Jonathan Ward’s Californian-based company ICON 4x4 has made a name for re-engineering legendary off-roaders, including Ford Broncos and Toyota FJs.
This FJ44, called the Petersen Special, is its latest and most advanced build so far, put together by Jonathan to celebrate both the delivery of the 100th ICON vehicle and the reopening of downtown Los Angeles’ legendary Petersen Museum after its complete rebuild and overhaul.
A centre for vehicle history since 1994, the Petersen Museum houses some of the most historically important and culturally significant cars ever made, and gives an important insight into the various niches and genres that make up the whole of car culture. Still located on Wilshire Boulevarde in Miracle Mile, the museum was recently reopened after the largest renovation to the building since it was constructed as a department store back in 1962.
The ICON FJ44 Petersen Special is another old frame built into a striking modern beast, with a modern 6.2-litre Chevy Gen IV V8 and heavy-duty off-road suspension. But it also has air conditioning, LED lighting, tough powdercoated finishes throughout and many tiny yet stunning detail pieces thanks to Jonathan’s background as an automotive designer.
That’s nothing unusual for an ICON-built vehicle, but the Petersen Special started as an internal project to showcase new engineering and design ideas. The new ideas run from the Sierra Brown powdercoating colour through to the redesigned buttons and controls in the cabin, as well as an all-new radius arm suspension system that ICON claims improves on-road driving performance.
The redesigned suspension features new Fox Racing 2.5 nitrogen-charged shocks with external reservoirs and Eibach springs. There’s a Panhard front linkage and a four-link in the rear, married to Currie Anti-Rock swaybars, heavy-duty Johnny joints and equal-length two-inch steel control arms.
The build starts as per all ICON Reformers – FJs and Broncos – with a new body stamped out of heavy-duty 5052 H32 aluminium, saving time that would otherwise be spent fixing rust or other maladies that normally appear on 60-year-old tin work.
Jonathan has the stretched extra-long-wheelbase bodies built and finished by hand, with the bonnet a brand-spanking-new OEM Toyota-stamped steel piece, and the grille a vintage original part.
ICON off-roaders are normally finished in a high-tech Teflon-polyester hybrid Cardinal powdercoated finish but the Petersen Special introduces the new Sierra Brown colour to the company’s palette of hues.
The Cardinal powdercoating was originally conceived for exterior industrial architectural uses before ICON refined it for automotive use. The ICON craftsmen treat the underside of the body, ’guards and inner floor surfaces in a heat-cured polyurea coating for reduction of vibration and heat transfer.
As with all ICON builds, the original frame has been binned in favour of a CAD-designed custom chassis by Art Morrison, featuring boxed and mandrel-bent mild steel rails. This is far stronger than the original frame and ICON also has had all accessory mounts precision laser cut to exact dimensions, meaning everything bolts together with far greater ease than old 1960s parts.
ICON not only uses jig tables for assembly, but also chassis-specific ones. This keeps every FJ, Bronco, Derelict or Reformer aligned and in perfect position, and it makes it far easier to fit the emissions-certified 420hp, 6.2-litre LS3 GM e-Rod crate motor, along with a custom Griffin aluminium radiator and twin thermos fans.
Legislative changes in America allow small-volume houses like ICON to bypass the strict emissions controls applied to the major manufacturers, which means the optional Magnusson supercharger can be fully road legal. With a 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds, the supercharged Petersen Special is no slouch.
A hand-built half-million-dollar FJ Land Cruiser needs the fit and finish expected of any exotic vehicle from Bentley or Mercedes-Benz, even if the FJ44 is an off-road vehicle. A modern electronically controlled 4L65 Hydra-Matic auto got the nod in the Petersen Special, and is optional on regular ICON builds.
It’s a heavy-duty but highly refined transmission that’s available in both rear-drive and four-wheel-drive outputs. It features adaptive shift electronic controls as well as electronically controlled capacity clutch (ECCC) technology to provide smooth shifting, while the 4L65 also reads signals from the engine ECU to prevent hunting between gears when climbing hills.
It has been paired to an Advance Adapters Atlas II transfer case to allow part-time 4x4 use, making for excellent on-road manners with tough-as-nails off-road ability. The Atlas II transfer case has a 3.0:1 low-range and 1:1 high-range transfer case, with an optional 5.0:1 low range. Twin-stick controls allow individual front and rear axle manipulation for maximum control in tricky ruts or riverbeds.
The diffs are custom built, using 0.75-tonne to 1.0-tonne Dynatrac Dana 60/44-based axle assemblies filled with 4.09-ratio final drives. ICON gives the choice of a late-model VW 2.0-litre diesel four cylinder or a Gen-IV Chevy petrol V8. This means driveshafts that are capable of handling plenty of torque and off-road abuse are required; General Driveshafts units are paired with heavy-duty 1310 units.
ARB air lockers and the matching on-board compressor system are optional and, given Jonathan ticked all the boxes for the Petersen Special, they’ve been added to the new build.
Wheels can make or break vehicles, so cast aluminium 18x8-inch rollers come standard on ICON FJs, while the Petersen Special wears new CNC-machined units wrapped in BFG 285/70 all-terrain rubber. They hide the optional Brembo six-piston and four-piston brake package featuring 355mm rotors up front and 345mm rotors on the rear.
Jonathan takes pride in his vehicles’ ability to be used off-road, so the 75L fuel tank has been boxed in by the chassis and fitted with a steel skidplate to protect it on trails. The tank itself has been powdercoated black, as are all fittings on the FJ44, while serviceability is as good as factory, with an in-tank sock filter and a large Bosch filter mounted on the chassis rail.
The waterproof cabin features a Polyurea floor surface coating and removable rubber plugs for drainage, while the seven (heated) seats have been covered in Chilewich inserts to match the floor mats. Dakota Digital made custom electronic gauges to be housed within a redesigned cluster.
This replicates an old-school style while ensuring modern reliability, as does the custom wiring loom with MIL-spec connectors, isolated engine harness, LED lighting throughout and 140A single-wire alternator.
As part of an update to the ICON FJ range, Jonathan revised the HVAC controls with closable floor and face vents, a demister and fourth-generation Vintage Air a/c. They’re trimmed either with black anodised aircraft-grade or jewellery-grade aluminium that’s enamel-coated. ICON has also included warning lights for turn signals, high-beam, parking brake, the ‘check engine’ feature, and 4x4 system lights.
Both 12-volt and USB-style marine-rated power ports live in a centre console using a locking system rated for gun safes! Special touches like this abound through the build, right down to the heavy-duty stainless-steel latches allowing the windscreen to fold flat for better vision and clearance.
As part of celebrating the reopened Petersen Museum, the Petersen Special has been put on display for six months. Once it has done its time on display, it will be up for sale, like all other ICON vehicles. However, if you have to ask the price, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford it, given even second-hand ICONs go for more than US$300,000.
Built to enjoy
You might think a company that’s invested US$350,000 into building a show vehicle would keep it wrapped up. However, ICON was only too happy to take it out to the desert for our photo session straight after the SEMA show. Then a week later this photo popped up.
ICON 4x4 CEO Jonathan Ward explains:
“We had displayed the truck at SEMA and completed studio shots of it in high detail. Next step was to take it off-road. We did extensive rock crawling and were very pleased with the performance and all of our changes. As the sunset approached, we decided to try to get some glory shots of the vehicle turning at speed.
We found a flat area with a small oval track with shoulders on the turns. Got some great shots, and then the photographer asked me to do it a bit faster and let it slide through the turn. So we disengaged 4x4, and went for it.
I miss-factored the extra power from the supercharged motor, came in to the turn a bit too hot, and when it started to slide, the rear of the vehicle went up on the berm of the turn and dug in, resulting in me putting it down on its side. Other than some road rash and a bruised ego, all was okay!”
Get the latest info on all things 4X4 Australia by signing up to our newsletter.