Jonathan Ward’s work is unusual, expensive and his products are not for everyone. It is also certain that not everyone remembers with great affection, the grille of a 1952 DeSoto, or a 1959 Chevrolet Parkwood station wagon, and can be enchanted by the colorful, nuanced character of rust stains on old cars. But for those who do and can, and who dream of driving their grandfather’s old Willys Jeep, or MG-TC, or a 1960 Aston Martin Roadster down the road, into the sunset, Jonathan’s vintage design aesthetic and his company, Icon 4×4, is worth a second look. He sees great design in vintage vehicles, and has re-created the feel, sense, touch, life to cars that many of us remember only in daydreams, or in back seat memories of childhood and adolescence.
We recently interviewed Jonathan, and asked him about the root systems of his ideas, and how he came to be doing these vehicular recreations, making visions of the past the actual driving realities of today.
Pursuitist: Because you work is such an unusual, niche field, we’d like to know were you born and raised, and where were you educated?
Jonathan: I came from Maryland… and my education was sketchy. I never quite fit in anywhere. But there was a kind of car geekiness in my family – My dad and my grandfather always loved old cars. I did some design work on a corporate level, but I always loved to do my own work, create my own designs. So my wife and I decided to go into business for ourselves. And was in 1996. We started TLC in 96, and ICON in 2007. For simplicity’s sake, you could stay we opened our business in 96.
Pursuitist: When did you realize you had an attraction to cars and trucks of the 40-60’s and wanted to replicate, yet renovate one?
Jonathan: It was more than that – I wanted to re-purpose vintage cars with modern internal parts – sort of vintage on the outside, modern on the inside. I wanted to be true to the original exterior design aesthetic also. I didn’t want the dashboard of a vintage car to scream MODERN everything, I want the interior to be subtly contemporary, but with an overriding feel for the period.
Pursuitist: So you are more of a vintage automobile architect?
Jonathan: Yes – as you can tell from Victorian or contemporary homes, the interiors of those homes often have the feel for the period, with colors, textures, materials, and furnishings of the period, but they also have contemporary conveniences and integrated technologies also.
But there is more to this: I have always seen the details of a vintage automobile – the window handles, the nuts and bolts and leatherwork and steering wheel design, are small works of art that enhance and power the whole. You can also see a power train or engine as a work of functional art. It is a kind of art that makes a car move, but with a certain way of seeing, these are works of art nonetheless.
Pursuitist: After reading about Icon and its work, I am curious about your abilities as a structural and/or a mechanical engineer. Did you grow up being able to fix things? Do you know how to rebuild an engine?
Jonathan: Yes, I can fix things – I can fix things around the house, and fix moderately complex car issues under a hood. The complicated things, well, that is why I hired the mechanics and engineers I have. I can eventually get it done, but they have more evolved skills than I!
Pursuitist: Let me know one of the more interesting stories you have done in the rebuilding and revivifying an automobile.
Jonathan: Revivifying is a good word, because that is what we actually did. A client came to us, and told us that one type of Aston Martin – in 1959 – was going to be built, but it never got beyond the drawing stage, actually a sketch, due to some manufacturing arguments. The client wanted us to create a ‘59 Aston from that sketch. So, we bought a modern Aston for its V12 and electronics. We then scratch built an aluminum body and steel frame, to create the DB4GT Zagato Barchetta. It is now finally being built – by us, not by them. It will be beautiful… and no arguments! We collaborated with the original designer, Ercole Spada. Quite the honor.
Pursuitist: You did say that ICON builds a custom, bespoke vehicle around the body of the customer’s choice. I’d like to know at least three different kinds of requests you are working on now, if possible.
Jonathan: We are working on many, but these three are really diverse: We are taking a Volvo P1800ES Sport Wagon, an early production 1965 P1800 coupe, and infusing its design elements into the 1973 wagon version, with modern drive train and chassis.
Second, we have a 1950 Buick Roadmaster convertible and are running a custom chassis, with a 2014 Cadillac CTSV supercharged V8 engine inside, with paddle shift auto, and an IPad integrated into dash (hidden under a panel.) Vintage distressed leather interior, Filson canvas roof…
Third, we have a 1965 F250 Ford Crew Cab pick up truck, built on a modern Ford Raptor truck platform, appearing stock and vintage at the same time.
Pursuitist: And what do you drive yourself?
Jonathan: I drive a vehicle that combines the body of a 1952 Chrysler Town & Country wagon with the front-end of a 1952 DeSoto. It is one of the vehicles in our line we call the Derelict. The philosophy behind the Derelict models is basically a vintage body structure re-invigorated with a modern chassis and internal machinery. The Derelicts are made for daily use, and their rust patterns – often quite beautiful – remain as they are. There is a Japanese view taken from a Buddhist teaching called Wabi-Sabi, which means an acceptance of transience and imperfection. This seems to describe our view of Derelict vehicles — a deep appreciation of the integrity of natural objects that have patterns of imperfection brought about by time. A few examples we’ve worked on are a Chevrolet Skyline DeLuxe Coupe, 1952, a Dodge M37 1952, a Lincoln Club Couple, 1946.
Pursuitist: And you have another line of cars, called The Reformer. Where did you get that name, and what type of vehicles are in that line?
Jonathan: My wife thought of the name, and it seems to fit our concept quite well. These are substantial restorations, the chassis’ and under-hood machinery is all modern. These are classic designs. Examples? An Aston Martin DB4 Zagato Roadster, 1960, Toyota land Cruiser FJ 40, 1962; a Willys Jeepster 1950, a Willys CJ3B – 1946, 1965 Dodge D200 Power Wagon Crew Cab.
Pursuitist: And what is the price range of these iconic ICON vehicles?
Jonathan: The production models run between $145-265,000. The one-off creations (Derelicts & Reformers) run between $200,000 and a million.
Pursuitist: What are the challenges you face in the creation and modernization of these vehicles?
Jonathan: Probably the major one was the aftercare of the vehicle. In the Keyport is an 8G memory that explains every nut and bolt in the car, where it came from and how it fits into the whole car frame and internal systems. So that if there is a problem, the mechanic – whomever the owner chooses — can see immediately what needs to be done. It has to be said that with all that goes into the car, ten years ago the tech solutions for these sorts of creations were not in existence yet. Now they are.
Pursuitist: How do you find Vintage cars, old grilles, old parts?
Jonathan: I hired three car hunters who search online and in backyards. We have met them over the years, starting as friends of the brand. One is an architect in Aspen, another a construction worker in Texas, and a student in Utah.
Pursuitist: The general deeper subtexts of luxury are often defined as scarcity, legacy, worth and the reality of perfected craftsmanship. The ICON brand seems to exist within those terms, but there is something more, something beyond showing what you own. Do you know what else attracts buyers to the brand?
Jonathan: I am not sure our buyers are buying our cars for showing off purposes. They like to have something that very few others have. Many have gone through the Ferrari, Bentley, and Maserati phase and have gotten over it. And even though our vehicles are expensive, sometimes as much or more than a Ferrari, they come to us because they remember a car that they knew in childhood, or that a beloved relative had – they loved the design of it, the feel of their remembered childhood when inside. They seem to sense a remembered aesthetic bond to the design, and they are grateful we can allow them to drive a work of art and symbol of the past that has personal meaning, personal memories for them. I also feel we are creating drivable art, something that outlasts trends in style, and that are built to last for decades.
Online at www.icon4x4.com