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Fiberglass
By Larry Edsall

Fiberglass bodies give you tired old import a wide-awake appearance How's this for a recipe for automotive delight? Take a tired, old Datsun Z car, mix in $3,200 of new parts and, if you're so inclined, a small block American V8 engine. Bake with some sweat equity and drive the Woodward Dream Cruise in what everyone will think is a classic Ferrari 250 GTO.

Or maybe you have an old Volkswagen Beetle and want to turn it into a Porsche Speedster. Or perhaps you simply want a turn key hot rod.

Tom McBurnie's Thunder Ranch has recipes for all such automotive dreams.

In the 1970s, McBurnie was a designer for General Electric's Defense System Department. He'd worked in Syracuse, N.Y. and then was transferred to equally cloudy Germany, where a co-worker from Santa Barbara, Calif., kept talking about his hometown and the California sunshine. McBurnie's next assignment was to be a facility in Mississippi. Instead, he took his Porsche Speedster, piled in all his worldly possessions and drove to the West Coast, where he opened his own graphic design business.

He also raced his Speedster, did some racecar engineering and ended up building catamaran boats and learning about fiberglass. Since 1978, under the banner of Thunder Ranch, he's been producing kit cars, including the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 (Daytona) replica used on the Miami Vice television show and the Ferrari GTO that John Candy drove in the movie Delirious.

In 2006, McBurnie's built the 718 RSK, a recreation of the late '50s Porsche racecar.

The faux Ferrari GTO remains one of McBurnie's most intriguing creations, in part because it uses a Datsun/Nissan as the donor vehicle, and also because builders have the option of replacing the original six-cylinder engine with a V8.

You start with a 240, 260 or 280Z. Then you buy a $3,195 basic kit from Thunder Ranch that includes the car's new rear section, nose, hood, rear quarter window panels, door skins, defroster vent control cover, rocker panels, wiper board cowl, rear hatch trim, dashboard and headlight bezels. Add an estimated 150-175 hours of labor, and, should you choose, McBurnie notes that a small block Chevy or Ford V8, or even a Northstar V8, will fit into the Z-car frame and under the GTO's fiberglass hood.

For information, visit the www.thunderranch.com website or call (619) 444-1006.

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