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Dreaming of Derelicts: A Night Out With ICON’s 1946 Oldsmobile

I can remember the first time I came across an ICON Derelict. It was the first year Jonathan Ward brought one out to SEMA. I knew right away that the naturally patina'ed exterior was much more than meets the eye. Ever since, I’ve eagerly awaited each successive Derelict build. Each unique, each superb, each inciting envy.

It’s a given that every car coming out of ICON is engineered to perfection with an unparalleled attention to detail. An earlier test drive of Icon’s Thriftmaster had me falling in love with its perfect marriage of vintage personality and modern handling. My expectations were just the same for their recent 1946 Oldsmobile Derelict build.

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe

Rather than just take the car out for a short test-drive, I wanted to get a taste for what owning a Derelict would be like, doing with it what a normal car person would do. Which is why one Friday night I found myself sitting shotgun next to ICON's founder, Jonathan Ward, cruising to one of Los Angeles’ most iconic car spots, Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank.

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe - Jonathan Ward

Known as the place to see and be seen in SoCal classic car culture, Bob’s Big Boy has a regular parade of famous names bringing out their cars, as well as long-time residents and gearheads, making an eclectic mix of peoples and cars. As the Derelict pulled up, heads turned. Before exiting the car, people were headed over to take a closer look.

1946 ICON Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe

While ICON’s bread and butter is transforming late-model 4x4s, like the Bronco and TJ, Jonathan Ward’s pet projects are the Derelict builds. Beginning with what was once his own daily driver, a DeSoto wagon, Ward starts each build with a search for the perfect patina'ed body. Some car guys are willing to fake an old patina look with a custom paint job, but that notion would be unheard of for Ward. Most often cars of the late-‘40s and early-‘50s, Derelicts are all about respecting and preserving the old all the while making it stand up to our modern expectations of how a car should perform and ushering it into a fully usable, daily drivable state.

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe

Guys like Jay Leno are known to be regulars at Bob’s, but this evening the automotive royalty was Ward — a number of people approaching the Derelict ’46 Olds were already fans. Plenty of others had no idea who Ward was, but it didn’t take them long to spot something on the Oldsmobile which brought them in for a closer look. Soon they'd dive even deeper were asking Ward what this build was all about. Owning a patina'd car myself, I was surprised I didn't hear a "So when are you going to paint it?"

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe

Ward’s obsession with design is obvious. He geeks out on details and happily talks shop, explaining car modifications and how he and his team achieve transforming what appears to be un-touched vintage into a personalized modern driver.

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe

On the “fully original” interior, Ward points out what all the knobs, switches and do-dads do. The original radio knobs control power and volume for a modern Bluetooth system, the analog window pulls are mated with power-window internals, the removal of the radio body made way for a modern air-system completely hidden behind a steel-mesh grate, and a tilt column is fitted with the original Oldsmobile steering wheel. No detail is brushed over in Derelict builds and it shows.

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe Interior

Under the hood is a Hilborn-injected 502 Chevy Big Block. As awesome as it is, the engine choice is a deviation from the usual modern Ford powerplant  used in Derelicts and is due to the owner’s request — an example of the personalization that goes into each build. In fact, the owner built the Big Block himself, including its custom-fabricated valve covers.

1946 Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe - Big Block Chevy Engine

The lopy idle gives the ’46 Olds a distinctively different driving personality from other Derelict builds. The engine choice may not be for everyone, but it provides a nostalgic sound and feel that you’re not going to get from something more modern. After walking around Bob's and looking at the other cars present, we received plenty of thumbs up as we fired the Olds and headed out to hit up another cool spot in the Valley.

Bob's Big Boy Cruise-In with Jonathan Ward

As luck would have it, and I find often comes along as car “karma” when you’re driving something extraordinary, we nabbed the primo parking spot in front of Idle Hour. Before heading inside for a bite, the valet guy and some patio patrons got in their questions about the Olds. These conversations, and the smiles and waves you get from strangers, are unmatched, I feel, from other exclusive cars. A supercar for instance may receive plenty of looks, but it doesn’t make the world feel like a smaller, friendlier place the way a classic car does.

1946 ICON Oldsmobile Derelict Coupe

By the time we leave Idle Hour, I’ve worked up the courage to ask to drive. It isn’t a long way back to my car, but I didn’t want this night to get away without taking the wheel. The Big Block, while lopy and aggressive, was still entirely civil. The original steering wheel told me I was driving a 1946 Oldsmobile but the suspension, steering and braking directed otherwise. It was driving perfection. It was everything I’ve come to love in old cars, and so much more, with none of the old car frustrations. Finding it difficult to return the keys and say goodbye — on my drive home I found my mind wondering to my own original-paint ’55 Studebaker and what she would look like if she became a Derelict. It’s most definitely a goal to reach for.


YEAR/MAKE 1946 Oldsmobile Coupe
ENGINE Cast-iron 502 c.i. Chevrolet Big Block, Hilborn injection
EXHAUST Custom-fabricated stainless steel dual-isolated exhuast
DRIVELINE GM 4L85E transmission, ARB airlock differential, custom-fabricated ICON wiring
SUSPENSION Art Morrison chassis and front IFS, rear 4-link, Wilwood 6-piston /4-piston calipers (front & rear)
WHEELS Custom-fabricated wheels, original Oldsmobile hubcaps

View more photos in the gallery below or get car building tips from Ward in our Master Class article.

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