One of the hottest trucks on the market is a 48-year old Toyota.
It’s a fully restored and reconfigured 1970 FJ40 Land Cruiser updated with new components — a practice known as resto-modding — to appeal to customers who want classic look and feel with modern comfort and performance. There’s even a backup camera.
This Toyota, which sells for about $200,000, is the brainchild of Jonathan Ward, owner and founder of the meticulous California restoration shop Icon 4×4. Ward calls it the Old School FJ40 Land Cruiser.
High-dollar retro trucks are in demand because of their nostalgia factor, attention to detail and the stigma of driving an expensive new luxury vehicle or sports car, Ward said.
“No one gets pissed at a guy in a vintage pickup truck,” Ward said. “There’s no social baggage with that.”
On a recent drive through the streets and hills outside Los Angeles, the Old School FJ40 delivered a driving experience equaled by few vehicles on the road today.
Its thin three-spoke wheel with power steering felt precise on the road and engaging and playful off-road. The suspension with Fox Racing shocks floated over potholes and leveled the FJ easily over dirt ruts and rocks. A 2.8-liter Cummins turbodiesel engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, purred along with a graze of the throttle.
The truck has Dana front and rear axles, BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires and coil-over springs developed by Icon with supplier Art Morrison Enterprises. The Old School FJ40 matches today’s ride and capability with yesterday’s style and nostalgia.
The privilege of owning an Icon original does not come cheap. Each one is built to order and can take more than two years to complete. This particular Old School FJ40, painted in a welcoming tan powder coat paint, is already spoken for. Future models will start around $195,000 and cost $220,000 with options, Ward said.
The company also builds “New School” versions of the FJ that are more about creative freedom than original look and feel. Icon offers the same resto-mod treatment to Ford Broncos, as the BR line, and Chevrolet 3100 pickups as the Thriftmaster.
Topping the offerings is the Derelict series of no-expense-spared classic metal built to exacting terms. Icon preserves the original faded patina paint job that is only possible with time. The cost of a Derelict can easily surpass $400,000.
Visitors to the Icon building in Chatsworth, Calif., can immediately tell this is no ordinary shop.
Inside the waiting area, the Old School FJ40 sits alongside an all-original FJ40 that recently sold for $100,000. There are more classic cars, vintage racing posters and framed sketches that Ward said were dug out of the trash behind the offices of design house Pininfarina in the 1960s. Ward’s teenage son holds the high score on a Junk Yard pinball machine in the corner.
The shop is massive, recently expanded to 78,000 square feet. There is dedicated space for the FJ line, another for the BR line and one for Ward’s TLC brand that exclusively restores Land Cruisers. The rest of the floor is peppered with an assortment of various projects.
“These are the freaks and geeks,” Ward said, pointing to a 640-horsepower Hudson Commodore and a 1949 Mercury with a Tesla electric powertrain. The outdoor lot has dozens of even more bizarre finds, waiting for sponsors.
Ward pours himself into every build. His intense attention to history and detail is delivered in dry, deadpan sentences punctuated with profanity.
“We used carbon-dated, 1,500-year old Irish wood literally dredged out of a bog,” Ward said, pointing inside a 660-horsepower Derelict Thriftmaster. “This is going to be a beast.”The Icon Duesey, an $11,500 watch inspired by the style of defunct luxury automaker Duesenberg.
Icon’s success has made Ward a celebrity to automotive enthusiasts. His YouTube page has 60,000 subscribers. He’s considering launching a podcast. While Ward is uncomfortable that Icon’s future success is now linked to his public persona — “It’s a little weird,” he said— he admits that it has helped business. Icon cannot build vehicles fast enough to satisfy customer demand. Some models have a two-year waiting list.
Vintage truck values are on the rise. Five of the top 10 used vehicles that are outperforming their value on the collector car market are trucks and SUVs, according to the insurance company Hagerty. The average price of a vintage FJ40 or Bronco that Icon needs for restorations has tripled, Ward said. Finding parts has become more difficult.
One way that Icon works around that scarcity is by making its own parts with on-site machining. For the Old School FJ40, Ward designed new instrument gauges and made aluminum switches to match the period correct plastic ones. “I’m always on the hunt to get rid of plastic,” Ward said.
He also built stainless steel Icon badging that blends in seamlessly with the original FJ40 font. The custom Italian leather seats are designed to emulate the vinyl in the stock truck.
The 18-inch alloy wheels with hubcaps are larger than Ward would have liked. But they needed to fit Icon Sport Brakes with six-piston calipers that he developed with Brembo.
The next step for Icon is to streamline operations and reduce the cost of building custom parts, Ward said. He said the company is lucky to achieve 5 percent net profit annually.
His reputation for over-engineering has earned Icon its reputation but places a taxing demand on Ward’s time and business. As he walked the shop floor an engineer pulled him aside to ask for his opinion on the custom machined door handle of a Jeep Wagoneer. Ward said he fights a constant battle between his inner artist and inner capitalist.
“There are some projects that will sell for a million bucks. But was it ‘good enough’ without 40 percent of that? Probably,” he said.
“But am I happy with ‘good enough’? Not really.”