Windblown Witness, August 1999

Reprinted with author’s permission

Technical Session:
Wild Horses at Thunder Ranch
Story by Emmet Wolfe

So you want cup holders, do ya? Something to keep your double decaf cappuccino from splashing on your linen pants? Well, you came to the wrong place. The cars they craft at Thunder Ranch don’t have cup holders. Get over It! They also don’t have pollen filters, electrically adjusting rear view mirrors, or other wussified gadgets.

What do they have? Pure driving excitement! Excitement which comes from high power-to-weight ratio, excellent balance and handling, and the rush and roar of an air-cooled engine pushing from behind your seat. And I mean right behind your seat, with twin air cleaners right behind your ears!  

three group shot

We’re talking the 550 Spyder!! That’s what they build at Thunder Ranch, which is the name of the custom auto building shop of designer Tom McBurnie, located in El Cajon. Aren’t we lucky to live in California! Tom and his team of 7 employees build beautiful, low, sleek, silver recreations of 550’s with those perfectly balanced lines, retro gauges and minimal seats and cut-down windshields. This is a proven mid-engine design, modified slightly so normal people can fit in (2 inches in length has been added to the cockpit), built using Fiberglass instead of aluminum, with 1990’s German engines instead of 1950’s engines.


Thunder Ranch! Is that a great name, or what?! It connotes the muscularity of the no-frills sports cars of the ’50’s. Things were less complicated then. No computer modules to adjust the mixture. No fly-by-wire “e-gas” technology connecting your toe to the computer. No computer! Hot damn! Those were the days to be a young racer. Just high-octane fuel and high-octane noises and smells and excitement.  Spyders were raced on weekends in towns up and down the length of California, by guys with seat-of-the-pants knowledge of the laws of physics, driving hard to get around the hay bales ahead of their buddies. Things were simpler. There is beauty in simplicity.

Witness page two

Thunder Ranch