In 1994, Tom McBurnie founded Southern California-based Thunder Ranch, which manufactures sports-car kits and replicas and has its roots in making cars to be on screen.
Earlier in his career, McBurnie, owner and designer at Thunder Ranch, replicated cars for the popular 1980s drama Miami Vice before a lawsuit with Ferrari ended his work with the show.
This "disaster," as McBurnie
described it, allowed him to start his
new company down a path that has been anything but disastrous.
CARS OF THUNDER RANCH
The first car McBurnie designed for Thunder Ranch
was the all-composite mid-engine V-8 1934 Roadster, a project partially sponsored by Oldsmobile.
The Roadster had no steel in its frame, only foam beams, and the weight of the car was supported entirely by the body material, McBurnie
In 1995, McBurnie
took the Roadster to the Specialty Equipment Market Association
(SEMA) show in Las Vegas, one of the largest shows of its kind, and the car won the Best New Product Award.
"We started with the hot
rod. We had a very successful launch, and every car show it went to, it won best engineered car," McBurnie
"That was the first car that Porsche
made that had a fiberglass body, so our replica ends up being very similar to the original car," McBurnie
Because the 904 is a new product at Thunder Ranch
, it has been taken to only a few small car shows, but the model is already sold out for next year.
Currently, the James Dean 550 is Thunder Ranch's
most popular car, but McBurnie
predicts that the 904 coupe will soon take the number-one spot.
POPULARITY AND DRIVABILITY
Even though Thunder Ranch's
replicas have won awards in U.S. car shows and been featured in U.S. trade magazines, such as Kit Car Builder
, Kit Car Magazine
and Rod Action
& Street Machines, the cars' popularity is not limited to the domestic market.
"We sell around the world," McBurnie
"We have dealers in Canada, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
A lot of [the cars] go back to Europe, which is interesting - a replica Porsche goes back to Germany," he
added, laughing at the irony.
The reason for the popularity of Thunder Ranch's
cars is that they are less expensive to maintain than the original models and are more fun to drive.
"They are a fraction of the cost of the original car, which makes them nice to own and nice to drive.
In fact, there are some of my customers who own the original cars that they don't drive, and they drive the replica," McBurnie
further described Thunder Ranch's
relationship with NAC
"I don't think I've ever worked with a composite company that's been as helpful as NAC," he
"We have added some new materials based on recommendations from NAC
For example, Thunder Ranch
now uses Plexus, an epoxy two-part adhesive, to bond car frames onto the fiberglass bodies and to bond fiberglass to fiberglass to create doors, hoods and engine covers.
"That saves us considerably in assembly time," McBurnie
"We work with NAC
with different composite materials, to seek the strongest materials we can use in a composite and make it lightweight because part of performance is from the light weight of the car.
In fact, the first car that Thunder Ranch
manufactured, the all-composite 1934 Roadster, weighed less than 2,000 pounds.
"For a small company to get that much attention from NAC
, it's pretty wonderful," McBurnie
MORE THAN CARS
In the future, composite Porsche replicas might not be all Thunder Ranch
and NAC partner to produce.
has some new design concepts that are in the planning stages that will complement his current line of car bodies," Locke said.
explained that Thunder Ranch
plans to manufacture a trailer that can tow a low-profile, lightweight car, like those manufactured by Thunder Ranch, and be pulled by a regular passenger vehicle.
"There's nothing on the market today that will allow a regular car to tow a car in a trailer.
This new trailer would go behind a small SUV or even a regular family car," McBurnie
Thanks to the replications and innovations at Thunder Ranch
, customers can drive their modern family cars but still have a more thrilling ride, like those on-screen characters of the past - be they hip high school students drag racing down Thunder Road or thrill-seeking crimefighters on the mean streets of Miami.
A Thunder Ranch composite sports-car replica, according to McBurnie
, gives drivers "a feel of the road that you can't get in a modern car."