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Two days before ICON’s “Petersen Special” was to be delivered, ICON boss Jonathan Ward rolled it. He was out in the parched Mojave testing the ‘FJ44’ and got the rig going a bit too hot. It had a brand new suspension they were vetting and well, obviously, it didn’t make the Petersen’s opening last December.

The Petersen Auto Museum’s second floor showcases the current state of the auto industry. And part of that story concerns the automotive aftermarket and customization. For Ward, the Petersen’s rebranding and reopening was a perfect opportunity for ICON to take their FJs in a new direction, show them off to a wide audience, and honor the Petersen, all in one shot. And while ICON may have missed the maximum impact of debuting the truck along with the Petersen, the FJ44 was repaired and has taken its place where initially intended.

For those who don’t know, the ‘FJ44’ is a model that Toyota never offered. It’s a re-imagining of the open FJ40, but with four doors. And while some parts could be installed directly on an original FJ40, all parts are engineered by ICON to tougher specs.

Besides ICON’s core business, which is based on Toyota Land Crusiers, Ward’s company also builds a few one-offs. Currently, they’re working on a Mies van der Rohe-inspired Plymouth Superbird based on a Dodge Hellcat (which is expected to debut at SEMA in 2017), an Ercole Spada (Zagato’s chief designer) custom design, and a 1958 Rolls-Royce, all as Derelict Projects.

And although ICON has built countless FJs, Ward doesn’t consider them an FJ shop and their multiple repeat clients would agree, “We’re a design and engineering shop… it’s more like people dig the religion and bring us a new hymn we haven’t sung before.” Need proof? Check out their extensive past project list.

Additionally, their focus is firmly on the future, “We have a bunch of electric vehicle projects in the works… if I have my way, I bet you within five years 50 percent of ICON’s production will be pure electric.” The first two? A VW Thing-based EV with 260 lb. ft. of torque, named ‘Wild Thing’ and the second a “Tesla eater” based on a ‘50 Mercury.

Let’s face it Ward’s life revolves around cars. And even when dealing with charities, he finds a way to use his passion for cars to benefit others. He currently serves on the board of a charity named GO (Giving Opportunities to Children) Campaign along with his wife, and he credits GO Campaign with re-sparking his interest in philanthropy. The best thing about GO, as Ward sees it, is its super simple, super direct approach. They identify local heroes in communities that understand a problem, are familiar with it, and are already working on solving it.

For instance, in Los Angeles there is a charity known as A Sense of Home that benefits foster kids who have aged out of the foster care program. Typically, kids who “age out of the foster program” are usually “given a housing voucher and a kick in the butt.” Frequently, many of those kids fall into a bad rhythm or with bad influences. What A Sense of Home does is work with foster parents and the center where the kids were aging out of and they get to know the kids a bit, what are they like, what are their hobbies, what would they like to do? And Sense of Home tries to ensure that they have what they need (in terms of furnishings and amenities) so that the young adults feel like their new home is THEIR home. Furthermore, it also allows them access to the greater community of kids just like them.

Clearly, this is unrelated to cars; however, Ward has helped plan a fundraising benefit for GO Campaign called Cars and Casino. They invite many celebs from the custom and aftermarket automotive industry, with their creations, to attend along with food trucks, and spirits sponsors like The Macallan Highland Scotch and Chopin Vodka. This event, now its third year, takes place this upcoming Saturday, May 7th. It also includes an auction featuring over 100 items and experiences ranging from private museum and collection tours (at places like the Petersen, Mullin, and Jay Leno’s Garage) to Adele tickets.


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Podcast Interview by A.J. Gordon / Article Written by Yoav Gilad

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