Quick Drive: Behind the Wheel of the $120K Icon FJ45 Pickup

Quick Drive: Behind the Wheel of the $120K Icon FJ45 Pickup
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.

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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

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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]."

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bulletproof Powertrains

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."

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Comments

Nice rig! Love the Diesel option! They now need to do a Scout version!!!!!

WAAAAAAAAYYYY OVER-PRICED!

"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". - Ward

Of course it's the best motor, 350ci was one of the best CHEAPEST small blocks on the planet. They are effen everwhere. I would have went with something that had more low end grunt.

I agree with greg its waaaaay overpriced

120 G's for this vehicle? They must be sick! Never in my life, even if I could afford me one...for a half of the price too! Just get a Jeep Wrangler and customize to a Scrambler truck... Probably some people get bored if they got too much $

For $120,000 I would rather buy a small piece of land in a friendly African country and buy a new Land cruiser 70 series pickup .

Very impressive, but it still seems way too expensive for what it is. Wise choices in engine and drivetrain. Overpriced? Probably, but so is a 'King Ranch' F-350.

@

"We stuck with GM engines because they're everywhere in the world, and they work great,"

I disagree because you will not find GM's all over the world like Toyota's!

it's overpriced for us 9 - 5 guys, thats for sure. I bet that if you add up the man hours to build this rig, it would explain the cost. Mind you, rich folks probably wouldn't buy it if it cost less than 100 grand.
It's like the Iceland Ford SuperDuty article, at first glance it doesn't look all that special, but the closer you look, the more detail you see.
I got to start buying lottery tickets.

"@

"We stuck with GM engines because they're everywhere in the world, and they work great,"

I disagree because you will not find GM's all over the world like Toyota's" - oxi

Here in the U.S. they are everywhere in junk yards and can be bought for less than $700. Really cheap buys. This is the main reason they put SBC in Model T Fords. I was once told that the reason they use SBC in Model T Fords is because all the late model Chevy's rusted out. That was a good one.

The real reason is because they are cheap. A Diesel engine would suit this better for more low end grunt.

I agree with Frank. This overpriced motor and "pickup" truck is way overpriced.

@Tony,

It is hard for me to jutisfy $120,000 for a truck that has a motor that I can get and rebuild from the junk yard for less than a $700. I can find an old '71 Land Cruiser on Craigslist for less than $4000.

I'm just sayin'

@Frank - but it won't have 600 dollar a piece visors off a Lear Jet ;)

It's powder coated. I love powder coating.


This isn't about how much it cost!! IT'S about i have one and you don't!!! Think about it, there's no way you or i can justify this price....

Great choice with the GM 5.3 V8 (i have one in my suburban), those engines are bullet-proof... If there is one thing GM knows how to build it is small-block V8's... There is a reason these guys aren't using Ford or Dodge engines...

i agree with alot of people though, this thing is way over-priced...

I do not know about GM engines:

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62R04Q20100328

General Motors said it would recall about 5,000 heavy duty vans built in February and March and halt production and sale because of a risk of engine fires due to a suspected faulty alternator.

oxi,
That recall is for an alternator,Toyota has blowing up V-8 engines bad drive shafts,ball joints,and if I were a Toyota fan I would not brag about any other manufactures recalls with Toyota's poor quality control on its vehicles..

Oxi did you know Toyota's forklifts have GM engines in them,even Toyota knows to be reliable you need a GM motor,also the GM small cars were recalled due to a Toyota made steering pump in its Cobalt !!!

This is way over priced !!! These old Toyota's are only good with an GM engine swap but they still handle like a fully loaded worn out dump truck !!

I guess I'd rather have a Jeep. They look better, are more customizable and are the original. I'd rather have an International Scout over either, though.

The pricing is absurd. Nice vehicle for the billionaires who got hellacious bonuses after further bankrupting this country.
Ideal vehicle for a homeboy NBA player who has gotten tired of spending his money on drugs and guns.

This thing must of been made under government military contract. Does it come with a $100 dollar army grade hammer?

this thing is amazing

yup it's overpriced, but when you give it a little thought it's really not that unreasonable given how long it will last. a friend of mine just bought a new truck and even after rebates paid over 40 K for it. Part of the appeal of this icon (at least the way I understand it) is that although it costs three times the price of my friends chevy, it should last two or three times longer. When you look at the price in terms of how much you're going to be paying over the life of the truck, it doesn't seen quite as ridiculous. That said, it's still a lot of cash to fork over for a vehicle, I'd rather put that down on a house..

Amazing, except they don't have modern diesel.

And how is it still possible that you don't have to do smog test if only original part is the Toyota plate.

I'm glad someone decided to bring back the vintage Toyota Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser has strayed way too far from its original purpose as a go anywhere SUV to be worth the money to buy. I'm glad someone like Jonathan Ward was willing to build a vehicle that looks like the original FJ series Toyota, as rugged as the original, truly utilitarian vehicle. I'm also glad to hear that a diesel engine can be offered with this FJ40, the FJ43, or the FJ45. I'd also like to see a version of the FJ55 and FJ60 Land Cruiser. My only serious complaint with this vehicle is its cost. $120k is fine if you work for Microsoft, or you're the president of a major corporation, but what if you want something just as well-built but for a lot less money? Alot of people like utility vehicles, but not everyone has millions of $ to burn.

ummm... I work for Microsoft and don't have one of these. But I sure want one.

this is a hell of a truck people. You get what you pay for. It's nothing like whats out there combo truck/jeep with the paydirt to kick ass. No, i can't afford it either but i can see how it cost 120K. style, quality and that certain something that MAKES a star!

Have to agree with the wayyyy over priced comment. You could easily build a FJ45 or 40 from mint restored parts, a new engine and tranny for less than a quarter of that. But I guess that's the game; make a big stink, get on Yahoo News and have some rich dufus buy it from ya.

It's too bad Toyota stopped making REAL 4x4s, all we're left with are huge SUV pigs or the worst of all off road equipment (poorly engineereed, break all the time and just look stupid)... Jeeps.

Agree with Paul,
having driven 2 FJ-40's for almost 20 years, jeeps are pure junk when compared to a LandCruiser. I have a long career driving offroad vehicles('42Willys, '72 Nissan Patrol,'71 FJ-40, '75 FJ-40, M274A5 Mule, M151 1/4 ton, M-60A1 Tank, and several domestic 4x4 pickup trucks) Nothing was as rock solid as an FJ-40(except the M-60A1). And the price was great in those days. Easy to work on and fix. Parts weren't as cheap as a domestic, but most everything was twice as strong. Just compare a jeep axle or transfer case with an FJ, not even close.
This new vehicle is outrageously expensive but look at the time put into it, and the price of the components. Some of you claim you can buy a used FJ and rebuild from ground up with new parts for way less. Go for it. I doubt you can achieve what these folks build. What's your time worth? A year or two?
Nice to drool over but way out of my budget. Finally a real 4x4 and I can't afford it, sigh....

of course Over priced.

because you couldn't find any one like this around the world right now, if you do you couldn't import it.

The prices would be:
- Basic short bed 2 seats 4cyl Diesel manual $30,000.00
- Basic short bed 2 seats 8cyl 350 HP manual $32,000.00
- Basic short bed 2 seats 8cyl 450 HP manual $34,000.00

Very entertaining article. I am going to have to take a drive over to Hollywood so I can get a chuckle watching the idiots who parade this thing around in the streets thinking they are Crocadile Dundee.

Now excuse me while I go back to listening to my music on my dreadful cheap commodity headphones.

:-)

This guys got to be on something are you kidding me $120k grand way overpriced

I think that they are expensive but not overpriced. Plenty of people run out and spend $$$$ on new trucks and SUV's that are total junk from a real work horse perspective, oh yea but they have leather interiors and a DVD player!

The work that goes into these vehicles is awesome. The design and purist mentality is great. I have a 3 month old Ford diesel work truck that i paid over 55,000 for and its been at the dealership 8 times already because its falling apart -I am trading it in for a Mitsubishi. I know that my work trucks are in a different class than the ICON but the ICON will last you two or three lifetimes. ( especially with a diesel motor option ) Its great to see that some people have integrity and take pride in producing a durable well made and designed product - so much of that attitude has been lost in this nation that the entire economic and political picture surrounding these trucks is so much larger than their price.

True you could find a decent Landcruiser and restore it, but I imagine that you would spend at least 75k to do that to any level that comes close to what the ICON guys produce.

Reminds me of an expedition vehicle build I read about in Germany- original (B)J45 cab- stretched a few inches for leg-room. Fenders widened to cover the HZJ80 axle. The whole thing rode on a 80 series cruiser frame.
As for engines, if I weas spending that sort of dough, I'd want either a Toyota FZ or HD.

The sun visors are only $600 each, can I have extras put in for the rear passengers? I would hate to have them uncomfortable because I used cheap @200 visors instead.

Good job on bringing back the best fourwheel drive vehicles ever. I've been biulding these fj40 for 15years . 120,000 for an fj45 is a fair price, cause they are hard to find and if you did it would cost alot of money and time to bring up to date.

Someone said it best - expensive, but not over priced. Do those that comment about price realize that the body is made of fairly thick marine grade aluminum? That alone adds a lot to the price, but to the value as well. I could do without the sun visors, but really the comparison here is between a suit off the rack and a custom made suit. Both do the job, both can look really great. But the custom suit will fit better and have finer materials. What is nice about these Icons is that basically there is no attempt to advertise their cost. You drive around with it and people are not going to wonder who the celebrity or drug dealer is, as they would if you drove around in a Bugatti. Nobody is going to scratch their initials in it, out of envy.

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There are several ways to look at price. As some have pointed out, look at the cost of the materials such as relatively thick marine aluminum for the body, and the number of man hours it takes to build the thing. Or look at the cost of something that does a similar job at far less.

But the real way to think about price is to think about the market. If he dropped the price, without major investment in sophisticated, efficient and high capacity production, there would be such a lineup that it would take you years after your order went in to actually take delivery.

While there is an eager market for this vehicle at an attractive price, the market is not so large that anybody is going to invest millions to mass produce it. If it were we would be seeing Jeeps with much more aluminum in their bodies and numerous upgraded specs.

So we are stuck - either build one as best you can yourself, or wait ten or twenty years for a used one that fits your budget. The price today is what it has to be given the production capacity and boutique construction costs. I am glad he sells enough of them to stay in business.



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