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Making A Legend: ICON 4x4

"Legendary" is not a status that is built overnight; not even in Hollywood. ICON 4x4 of Southern California has been building their status since 1996 and it has paid off. The company and their products have been the subject of articles from Motor Trend and Driving Line to Los Angeles and 4-Wheel Drive Magazines (our coverage of their ICON Bronco most recently).

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How does a company become an ICON? The process starts, really, at the top. Jonathan Ward began TLC 4x4 in 1996 to answer the call to collectors who wanted the styling and timeless beauty of older Toyota Land Cruisers but also longed for the handling, comfort and durability of more modern vehicles. Ward, ever the perfectionist, came to their rescue and began finding Cruisers and rebuilding them to their consummate condition. Even at the beginning, he never cut corners to save time or money and this method of business grew the company's reputation.

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The company's reputation soon moved past the Land Cruiser community and owners of other SUVs and even Toyota themselves began to beckon for Ward's assistance in upgrading their vehicles. Along with running TLC and ICON, which he formed in 2003 to reconstruct SUVs such as Broncos and FJs, Ward began to work as a consultant for Toyota, and he began handling special projects for Toyota ranging from outfitting vehicles for special events to eventually being asked by Mr. Toyoda to build three running and driving prototypes of what became the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser.

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An example of Ward's perfectionism is the way in which he defines the term "derelict." When most people hear that word, they think of a run-down car or truck that's been sitting in a field since 1977. In Ward's world, derelicts are vehicles that merely look as if they've been called home by 600 generations of field mice (but without the rust). Although Ward's "derelicts" still have their original paint, and many are patinated, they are custom built on brand new frames with many upgraded parts; they are merely left to look externally as they did when they were found. In fact, all of ICON's derelicts are upgraded with ABS brakes, high performance engines, heavy duty suspensions and exhaust systems, high-performance cooling and so much more. The interiors are designed to look stock as well, with the seats, steering wheel, window cranks, dash and carpets all designed to look period correct. Make no mistake about it, an ICON derelict is a thing of beauty.

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The ICON team also builds Reformers. Reformers are completely overhauled, including the exterior. Of course, they get the same great upgrades as their derelict cousins, but the body is stripped to the bare metal and repainted. All of the vehicles that Ward sells through both brands are ones that came to him free of rust. Ward and his team scour the country for clean vehicles with original paint and completely rust-free exteriors. He explains that he prefers to purchase and rebuild those with their original paint job because he knows what he is getting. A truck that has been repainted could be concealing problems that will make it undesirable.

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TLC and ICON collaborate with many companies, including those in the aircraft and military equipment building industries. Nike, Ford, Cessna, Mercedes, Lear, Camillo, GM, Kenwood, Dale Banks, Fox Racing and Art Morrison are just some of Jonathan's partners! One industry with which they don't collaborate is the plastics industry. You won't find any of that material in any of their products. Steel and billeted aluminum are the primary components of every ICON. The seats are made from marine-grade material, soft tops are three-ply canvas made in Germany and the insulation is manufactured by Mercedes. Nothing is left to the ordinary. ICON's SUVs are designed to be far more durable when they leave the shop than they were when they left the dealership. With coil-over Fox Racing suspension on all four corners, all of their SUVs have equal weight distribution and true 12" of clearance that is achieved without cutting away the fenders!

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If you're thinking about getting your own personal ICON, then you'd better get started quickly. Ward's team (which currently numbers 31 employees) is presently backed up until early 2016, more than 2½ years away. Ward explains that they are considering expansion, because, as he explains, right now they are "too big to be small and too small to be big." Fortunately, his global reputation as an expert builder and perfectionist will keep the orders coming in. -John McCabe

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