Two trains of thought had what in rail vernacular is known as a “cornfield meet.” That’s when two locomotives collide head-on, and in the age of steam-powered rail commerce, it often happened in the cornfields of the American Heartland. This time it occurred inside one of the most creative automotive design minds of our time.
ICON (famous for it’s fantastic builds of Toyota FJs, and myriad other vehicles, including classic truck and cars) was coming up on number 100 in its FJ-build line. ICON CEO Jonathan Ward was currently producing what he refers to as the “Gen-2” FJ44 and itching to materialize many of the things he had been imagining for years, yet no one had yet demanded of him. Ward’s artistic affiliation with the Petersen Museum (recently newly re-imagined) had brought about the suggestion that he build a special edition of his FJ44 vehicle. The conceptual spark ignited by the meeting of these two mental engines of creation was made into metal with construction of the 100th FJ44, dubbed the Petersen Special.
In Ward’s own words, “Beyond the standard equipment offered on all ICON FJ’s, this vehicle is a test bed for a range of new ideas. Answers to questions no one really asked, but details I had been yearning to try out. Many (if not all) of these new ideas will be integrated into ICON production this year. Some already have.”
GM powertrains have long been swapped into old ‘Cruisers since the 1960’s. ICON uses modern fuel-injected aluminum V-8’s. The Petersen Special received an ERod 6.2L V-8 that kicks out 430hp at 5,900 rpm and 424 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm. And just for fun, they decided to push the limits on this one. Working with the gang at Magnuson, an intercooled supercharger was added, increasing power overall, and bringing on more low-end torque. The mill’s output is estimated to be in the 540hp and 495 pound-feet range now.
Ward said he decided that with this build, he was willing to give up a little off-road articulation in favor of a radius arm front suspension (instead of three bar design) system. It is still very capable off-road, and provides better manners on-road. In fact, after some testing on the trails, it turned out that no articulation was lost. New prototype shocks from Fox Racing were also used. Dials on the reservoirs allow dynamic adjustments to the ride quality. The wheelbase is 114 inches (9 feet, 6 inches), track width is 56 ¼ inches (4 feet, 8 ¼ inches), and the whole thing weighs in at right about 4,250 pounds, with a total length bumper-to-bumper of 205 inches (17 feet, 1 inch).
The axles, front and rear are Dynatrac Dana based units, specifically a Dana 44 front, and a Pro-rock Dana 60 in the rear. Brembo was sourced for the brakes. It’s a brake system created by ICON integrating a six-piston front calipers, four-piston rear calipers, and a hydro-boost style brake master cylinder. Along with the brake system upgrade, wheel size was bumped up 18 inches. Wheel Pros worked Ward to develop US Made ICON-branded wheels that are forged aluminum, and coated in the ICON Volcanic black signature finish. The new wheels look sharp and are lighter than the 17’s they were using.
Ward admits he is a watch geek, and had always wanted to integrate an analog clock into the FJ44. Dakota Digital (who developed the ICON BR and TR Series gauges) was sourced again to design new gauges that are now LED backlit and provide all-new functions such as display windows for 0-60mph and ¼ mile, as well as status indicators. The gauge panel and glove box panel were also redesigned; both are 6061 aluminum powdercoated in the ICON Volcanic finish. Even a new 4x4 instruction plate on the glove box was designed and produced by a local SoCal military supplier. We also noticed new dash knobs made from milled aluminum, with anodized letters (L=lights, V=vent position, T=temp, W=wipers) on the knobs.
Vintage Air was tapped for its latest Gen VI HVAC system, providing a higher air volume and cooling capability, with a floor vent function. The dash vents were also upgraded to new aluminum (double hard coat anodized) vents that add push-pull to the open-close function. Plastic is one of Ward’s least favorite materials, as a matter of fact he abhors it, so along with a milled and anodized aluminum parking brake handle replacement the parking brake cable system was improved.
The new FJ44 features the tried and tested ICON bucket seats, but a new brown tone weave that matches the body color was developed by working with Chilewich. In addition, all four buckets offer three-stage seat heaters, and the standard seat recline covers and ladle handles have been to anodized aluminum.
Again the improvement itch hit and the center console was evolved to include a dense-pile closed-cell foam armrest, a gas assist shock on lid, an improved lock-latch interface, removable lid, external USB and cig-style 12V power ports, removable ABS cup holders, interior and exterior LED lighting, and a double-DIN audio compartment (made in California) with dedicated lid and room for seat heater switches within the stainless steel console.
Higher-end audio equipment with improved functionality and increased system volume capability was the next step. A Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX head unit with Carplay, NAV, reverse camera was brought into play. Next on the list of must-haves were four Focal Audio K2 series speakers, a Kenwood subwoofer, and JL amplifier. Ward does recommend a Bluetooth headset to have a decent phone conversation, though.
Taking inspiration from the ‘75-‘83 Land Cruiser, a better interior door handle was designed from aluminum. Map pockets on all door interiors were added, as were a pair in the cargo area. Not to be outdone, Ward chose UV resistance netting, and high-end elastic and tensioners sourced with help from Nike. The powdercoated rails are, you guessed it, CNC-milled aluminum.
While the headlights are a love-it-or-hate-it design, the new LED lighting is the latest from Putco. However, ICON will continue to offer its more traditional LED headlights so clients can make the decision. A new and more streamlined Putco LED light bar is integrated into the front bumper and it is said to provide 25 percent greater output with fewer diodes. A new light bar also graces the top of the windshield. The reverse light on the rear bumper swing arm was also redesigned to provide a lower profile and higher output than the previous design.
Side and rearview mirrors were also something that had bugged Ward for a while. New side mirrors were designed, again from CNC-milled and powdercoated aluminum to provide more stability and a better views. The new auto-dimming rearview was cribbed from the Tesla supplier. The LED dome light attaches via a magnet, allowing you ultimate adjust or the ability to freehand the light for greater utility.
Finally, the new velvety brown (Ward’s description) body color is called Sierra Brown. It’s still a SDIC polyester hybrid powder (made in Los Angeles) like the other colors he uses, and now makes 10 color choices offered to ICON clients.
The ICON “Petersen Special” was built to celebrate the redesign of the Petersen Museum. The 100th ICON FJ44 will be on display at the Petersen for six months beginning in March 2016. It will be displayed in the area next to the kiosks featuring Q&A opportunities with top industry brands concerning what it takes to develop and launch a vehicle.