The first-generation Ford Bronco (1966 to 1977) has always been cool in an under-the-radar way. Built as a simple and utilitarian competitor to the Jeep CJ5 and the International Harvester Scout, Broncos were boxy with a bumpy ride that was extremely hot in summer and frigid in winter. But its unpolished experience was the key to its charm, and the three-on-the-tree manually shifted 4×4 came to define Colorado’s rugged working class and Southern California’s laid-back beach lifestyle.
With the owners now of an age and status to collect multiple cars, vintage Broncos are back on everyone’s wish lists (if they ever left), and they are demanding increasingly high numbers at auction and at restoration shops. Rumors of Ford releasing a new Bronco are even gaining fervor.
Among this revitalized hype, one Bronco restorer is in a class of its own, easily standing out from the ever-increasing crowd—Southern California’s Icon 4×4. Its founder Jonathan Ward is a self-described “engineer geek” as well as a Mikhail Baryshnikov–trained ballet dancer; a former Broadway, TV, and film actor; and a knowledgeable amateur photographer. A multi-disciplinary genius, Ward essentially sets the standard to which every other Bronco shop in the country aspires. Designer Bryan Rood of Ohio’s Classic Ford Broncos candidly says, “I do this because of Jonathan. He paved the way for luxury vintage 4x4s.” Brandon Segers, owner of Florida’s Velocity Restorations, seconds the acclaim saying, “Jonathan is the only guy in the industry I truly respect.”
Dressed strikingly similarly to Heisenberg from the hit Netflix series Breaking Bad, I met Ward at his 70,000-square-foot shop earlier this year to drive his Icon Bronco, a traditional restomod (which Ward will restore through Icon’s sister company TLC) and an untouched 1969 barn find that Ward believes is the most virgin first-generation Bronco in the world at only 7,793 miles.
(Check out the April issue for a first-hand account of the drive.)
Representative of his peer’s praise, Ward’s Icon-branded Ford Bronco starts at $200,000. It combines the shell of a first-generation Bronco with what Ward describes as “funky” skyscraper glass; Lear-jet sourced sun visors; military- and aerospace-grade materials; and textiles from the Italian American company Chilewich. Like other restoration shops, the Icon Bronco features a 5.0-liter Ford Coyote engine that was initially built for the Mustang GT. However, Ward’s unique design (which is available in an automatic or 5-speed manual transmission) takes painstaking measures to ensure that everything works in chorus with the 412 hp, fuel-injected, and naturally aspirated V-8. “My challenge is to make all these design elements work together in a transportation element,” explains Ward.
This means a custom engine control unit (ECU), Brembo brakes, Borla mufflers, and a Fox racing suspension that allows for his trademark uncut fenders and about 12 inches of wheel clearance. The result is essentially the Mercedes of the 4×4 world. It is no longer vintage, but it is a beautifully engineered machine that has as much personality as Ward himself—and one that is tons of fun to drive. (icon4x4.com)