I finally found out who created the mysterious 3D car racing arcade machines I saw in my childhood. And apparently he even invented in 1975 the German predecessor of what was later copied by Atari as Night Driver - the world first 3 dimensional arcade driving videogame ever!

These were my memories:

In my childhood (ca. 1982?) I saw in two shopping centers ("Hertie" and "Karstadt" in the German city Bremen) a strange 3D car racing arcade machine of the name "Nürburg Ring". The one at Karstadt stood in a teenager fashion department that was called "Follow Me!"; the department was decorated with fake air condition pipes at the ceiling and also many home videogame consoles (Atari VCS2600, Intellivision, Philips G7000 etc.) were installed here for kids to play. Possibly a "Nürburg Ring" machine may also have been  in the basement of the "Horten" shopping center for a short time, but I am not sure.

The cabinet was a quite strange, signal red, entirely rectangular upright box (edges covered with silver metal protective ledges?) with a steering wheel at its front and a quite small (17 inch?) colour monitor. There also was a seat mounted in front of the machine, it had a accelerator pedal and (I am not sure) a gearshift lever. There was in white letters written "Nürburg Ring" on the (sides of the?) cabinet. (Possibly also drawings of white "checkered flags" were there.)
|     |
|    :|
|    :|               <-screen
|    :| 
|     |.              <-button row
|     | |       .-.
|     |=|       | |   <-steering wheel
|     | |       | |
|     |    _____|_|
|     |   {       |   <-seat
|     +-------------|
|     !             |

I don't remember the seat well; it may have been either a black plastics- or metal chair (was quite hard and uncomfortable?) or just a plain, rectangular box with a black top to be used for sitting on. I only remember that I sometimes sat on it (while waiting for the home videogame consoles in the "Follow Me" department of Karstadt to get unoccupied or to get switched on by the staff?).

The screen showed in 3D raster graphics (max. 4 or 8 colours per scan line?) a dark blue road with yellow center stripes. You could also see the red (Rolls-Royce/ oldtimer-like) hood of your car there and in the background there was a cloudy sky and a 2D bitmap- landscape (similar like "Pole Position") that scrolled horizontally when passing curves. There were no(!) other cars on the road and I also don't remember any objects left or right to it.

Below the graphics was a black, ca. 4cm high area with very blocky yellow numbers (and a horizontal bar as speedometer?), showed through several rectangular holes in a similar high, plain red, opaque screen overlay (with (white?) writings describing the number fields on it?). There did neither title logos nor copyright messages nor any other writings appear on the screen, only the number stuff below the graphics (similar to some of the first Atari 2600 carts.) Nowadays I guess it was a timed game that played very similar like the Atari's "Night Driver" arcade version on MAME.

Below the screen on the cabinet was a row of ca. 4 (?) small buttons those allowed to switch between a mountainous and a flatter landscape (could be selected during attract mode; the screen panorama instantly changed when pressing these buttons). The mountain landscape had more curves (S curves?) in the road, but there were no up and down effects (unlike "Outrun") in the road graphics. I clearly remember that there were small, brown huts visible in the green background panorama (of the flatter landscape?). Possibly another button selected between good and bad weather (bad was rain?, or ice and snow?). There was also a button to select between a sober and drunk driver (caused a more difficult steering behaviour?). I believe to remember that each selected button was lit yellow (each button had a light bulb in it?), but they may also have been plain white(?) with a yellow LED close to each of them.

Here are 2 hand drawn pictures; as far I remember the graphics looked very similar like this...

game in flat landscape mode game in mountainous mode

It might be that one of the Nürburg Ring machines I saw had a bluish B/W monitor, but possibly I just mis- remember this. I don't remember if I ever put coins into this machine; if yes, then I only played it 2 or 3 times in my live. I believe to remember that the machine had only a single coin slot on a small, silver metal plate (like known from small chewing gum or condom vending machines), but I am not sure about this detail.

Does anybody else remember this machine? It may have been a Germany- only production or the name of this game may be different in other countries, because "Nürburg Ring" is the name of a German formula 1 racing track (although the game graphics didn't look in any way like formula 1 racing at all). I also believe to remember that in the early 80th I saw in TV news a driving simulator for research purposes those graphics looked very similar to this game.

The "Nürburg Ring" game machine must have been something really old (like "Speed Freak") and I wish to know if this was a Germany- only release or if it is something more commonly known in the world. (I also would enjoy to see an emulation of this, although I guess that this game would be not much fun today.)

arcade mystery solved.

Some kind people e-mailed me an eBay photo and a French language flyer about a different machine version. The German machine on eBay was offered as "Formel 1 Nürnburgring" - manufactured by the German company Rainer Foerst GmbH in Gummersbach. And the great thing is that this company still exists, and it now manufactures nothing else than genuine scientific driving simulators!

See here: http://www.drfoerst.de/

On The Arcade Flyer Archive I found additional German language flyers of the machines Nürburgring 1, 2 and 3. (You can download high resolution versions of the flyers there.) According to the flyers, the German arcade machine distributor of the company was named SPOBAG ( = "Sportstätten-Betriebs-AG").

Nürburgring 1 and 2 According to this Nürburgring 1 & 2 flyer, there was an impressive lot of electronics inside, mounted on 28 cards in a rack. The graphics strongly resembled Night Driver, which Atari apparently had copied from it. The English translation of the 5 number displays is {km, goal, mistakes, seconds, free ride}.
Nürburgring 1 was very similar like the Night Driver machine by Atari; it only displayed a couple of white road posts on a black background to approximate a 3 dimensional road. Nürburgring 2 was basically the same game with motor cycle handle instead of a steering wheel. According to the flyer, the simulated vehicle had speedometer, kilometer counter an an automatic 4 gear shift. The game ended either after 90s or by driving through the goal. The game counted driving mistakes (crashes) and punished them with time penalty. Good players could win a free play by reaching the goal faster. The machine also had sound effects. Dr.-Ing. Rainer Foerst writes on his company history page, that his Nürburgring 1 driving simulation arcade machine from 1975 was soon copied by the American game industry, thus he was apparently the genuine inventor of the Night Driver concept and thus created the world first 3 dimensional car racing videogame.
Nürburgring 3 The successor Nürburgring 3 still had 25 cards in it. There are indeed some buttons on the control panel; unfortunately I can not see their colour. The re-worked screenshot shows the white crash barrier clearer. This may have been the B/W version of the machine with red bezel in front of the dashboard graphics. Likely this flyer screenshot was made up when the software was still unfinished, because the display numbers correspond to the previous flyer.
The successor Nürburgring 3 had already a day view with more realistic road and white crash barrier. According to the flyer, the simulated car had a gear shift, accelerated in 7s from 0 to 100km/h with top speed 220 km/h. The player could select with a button between automatic and manual gear shift and between an easy and a more dangerous racing track. The race track could be modified by the technician by exchanging a single component (which was likely a ROM or ROM card). Driving through the goal played a quiet short melody. Beating a predefined round time won a free play and played a longer melody (I believe to remember that it was the German march "So leben wir alle Tage".) The rest of the game play apparently corresponded to Nürburgring 1. Interesting is that the lower screen area was unused and apparently covered by the bezel, which makes me conclude that the game program needed the time of the remaining scan lines to do internal computation, which was also a common technique in Atari VCS2600 games. Perhaps it even draw pixel mess on the covered area when it abused graphics memory or registers for other calculations by the lack of RAM. (1970th videogames often contained only a few dozen byte of RAM, which made such dirty hacks necessary to make them function at all.)

Likely various other versions of the arcade machine were released over time, since the versions on the photo and flyer don't really match my memories, but the video graphics, large steering wheel and gear shift lever match well, and the flyer says that the machine could be optionally ordered with side decals (those may have shown the remembered white chequered flags). The seat I remember may even have been a tractor seat (shaped like a wide bicycle saddle of black sheet metal) bolted to the coin door of this upright Nürburgring 3 machine. Although the screen graphics on the flyer is B/W, the colours of the flyer background picture (yellow stripes, red hood with tank lid etc.) match my memories of the screen colours in the colour version. Thus a successor with colour CRT apparently used the same colours. However the flyer shows no mountain horizon, which I apparently saw in a different version.

This apparently was a successor named Formel 1 Nürburgring. I have re-worked the screenshot to improve visibility.
According to this eBay photo, the machine with mountains was likely named Formel 1 Nürburgring (i.e. "Formula 1"). Interesting is also, that this screen graphics already featured a car window frame, which was later also implemented in Atari's polygon based arcade game Hard Drivin'. And like with Nürburgring, also Hard Drivin' was claimed to be derived from a professional driving simulation machine. Thus it might be that Reiner Foerst's company either had to do with its development or that his simulators were again imitated by Atari.

Unfortunately no game of the Nürburgring series has been revived on MAME yet. Although by modern measures they were likely rather boring to play, particularly Nürburgring 1 would be of highest historical significance to emulate, because it was apparently the world first 3 dimensional car racing videogame ever made. I also would love to see the other Nürburgring games emulated. Although they were likely less advanced than Pole Position (no opponent cars on the road etc.), they came likely earlier and thus were the first 3D car racing games displaying a road in multi- colour raster graphics.


I                  CYBERYOGI Christian Oliver(=CO=) Windler                  I
I         (teachmaster of LOGOLOGIE - the first cyberage-religion!)          I
I                                      !                                     I