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ICONS AND LEGENDS CAN BE DANGEROUS THINGS. OR IT MAY BE MORE APPROPRIATE TO SAY THAT IT’S DANGEROUS TO CROSS THE FOLLOWERS OF THE ICONS OR LEGENDS, WHO REVERE THEIR PARTICULAR OBJECT,
SOMETIMES TO THE POINT OF ABSURDITY.
In the past decade, there have been three major articles of change in the Early Bronco world that have proved to generate a lot of discussion and opinions from all camps: the Bronco concept vehicle from 2004, press releases promising the return of new Bronco bodies from Dynacorn, and the release of the ICON Bronco in 2011. Of these three, the Bronco concept remained exactly that – a concept that never gained traction beyond the show circuit. Dynacorn bodies? The faithful have trooped to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas every year for several years now and returned home empty-handed. The ICON Bronco? It’s alive and kicking.
Jonathan Ward isn’t a “Bronco guy”, per se. And when it came time to offer a new twist on the classic four wheeler, that turned out to be a good thing. Ward is immersed in everything automobile, and brings a depth to the definition of reinventing vehicles that is sadly lacking in many automotive design and manufacturing efforts today. In the case of the beloved Bronco, he was truly able to think “outside the box” in a manner that has often eluded the traditional Bronco build community.
Ward’s philosophy with all his reinterpretations of the classics is to build a vehicle with the classic aesthetic without the poor driving characteristics of the original. He realizes that 4 wheel drum brakes, manual steering, and sloppy handling get old in a hurry, muting the charm of vintage vehicles. Ward’s Bronco project kicked off with an invitation from Ford to do a modern interpretation of the classic with their blessing. He was soon bound for Detroit to meet with Ford designers and engineers and gain access to valuable data that would be helpful for the project. Jonathan notes that Ford gave him access to their archives and technical specs very early in the project’s life. While in Detroit, he met noted automotive designer Camilo Pardo, responsible for penning the Ford GT a few years ago. Pardo and Ward became fast friends and collaborators on the Bronco project – with each contributing numerous facets to the complete vision for what would become the ICON Bronco. For his Bronco project, Ward also enlisted a diverse group of team members, with the most interesting collaborator being Nike. Nike, you ask? As it turns out, Ward had done some work with Nike on his CJ project and remembering an offer from Nike’s CEO for help on future builds, contacted him when the Bronco project kicked off. Needless to say, Nike’s team of designers, engineers, and machinists are a talented bunch and can do a lot more than design shoes.
Starting with the foundation for his truck, Ward parted company with all other Bronco builders and worked with Art Morrison, best known for their Tri-5 Chevy chassis,and supplier of the chassis for ICON’s Land Cruisers and CJ-3Bs. With Morrison, Ward also had a supplier with a proven reputation for engineering excellence that could easily handle the challenges of proper suspension geometry and packaging. Morrison chose 2” x 5”, 0.180” thick mandrel bent tubes for the main frame rails spanned by 4 cross members with laser cut 3/16” and 1/4” braces and brackets. All the frame and suspension pieces are covered with a MILL_Spec powder coat finish. Attached to the frame are Dynatrac axles; a Dana 44 up front and a high pinion Dana 60 in the rear. The 44 is stuffed with Superior axle shafts actuated by Warn hubs. Ward uses similar axles on his ICON FJ trucks so adapting them to the Bronco seemed natural. Leveraging existing suppliers and components often makes sense from an economic standpoint. Sharp-eyed observers will note another carry-over from other ICON trucks – 6 lug wheels vs. the standard Bronco 5 lug pattern. Befitting the premium nature of the axle componentry, StopTech multipiston, fixed brake calipers on large rotors (15” front, 14” rear) are in place at each corner. The rear axle also has small, dedicated parking brake calipers on the perimeter of the rotors. This is the first known use of such high quality braking components on an early Bronco. The axles are located to the frame via 0.5” thick tubular links with Currie Enterprises ‘Johnny Joints’, which provide a nice compromise of flex, durability, and NVH absorption. The links are mounted in a triangulated pattern in the rear to locate the axle laterally as well as fore and aft. In front, a radius arm suspension with a panhard bar (trac bar in Bronco parlance) locates the axle. Nitrogen charged Fox Racing coilover shocks with Eibach coils and remote
reservoirs handle damping duties at each corner with the rears mounted inboard of the frame rails due to packaging constraints and clearance for the rear wheels during full axle articulation. The suspension system includes sway bars front and rear. Rolling stock consists of 285/70/R17 tires (approximately 33” tall) on several choices of 17” wheels, including the streetlegal Hutchinson beadlocks shown in the photos.
Another first for early Broncos, and one of the key components and the heart of this beast is what’s under the hood. The 302 cid V8 has had an association with the early Bronco since 1969. It was the primary, and sometimes the only, engine offered during eight years of the early Bronco’s original lifespan. Now in the second decade of the new century, a new “5.0” (302 cid) is once again the new Ford engine and the ICON Bronco is the first Bronco recipient of this new power plant, called the Coyote. 412 hp and 390 lb. ft. of torque ensure the ICON doesn’t suffer from lack of power thanks to electronic fuel injection, variable valve timing, and other features never dreamed of when the original Bronco was produced. Feeding that beautiful
engine is a fuel tank designed by Transfer Flow. It features rollover valves, an in-tank pump, and full baffling. ICON offers your choice of transmissions: AisinWarner AX-15 5 speed manual, or Ford 4R75W automatic, behind the engine. Advance Adapters’ bulletproof Atlas transfer case splits the gears behind the transmission.
The body and interior are the real palate for Ward’s broad brush of creativity and an in-depth look at each is well warranted. Unlike ICON’s FJs and CJ-3Bs, the Broncos use existing bodies from donor trucks. Ward scours the country looking for trucks in good condition to serve as donors. A note here – collectors and purists can rest easy as no historically significant, or concours perfect trucks are used as donors. The bodies are stripped, cleaned, any necessary bodywork performed, and finished with coats of matte finish paint (other finishes available). It’s the details on the freshlypainted body (matte finish on the truck shown here) that catch your eye. The door handles are a slightly ruggedized version of the originals, with a few extra creases to help create the look. The handles were redesigned by Jonathan and Camilo and then cut from stainless steel at Nike on a CNC machine. You’ll notice a similar nod to authenticity in the mirrors that were created in a similar manner. Subtle stainless steel body armor is visible in the custom surrounds for the reflectors (68-69 style shown) on the body and the taillights.
A small ICON logo in the red square is visible next to the Bronco script – homage to the original Sport Broncos. The Sport Bronco beltline trim is also used. On the ICON Bronco, it’s treated to a durable Teflon gray coating deposited by a physical vapor deposition (PVD) process. The most visible change to the body is most certainly
the grill and lighting. The grill is a laser cut stainless piece, with laser cut features and a recessed character line running horizontally down the center of it, adding strength to the flat surface. Ward hints that future versions will be CNC’d aluminum. The turn signals are now circular lenses, with LED lighting. The distinctive headlights are made by Speaker and are a pattern of LEDs as well. The “ICON” letters in the center of the grill are CNC’d stainless and mimic the red enamel letters found on early Broncos with the Sport Bronco package. On the tailgate, Jonathan designed a stainless, acid-etched insert with the ICON logo residing where the FORD letters once stood proud. High above that tailgate, an LED 3rd brake light provides an extra measure of safety.
ICON also worked their magic on the front and rear bumpers – again leveraging ideas from their FJ and CJ designs. The front tastefully integrates a 9500 lb. Warn winch with a Viking hawse fairlead and thimble and integrated LED fog lights. The rear places the spare tire on a high quality swing-away carrier, which latches to the bumper via a beautifully machined handle that actuates an eccentric cam/over-center type latch. Since the tire carrier blocks the original license plate location, the license plate lighting is now on the tire carrier as is a very bright LED backup light. Another first forthe Bronco world are the small, lockable storage containers in the rear bumper that flank the recessed receiver. It’s easy to overlook the details on this veritable work of art.
Before opening the doors and checking out the interior, the medium between you and the interior bears mentioning. Most car builders rare venture outside the “car world” for sources and inspiration for their builds but Jonathan does. The glass in the windows of the ICON Bronco comes from the architectural world and features its layer of tint between the layers of glass. It took several tries to get the sizing of the glass just right for the hardtop. Open the door and check the door panel and you’ll see another item from the architectural world – ribbed panels that normally adorn the inside of elevators in high-rise office buildings. Surrounding the panels are powder coated trim pieces attached with stainless steel hardware. The lower door panels, door upholstery inserts, center console cover, and floor patterns are Chilewich textile. The rear quarter panel inserts are made to match. When you opened that door, you would’ve also noted that a power step from Amp Research extended out from the body to aid entry and egress from the truck. The high-backed bucket seats have Mercedes vinyl upholstery with the afore-mentioned inserts.
The underside of the tub and the inside of the body are heat-cured polyurea. It resembles more common polyurethane coatings but bonds to the metal better and has higher chemical resistance. The floor mats are a composite of a rubber bottom, Dynamat insulation and the Chilewich textile on the top surface. This layered combination should serve as a durable, easy-to-clean configuration that provides insulation, noise damping, and an element of style. The glove box shares the same material as the door panels. The truck features power door locks (power windows are an option) and keyless entry and start. The Ididit tilt steering column is topped by a thick-rimmed steering wheel recognizable from ICON’s FJ line. Machined and powder coated aluminum dash inserts direct the flow of heated or air-conditioned air to cabin occupants. A Vintage Air unit provides cabin air conditioning. Overhead you’ll find sun visors sourced from aircraft and a custom 3-speed wiper assembly from Newport Engineering that manages to do away with much of the bulkiness of the stock unit. Ward notes this unit will bolt into all early Broncos as a nice retrofit option.
Machined aluminum knobs in the dash control all climate controls, the emergency brake release, and the hood release. Pardo and Ward’s design influence is also heavily evident in the instrument panel in the truck. Eschewing the common trend of jettisoning the original instrumentcluster and installing a row of aftermarket gauges in the dash, they instead paid homage to the original, recognizing it as a key design element of the original trucks. Working with Dakota Digital, they designed an instrument panel packed with information and customizable via two digital displays in the lower quadrants. The result requires no gauge additions to clutter the dash or steering column while retaining a recognizable feature of the original Broncos. As a result of this collaboration, Dakota Digital now offers a similar cluster for owners of early Broncos.
The rear cargo area of the truck has a fold and- tumble rear seat, 3 point belts for rear seat passengers, Jocal and JL Audio speakers in the rear cargo panels (the head unit is in the center console), and a 4 point chrome-moly cage to protect the occupants. The underside of the top is lined with Dynamat for insulation and then covered with Alcantera; a high grade upholstery material more often found in expensive sports cars than Broncos.
Popping the hood to view that beautiful 5.0 engine reveals more ICON handiwork under the hood. Ward wisely kept the engine stock for longevity and durability purposes and incorporated the stock cold air box intake into the Bronco’s engine compartment.
The engine is cooled by a custom aluminum Griffin radiator with air movement generated by an electric fan. The intake cover has a custom machined ICON cover on the front and a custom machined vehicle identification tag resides in the location formerly driver’s side fresh air intake box on a stock Bronco. Each identification tag contains pertinent information on the vehicle plus a subtle Nike “swoosh” on the bottom as a symbol of appreciation for all the assistance the prominent shoe manufacturer provided in the design and manufacturing process for the ICON Bronco.
In addition to the unorthodox partners and suppliers such as Nike for this project, a quick overview of the truck reveals a variety of quality products from more traditional Bronco suppliers as well. Hood bumpers, hood shocks, lift gate shocks, the hood release cable, door bucket cups, window cranks, dash, door sill covers, locking tailgate handle and the gas cap are sourced from companies like BC Broncos, NicksTrix and Drake.
While the ICON Bronco is not within reach, financially speaking, for everyone, its production is a boon for the entire Bronco community as it stretches the boundaries of the collective thinking for modifications to existing Broncos. It’s developed a few new products for its elderly brethren along the way and most likely hatched more than a few ideas and provided inspiration for another legion of Bronco owners around the globe. And with production in progress, even more people will get to own their version of the classic Bronco.
ICON recently moved to a larger location in Los Angeles to support the growing demand for their vehicles. A photo tour of their website shows quite a number of early Broncos staged for future builds. This is one great idea that has become a reality. For more information, including pricing and options, visit their website
Written by Todd Zuercher, for Bronco Driver Magazine