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Story #41ICONChatsworth, CA

I’m very excited by what I sense as a renaissance occurring in America… a revival of craftsmanship and products born of passion and care.

In a remote location in South Africa, over a bottle of wine, Jonathan Ward and his wife made a decision that would forever alter the course of their lives.

As a business school student, Ward contradicted the traditional supply and demand model, arguing instead that if the supply is there, the demand will follow.  He recognized that there was an increasing affinity for the vintage aesthetic in the automobile industry, but a lack of pure, quality approach to restoration. “It was just a belief in something that could be done better, and needed to be done, and the audacity to just go for it.”

When they returned home from their vacation, he and his wife quit their jobs and founded ICON, a Los Angeles-based company that restores classic vintage models of 4-wheel drive vehicles with an eye toward quality, modern reliability, and environmental responsibility. ICON currently has four production models, including the Bronco (ICON BR Series), Land Cruiser (ICON FJ Series), Chevy Thriftmaster (ICON TR Series), and the E-Flyer, their first electric bike. However, Ward welcomes custom requests and the chance to work with new vehicles. It just might take a little while – every ICON vehicle is built to order by one of ICON’s 40 employees in California, and some can take up to three years to complete, depending on the complexity of the request.

ICON’s mentality is reminiscent of the early days of the automobile industry, when the focus was on a pure, quality design rather than mass production and taking shortcuts to cut back on time. This mindset brings its fair share of hurdles, however, such as keeping up with ever-changing advances in technology, engineering and energy efficiency, and effectively marrying those items with a very hands-on, turn of the century craftsmanship.

Jonathan Ward welcomes the challenge. “I think we need to get back to our strengths as Americans not as consumers of product but as creators; as problem solvers; as risk-takers.”

As for the future, Ward keeps his eyes on the long-term goals for ICON rather than short-term opportunities – don’t expect to see him on a reality TV show. For him, improving the quality of the process and product, changing the standards of the industry, and protecting the values of the brand are top priorities. And, of course, having fun doing it.

“If I’ve learned anything as a small business owner in a creative environment, it’s that you have to love what you do or you’ll never do it well,” Ward said.

 

Photos by Kike Arnal

  • Another view of the cars on display in ICON's showroom in Los Angeles, Calif. Owner Jonathan Ward is excited by what he views as a renaissance taking place in America, and a revival of craftsmanship and products born of passion and care. "I think we need to get back to our strengths as Americans not as consumers of product but as creators, problem-solvers, and risk-takers."

  • Classic cars on display at the ICON showroom in Los Angeles, Calif.

  • Cars being worked on at ICON in Los Angeles, Calif. Ward describes ICON's role in the community is to "Incite, inspire, motivate, employ, redefine, change standards in our industry, improve the quality of the process and product, and seek to collaborate with more companies and brands that understand our value."

  • Jonathan Ward started out predominately restoring Land Cruisers, but with ICON he works with a suite of classic models and collaborates with clients on custom requests.

  • The hand of mechanic Robert Kleben as he works on a 1950 Buick. "I find it easier to train someone in the specific arts and skills required than it is to train someone to have passion for what they do," says ICON owner Jonathan Ward.

  • ICON owner Jonathan Ward sits at the wheel of a Bronco that his company has nearly finished restoring. Years ago, disenchanted with his career path, Ward made the decision to quit his job and follow his passion. With ICON he is filling what he saw to be a gap in the market - classically designed vehicles, restored with an eye towards modern capability and performance.

  • Mechanic Damien Tapia works in his "cubicle" at ICON.

  • A view of the ICON parking lot, filled with cars waiting to be restored. Though demand is now exceeding supply, Ward is not willing to sacrifice the quality of the work ICON does. It’s a return to the very hands-on, turn of the century craftsmanship that puts the emphasis on design and utility, not “what’s the cheapest way we can build a vehicle?”

  • Jon Wente and Robert Kleben of ICON work on the engine of a 1950 Buick. This car has taken over a year to complete and will have a final price of around $300,000.

  • In his office, Jonathan Ward makes design decisions for a new ICON project in coordination with Jon Wente and Lee Morcer. "Our customer base is predominately self-made captains of whatever industry they're in," he says. "They're really built-up-from-nothing kind of guys."

Business Details

Proprietor: Jonathan Ward
9601 Lurline Avenue Chatsworth, CA 91311
PH: 818-280-3333 / Website
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