Brilliant Mind Behind: ICON 4 x 4
Got a hankering for classic trucks and Jeeps but hung up on buying one for fear the thing may fall apart into a rust heap in your driveway? Enter ICON. The California-based company handcrafts bespoke 4x4 vehicles out of space and military grade materials in a vision to revisit classic transportation in a modern context. ICON CEO and lead designer Jonathan Ward explains his unique concept and line to us. BoldRide: Why did you start Icon? Ward: I find that a lot of designs in the past are more purposeful and have more continuity that the modern world has overlooked. The modern world – transportation included - is about trying to embrace such a wide audience that at the end, the product has no soul and clarity or purpose. When we started, in 2005 with the Toyota Land Cruiser, it was because I’ve seen more and more people who had an affinity to the older aesthetic of the vehicle but didn’t like the charming yet antiquated electronic and mechanics. So we began re-envisioning the truck. How did you do that? We stepped back and took a more evolved approach. We pioneered the conversions utilizing state-of-the-art GM engines; LS1 fuel-injected aluminum V8s. Typically, you’d take an old carburetor from some junkyard, low-tech V8 and bolt it in before adapting it into the original 3-speed transmission. Instead, we wanted a computer-controlled engine; an updated 5-speed tranny and transfer case instead of a Turbo 300 or a Turbo 400. We wanted something that had overdrive and greater longevity. We coupled this vision with reverse-engineering technology and got the old trucks into CAD programs to have more control and engineering capability. Then we worked out efficient, low-volume manufacturing. Super-forming and hydro-forming; working with local aircraft manufacturers versus building the little pieces we need. After all of that, we built the first three prototypes for Toyota, which evolved into the FJ Cruiser. Their current iteration was a bigger departure than what we wanted. So we started ICON. What models have you produced since? In 2005, we started with Toyota’s FJ40, then the FJ45, which has a cult following. North America loves them but they were only here from 1963-67. Then came the FJ44 in 2009, which was our original six-seater, four door take off the traditional FJ. We delivered about 100 of those. Icon’s line is decidedly pricier than most 4x4s. The FJ44 retails from $125,000 to $195,000, depending on body style design package. They’re expensive to realize. When I built the FJ40, I had it locked down all in my head for a few years. By the time I went to make it, I had a high level of clarity of where I was headed. What I didn’t have the foresight for was costing. Sticking to pure directives of design, I built one. Then I added up how much it cost and realized that no one would buy these because they cost too much. So we realized either we dial down the quality to meet a price point that the public wants or we stick to our ideals with a complete disregard to the cost. We decided there is enough shit in the world and kept it at the higher price point. What makes them so costly to produce? It’s all about the quality. A lot of our materials aren’t from the automotive realm. We went into marine, aerospace and other industries for supplies. We found a great military pontoon boat manufacturer who makes marine-grade aluminum. It’s bullet proof; it will never rust or crack. Transportation products were once made to last as long as possible. Now they’re made only for a few years so that you throw them away and go lease another one. The only transportation brands that adhere to the ethics ICON does are in the industrial, agricultural or military fields. What came after the FJ variants? I’d always been a fan of Willys Jeeps. They represent longevity, simplicity and durability. And, in concept, we thought it would an easier platform to engage a wider audience. I concentrated on the CJ-3B, which was around for World War II and thereafter. Some have called it the ugliest vehicle ever; I call it the most unique. The high hood line allowed us options for motor power from diesel to gas and even electric. By the time we brought the product to market, it brought greater engineering challenges because it was so costly to make. I had thought it would retail around $50,000. Instead it ranged from $77,000 to $110,000. And lastly, there’s your Ford Bronco interpretation, which sells for $155,000 to $210,000. I got a call from Jim Farley, the marketing director for Ford, who used to be at Toyota. Jim asked would we do a one-off ICON Bronco show truck. Usually it’s us reaching out to manufacturers but to have one reach out to us was stellar. We told them we wanted to make this our new model and work with Ford directly to make sure we’re integrating what’s important to their brand on the contemporary sense. Ford approved that and offered us assistance in design and production last November.
What do you get for all that money?
You get a purposefully built chassis, a radius arm front, six piston ABS brakes, a 2012 Mustang Coyote GT V8 engine, with 390 HP and 412 lb-per-ft of torque – and with that you’re getting fuel efficiency north of 20 miles per gallon. You can opt for a manual five-speed transmission or an automatic with overdrive. All the trim is custom made out of aluminum or stainless steel. All the lighting is LED. The interior is by Mercedes with Chilewich woven textile inserts. All the door panels are fitted with aircraft hardware and the glass is architectural like you’d see in a sky scraper. That ends up ghosting out the windows and looks quite bitching. You also get power everything, a navigation system, modern instrumentation, hand enameled control knobs, and so on. Every detail is bespoked. We’ve considered design in a clear perspective and each and every piece on that has been considered at fantastic length, which makes it such a great end result.
See all of the ICON models here