One of my favorite aspects of the new Ford Bronco is how effectively it pays homage to the original Bronco. Everything from the upright grille and slab-sized fenders to the boxy roofline and swing-out tailgate screams “Vintage Bronco!” Yet the new model offers far superior handling, ride quality, acceleration, braking, and fuel efficiency compared to the original. With Ford bringing together the best of both worlds — classic Bronco styling and modern-day driving dynamics — there’s little reason to pine for the 50-year-old version, right?
Maybe, but what if you could buy a vintage Ford Bronco that outperformed the new one? What if, instead of buying a new Ford Bronco with vintage styling, you could buy a vintage Ford Bronco with better-than-new performance? That’s exactly the question Jonathan and Jamie Ward at Icon decided to answer with their vintage Ford Bronco models, though to fully appreciate Icon’s present capabilities you need to understand the Southern California’s shops’ history. Jonathan and Jamie started TLC, now the nation’s leading Toyota Land Cruiser service center, over 25 years ago to provide parts, service and restoration work to the Land Cruiser community.
That experience led to the current Icon shop, which specializes in hand-built, custom-ordered vehicles. ICON’s most popular models are based on vintage Toyota Land Cruisers and Ford Broncos, but the company can handle one-off requests to modernize just about any model. All the assembly work is performed in Icon’s 80,000-square-foot Southern California facility, and nearly every part that goes into an Icon vehicle is made in America. An assembly-line process is utilized, with a dedicated specialist repeating either 16 (for Bronco) or 12 (for Land Cruiser) steps, each step taking one week to complete.
That’s not a bad turnaround time once Icon starts building a customer car, but with a multi-year backlog it can take awhile before a new project is started. And like every automaker, Icon has run into supply chain challenges, adding to delays.
Once completed, these “old” cars have a pedigree that reads like a who’s who in automotive aftermarket specialization. Custom frames by Art Morrison, suspensions by Fox Racing, brakes by Brembo, axles by Currie featuring ARB air lockers, and mufflers by Borla. The engine is a 5.0-liter Ford Coyote, with a custom 460-horsepower tune, mated to either a f0ur-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, depending on what the customer wants.
Beyond mechanical options, Icon offers customers three basic styles of Ford Bronco: Old School, New School, and Derelict. Old School pays homage to the classic Ford Bronco, with a vehicle that looks exactly like an original while offering far better performance. New School merges an original Bronco’s body with custom touches that include updated exterior lighting, larger bumpers, a hidden winch and other changes that streamline its overall appearance. A Derelict model, seen in these photos, is not only an original Bronco but one reflecting the patina of five decades. Scratches, small dents and imperfections are not repaired. In fact, they are encouraged.
Our seat time in an Icon Ford Bronco, a half-cab pickup model in a cool light blue and featuring even cooler dog-dish wheels and numerous body imperfections, was an exercise in contradictions. Both inside and out, the Bronco appeared to be a vintage 4×4, with only few tale-tale signs of modern-tech like the twin-stick Atlas transfer case (allowing an 87:1 crawl ratio in low range) or the gecko graphic in the speedometer that represents Icon’s logo.
But looks can be particularly deceiving with an Icon vehicle. Firing up the modern 5.0-liter V8 created a muscle-car-worthy exhaust rumble, while steering, throttle and brake response was as precise as a modern Mustang. The Icon Bronco proved highly confident at freeway speeds, and even more confident during a brief off-road excursion that had it climbing up steep embankments on loose dirt. It’s clear the company wants customers to use these vehicles as real-world conveyances, not just static eye candy.
Icon representatives told us they’ve seen these Broncos serve both roles, though with full post-purchase support, along with warranty coverage on every component, the company supports active, even extreme, use of its vehicles. Given the pricing for these models, which starts above $200,000 and can easily cross $300K, it’s understandable that some buyers may be highly protective of their Icon Bronco. But trust me when I tell you, the level of engineering and construction detail that goes into these vehicles rivals what you’d get from a similarly-priced European exotic car. And most of those can’t climb over dirt and rocks with a locking differential and 87:1 crawl ratio.