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Icon's Jonathan Ward On What Makes a Car Special

Zach Bowman
Photo credit: DREW RUIZ

From Road & Track

Few shops do personality quite like Icon. The Los Angeles firm’s exquisitely detailed restorations are unique products of founder Jonathan Ward’s particular imagination and his desire to resolve a long-running conflict within himself. Ask Ward what gives a car character, what makes it more than a tool to weather thankless commuter miles, and he won’t hesitate: “It’s the design, the aesthetic, and hopefully the continuity of it. In a perfect world, you can see what the designer was thinking and that it came out of one mind, instead of a focus group. The conflict for me is that, generally, the cars that define that are going to be of an age of manufacturing where I am just not the guy. I don’t have the patience for the archaic mechanical experience.”

This story originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Road & Track.

Icon doesn’t just resurrect old machines. The company focuses on blending the high points of modern powertrain and manufacturing technology with an aesthetic long ago faded to history. That’s why Ward’s shop is packed with sheetmetal from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s: Buicks and Broncos, Land Cruisers and Chevrolet pickups, each waiting to be draped over a chassis packed with a modern supercharged small-block, a coil-over suspension, and massive Brembo brakes. It’s Ward fitting the pieces of himself together and manifesting them in metal, glass, and leather.

Photo credit: Icon 4x4

The brand has earned a reputation for obsession, for sweating over every part of a machine, robbing inspiration and materials from far and wide. You may find repurposed commercial-freezer latches a few inches away from a bison-leather bench seat, or you might see aerospace fasteners holding down the slats of a pickup bed, the wood cut from a carbon-dated 5000-year-old black oak dug up from Irish bog.

It’s a philosophy that doesn’t give much quarter to modern cost-cutting. “I think Rolls-Royce, on its higher-end models, has certainly kept that [craftsmanship] alive,” Ward says. “I feel that Bentley—with the exception of very occasional special editions—has lost that honesty. Ferrari really disappoints me. They’ve really gone the wrong direction. No one wants to hop in a Ferrari and see the same navigation interface as they see in a base Jeep.”

The philosophy tends to bleed into the rest of Ward’s life, and vice versa. One of his hobbies, leatherwork, recently found its way into the business. “I’m totally immersed and geeking out on it. We’re doing this killer Hudson Hornet Coupe with an LS9, full independent suspension, and Brembos. It’s going to be nasty. With the interior, the client saw what I was learning and hit me up right away. We’re doing a wild-caught-alligator interior where every single tile of gator is hand-stained and burnished and screwed with. I’m pretty excited about that.”

One personality flecked across a car, a gator hide, and a whole company.

DAILY KIT

The five objects Ward uses every day: simple tools that help him make his machines and that he can’t live without.

Photo credit: WYETH YATES

Blue Pint 300-Millimeter Digital Caliper

“Always to the right of my desk. Fast, accurate, and with the 300-mil slide, a really nice range.”

Photo credit: WYETH YATES

3DConnexion Mouse

“A left-hand mouse that gives you 3-D zoom and pan. When you’re doing a 3-D CAD model or render, you can climb inside, way down, look up, zoom in, and isolate a specific part.”

Photo credit: WYETH YATES

Montblanc Ballpoint Pen

“A traditional black with a sort-of-gunmetal-plated trim. To me, it’s a good example of unnecessary elevated quality—the weight, the circumference, the heft.”

Photo credit: WYETH YATES

Horween Leather Notepad Cover

“I made notepad covers for myself and my managers. Horween looks old and is superorganic, but it gets more funk and patina as you use it, so it’s fun to watch that progression.”

Photo credit: WYETH YATES

Sakura Pigma Micron Pens

“On the drawing side, I’m a huge fan of Pigma Micron pens. I have every tip and size they ever thought about producing. They’re so cool.”

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