Behind the wheel of the world's most expensive Ford Bronco.
The round-eyed 1966 Icon Ford Bronco before me is swathed in a tasty shade of popsicle orange. Its stance is naïve and its uncut fenders exude a clean, reductionist aesthetic. At a glance it looks like a pristine example that’s as fresh and stock as the day it rolled off the Wayne, Michigan assembly line.
But its street value is staggering: this particular example was recently auctioned for $291,000, making it the most valuable Bronco on the planet. Yep, that’s McLaren money for a vehicle that looks like a schoolboy’s sketch of a Tonka truck.
We’re talking, of course, about one of Jonathan Ward’s infamous creations (though this one takes a slightly different tack from his usual high-dollar masterpieces). Ward became a household name among enthusiasts by issuing meticulously executed restomods of familiar classics. But the boutique builder eventually felt that the line between authentically classic styling cues – houndstooth, thin-rimmed steering wheels, and the like – and modern touches like sleek aluminum panels and matte finishes, was becoming too blurry. So he split the styles into two distinct models: Old School and New School.
The astronomically priced specimen in question, Old School build Number 66, leapfrogs the two-year waitlist by enabling immediate access to the highest bidder (in this case, a well-heeled individual whose winning bid scored the truck on March 15, 2019). Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Autotype Emerging Designer Scholarship Fund, a program aimed at nurturing and inspiring future car designers.
Classified as Icon’s first Old School BR, this 4X4 embeds an array of modern hardware beneath its glossy skin. The underpinnings get all the offroad goodies: powder-coated Dana axles, ARB locking differentials, and coilovers with nitrogen-filled Fox Racing shocks wrapped in Eibach springs. The moving parts come together with an Art Morrison chassis, and the powertrain is a Blue Oval hot rodder’s dream: an aluminum-block 5.0-liter Coyote V8 fitted with a forged steel crankshaft, cast-aluminum high-compression pistons, and a custom-tuned composite intake. The mill produces a healthy 426 horsepower and 402 pound-feet of torque, considerably more than the modest powerplant that motivated the original truck. The five-speed transmission routes through an Atlas II shift-on-the-fly transfer case, and stopping duties are handled by a Hydro-Boost booster, a Wilwood master cylinder, and big ‘ole six-piston front, four-piston rear Brembo calipers.
The 5.0-liter Coyote V8 produces a healthy 426 hp and 402 lb-ft of torque.
Jonathan Ward’s dangling of the keys to all that delicious go-fast hardware would have been enough enticement for the trek to his Chatsworth, California facility. But it’s the details that make this particular truck such a special experience. Once you’ve climbed up and into the Bronco’s elevated cabin (after all, power step boards are for New School, not Old School Icons), you enter a world where retro and contemporary elements cohabitate seamlessly.
The dashboard is constructed of reassuringly substantial painted metal, and the seemingly retro buttons are actually modern-built homages that still function with mechanically satisfying clicks. Other functional pieces include a 3-spoke, 1960s-era Mustang homage steering wheel mounted to a tilting column and finished in period-appropriate Wimbledon White. The Moore and Giles-upholstered leather front seats feature heating elements beneath the panel of houndstooth, while other bits include a tucked-away Bluetooth system with Focal speakers, an Alpine amp, and a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer (to bump along with the V8 thump). Modern HVAC routes through aluminum vents, while one of the few outwardly visible updates are indirect LED lighting strips for nighttime ambiance in the cabin.
If you’re getting the sense that the Icon’s modern bits are as above-the-radar as an SR-71 Blackbird soaring 85,000 feet up, you’re absolutely right. But driving the orange truck through LA streets can make you feel just as invincible… yet weirdly, prominently visible. Though the cabin is insulated with all manner of sound deadening material, the Coyote V8 certainly makes its presence known (Ward calls the powerplant inherently “rowdy”, though its rumble is more endearing than it is grating.) There’s an easy – yet positive – action to the five-speed manual’s shifter as it goes into gear, and the engine’s thick swath of torque makes it tempting to short shift while darting between stop lights. The whoosh of acceleration will feel surprising to those familiar with the lazy progress of typical 1960s-era offroaders, as will the seat belt snapping pull of the powerful brakes. And though the ride is on the jouncy side, with custom machined 18-inch forged aluminum wheels and BF Goodrich KO2 tires transmitting a decent amount of information from the road, the ride is considerably more tame than the original leaf-spring setup delivered.
Cruising through the San Fernando Valley’s backroads, the Old School Bronco most certainly stands out against the occasional rat rod local traffic and sun-beaten people movers. But not because of its buzzworthy build or boggling six-figure price tag; Icon’s OId School BR is a rolling testament to intense attention to detail and off-the-charts automotive geekery, not look-at-me showiness or gratuitous excess.
“I think people want to be bespoke and unique and expressive,” Ward tells me after my drive, “but not in any way that ties to social assumptions of wealth and all the media baggage of luxury and all that shit.”
In other words, the typical person who ponies up major money for an Icon wants to be cool and individual – not with flash, but rather by celebrating the extraordinary mechanical measures it took to hand-build their steed. The Icon Bronco may be a niche within a niche, a definitively one-percenter product, but it’s one that every enthusiast deserves to experience at least once, if only for the boggling details and clearness of vision that puts the rest of the automotive universe into perspective.