ICON's Jonathan Ward is an automotive visionaryICON is responsible for some of the most impressive restomods in the world. XCAR caught up with Jonathan Ward, the man behind it all, to find out more.
[MUSIC] I'm Johnathan Ward. I'm CEO and lead designer of a little company called Icon here in California. [MUSIC] We started our first company called TLC back in 1996. TLC is pretty much everything pertaining to vintage Toyota Land Cruisers, so sales, service, parts, restorations. Over time that evolved. Toyota found out about us. We started doing restorations for Toyota execs or dealership owners. Toyota was trying to figure out what was it about the classic Land Cruisers that generated such a maniacal fan base. They heard about us. We got a phone call. Mr. Toyota came to visit the shop. He came and explain why it was there and they ended up commissioning us to build first one and then three of the preproduction design study vehicles for what eventually became the FJ Cruiser. So from that experience and the trends I noticed in the market, more and more people. Having a very strong affinity to the vintage aesthetic and utilitarian purpose and design of the vehicle. But absolutely no interest nor connection with the archaic mechanical experience. So slowly but surely we were doing, modern engine conversion and then icon presented an opportunity to kind of transcend that traditional. sort of resto-mod approach, I saw a kind of a perfect storm of very rapid evolutions in reverse engineering and CAD mapping and low volume manufacturing techniques where suddenly and asinine business model like this made somewhat sense, because then we could. Stay true to the original silhouette and vibe of the vehicle, but instead of piecemeal upgrading things, we could take more responsibility and engineer the whole thing fresh, and we started with the Land Cruiser just because it's the closest to my heart, and the one that we had the most reputation and experience for. [MUSIC] So we have production models as you can see, using the term quite lightly. Cause they are still all hand built, but we have the BR based on the vintage Ford Bronco. The FJ based on the vintage Toyota Landcruiser's four body styles. CJ based on the World War II Willies. And then, the TR Thriftmaster based on that '47 to '53 truck. Then, being the geek that I am, that wasn't enough fun. And, once I kind of, do the engineering and design. And then, a coupler built and rolling. I'm fortunate to have management team and production staff that then keeps that healthy and keeps it rolling, but to me, it's that first build that's the sweet spot. [MUSIC] Sometimes like the Bronco, definitely we saw an incredible amount of requests. What about a Bronco? What about a Bronco? What about a Bronco? And then Jim Farley at, at Ford, we had worked well together on project at Toyota. So Jim sent me an email and said hey, have you thought about doing a Bronco? You know we'd like to do a show car Bronco. I guess being the opportunistic pig that I am, I'm like well, yeah, but we don't wanna do a show car. Like, we wanna engineer the bugger. And so, we ended up doing that at Ford's request with Nike as our development partner. So that's how that took shape. If you wanted a Bronco. Today, you're gonna leave a small holding deposit to secure your production number and space. And we're gonna estimate your delivery will be in the first quarter of 2017. Which is just killing me, but it is what it is. So, we invite a client to bring us their own vintage broncho, or if they prefer we hunt it down for them. And then, we first start by taking that original vehicle, and documenting any needs, from the ravages of time, or stupid things changed over the years. Then there's the fixtures and jigs to reconfigure the vehicle for our ergonomics, our dash, our audio components, stuff like that. Then it gets media blasted to a white metal. Then it gets heat, epoxy, turn, and caulked. Then, we'll go through a build sheet with a client so we maintain that direct relationship, both in feedback to help improve the product. And to really make it truly bespoke so it fits that client the best we can. It's about 1200 hours internal time plus sublet time from start to finish. And they're, they're built by two man teams so there's great pride in ownership. When that team finishes the build they're the first ones to road test it then I'm the second one. Then are forming and back to them where we all keep pads. And write a **** list of things that concern us be it vibrations or rattles. We put about three to 600 miles on every vehicle that we build before they go out. We do two distinct styles. One is called a derelict and the other a reformer. Derelicts. We celebrate the sort of romantic sense of history, and patino wabi sabi transient funk. So they kind of look barn find borderline abandoned. Depends on the car. But what we do is actually take the body off the vintage chassis. And then we use various scanning technologies to get the profile of the body into CAd focusing on the underside. Then we'll engineer one off chassis rails that'll index non invasively with that body. And we partner different companies, most notably, Art Morrison to engineer those chassis for us. So, the reformers, same idea of modern driveability and functionality, but the reformers are concourse restored to newer, better. But then we add a twist to that, too, cause we like to put ourselves in the shoes of the original designer and ask, what did he really intend with all the finer details of this design? And in some cases, we've been able to work with the original designers, which is really fun. That takes it to a whole nother level. Well, the derelict takes a pretty sick individual with a highly evolved palate and sense of style. A lot of people look at the derelicts like showing one at Pebble Beach for the first time was hysterical, and I wish I had. Like hidden a microphone in the card, so I could have caught all the comments. So everything from, people going, you know that's going to be really cool, you know, wha,what color are you going to paint it when you save up? And I'm like, no, we're done. Two people that are just like, Oh yeah, like perfect, it's magic combination, I never thought of that. So it's a total Yin or Yang thing, I think that. The reformers are, are a bit more palatable for a wider audience, but the derelicts are my favorite. As Icon has grown I've been honored how many people now the brand and more importantly what it stands for. At the same time I kinda feel like we've been cheating, because. Probably 80, 90% of the battle in marketing is, is that all of our designs are already part of culture, part of history, in people's hearts and minds. So I, first started challenging myself, like alright, well, could you find success with something that. Doesn't have that going for it. So thee the first concept from scratch that I've been playing with, we're calling the Helios. Helios was the Greek god of the sun. So, the Helios is based on the, a bunch of theoreticals including like. What if, the Great Depression had not occurred? What if World War II had not derailed that design language of modern and streamlined at, at the highest end? Because, basically around that same time, you know, we had the, the, perversions of the Industrial Revolution kind of changing. Priority in manufacturers, especially in transportation product. So, there's a bit of aircraft, there's a bit of railcar, there's a lot of, sort of technical industrial. The whole main body structure is designed to be engineered sort of like a fuselage structure would be, so it's sort of [UNKNOWN] but reinterpreted. You know, at the turn of the century, there were far more electric car companies than there were internal combustion companies. You know, Studebaker went from horse-drawn carriages direct to electric and then back-pedaled into gas as they saw those political trends. Guiding that future. So, it's part of that revisionist theory we're also thinking, you know, well, in the 30s if it hadn't been for those political factors EV would have evolved and been brilliant. So we thought it would be ideal to build the Helios on top of the coming Tesla Model S. And now we're hoping Tesla agrees with us but if don't then we're just a little distraction then we certainly understand and I will just simply buy one and take it apart and me and people on staff that are smarter than me, my electrical engineers will figure out. How to make it work and we'll just go for it.