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The Wickedly Cool Hand-Made Cars By Jonathan Ward And His ICON Crew

This LA-based workshop is churning out some of the most amazing restomod 'Utility Vehicles', where they combine vintage appeal with modern tech.

| By Robin Nooy | 8 min read |

What would your initial thought be if you uncovered a run-down Oldsmobile, or a Hudson, in a dusty old barn? Would you think “piece of junk” or “diamond in the rough”? Would you see potential or just a bottomless money pit? If you have the right mind- and skillset, any derelict car can be turned around into a running and driving machine. And if you really know what you are doing, you can even turn this into a proper business. Such is the case for ICON, the LA-based workshop founded and run by Jonathan Ward. For more than 20 years, Jonathan and his wife Jamie have been churning out some of the wildest creations based on derelict cars from Toyota, Hudson, Oldsmobile, Ford and others. 

Icon four-by-four

The whole idea of ICON originates from Jonathan Ward’s mind, following the direction the car-collecting business was heading into in the late 1990s. With soaring demands, rising prices and new styles emerging, Jonathan not only took note but took action as well. Along with his wife Jamie, Jonathan started TLC in 1996, which became the leading Toyota Land Cruiser service centre in the US. Through TLC, his team provided maintenance, sales, parts and restoration services for people who owned or wanted to own and build this legendary off-roader.

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As the company grew, both in size and recognition, Jonathan ended up teaming with Toyota themselves to develop special project cars for events such as SEMA. He also built three running and driving prototypes per the request of Mr Toyoda himself, which ended up as the design blueprints for the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. The combination of relentless attention to detail and an obsession for modern design eventually became the stepping stone for ICON, as the company is now known. ICON widened its focus from purely working on Toyotas to other types of cars such as the Ford Bronco and the classic Chevrolet Apache utility truck. Currently, ICON offers six lines of cars; ICON FJ (FJ40 series Land Cruiser), ICON BR (Ford Bronco), ICON TR (Chevy Apache trucks), Derelict, Reformer and Concepts.

An Oldsmobile from 1946 that’s undergone the ICON Derelict transformation.

derelict versus reformer

I initially came across ICON’s work through Jay Leno’s Garage, in which a 1971 Mercedes 300 SEL was the star of the show (see below). This was a so-called Derelict car, something I was unfamiliar with at the time. Derelict in itself is a term to indicate an object left behind by its owner after becoming obsolete. Think of a car that breaks down, is pushed into a shed and forgotten about as a replacement car is bought instead. The whole idea of Derelict, as ICON envisions it, is to preserve the natural state of a car as much as possible, but enhance it with modern high-performance underpinnings, ranging from completely custom-built chassis and suspension set-ups to big power engines. Yet the outside retains its patina look from end to end, and the results can be staggering!

Further investigating into the work of ICON reveals that the whole Derelict idea can be adapted to pretty much any car. Going through the past build, it includes cars such as a 1974 Volkswagen Thing (Type 181, or Kübel in Europe), a 1966 Fiat Giardiniera EV, a 1958 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and plenty of others. The majority of the cars though, are built using classic American cars from brands like Buick, Ford, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Hudson and the like. And speaking of Oldsmobile and Hudson, two of those are featured here;

The heavily patinated green machine above is a 76-series Oldsmobile Coupe from 1946 that was dug out of a field in California. From beginning to end, it took 16 months to build and it features a custom-built frame that was designed by scanning the original Oldsmobile body. Underneath the hood resides a 528bhp 8.2 litre V8, and it runs on adjustable coil-over shocks, sway bars and hydro-boosted Wilwood disc brakes on all four corners. The body is left untouched and is 100% original to how it was found. The only work that’s been done to it is to strengthen it to cope with the power from the engine, and the installation of sound-deadening material. The interior is a mix of Italian leather, German carpets and hand-painted wood finishes.

The 1949 Hudson Derelict built by ICON.

Another prime example of ICON’s work is this black 1949 Hudson Coupe. Discovered in a barn in North Carolina, it has been turned around into, believe it or not, a daily driver with over 630bhp! Again using a chassis built by Art Morrison, it comes with a supercharged 6.2 litre General Motors LS9 V8 that sends its power to the rear wheels. The suspension system is fully adjustable and stopping is done through Brembo brakes. Inside, it’s a world of luxury with hand-dyed alligator leather, wool carpeting, aluminium dash knods (newly made but built to look original), chrome dash trim and more. This one also comes with a high-performance audio system cleverly hidden away inside the vintage-styled interior. It sits on 18-inch forged billet aluminium wheels with original Hudson hubcaps.

But that’s not all ICON does to vintage cars, as they can also be built beyond factory-fresh state top to bottom. Instead of a Derelict, you then end up with a Reformer built by ICON. Think of the work Singer does to Porsches, or what Alfaholics do to the Alfa Romeo 105 series. Use an existing classic car, tear it apart and build it up from the ground with new tech and a new, often more modern design. Such builds regularly command very high prices, and the work by ICON is no exception, as we discover through a 1970 Chevrolet Suburban.

The Million dollar suburban

Yes, ICON has indeed built a Chevrolet Suburban worth a million dollars, 1.1 million dollars to be exact but that doesn’t sound as cool. It might sound like a crazy amount for such a car, but there’s a crazy amount of work involved as well. This build started with a bone-stock 1970 Chevrolet Suburban C10. For people not entirely familiar with the Suburban; it’s a series of trucks built by Chevrolet that comes in a wide range of configurations and powertrains, introduced in 1935 and still built today. That makes it the longest-running automotive nameplate in history, as well as a precursor to what we now know as the SUV. The twelfth generation of the Suburban was introduced in 2021, but the car used for this build is a sixth-gen Suburban.

Originally, this Suburban came with three doors, one on the right side and two on the left, in order to allow passengers a safe exit on the curbside only. Upon the client’s request, ICON built a fourth door, however, which is far from easy to do. An entirely new door had to be fabricated and integrated into the body. Other exterior modifications include a two-tone dark grey paint job with a hint of green to it, custom HRE wheels, a new grill, tucking in the front and rear bumper and so on.

On the inside, ICON installed a completely renewed interior and dashboard section that matches the style of the exterior. Everything from the leather, the stitching, the colours on the door panels, the knobs and switches, the gauges, the typography, the door handles and so forth are custom to the vehicle. The Suburban now also comes with creature comforts such as a new heating and ventilation system, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks and power steering.

The work isn’t purely though, as this beauty of a Suburban sits on a custom powder-coated frame by renowned custom car builder Art Morisson, with four-wheel independent suspension and high-performance Brembo brakes. And you would need some serious stopping power, as underneath the hood, there’s a twin-turbo Alien LS 427 Ci (or 7-litre) V8 engine producing a monstrous 1,000 horsepower and 900ft.-lb of torque (which equates to 1,220nm). This is mated to a 4L85-E 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, so you can cruise around comfortably without stressing the engine too much. However, any time you feel the need to burn some rubber, putting your foot down will unleash the 1,000hp beast in an instant!

While this ICON 4×4 Suburban doesn’t follow the Derelict program but rather falls in the Reformer line of the company, it is a testament to the attention to detail and insane level of customisation Jonathan Ward and his crew are capable of putting on the road. Even though the car itself is a very simple design, there are unique touches to be found everywhere. From the custom one-piece grill to the owner’s initials engraved into the door handles, it’s a work of automotive art.

To me, the work of ICON, whether it being a Derelict or Reformer car, is insanely impressive. It takes vision and skill to take a rundown car and preserve it from the outside yet completely redo it underneath. Plus, it keeps these classic cars on the road through the love people dare to put into them, which is perhaps what I like most about this whole story.

For more information on ICON or any of the cars built by them, please visit

Editorial Note: The information and images for this article have been provided by and used with authorisation of Icon unless stated otherwise.

2 responses

  1. The latest fad for nostalgia-obsessed boomers and millennial trust fund babies. For a while it was Chip Foose, then Roland Sands, now this. Go find a rusty old car, and build it yourself. It’ll be way more satisfying.

  2. Still, these are nice builds.
    Completely irrelevant to this part of the world though, you’d never legally get that on the streets here.

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