After five minutes of talking with Jonathan Ward you can fully grasp the depth of his automotive passion. It's infectious to hear him discuss his love for the aesthetics of a bygone era. The love he has for the masters of industrial design. People like Raymond Loewy get him excited and he perks up in his chair to tell you about how Raymond has influenced his current project. If I had to choose one phrase to describe Jonathan it would definitely be "attention to detail".
It was over a glass of wine on vacation with his wife that they decided to quit their day jobs and start building cars for a living. With a couple of credit cards, a wing and a prayer they jumped into the company full bore. They started out restoring Toyota Land Cruisers but quickly moved on to FJs and Ford Broncos. Jonathan is an artist and uses his craft to create one-of-a-kind masterpieces with unique features. We need more inspiring hands-on people like Jonathan in this world. He employs an army of craftsmen that help him bring to life the massive amount of ideas that he has bouncing around in his fast moving brain. He walks around his shop stopping at each station to check on the quality and workmanship of each of his projects. That passion is not just about cars, it's about everything that goes into making these rolling art pieces.
Jonathan utilizes tons of different concepts to get to an end goal. His tricks range from using tiny, adjustable gas shocks from remote-controlled cars to activate his glove compartment hinges to acid etching his logo on the tailgate of the Thriftmaster. He is always looking to achieve something new, different and bold when he makes an ICON.
The Ride: ICON Thriftmaster
The key to ICON's creations is the chassis engineering. Jonathan partners with Art Morrison to create a custom chassis for each product line at ICON. They went through a year of testing and refining the chassis on the Thriftmaster test mule before starting out on the first production model. They ended up with beefy 2x5 main rails with an independent tig-welded tubular front and four link rear running Johnny Joints. The chassis makes this 1950s truck handle like a modern day Corvette.
The body is an authorized reproduction from Premier Street Rods. They worked hours and hours to clean up all the gaps to make them feel and look more modern. Jonathan even grafted panels from 1947-1953 Thriftmasters, creating his own iconic look.
"The dashboard was one of the most challenging pieces to the truck," says Jonathan, "We wanted to make it as clean as possible and hide all the switches, knobs and levers." They turned to their friends at Kenwood and ISIS to provide a head unit and wiring harness that could act as the main controller for all the electronics in the car. You can control everything from the hidden touch screen or an iPhone application that is tied to the truck. Jonathan shows me how he can start the car, roll down the windows, turn on the window wipers and unlock the doors with his phone. Hopping in the cabin you can see why they opted for a clean interior. It just looks fantastic without all the clutter. The dash centerpiece is the art deco lines of the nickel plated trim not some huge 8-track stereo system with faded yellow buttons. Both the glove compartment and the head unit covers are easy to access with a light press on the top of their panels. The doors swing out and float down with a smooth motion granted by the tiny RC shocks and magnets. "I added the magnets after we we finished with panels," explains Jonathan, "because [before] they would stop with a bang; the magnets let them glide into place."
The truck still has a key ignition which is an interesting touch since it's already running from the iPhone button Jonathan pushed a few minutes ago. We hop in the cab and Jonathan smiles and says, "Let me show you my favorite local drive." He burns out of the garage and we are on our way.
The Road: Santa Susana Pass
The truck is so fun to drive it's literally a pickup with an identity crisis. Hitting the city streets around ICON's shop proved that the truck feels smooth on a regular road. Then we turned on to Santa Susana Pass at the top end of the San Fernando Valley and everything changed. The truck felt like it was made for the twisty turns of this old pass. The road is not smooth at all but the suspension tackled any problems this old pavement threw at it. The sticky tires hung on for dear life as Jonathan gave it a lot of power through the 180-degree turns that snake up the pass to Simi Valley.
The Santa Susana Pass is rich in history and cultural significance. The deep canyons and rocky landscape used as a trail route over 800 years ago later became a rough wagon road for the missionaries and ranch people of the early 19th century. It was used as the main route for stagecoaches between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The route was so popular that they began creating a larger highway (now known as the 118 freeway) to handle the demands for traffic.
Starting in the 1920s, Hollywood discovered the area around the pass. Movie ranches and faux Western towns became commonplace and served as locations for hundreds of motion pictures and television series, including "Fort Apache" starring John Wayne and "Bonanza". The Santa Susana Pass Historic Park features amazing views of the valley, which combined with the breathtaking landscape make it an incredible backdrop for a weekend drive.