down. I saw the group of 5 and cut out a hole for those but not for this other one in my Computer Space game so that extra LED was blocked. For this project I realized it after I already cut the big hole for 5 so had to cut an extra hole for this final LED. I also suspect that having the Plexiglas a distance in front of the LEDs may have been a problem with the computer space causing reflection and refraction.