CHATSWORTH, LOS ANGELES - "A mad scientist who doesn't respect boundaries" is how Jonathan Ward jokingly describes himself. The founder and CEO of Chatsworth-based ICON Motors is rather like a mad scientist - or perhaps creative genius - of the automotive world.
He started out restoring vintage Toyota Land Cruisers and built a successful business called TLC 4x4. That's still going strong, but now ICON has branched into vehicular creations that have landed on the covers of magazines and into the garages of well-heeled car enthusiasts around the world. For example, vintage Ford Broncos that get spruced up with exotic components sourced from the worlds of aviation and architecture, or motley-looking old heaps which Ward calls "derelicts," that hide thoroughly modern frames, electronics, suspensions, brakes and engines.
Now, Ward and his engineers are turning their attention in another direction.
The Volkswagen Thing is an iconic novelty from the 1970s and ICON has built one that's eerily quiet going down the road because it's been converted to electric power.
"ICON is, in essence, recycling vehicles that were at the end of their lifespan. So it seemed to complement that to do them as an EV," said Ward.
His next EV project? A 1949 Mercury, blended with a complete Tesla power system. It will have over 800 horsepower but retain the essence of a vintage hot rod.
"So it's going to be freight train, Tesla-eating power within one of the most iconic classic American cars," boasted Ward.
Next up for the EV treatment: a small Fiat station wagon from the 1960s. The owner wants to be able to commute from Malibu to Venice, electrically, while keeping up with traffic. Ward and his team say they'll be able to deliver.
These hand-crafted vehicles can't be rushed, so customers can wait two to three years for completion. And they're not cheap, given all the hours of engineering and assembly that go into each one. Many of the ICON creations run well into the six-figure range.
Want to see the ICON workshop up close? Ward and his wife, Jamie, are getting ready to host their big annual charity open house to benefit the Go Campaign.
"We're all about finding local heroes and grass roots programs. We don't come in and tell them what they need. We just say, 'you're making a difference, and that's great.' We have programs from Compton to Cambodia," Ward explained.
Speaking of "go," that electric VW Thing is mighty quick, with four times the power of the original gasoline engine. It's a blending of old and new from L.A.'s resident "mad scientist."