Saturday at ICON

There can’t be many better ways to spend a Saturday than to drive out to the valley and visit with Jonathan Ward, founder of ICON. I’ve been threatening to come and visit for some time, but hadn’t stepped up to make the trip until last week. The shop and showroom aren’t open on Saturday, but Jonathan didn’t mind coming by and showing me around on his day off.

I’ve admired ICON from afar for some time. The trucks are some of the most aesthetically appealing things I have ever seen. They also could be the most tortuous things for me, because I want one and am no where near being able to buy one. Frankly, I don’t know if I will ever be able to buy one. That said, I’m cool with not owning one. Visiting the garage and talking with Jonathan was pretty much as inspirational as it gets. I spent about three hours at ICON talking, looking around and taking pictures. When I left my head was spinning with ideas, books too read, investigations to conduct and things to learn.

Much of what goes into making the ICON is either custom done (or very small production) or comes from either aerospace or military applications. Being located in the San Fernando Valley lends itself to leveraging the now struggling Southern California aerospace industry. Jonathan eagerly speaks to the advantages of working with the Aerospace manufacturers: “They don’t mind making small quantities, and the quality is off the charts.” If you go into the ICON garage and look at the builds in progress, this quality is easy to spot. I learned that, more than anything, ICON wants to make the best possible truck that it can. If that means using a super high quality $8 part when the OEMs are using a similar part that costs 27 cents, then that is what ICON is going to do. It’s this crazy quest for the best that also leads to the very expensive price tags. Jonathan doesn’t hold back when he explains that he is making something very specific for a very specific customer.

After a few hours of talking Jonathan told me more about his interest in restoring Toyota Land Cruisers and the “irrational passion” that led him to eventually start TLC in 1996, and then later to establish ICON. Like many novel ideas, people told him he was crazy. When he opened his TLC showroom in Van Nuys, California (which is still in the same location, though it has grown over the years) people would tell him he was nuts and they didn’t hold back from letting him know they expected TLC to go out of business any day. That was 16 years ago and ICON still lives on today to make amazing vehicles that are the dreams of many, including myself. [ICON]

Comments on “Saturday at ICON

    Ethan on February 13, 2012 6:47 PM:

    Did you drive one? Have you driven one before? If so, tell us about the drive.

    Tarik on February 13, 2012 7:28 PM:

    I did get to sit in the back for a 100+ mile round trip in an ICON about 2/3 highway 1/3 relatively tame dirt road. The dirt probably needed 4wd, but barely, so I don’t know about the off road handling, but I was really impressed at how solid and quiet it was at 80mph on the highway. Nothing like any vintage land cruiser I have been in. Some pics

    and a few contextual words buried in this post:

    The owner had done some pretty good offroading on it, but I lack the context to tell you what he was talking about. He was extremely happy with it.

    I don’t really care too much about off roading for the sake of offroading, but I definitely coveted it, it would be just the ticket for no weather restriction driving here in the NM mountains and for road trips for xc ski races into colorado. It was a really solid vehicle. Very impressive work.

    Bruce on February 13, 2012 9:25 PM:

    What an awesome vehicle that pig is! All are beautiful, but that 55 is just the coolest thing….

    Dusty on February 13, 2012 10:50 PM:

    Radical. Even the office.

    Davis on February 13, 2012 11:06 PM:

    The only thing I can think of that could trump an Icon Landcruiser would be a Singer 911. However, thats like comparing meticulously improved apples and oranges.

    Great work Michael.

    shawnbaden on February 14, 2012 12:06 AM:

    A buddy of mine just last week informed me of ICON’s De Soto / Chrysler Town & Country Frankenstein, aka the Derelict. Great car. See more of it at

    Great marrying of old with new and the quality is easy to spot in the pictures. I can only imagine experiencing these vehicles in person.

    Chuk on February 14, 2012 4:57 AM:

    Ok, mine’s is a russian piece, but I’m sure you’re gonna like it…:

    Un saludo from Spain!!

    Scott on February 14, 2012 9:14 AM:

    Love those old land cruisers. Saw a few of those back in the day when I lived in boulder co.

    Turling on February 14, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Love them. Can’t afford them, but love them nonetheless. Still waiting on that Scout, though. And, I’m going to keep saying that every chance I get until they make one.

    Kenyan on February 14, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Funny ..
    I have a whole spread on that 1953 Desoto Firedome / Town & Country mashup he and his team worked.. Great Talent!!!!


    David Wright on February 14, 2012 3:21 PM:

    Car Magazine UK road tested the Icon on home turf. See above link. Thanks for a great article.

    Neil Clemmons on February 14, 2012 3:45 PM:

    Time lapse from Future Road Maps
    ’85 FJ60 w Internation Turbo Diesel swap by TLC

    Ray Hull on February 14, 2012 3:49 PM:

    Hmmm, our nearest (Rome, NY) Indian Motorcycle dealer is closed on Saturdays too. Maybe it’s a heavy-metal-minimize-the-tire-kicker strategy.

    dangdang on February 14, 2012 4:25 PM:

    @Neil – rad time lapse.

    Huuuuge fan of ICON 4×4’s. If I ever won the lottery one day, I know exactly what I would be getting… no sports car for me, thats fo sure!

    Seems like all the “used” ones posted on ebay, jamesList and the such tend to just be garage queens.

    Michael Walters on February 14, 2012 5:13 PM:

    The idea of Icon re-making a 1950 Dodge Power Wagon is personally very exciting. The level of quality and innovation they bring to their builds is amazing.

    Gary on February 15, 2012 1:39 PM:

    I’m still iffy about the Derelicts but the 4x4s are outstanding and if I could afford one I’d get one in a second.

    Is this the only company doing this kind of, for lack of a better word, artisanal carmaking?
    There’s lots of custom motorcycles and bikes out there, not too many cars. But I really haven’t looked.

    henrik on February 15, 2012 4:23 PM:

    The derelicts don’t do anything for me either. I guess I am not a vintage car fan of that era. although, i can definitely appreciate what they are doing with them.

    Billy on February 15, 2012 6:43 PM:

    The white Dodge looks great but I hope they swap out those tires for something a little less bulky. What model is that?

    Uldis on February 15, 2012 7:54 PM:

    Too cool to comment on!

    Uldis on February 15, 2012 7:55 PM:

    Too outstanding to comment on!

    Bolt on February 16, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Great vehicles for the one percenters, Don’t get me wrong, awesome rigs but out of reach for the average off road enthusiast. I would like to see their client list and see if they ever take them off road or know how to turn a wrench. Love the station wagon and the dodge truck.

    Michael Walters on February 16, 2012 5:21 PM:

    Didn’t you read Tarik’s comment above? His friend owns one and uses it.

    Anyway most people in America who buy 4×4’s never take them off road, unless they pull off the shoulder to stop at a tag sale .

    These aren’t terribly overpriced in the restoration world. It’s not hard at all to spend upwards of $50,000 restoring a Dodge Power wagon to stock. I know people who have done it. One of my friends, Charles Talbert, business is re-powering Power Wagons and M37’s with Cummins. That’s over $15,000 just for the re-power alone. You want straight body panels and a new interior? Start saving.

    Ben on February 17, 2012 6:52 AM:

    Awesome! I’m more interested in the design and the aesthetic of them, don’t really care about whether taking them off road. Garage Queens, I now know they’re called…!

    Wayne on February 17, 2012 5:41 PM:

    this place would *own* the world in Australia. Landcruisers are the number 1 off road 4×4’s in the country.

    I would sell my wife for a (right hand drive) long wheelbase, troopcarrier with the tropical roof restored by ICON.

    (but let’s not tell my wife that ok…)

    Andy on February 17, 2012 5:56 PM:

    Right around the corner from me. Thank you for informing and showing how great it is.

    Jonas on February 18, 2012 1:14 AM:

    Legacy classic trucks in Colorado is another one doing resto-mods mods of vintage trucks. There website is:

    Scroll down and check out the crew cab power wagon for a cool $150k.

    I personally think retrofitting a diesel engine in a pickup truck for everyday knock-around use is stupid. But if that’s what the customer wants….

    Michael Walters on February 18, 2012 2:10 AM:

    @Jonas I agree for general kicking around, but the majority of people doing that swap for Power Wagons are looking at upgrading a 140hp straight 6. They want low end torque and better gas mileage. My M37 weighed 6,000 lbs. and got about 6mpg. Most guys who do the swap get closer to 20mpg and have increased low end torque.

    Jonas on February 18, 2012 5:23 PM:

    Does not pencil out. Look at the overall cost of putting a 4bt diesel in a Power Wagon, which is the only inline engine that does not require you to hack into the firewall substantially to install. Your buddy Charles Talbert is doing it for $15G you say? He would never quote me a price. I heard it was much more than that though all said and done.

    Diesel fuel is more expensive, diesel engines are more expensive to maintain, and parts for them are extremely expensive. I have 1st hand knowledge vibration is horrendous even with the gel filled dampening motor mounts. I had no less than 4 Cummins engines and one Isuzu engine on the floor in my shop waiting to be retrofitted into vintage vehicles. After one day long ride in a 4 cylinder diesel truck (where the headlight buckets rattled off the fenders, and I think I sustained permanent hearing damage from the un-muffled exhaust), I unloaded all of them to the next sucker like me who had fallen for the “allure” of the diesel.

    For a 1/4 of the cost of a diesel engine, you can have a re-manufactured small block fuel injected GM engine installed that gets 14 mpg and 300 HP. Personally, I would use a Chrysler engine in a Chrysler vehicle, GM engine in a GM vehicle, etc…

    IMO, The only time diesel makes sense is if your truck says “Kenworth” on the side or “Volkswagen” on the tailgate.

    vaughn on February 18, 2012 7:33 PM:

    Those are seriously badass. I’ve owned several cruisers and loved everyone of them. Long live the FJ.

    Michael Walters on February 19, 2012 3:11 PM:

    Last time we talked, $15,000 was just for the engine swap, which is why I mentioned $50,000 in my other comment. I do admit that was 2 years ago. From what I understand he’s switching over to the Cummins QSB4.5 all electronic as Cummins is about to stop offering the 4BT.

    I’ve driven original and “swapped” Power Wagons and M37’s (gas and diesel) and didn’t feel that the gas versions were any smoother than the diesels. Sounds more like the diesels you were referring to weren’t done as well, or the gas swaps I rode in were the ones that were poorly done.

    Sounds like you have a different expectation of what you want out of your vehicle. That’s fine. The diesel is what I’m aiming for as I’m shooting for high torque and don’t need the extra 140 hp. To each his own.

    mark on March 6, 2012 6:33 PM:

    Nice Car Porn!!! I have a nasty 1963 International Travelall on 33″s.

    Rui on March 9, 2012 11:21 AM:

    So, what books are you inspired to read after this?

Comments are closed.