Midway Wheels, with approximately 7000 manufactured, was a successful license of Taito Speed Race. I always wanted to add a Wheels to the collection. Over the years I came across a few, but I could not find a keeper. Recently, I found a decent condition Wheels that I was planning to pick-up from a local hoarder. Then this Speed Race happened.
Never did I think I would have the opportunity to find a Taito Speed Race. Popular in Japan and worldwide, this cabinet was not distributed in the States. Except for Space Invaders, 70s Taito arcade cabinets are very difficult to find over here. Fortunately, a couple of good collecting friends were looking out for me, and I got hooked up with an incredible find!
This Speed Race came from a family in the Chicago suburbs who a year ago picked it up from a thrift store. Considering the game’s extensively clean condition, I don’t believe it was operated. Possibly it could have originated from a dead executive’s estate, as Midway was headquartered in Chicago. Midway may have brought a Speed Race over for the executives to review prior to licensing. Of course, this is a wild guess. But given the cabinet’s found condition and location, it’s not entirely far-fetched.
Besides being visually stunning, Speed Race sports a realistic racing wheel controller, shifter, and gas pedal. Quite a departure from the ball and paddle pong clones of the time. Especially detailed, it includes an LED speedometer and analogue tachometer. In comparison Wheels and Racer’s production values both seem second rate.
Australia may be your best bet for finding a Taito Speed race, as a quite a few have shown up there. No more than a couple have shown up in all of Europe. Maybe there are a few floating around in Japan, but I am not aware of any. There are two known in North America. Besides this one, the other came out of the Time Travel Warehouse in Vancouver, BC. If I’m wrong with any of this, please let me know.
Tomohiro Nishikado designed Speed Race, which among its many achievements featured the first use of scrolling in a video game. Nishikado considers this game among his favorites prior to Space Invaders. Gameplay consists of a top-down view of your car and others speeding along the road. Race your car gaining points, going faster for more points. As your score increases, so does the frequency of other cars. Avoid crashing as this costs you precious time. In addition to the previously mentioned screen scrolling, the game features a number of innovations including difficulty levels, sprite graphics with collision detection, and alternating players.
After the success of Speed Race and Wheels, Taito continued their relationship with Midway and continued to produce a number of inspired titles including Laguna Racer, Speed Race Twin and Super Speed Race. Other manufacturers made variants of this style. And In 1979, Sega released the ultimate incarnation of this game: Monaco GP.
Here’s a short video of Speed Race’s gameplay.