Auto Design | Building an ICON - Design Bureau




ICON CEO and lead designer Jonathan Ward

Auto Design | Building an ICON

Friday, August 16th, 2013

They don’t make ’em like they used to. At least that’s what Jonathan Ward thinks. The CEO and lead designer of Los Angeles-based ICON creates rugged, one-of-a-kind 4x4s that aren’t just inspired by the designs of vintage Ford Broncos, Toyota Land Cruises, and other workhorses—most of the time they’re the real thing, rebuilt.

DB: What design customization options do your clients have?
Jonathan Ward: We have the capability of working with our clients to select a wide range of vehicles as the foundation for our builds, all the way through to building the vehicle from scratch. Many times, the one-off, scratch-built cars are based on vehicle variations that never got built back in the day, perhaps based on a rendering done and discarded by the designer.

DB: What sort of clientele are your vehicles geared toward?
JW: Generally speaking, our customers have (or have had) the traditional luxury and exotic cars and are now becoming a bit more evolved in their taste, looking for something that will last and reflect more character. Less ‘look at me and my expensive car,’ and a bit more ‘I am an individual.’ Generally not new wealth.

DB: What does an ICON offer a design-minded buyer?
JW: More personality, more durability and longevity, more ‘story’ and romance. Simpler systems and architecture focused more purely on building the best. Most, if not all, of the big companies have to make content and design decisions based on the shareholders and Wall Street, not based on the pure focus of what is best for the design goals. 

DB: Who would you most like to see cruising around in an ICON?
JW: Anyone whose face we can put a smile on. It is about the vibe, the purpose and clarity of the design, with a sense of humor. I think Brad Pitt would appreciate our work, although we have not met him yet.

DB: Imagine you could build any kind of car, no limitations whatsoever…
JW: It’d be inspired by the late-deco machine age. Streamlined design, a bit of WWII through to Harrier Jet design, some belly tanker salt flat racer influences, a little bit steampunk. I’m working on it now…


“Each car is a totally unique process,” Ward says. The designer takes us through the process of building an ICON from a vintage car.

1. We first get to know the client and what is best for them: 1930s? ’60s? Sedan, wagon, truck, convertible? Hunting down the car can take several months.

2. Once we buy the car the outline of the design and renderings are completed. We lift off the vintage body and digitally map the platform in CAD to design a chassis that incorporates modern solutions for steering, suspension, brakes, etc.

3. We fit the vintage body on the modern chassis and build out the A/C, fuel system, exhaust, audio, NAV, etc. 

4. Now we disassemble the entire vehicle for surface coatings, rebuild all of the latches and hinges, replace all the rubber and glass, apply a hydrophobic clear coat to protect the patina, Dynamat line the inside of the body, and then reassemble everything to appear as if we had done nothing.

5. After we affix the body to the chassis the final steps are the electrical system and upholstery.

For information on how to purchase an ICON, visit

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