This DeSoto Powermaster may look like an old snotter but underneath it’s anything but

Photographers: Alastair Ritchie

JONATHAN Ward’s business recreates classic 4×4 vehicles, equipping them with reliable modern drivelines. So what do you suppose he has as a daily driver?

ICON’s remanufactured FJ Land Cruisers, Ford Broncos and Willys Jeeps sell for upwards of US$120,000 and are bought by a few wealthy customers, so I guessed that its founder would be pedalling something equally expensive and exotic — maybe a restored classic fourbie.

Most people would be surprised to find that Jonathan drives this rusty ’52 Chrysler wagon around the streets of Chatsworth, California, where ICON is based. And they’d be just as surprised to know what lies beneath the well-aged sheet metal.

For a start, it isn’t the Desoto that the front end suggests. It’s a Chrysler Town & Country that Jonathan rescued from an LA yard when he purchasing an old Land Cruiser. He loved the car for its interior design, bodylines and near perfect patina, but wasn’t so fond of the original Chrysler front end. The fix came when, on another Cruiser-buying trip, he came across a Desoto sedan of the same vintage with that classic toothy grille so loved by car customisers.

It helped that the Desoto was a similar colour and in comparable condition to the wagon. Plus, the front sheet-metal was a bolt-on match.

The wagon sat in the workshop for three years while he decided what to do with it but as soon as the Desoto front went on, Jonathan knew what he wanted. The Town & Country was the first of what have since become known as ICON Derelicts. These are classic vehicles with weathered exteriors that have been repurposed using modern chassis and driveline components. Kind of like resto-mod but without restoring the body and paint. Surface rust, primer, patchy paint, crazed chrome and even moss adorn the 60-year-old bodywork of some of these Derelicts. Just don’t call them rat rods.

“They aren’t made with whatever bits you have lying around the back of the barn,” Jonathan says in reference to the rust-bucket rods that have become popular over the past decade. “The goal of the Derelict was to create something respectful of the original design values, keeping the brilliant patina, and hiding a modern chassis and design elements focused on modern performance and utility.”

To create a Derelict, the guys at ICON lift the body off the chassis and CAD-scan the mounting points. These scans are then sent to chassis guru Art Morrison who builds a new chassis featuring more modern geometry and components. In the case of the Chrysler, Art made new chassis rails and crafted an independent front end using wishbones and coil-overs with power rack and pinion steering.

At the back, a Strange nine-inch is mounted under a triangulated four-link and coil-over suspension. Braking is via massive disc rotors with Wilwood calipers, front and rear. This 50s classic even has ABS brakes!

The running gear is as modern as the stoppers. The wagon originally had a Hemi V8 engine but under those recycled Firepower rocker covers now is a 6.1-litre late-model SRT-8 Hemi. It’s all stock and only benefits from a free-flowing exhaust system; the five-speed auto is similarly factory modern.

“The torque of the modern Hemi is perfect for a big ol’ bus like this,” Jonathan says.

While the underpinnings are all new and the body is as found, the interior neatly sits in between — it’s mostly restored original with the few modern touches concealed to maintain the old style that Jonathan was attracted to in the first place.

The seat trims are reproduction originals and the chrome and stainless steel fittings are all old Chrysler. Where replacements were fitted, they were scuffed up to match the originals. The cargo bed uses polished mahogany with the original bright work.

“It’s a great interior design,” Jonathan says, “like a first class cabin in an old cruise ship.”

Look closely and you might notice the perforations in the cargo area side panels that hide the Infinity speakers but the JL amplifiers are invisible. A small controller on the dash, which also links a Bluetooth phone to the system, controls the high-end audio system. The original Chrysler radio controls have been repurposed to operate the sound, while the original dash speaker grille is where air-conditioned cool air wafts in. Again, the old HVAC controls were repurposed to operate the heater and air con. Modern carpet and sound deadening are concessions to passenger comfort.

The interior mirrors the utility design that Jonathan wanted for the whole vehicle. Not only is the driveline reliable and the suspension comfortable, but keeping the body the way it is means he doesn’t have to worry about the paint and panels.

“I’ve restored cars in the past to such a point that I was too scared to take them anywhere. The Derelict is versatile for my family, dogs and surfing.

“I can take it anywhere and I don’t need to worry about the car. I can take it to a hot rod show and not even have to detail it! It’s liberating compared to over-restored trailer queens.”

Check out Jonothan’s latest Icon Derelict DeSoto Powermaster in the in-depth video below.