I've been through 5 SSRs. Two were Signature Series, so very early production. Had an early production 03. Now have an 06 6 speed.
I have had no issues with any of them. Certainly no leakage problems with any of them. Never a fuel issue with any of them - I drove the 03 from North Carolina to the west coast without any problems. Doors not opening? Some of the 03/04 had issues with the design of the inside handle, which could break. Inner panels were re-designed and can be retrofit.
Clutch is really not an issue. Some of the early 05 6 speed experienced some problems, but through experimentation with insulation (some cases) or better fluid, most of the issues were resolved. I changed to a higher DOT fluid very early, and I have not had even an inkling of a problem with the clutch in 17000 miles.
Problem with clutch return abouve 6000 RPM? Simple fix - don't shift above 6000 RPM. I've never come close to that kind of RPM, and not sure I have missed any fun as a result.
Sounds like your friend is one of the many misinformed "I know everything about everything" folks out there who enjoy cutting down something they don't know anything about.
If you're unsure about getting one, this is the time of year to find out where a group is meeting, and take a trip to that event to talk to some owners.
Where are you from? Maybe we can find a gathering within range for you.
The friendships that start, and continue, because of the SSR are truly amazing. I have never owned a vehicle that creates such a stir, nor have I owned anything else that comes with an instant group of friends.
What is the alternative for a fun cruiser?? Corvette? Prowler? Viper? Pony cars?
I've organized an event in BC in late June for several years - we've had between 22 and 63 trucks come up, from as far away as San Diego and Galveston - just to meet other SSR owners and do some cruising.
I don't see how you can go wrong getting one. We can help you with details about the differences between model years so you can decide what is important to you. Informed decisions are usually good decisions.
You'll find lots of help on this forum, through almost any possible failure.
Where else can you find, at a reasonable price, a pickup with a hardtop/convertible, lots of storage space, V8 power, reasonable ride and handling, and the joy that comes with driving one. Once you get behind the wheel, and look out at those massive front fenders, then look back through your sideview mirror at those rear curves, then listen to the awesome sound of even a stock exhaust system, you'll be hooked.
I think you need an SSR and a new better informed buddy.
You might even convince him he needs one as well.