Kit Car Builder, December 2006
By Jim Youngs
We love hearing stories like this one. It kind of gives a renewed appreciation for family values. Or not.
It seems that Tim Loy, a long-time VW drag racer, wanted a little change of pace in a street car so he commissioned Thunder Ranch to build him a turnkey Porsche 550 Spyder replica, something that they do quite well as a matter of fact. Typical of having a custom car built, Tim was able, as you’ll read elsewhere in this story, to have it configured exactly the way he wanted. After all, that’s the beauty of a specialty car in the first place.
When brother-in-law, Don, heard about the commission, he asked him to order another one, but not for himself. Tim’s sister Mary had a birthday coming up and Don reasoned that a bright red Spyder might just become one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Apparently the VW-based Spyder would additionally be appreciated since Mary drove a VW Bug in high school and still speaks fondly of that little car.
Thunder Ranch builds its Spyders on a proprietary 3” steel tube chassis to which they bond the fiberglass body, complete with a belly pan. The chassis is designed to utilize VW mechanicals like a front twin torsion tube arrangement like those right out of a pre-1972 Beetle, except TR uses brand new aftermarket components. Torsion leaves extend thought the beams and attach to the venerable, parallel trailing arms and in the case of these Spyders, are outfitted with solid disk brakes like those found on Karmann Ghias. The rear set-up includes torsion bars and extended, adjustable swing arms with tube shocks and drum brakes. New modified BW engines are also employed, but you’ll read the specifics of the two power plants on these cars elsewhere in this story.
Modified VW-based (Type 1) transaxles are used as well, but due to the mid-engine placement of the engines, among other changes, the ring gear is moved from one side to the other to reverse the rotation of the axles. Typically while the trans is apart the gear ratios are changed to a more highway-friendly (3.88:1 final drive) ratio and things generally beefed up for high performance. Remember, these transaxles were originally designed for 65hp engines.
The 550 Spyder replicas are about as elemental as you can get – no tops, no windows and very little accommodation to cockpit comfort. Even the fuel line, brake lines and throttle cable running from the front to the back of the car are exposed atop the cockpit carpeting. If you ask Thunder Ranch chief wrangler, Tom McBurnie, about hiding some of that gear with a console or something similar, he proudly reminds you that they replicate a very famous racecar and in his view need to be a bit Spartan! We’ve seen some of the cars he’s built for himself and they are stark when compared to the models you see here – all motor, acrylic windscreens and virtually no interior.
But, like we said earlier, the beauty of commissioning a custom-built turnkey is that you can have it any way you like. While these two cars are similar, each reflects the personality of its owner.