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A Much Better Bronco + Bucking the Myth

The Icon BR is powered by a 412 hp, 5-liter Ford Coyote V-8 engine that was built for the Mustang GT

Icon transforms the classic 4×4 into a beautifully engineered machine.

Ford is preparing to relaunch the Bronco, the SUV the company produced from 1966 to 1996. Actually, the Bronco predates the term SUV; it was called an MPV (multipurpose vehicle). The company has said the Bronco will return to the production line for the 2020 model year. But why wait until then when there’s already the Icon BR (icon4x4​.com), Jonathan Ward’s $200,000 interpretation of the first-generation Ford Bronco?

Ward is the founder of Icon, a Southern California company that restores and customizes a variety of classic 4×4s, trucks, and other vehicles. He is a self-described “engineer geek” as well as a Mikhail Baryshnikov–trained ballet dancer; a former Broadway, TV, and film actor; and an amateur photographer. He sets the standard to which other Bronco-restoration shops aspire. “I do this because of Jonathan,” says Bryan Rood of Ohio’s Classic Ford Broncos. “He paved the way for luxury vintage 4×4s.”

The Icon BR combines the shell of a first-generation Bronco (1966 to 1977) with what Ward describes as “funky” skyscraper glass, Learjet-sourced sun visors, and a variety of military- and aerospace-grade materials. The vehicle is powered by a 412 hp, 5-liter Ford Coyote V-8 engine that was built for the Mustang GT. Ward also equips the BR with a custom engine-control unit, Brembo brakes, Borla exhaust system, and a Fox racing suspension that allows for his trademark uncut fenders and about 12 inches of wheel clearance. After it’s had all that work done, the BR is no longer a Bronco; but it’s a blast to drive.

Bucking the Myth

With just 7,793 miles on its odometer, Jonathan Ward’s 1969 Ford Bronco may be more mint than any other first-generation Bronco. It was discovered in a garage in Colorado with a snowplow attached and was most likely used for clearing private land and little else. As a Bronco purist, I wanted to experience the charm of this original machine. But a test-drive of the vehicle, which broke down twice on the way to the driving site, showed how inferior it is to the Icon BR.

“Is this first or third?” I asked Ward as I moved the shifter on the steering column, trying to find the right gear on the 3-speed manual transmission. “I don’t know,” he said. “Punch it and see.” The gears ground as the engine jumped to life. “Third,” we said in unison. Later, as the Bronco was flying down a hill, I wildly pumped the brakes to little effect. When I failed to avoid a pothole, we were bounced around in ours seats. “Leaf suspension,” Ward said.

Ward is toying with the idea of bringing the barn-find Bronco to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this year—as is. Collectors may enjoy it more than drivers or passengers will.