Jonathan Ward. If you’re a Bronco or Land Cruiser fanatic, you probably know of him. If not, you’ve definitely seen his work. Ward is the founder of two companies with cult-like followings: TLC, a Toyota Land Cruiser service and restoration shop; and ICON, which reengineers classic vehicles like Broncos and FJs. Lately, he’s been building completely unique one-off cars with his series of Derelicts and Reformers, so we sat down to find out how he’s gotten to where he is today.
Where does your passion for building cars come from?
It's all based on a love for motorsports and design. I've always been a geek for both. I’ve always tinkered with cars, dialed them in and sold them to fund the next one as a hobby.
Why did you decide to start TLC?
While on vacation and with zero intelligent forethought or planning, my wife and I said, ‘You know, when we get home, [screw] it. Let's quit.’ We were younger, weren’t married [at the time] and had no kids, and we wanted to do something we really enjoyed that would also set us up to do the things we enjoy outside of work, like travel and adventure.
How have you seen the automotive landscape change?
Over time, we saw the market shifting. More and more people had the affinity for the aesthetic and the utilitarian roots of the truck, but also more and more people had no attachment to the vintage archaic mechanical realities of those trucks and were asking for mods.
How did ICON come to be?
We started tinkering with mods but we realized it's like redoing a house. If you don't bring it down to just the chimney, you end up working around limitations or defined barriers because of the space and layout of it. In automotive, if you can start from scratch, the quality of the engineering and the continuity in all those decisions is greatly enabling. You end up with a far more evolved product.
“Car designs that really resonate with people do so because they're tied to enabling other things in life that we appreciate and like to do.”
What’s your favorite part of the building process?
I just love that design phase. That's my sweet spot: the sketching, the geeking out, finding the materials and the covers and the metals.
Tell us more about ICON’s Derelicts and Reformers.
I built the first Derelict—an old DeSoto wagon—just to meet my need for something with style, heart, and soul; that hauls ass and is reliable; and has all the perversions of modern cars in it. Essentially, for any Derelicts, it’s already beat-to-hell, so just drive the damn thing. Then we began offering Reformers as the bespoke option for people looking for quality finishing.
What’s your biggest takeaway after years of building?
Car designs that really resonate with people do so because they're tied to enabling other things in life that we appreciate and like to do. It might be time with family, or taking the dogs to the park, or getting to that trail, or towing that boat or carving that canyon. It's about creating memories and facilitating more experiences.
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