Photos by Drew Phillips for PickupTrucks.com
It's called the SQ-N100 NeoClassico amplifier, and it costs $3,000 if you want to listen to your music collection using Russian-made vacuum tubes housed in precision-crafted packaging.
Why would anyone pay such an obscene amount for 1960s-era technology and only 12 watts of output instead of a 1,000 watt-amp from Best Buy for $500 or less? Because most music buyers gladly settle for low-cost, commoditized audio gear that meets our budgets and sounds just good enough versus the best audio performance money can buy. Audiophiles, however, swear that the NeoClassico, and equipment just like it, is unparalleled in quality and tone.
Believe it or not, the same money-is-no-object philosophy can be applied to pickup trucks.
For many, a new pickup will probably be one of the most expensive purchases you'll ever make, with prices that range from about $20,000 to more than $60,000, depending on the segment and powertrain. For that kind of money, you'll get a thoroughly tested, safe and dependable rig that's worlds better in quality than trucks were just a decade ago. It might even include some nice luxuries, like leather seats, navigation or backseat entertainment. But the truck you're buying is still a commodity rolled off an assembly line with thousands of pickups just like it.
But what if there was another option for the most discerning truck buyer? We're not talking about the guy who wants a King Ranch- or Denali-trimmed truck. This is the rare pickup owner who is several standard deviations up the pay scale from a shift worker. It's a truck buyer who, like the high-end audiophile, won't settle for anything but the highest quality truck money can buy. For them, there's custom truck maker Icon, founded by Jonathan Ward.
Ward is an entrepreneur and self-taught mechanical engineer who turned a love of vintage Toyota Land Cruisers into what's likely the most exclusive high-end truck maker in the U.S. One of his trucks is the Icon FJ45 pickup, which starts at $120,000 - or about $606 for each inch of its 198-inch length.
We'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the desk because, like us, you're probably wondering how an FJ45, which was sold in the U.S. from 1963-67 as Toyota's answer to Jeep, could cost so much.
The Icon FJ45 is and isn't that truck, and here's how that adds up to $120,000.
We Can Rebuild It. We Have the Technology
The original Toyota FJ45 had a timeless utilitarian design that prioritized functionality and off-road performance over fancy looks and creature comforts. It was available as either a short- or long-bed pickup with either a fixed or removable top and doors.
The Icon FJ45 is virtually a brand-new vehicle. Ward starts with an original FJ45 truck or chassis — which at this point is almost as hard to find in the U.S. as someone without an opinion about health care — and by the time he's done, he has delivered a new rig that looks vintage, but almost every component, from the wheels to the roof, is brand new and thoroughly modern. In fact, all that's carried over are a few inches of the donor truck's frame and the vehicle identification number plate so the truck doesn't have to be smogged.
"The Toyota plate is just about all that remains of the original [FJ45]," Ward said. "We're essentially recycling vintage ones. At first, we sell a dated, beat-up FJ. Then, in a separate transaction, we restore the truck to the specs outlined in their Icon build sheet. And then it's under the commercial code as a restoration. The state doesn't view it as a kit car. It's an original [restoration]."
The Icon FJ45 rides on a custom chassis designed by Ward with help from well-known frame builder Art Morrison, who specializes in replacing the chassis of classic cars with modern computer-designed frames. The vehicles may look old on the outside, but they're cutting edge underneath.
Before teaming up with Morrison, Ward built FJ40 short-wheelbase utility vehicles with new double C-channel frames that closely mimicked the original's architecture and rear leaf spring suspension. But after the 20th truck delivery, Ward reinvested and re-engineered the frame with Morrison.
"We were going to retrofit the frame with coils [in the back instead of leafs], but that only gets you so far," Ward said. "So we used Art's frame analysis software to take our initial design instincts for the FJ45 to a whole new level."
Diamond Tough Running Gear
Getting there meant taking the best bits of Toyota Land Cruisers from the past several decades, the latest suspension technology and crunching computer time to create the optimal frame.
"We never had a problem, but the computer revealed that under high duress [off-road], the shock tower at full compression could push a [frame] rail out," Ward said. "So we borrowed from Toyota's [1991-97 Toyota Land Cruiser] 80 Series coil architecture to tie it back into the other rail. I would have never known that until I bent a frame in real life, and then I would have had to go back to the drawing board."
The FJ45's frame is solid boxed (not double C-channel) rectangular tubing with 2-by- 4-by-0.180-inch walls and 2-by-6-by-0.180-inch center sections for maximum bending stiffness and ruggedness. The tubes are mandrel-bent, which virtually eliminates bending distortion and cuts shaping the frame front to back. All the joints and cross members are welded instead of riveted. Fish oil coats the inside of the rails before they're capped off to prevent corrosion.
The suspension combines the best of old-school and modern thinking. There are Eibach coil-over springs surrounding RaceRunner Sway-A-Way dampers at all four corners (no leafs on this pickup) with solid Dynatrac axles fore and aft for maximum articulation off-road. The front axle is a Pro 44, and the rear is a Pro Rock 60. The axles also house front and rear ARB air lockers.
An optional sport suspension upgrades the shocks with remote reservoirs and hydraulic jounce bumpers.
For maximum stopping power at a price that will also stop your heart, Ward turned to high-performance brake maker StopTech. StopTech designed a brake kit that costs $8,000 per rig "because we have no volume." The brakes feature 15-inch rotors with six-piston fronts and four-piston rears. "They are the bomb," Ward said.
A Body of Work
If you think Ward's attention to detail in the underbody is fanatical, that's just the start.
While the body looks classic, the completely new sheet metal is powder coated instead of painted. The Teflon-polymer-based skin is made for architectural use — it's used to reduce reflectivity on the outside of the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The finish never needs to be waxed, and it's applied in an environmentally friendly way, without ozone-chewing CFCs or volatile organic compounds. You won't find a single plastic part on the exterior that will fade or crack.
As you can probably tell, Ward doesn't manufacture FJ45s by model year. They roll off the line after each individual order is placed — about 20 each year. When Ward feels it's time for a change, the change is made on the fly.
The FJ45 used to come with ARB front and rear bumpers, but Ward wasn't satisfied with the truck's looks, so he redesigned that part of the FJ, too. Icon makes unique in-house bumpers that line up closer to the truck's nose and tailgate and also provide improved approach and departure angles. There's also a 9,500-pound rated winch integrated up front.
When Ward starts up his next few trucks, he'll be switching from incandescent headlights to full LED lamps and LEDs for the rest of the exterior and interior lighting. LEDs are tougher, brighter, use less voltage and last up to 10 times longer than conventional bulbs.
The FJ45's interior is ingeniously simple in appearance, but it's made from first-class materials.
For the driver, there's basic speed, fuel, temperature and voltage meters housed in a two-window gauge cluster with a design inspired by high-end Bell & Ross watches. Three switches control hot, cold and vented outside air. A hold-on-tight handle for the front passenger is milled from aircraft-grade aluminum. The visors on the windshield are from a Lear jet and cost $600 each. The windshield can also be unhinged so that it lays flat on the FJ's hood using sturdy industrial-strength latches from a Sub-Zero refrigerator. The heated seats are filled with Tempur-Pedic foam — the same stuff you see in late-night TV commercials — which was originally developed to help keep NASA astronauts comfortable during rocket launches. The floor of the truck is covered with a polyurea material that's also used to coat the inside of oil pipelines, so you know that mud and dirt aren’t going to be a problem.
Even though the interior is Spartan, Ward didn't leave out mandatory comforts. There are two cupholders milled from aircraft-grade aluminum and an Alpine high-definition radio, MP3, CD player with iPod adapter and marine-rated speakers.
Buyers can choose gasoline or diesel powerplants for the FJ45.
The original Toyota FJ45 came with a 3.9-liter inline six-cylinder carbureted engine rated at only 125 horsepower with a three-speed manual gearbox. Icon's standard gasser is a General Motors all-aluminum 350-hp, 5.3-liter fuel-injected V-8 crate motor supplied by Turn Key and paired with a five-speed Aisin handshaker. About the only thing the 5.3-liter has in common with the original engine is that both are pushrods. An optional 5.7-liter version is available with 450 ponies and 458 pounds-feet of torque, as is a GM 4L65E four-speed transmission.
"In my opinion, the 350 horsepower is the best motor for the FJ45," Ward said. "But we also have the 5.7-liter. It's one of those things where if I didn't have it as an option, I'd be asked how much more power can I get? And our buyers just keep checking the 5.7 box."
Why use GM motors in a reborn Toyota truck? "We stuck with GM engines because they're everywhere in the world, and they work great," Ward said.
The engine is also the only component that has a computer (for the engine control unit) on the entire truck. The rest of its hardware is strictly analog.
If you're looking for better mileage, you can opt for the 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel by International that's imported from Brazil with 276 pounds-feet of torque. It's unlike any diesel we've seen recently because it doesn't have to meet the latest U.S. emissions rules. No computers, just a single Bosch relay for its fuel system. It can run on B100 — 100 percent biodiesel — and Ward says it gets about 24-26 mpg.
Finally, topping off this marvelous and unique pickup is the Icon mascot on the grille. It's a California blue belly gecko that Ward says is the last animal you'll see when you're in the wild where stock stuff can't make it.
How the Rich Get Filthy
So, how does this $120,000 pickup perform off-road?
Well, as you'd expect, it's utterly capable. We drove it near the Hungry Valley off-highway vehicle park just north of Los Angeles in Los Padres National Forest. The FJ45 was powered by the 450-hp V-8, which can propel the light truck over virtually any obstacle, soft or hard. Hit the accelerator, and it sounds like a sports car born in the mud. We only played in the dirt and never pushed it past second gear with the manual transmission.
We walked it over a rocky creek bed, drove it on single-track trails and did doughnuts in wet sand. Nothing stopped the truck while it was in our hands. When Ward was behind the wheel, we watched as he backed into a muddy creek and came to a complete stop with the wheels about six inches into some of the sloppiest mud we've seen this winter. He had no problem powering right up and out of the silt.
The two-speed Atlas transfer case has a standard 87-to-1 crawl ratio with an optional 105. Unless you're going uphill or kissing the flat face of a rock with your tires, it's easy to lug the truck in first gear with barely any need for extra throttle. The FJ45 wasn't going to stall out.
The rig we were in was brand new, and the steering wasn't completely dialed in. Negotiating some tighter bends required three-point turns in the long-wheelbase pickup, but Ward said that would easily be tuned up after our drive. The steering box is variable ratio, from 13- to 16-to-1.
In the rock creek, we took full advantage of the FJ45's 10 inches of ground clearance, but even when we scraped a rock, it did nothing to harm the bottom of the heavily armored truck. The axles and diffs are darn near indestructible.
One of the features that immediately sucked us in that we've never experienced in a stock truck is the removable canvas top and folding windshield. Put both down and it's like taking a fancy office chair into the wilderness. If only an Aeron came with a V-8 and locking diffs. It's an amazing way to play outdoors.
The Rolls-Royce of Rock Crawlers
So who buys a truck like this? As you'd imagine, it's for the person who has everything but values the best craftsmanship that money can buy. The only pickup truck that we can compare it to is AEV's limited edition Jeep J8 MILSPEC, which stickers around $50,000, but that truck doesn't come close to the materials and craftsmanship of the FJ45. And most factory-built trucks aren't built with such a unique combination of bulletproof materials, rugged design and fanatical tolerances. Not even a rig like the F-150 Raptor.
You feel from the moment that you touch it and sit in it that the FJ45 will have a very long life of service. It might need the powertrain overhauled, but you'd have to do something really stupid to damage the frame or thick sheet metal. We can easily picture a wealthy owner willing their children their prized Patek Philippe watch and the FJ45.
The Icon FJ45 costs a stunning amount of money, but it's also a hell of a lot of truck.