Years ago, before the J Mays Thunderbird kicked off the American retro car movement, Kevin Pollak was on The Tonight Show discussing an ailing Detroit with car nut Jay Leno. "I think what they need to do is build the '57 Chevy again," Pollak said (I'm paraphrasing from memory). "They must still have the plans sitting on a shelf somewhere. Their current cars suck. The old ones didn't. Dust the old plans off and build it again."
The idea of driving around in a brand-new yet classic automobile is alluring. Taking Pollak's concept further, it would be even better if that classic vehicle was loaded with cutting-edge, modern-day underpinnings. And one man who has turned that concept into reality, in Los Angeles rather than Detroit, is Jonathan Ward.
Ward is the CEO, Lead Designer and Founder of Icon, a company that completely rebuilds three classic off-road vehicles—the Ford Bronco, the Willys Jeep, and the Toyota Landcruiser—and updates them with modern mechanicals and bespoke configurations. [Ed Note: Core77 friend, contributor and forum moderator Michael DiTullo worked on the Icon CJ and FJ packages]
What Icon does are not mere restorations: In addition to completely modernizing the body, suspension, drivetrain, transmission, motor, steering, electrical, and even the seating, they go as far as building custom chassis, tuning and stretching them as per the configurations' requirements. The key things carried over from the original vehicles are the style and the spirit. Everything else is state-of-the-art.
"No one has ever applied real craftsmanship to the blank canvas [these vehicles] can be," says Ward. He and his company have stepped in to fill that gap, creating a sort of niche transportation category armed with technology that a Toyota designer from 1959 could never have envisioned (read about the paint, below!). Hit the jump to learn about some of the surprising hardware sources and manufacturing lengths Icon goes to to produce their FJ series.
The all new aluminum body - 5/32" thick and built like a tank - captures the original Land Cruiser character, but with even greater longevity and resistance to the elements. "The chassis is a work of art," Ward says, "engineered from scratch to meet the demands of decades of harsh uses. It is constructed in 2"x 4"x 0.180" mild steel and mandrel-bent, utilizing state of the art technology to create rigid, wrinkle-free frame rails. Accessory mounts are precision cut by laser and formed to our exact CAD dimension files. All these durable products are then loaded onto a chassis-specific jig table and hand welded by expert craftsmen."
The ICON's proprietary finish is a Teflon polyester hybrid super durable powder coat that was originally conceived for architectural uses. Each panel is hand finished before assembly, then the underside of the main body and fenders, and the inside floor surfaces, are covered in a heat-cured polyurea coating to reduce vibration and heat transfer. These finishes, which never need waxing and require virtually no maintenance, enable the ICON to survive the most antagonistic trails. And with no CFCs or VOCs, they help minimize environmental impact.
The ICON's versatile soft top is tailored in high quality three- ply german canvas. The seats are finished in top-of-the-line german marine-rated vinyl and a tough UV-resistant center textile that can be found at the Museum of Modern Art and on patio furniture at the Wynn hotels.
Ward investigates unusual sources for many of the ICON's parts. The sun visor comes from a Lear jet. The husky latches that secure the fold-down windshield to the hood are vintage commercial freezer door hardware. When Ward couldn't find dash control knobs that suited his standards of durability and aesthetics, he had them cut from aluminum, knurled, engraved and hand enameled. For interior fabrics he goes to the pacific design Center, not to the usual automotive suppliers.
In his standards for fit and finish, Ward's processes rival industrial, marine and aircraft applications. Even before attachment of the body, the ICON chassis is a rolling sculpture - more an industrial tool than the disposable designs of high volume automotive manufacturers.
If god is in the details, the ICON is a 4x4 temple of divine manifestation. It is exhilarating to imagine the level of ingenuity and non-compromise that has gone into the realization of this dream vehicle. Jonathan Ward has considered everything, and all with this purpose: To make the ICON so capable, dependable and simple, you never have to give it a thought during your adventures.