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 Ranch build 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' builders 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 choice is yours.]
Thunder Ranch 356 Speedster
Basic Kit: $9,995
Body and frame, front and rear bumpers mounted. Doors hinged and latched. Hood and engine covers hinged. Windshield fitted. Holes for lights, handles, gauges, and emblems cut and marked. Door and dashboard trim.
Deluxe Kit: $14,500 (see additional parts list)
Do It Yourself Kit plus four 5 1/2x15-inch chrome Mangel wheels, upholstered Speedster seats, square weave carpet, door and dash panels, top, top frame, top boot, side curtains and badges.
Turnkey Built: $28,450
Due to the variety of options, i.e., fan/shroud kit, choice of 1865cc or 2275cc new SCAT manufactured engines, GT-style kit, tires, racing mirrors, rollbars, exhaust systems, as well as personally requested customizations, exact price is by quote.
|Leather interior || $ 1,000 |
|Rollbar (chrome) || $ 750 |
|Rollbar (powdercoat or paint) || $ 550 |
|Rear disc brake (upgrade) || $ 550 |
|Tonneau cover || $ 450 |
|Cigarette lighter/cell phone receptacle ||$ 125 |
|911-style fan/shroud kit || $ 850 |
|Remote oil cooler (req. w. shroud kit) ||$ 575 |
|Oil filter w/stainless steel braided lines ||$ 275 |
|H4 halogen lamps || $ 40 |
|Dead pedal || $ 100 |
|Battery kill switch || $ 175 |
|4-point safety belts || $ 150 |
|Second outside mirror || $ 125 |
|Storage pouches (on firewall panels) ||$ 275 |
|4 KYB gas shocks || $ 125 |
|4 KONI adjustable shocks || $ 450 |
|CD/MP3 radio dash pod || $ 150 |
|CD/MP3 radio w/ 6-inch speakers ||$ 750 |
|1865cc motor || $ 2,750 |
|1915cc motor || $ 4,200 |
|2275cc motor || $ 5,700 |
|GT KIT: $ 2,845 |
|GT Kit components may be purchased separately at prices listed below |
|5-louver engine cover || $ 425 |
|Carrera badge || $ 75 |
|DECO bumpers || $ 850 |
|911-style fan/shroud || $ 895 |
|Remote oil cooler || $ 575 |
|Oil filter with SS braided lines ||$275 |
Additional parts needed to complete DELUXE KIT assembly:
Front beam assembly VW including brakes
Steering column and steering wheel
Master brake cylinder and #2 residual valve
VW brake line kit
VW oil filter
VW transaxle with mounts
VW swingarms, axles, and brakes
VW "J" exhaust tubes or heater boxes
Thunder Ranch 550 Spyder
BASIC KIT: $7,745
Assembled body, molded and mounted to frame. Includes hood, doors, and rear engine cover hinged and latched. Frame is duplicate of original 3-inch tube frame with adjustable front torsion housing welded to the chassis, with rear suspension consisting of 26mm torsion bars and adjustable spring plates.
DELUXE KIT: $11,985 (see additional parts list)
Adds the following to the Basic Kit:
Complete windshield assembly
Inside rearview mirror
3-gauge instrument cluster
Park and taillight assemblies
Wiring harness (includes switches)
Complete shift linkage for transaxle
New fuel tank & cap
Rear grille (pair)
4 chrome wheels
4 chrome hubcaps
4-into-1 exhaust system
Complete 550 Spyder: $29,950
1,915cc VW motor and four-speed transaxle
Front disc, rear drum brakes
Adjustable front and rear suspension
Cofab shock absorbers
185/65x15 Dunlop SP Sport front tires on 4.5-inch rims
205/60x15 Dunlop SP Sport rear tires on 5.5-inch rims
VDO speedo, tach, and combination gauges
Nardi traditional wood steering wheel
Steve and Angela Lane of Medford,...
Steve and Angela Lane of Medford, OR, built this stunning Thunder Ranch 550A-6, which we'll feature in a future issue of KC.
At the time of our arrival,...
At the time of our arrival, there weren't any frames being welded together in the Speedster frame jig.
There were, however, a couple...
There were, however, a couple of completed and powdercoated Speedster frames, which stood ready to be turned into a pair of Teutonic land rockets.
We did watch a Thunder Ranch...
We did watch a Thunder Ranch technician install a C-clamp on the Spyder frame table in preparation for welding together a 3-inch-diameter tube by .125-inch thick-walled 550 Spyder frame.
Yet another Thunder Ranch...
Yet another Thunder Ranch craftsman attached a fill neck to the topside of a fuel tank.
On one set of shelves, handlaid...
On one set of shelves, handlaid fiberglass 356 Speedster bodies will be assembled soon.
Storage of some more Speedsters,...
Storage of some more Speedsters, 550 Spyders, and even a yellow/orange 718 RSK body means there are orders for still other Thunder Ranch cars, which are all built to the owners' specifications.
Not only does Thunder Ranch...
Not only does Thunder Ranch stockpile bodies, they also have spare suspension components and various frame tubes at the ready, which will become 356, 550, 550A, and 550A-6 chassis.
Here's an in-progress 718...
Here's an in-progress 718 RSK body that has recently found a home on a frame.