Rebuilding F-14 Tomcat
Updated: Aug 27
This F-14 Tomcat was different than the other machines I've worked on. I found this machine nearby from a guy who has had it with him for the last 8 years. The only catch is that the playfield is entirely disassembled. I've never put together an entire playfield before, as I have only partially disassembled them. I decided to take on the challenge as I thought it would help sharpen my skills. We worked out a deal and I brought home the machine (and a ton of boxes full of parts)
This machine had not been turned on ever since it was disassembled, which was approximately... 8 years ago. However, despite all that the playfield was beautifully restored with a nice clear coat. It was the nicest F-14 Tomcat playfield I've ever seen, as most of them are pretty worn down. All the solenoid mechs were cleaned and rebuilt, which saved me a lot of time. Before tackling the playfield, I decided to start with the cabinet as there was work to be done before I could power it on.
Before System 11B, the machines did not have fuses added to the power going to the bridge rectifiers. If anything were to fail with those bridge rectifiers, there would be a serious fire risk and a potentially ruined transformer. I added fuses here before turning the machine on just to be safe, and to keep the future owner safe if anything were to fail. Upon first turning it on, success! everything seems to work. Of course, none of the flashers or beacons would work without the playfield plugged in so there was no way of knowing everything was operational just yet. I pulled the MPU for an NVRAM installation and re-capped the power supply and soundboard. A new power cord was added as the old one was beaten up pretty badly. I'm glad I did so as there were some very poor soldering jobs in the power box! All it needed was some cleaning up and it was good to go.
The cabinet was cleaned and touched up, with the beacons being fully rebuilt. The wood behind the interlock switch broke off and had to be repaired. The translite was in pretty good shape and didn't need any attention. The displays that came with the machine were LED but didn't sit very close to the speaker panel. It was hard to see the displays so I ended up putting an original gas display in its place. The speaker panel was polished and new "W" logos were repainted on the speaker grills. The backbox lock was missing and used a very specific curved cam to hold the translite. I looked around and could not find the cam I needed, so I had to improvise. The best solution was to use a 5/8" lock with a 1 1/2" cam. It wasn't perfect but it holds the translite in pretty well.
Here comes the hard part, the playfield rebuilding. It may seem like a huge undertaking at first, but if you take it in parts it's not so bad. The previous owner took a lot of good pictures and gave me a second playfield to go off of which helped the rebuild process immensely. A few things were done already such as the pop bumper and the star posts so I had a slight head start. New rails from Reese Rails were installed, and look much better than the traditional vinyl-wrapped rails. A few topside parts were installed to hold the rubbers, along with the flasher sockets. The GI light system was then stapled in, with the main solenoid units following. Even though you don't normally start with the solenoid wiring, that's what I started with first as there were a LOT of solenoids to re-solder (the correct order for playfield assembly is switches -> lights -> solenoids).
Getting a system going to solder the solenoids was tough. Trying to get two wires to stay in place seemed impossible. I found shrink-tubing the two wires together and holding the wires with hemostats while soldering makes it 100 times easier. It's a few extra steps, but if you're re-soldering solenoids I highly recommend doing it this way to save the headache. Once all the solenoids were in, the lamps went in, followed by the switches. LEDs were added to all inserts using a specific guideline I follow when doing inserts. The GI received all cool white lighting to compliment the blues in the playfield. Most people keep their flashers original, but I replaced them all with LEDs without making it TOO blinding. Don't forget to cut the warming resistors when adding LED flashers! All stand-up targets were cleaned with new target foam applied. F-14 Tomcat has 20 standup targets, so it was quite a process.
The wiring was done, and it was almost time to test everything out. Before I did that, I decided to add in the missing flashers. Williams removed the two red flashers near the top of the playfield as they would short out on the targets in front of them. They can be added back if you properly insulate everything to prevent them from possibly shorting. The wiring was a bit tricky but ended up being a quick process. One thing I did note was in most online guides, they have you wire both red flashers in parallel. I followed the original design, putting blue and red in parallel, with the other red by itself. It probably doesn't make a huge difference, but I wanted to stick to the original design as much as possible.
After rewiring an entire playfield with over 100+ components, it can be nerve-racking to turn it on. What if one wire was accidentally swapped or shorted? Depending on where it is can be catastrophic. After triple-checking all my connections, I put the playfield back in the machine and crossed my fingers. VOILA! Besides a few switches that needed some adjusting, everything worked as intended. All that was left was to add the remaining components and plastics so I could finally give this machine a playtest. It took a few games to iron out some issues, but the game now plays flawlessly.
New legs were added, along with metal cabinet protectors to prevent further damage. The beacons were in good shape, but the white beacon is pretty much yellow. It's unfortunately the fate of all-white F-14 Tomcat beacons and can be easily replaced. Other little things were done such as rebuilding the shooter rod with a stronger spring to make it up the ramp, and a brand new piece of glass.
A little less than a year later, the machine is finally playable after being in pieces for the last 9 years. The clear-coated playfield makes this fast game even faster with the ball zipping around the playfield. LEDs make the machine pop, giving it a wonderful light show. You can't go wrong with a Steve Richie game!
You can find this machine on our "For sale" page very soon!