Kit Car Builder, September 2007

cover shot

By D. Brian Smith

As a kid, I always wanted to jump off the train that meandered throughout Disneyland and sneak around. How did they make all this cool stuff work, was my thought. The notion that it was so magical on the outside meant that it had to be even more mystical and captivating under the covers.

Rather than driving into the office one Monday after returning from an event the day before, I called up Tom McBurnie, the owner of Thunder Ranch. For those of you who are new to the kit car hobby, Thunder Ranch builds awesome replicas of the Porsche 356 Speedster, the 550 Spyder, and the 718 RSK. As a multiple award-winning automotive designer, Tom has been creating cool cars since 1978. Before founding his replicar business, he raced and won a great many SCCA events in Porsche Speedsters and Spyders in the ‘60s. Suffice it to say, Tom has lived and breathed in the automotive enthusiast arena for much of his exciting existence.

Thunder Ranch, located in El Cajon, California is about 45 minutes from where my Dad and I live in Oceanside. If you’ve ever driven in California traffic, 45 minutes away is practically right next door. Tom agreed to let us see how the talented technicians at Thunder Ranchbuild these beauteous Teutonic sports cars. As soon as he said come on down, we headed south on the 5 freeway.

Our visit did not disappoint. We saw the components that comprise the 356, 550 and 718 RSK and watched the cars’ builder make progress toward completing more roadsters for the windy roads that these Porsche replicas enjoy carving up the most. Ironically, we found our way to Tom’s place by following the driver of a creamy white 356 Speedster that he took delivery of that very same day.

Once you see what makes up a Thunder Ranch 356, or 550 you may be reaching for your car keys so you can go get some money out of the bank to buy one of these wonderful machines. No worries, we’re sure the folks at Thunder Ranch would be happy to hear from you. What’s more, you can build it yourself and opt for a kit, or you can buy a turnkey car. The choices are yours.

jig
At the time of our arrival, there weren’t any frames being welded together in the Speedster frame jig.
frames
There were, however, a couuple of completed and powdercoated Speedster frames, which stood ready to be truned into a pair of Teutonic land rockets.
Thunder Ranch