Industry Insider Interview – Jonathan Ward of TLC Icon 4×4

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TLC: When we set out to create our new ICON model, we debated many different classic vehicles. In the end, we felt that the Willys Overland brand had such a clear message: versatility, utility, and simplicity. That sort of message is missing from the big brands today, and is a good fit for ICON. The compact size of the early CJ’s provides extra utility (in that they can fit down ATV trails+), and the design is well known worldwide.

We specifically chose the CJ3B because it has such a long face and so much design character. It is also helpful for us to have the high hood line, in that it allows us all sorts of interesting potential drive train variants, from EV to turbo diesels. The old nickname for the design, when they were new, was dogface, or The Dog. That nickname stuck.

What sets the ICON CJ3B apart from the originals is everything but the appearance. While the originals are fun within their limitations, many elements of the design are quite archaic. One can fit a V8, modify the suspension, change the steering etc. but in the end, a fresh CAD-designed, integrated platform is the answer for those looking for a more contemporary drive experience. We provide modern performance, reliability, 24.5” of wheel travel, coil over shock suspension system, a frame that is six times more rigid than the original, sway bar, four-wheel power disc brakes, variable valve timing 4-cylinder, electric lockers, variable ratio power steering, and the like.

JPFreek: How long was the CJ3B in the development phase and how do you most see this vehicle being used within the off-highway market?

TLC: We had the idea in January. We pressed go on the effort in May. In November, we had the first vehicle done and tested. It was a tight timeline for such an effort:  six-day weeks, long nights, and a dedicated crew. I managed the project with a five man dedicated team of engineers and designers. We realized it 90% in the computer before the first weld bead was laid down.

We have started selling them already. So far, we have seen a wide range of clients for The Dog, from militaria collectors overseas, to people looking for something to strap down on a research vessel for land provision runs, mountain cabins, island homes, ranch uses etc. Some are FJ ICON owners, yet most are new to our brand. We are finding that just as the FJ designs are close to some people’s hearts, there are a lot of CJ fans as well. We are happy to meet them!

I have been reading a biography of Henry Ford (Wheels of The World), and we have almost forgotten that one of the main secrets of the success for the Model T was the basic utility value it had. People used them to run well pumps, or remove the rear wheel and run a small factory conveyor belt drive system. You name it. The early Willys CJ’s had the same sort of versatility and value, as evident in the great number of PTO drive accessories that were available. We are already working on a hydraulic PTO with front and rear hook ups, and we will be looking into various agricultural and light industrial attachments from snow plows to tillers. I think that will be an interesting element to revive, as it is all gone from the modern market. Even the Rhino-sized vehicles from John Deere and others do not support any of the PTO attachments.

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