Jonathan Ward Shows Us What Several Hundred Thousand Dollars Can Do to a 1965 Jeep Wagoneer
This beautiful blue box isn't just back from the dead—it's damn near perfect.
It's a special sort of mad genius who takes a look at the bounty of six-figure supercars out there today and says, No thanks, I'd rather spend several hundred thousand dollars fixing up an old Jeep Wagoneer. And it's an even nuttier person still who decides to tackle such a build and spend years of his life bringing it into the world. Thankfully, Jonathan Ward at Icon 4x4 is as crazy as they come.
I don't mean that as an insult—quite the opposite. Ward's brain works in different ways than yours and mine; he can look at a decrepit old truck and see countless possibilities. Perhaps it's a good candidate for his shop's O.G. Icon builds, which see old Ford Broncos and Toyota FJ Land Cruisers restomodded into highly usable off-road beasts. Maybe it's worthy of the Derelict line, tastefully patina-ed hot rods that wear their age with pride. Or maybe, like the Jeep here, it's meant to be part of the Reformer series: completely custom restorations that mix retro style with modern engineering.
These kinds of builds are gaining popularity, but few do it quite like Ward and the team at Icon 4x4. If you've got a grand vision and a checkbook to match (and patience—there's a years-long waiting list), he'll consider just about anything you throw at him for a complete reimagining. "Better than new" is a consistent mantra for the Reformers, and it's realized in the insane level of detail visited on vehicles like this 1965 Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer. The special sort of mad genius I mentioned up top is no hypothetical person—he's a very real client who came to Ward with dreams of a beautiful beach cruiser for his growing family to use at their oceanside property. It's worth mentioning that he originally wanted to start with a later 1980s AMC-produced model, but Ward couldn't source one that hadn't been obliterated by rust. (Plus, he hates plastic. Don't get him started on plastic.)
Ward goes to extreme lengths to visualize the final product; to land on the Wagoneer's classy design, he even built a look board with pictures of the beach house, the client and his family, and the surrounding area to dial in the right amount of retro. His team went to equally-extreme lengths in tearing down the truck, rescuing the body, and building it back up on a completely custom steel frame and new Dana axles. Ward uses GM LS engines in most of his projects, and the LS3 V-8 in the Wagoneer puts out around 440 horsepower. Add in the new, lifted suspension with Eibach coils and Fox shocks plus 18-inch aluminum wheels with six-piston Brembo brakes, and the old Jeep is tight as a drum on the mechanical side.
The beautiful blue interior—which looks to be a stock restoration, but actually features a lot of little custom design tweaks and technological changes, like much-appreciated air-conditioning—showcases a different kind of mastery. It's comfortable and cohesive, and marine-grade materials mean it's highly functional as well.
The finished product is also a joy to drive, with the new chassis and solid axles delivering a ride that pretty much nails the sweet spot between old school character and new school comfort. I didn't take it very far off-road, but it seems to have all the capability its new owner would ever need. It's like an all-original 1965 Jeep Wagoneer as seen through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia: every strength magnified a million times, every imperfection erased.
It all ties into Ward's fundamental philosophy: cars and trucks shouldn't be treated like disposable things. For a man who makes a living stuffing big V-8s into old trucks, he seems surprisingly concerned about the environment and the huge amounts of waste and pollution generated by new car production. There's a sense that every vehicle he can bring back to life is one less that needs to be made from scratch; that's not quite how the economy works, but it's a statement of purpose nonetheless.
Ward will go on all day about this stuff if you let him. So we did, as you can see in the video above—nerding out with the ultimate truck nerd over the finer points of the Wagoneer, his thoughts on the new car market, and why he gets sad when clients don't beat on his vehicles. Then he tossed us the keys and asked that we kindly bring it back in one piece. Prepare for an extended lunch break and enjoy our visit to Icon 4x4—or as he calls it, the Willy Wonka Factory of Cars.
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