It had been awhile since we'd last checked in with Ward — the last time was behind the wheel of his then-new Bronco in 2011 — so when we heard he had created a new version of the ICON FJ, we headed down to his shop in Chatsworth, Calif., to view it in the metal.
Called the Old School, the latest ICON FJ is essentially the "same engineering and evolved mechanical wrapped up in a more traditional aesthetic design," Ward says. There are a few reasons why ICON is now offering this package, in part because Ward is constantly tweaking and changing, but also because of the desire of many of his clients to maintain a lower profile. "I was yearning to do a more retro take on it," he told us. "Also, the market was more and more interested in under-the-radar as much as possible."
The package will be available on the entire ICON FJ line, including the base FJ40 seen here as well as the FJ43 (extended wheelbase), FJ44 (four-door) and FJ45 (two-door truck).
We were curious why Ward didn't offer something like this from the start, but he explained that it was initially necessary to demonstrate that his vehicles weren't just a restoration or lightly modified. "Mechanically, they [the ICON FJ models] were such a different approach that I felt the modern, industrial aesthetic that I developed for it was necessary to get people to understand it was something different."
Those familiar with the Toyota FJ40 models will be able to easily spot the design cues inspired by the originals, from the white headlight bezel, to the stainless windshield frame and hood hooks, to the rear tire carrier. The front and rear bumpers are painted in a silver hue inspired by the original, but are powder-coated and then clear-coated to discourage scratching. There are a few modern-looking components on the exterior, namely the LED headlights and taillights, but the headlights in particular have been redesigned to fit in with the vintage look. The ICON badging on the exterior is still there, although much more subtle than on the standard model. Perhaps our favorite exterior design features are the original-style forged aluminum wheels and original hubcaps that really complete the vintage look.
Jumping inside, Ward has given the interior the same old-school treatment with a completely redesigned dash. While the components made by ICON are designed to match the aesthetic of the original FJ, they are designed and built to a much higher standard. For example, take the five knobs in the center of the dash. The original pieces are made from plastic, but Ward had them re-created using machined aluminum and created new logos for knobs like the A/C that didn't exist on the originals. The same goes for the gauge panel. The aesthetic of the original is there, but the gauges are created using modern components and manufacturing processes. Ward also completely redesigned the seats in leather with an elephant grain inspired by the early Land Cruisers.
While the interior of ICON's Old School FJ is appropriately spartan, it does come with quite a bit of tech, albeit well-hidden. A compartment concealed in the center console contains a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, voice-to-text, satellite radio and a CD player. The disguised nature of the tech means it doesn't ruin the vintage feel, so we imagine only the most hardcore purist wanting it taken out.
Because the Old School is essentially an aesthetics package only, much of the technical aspects remain the same as ICON's third-generation FJ chassis, suspension and drivetrain components. An updated and reinforced frame rides on a four-wheel coilover suspension designed for a full 12 inches of wheel travel both front and rear. This particular truck, the first to get the Old School package, also featured the optional Fox Racing nitrogen-charged shocks with remote reservoirs and dual adjustment.
Stopping power is provided by the optional Brembo brake package boasting six-piston calipers up front and four-piston calipers at the rear. Power is run through an Aisin-Warner AX15 five-speed manual transmission, custom-built Atlas II transfer case, and Dynatrac Dana 60/44 solid axles with optional ARB front and rear locking differentials.
Speaking of power, one brand new component used in this particular truck is under the hood in the form of Cummins' R2.8 turbo diesel crate engine. ICON has traditionally used Chevrolet LS-based engines in the FJ line and will continue to do so, but the Cummins will now be offered as an option as well. "Cummins reached out for us to be an early adopter to run this R2.8 motor," Ward told us. He liked using the first Old School as the test subject, since it fit the character of the truck and because he wouldn't have to use a client's vehicle as a test subject. "We're really happy with it. It has good torque."
With 161 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 267 pound-feet of torque at 1,500-3,000 rpm, the Cummins 2.8-liter inline-four doesn't necessarily have the impressive stats of, say, an LS3, but Ward is anticipating 28-29 mpg, making it an economical choice.
After showing us the ins-and-outs of the Old School FJ, Ward was kind enough to throw us the keys and let us take it for a quick spin on the streets around his Chatsworth shop. One would think there would be some acclimation needed for driving what is at its core a vintage truck, but the ease of which the ICON FJ can be driven is a testament to Ward's obsession with fine-tuning the technical aspects of the vehicle. The steering provides a surprising amount of directness and feedback, and the ride quality is exceptional.
The only part we really needed to get used to was the low-revving diesel powerplant, but once we calibrated our feet for the right amount of throttle input and clutch uptake, it was smooth sailing. Still, our inclination would be to opt for a Chevrolet LS for daily use, even though the Cummins diesel's wastegate provides a fantastic audio track with each shift that perfectly matches the character of the Old School aesthetic.
Ward anticipates that just over a third of his FJ customers will opt for the Old School package, and you can count us in that group, if that long-lost wealthy relative includes us in their will. While we love Ward's modern industrial design theme with his original FJ, the Old School simply nails the "vintage look with modern technology" combination perfectly. Onlookers who don't know what it is will assume it's just an old Land Cruiser, but those who are in the know will have an appreciation for the design inspirations.
Pricing is the same for both versions of the ICON FJ, starting at $195,000. You can read more and see additional technical details at www.icon4x4.com.