SEMA 2011: Optima Shows Off Derelict ’52 Chevy Deluxe

Jonathan Ward of Icon calls it a “derelict rod.” A twist on the classic beater hot rod, a derelict takes a rusty, crusty car, strips it down and builds it back up, with all the amenities and performance of a modern supercar, with the exception of the exterior. No paint, no body work, just the original patina. Whatever you call it, we like it.

Jonathan started out in the Land Cruiser business, building some very cool 4x4s. Branching out into the hot rod business was an easy step. From the looks of things, he has succeeded.

The LS3 under the hood is the first clue to what lies beneath that crusty exterior. The Art Morrison chassis is hard to see with the slammed stance.

“A lot of people just walk right by it, but there is a ton of custom work dealing with an existing patina” said Ward. The entire project was mapped out in SolidWorks and CAD programs to make it all work while looking like nothing was done. It worked.

When we came up to the car, it looked like it came out of a barn (which it did, Central Texas to be exact) and had an LS dropped under the hood, but it goes much further than that. The car must ahve been sitting for quite some time. With only 8,000 miles on the odometer, exterior was in just rough enough to be perfect.

With the right patina the car was ready for its transformation. To start, a new chassis was fabricated to hold the LS drivetrain, 4-link rear suspension and tubular front suspension. The car sits nice and low, but it is not running air ride. “I don’t like air ride, it’s too bouncy. We are using coil-overs and it works” Ward told us. From there things get very interesting.

The clock was tweaked to prvode the tach for the LS3. It is so cool- the minute hand is the RPM while the hour hand is the redline. The Air Force Base sticker is the perfect touch, one of our favorites.

The interior looks like it could be bone-stock original, save for the alligator couch, but nothing could be further from the truth. All of the original knobs were retained, but the functions changed, then each one was hand-painted to look like it was original. The factory gauges were rebuilt with top-quality electronic internals. Since there was not a tach from the GM, Ward opted to change the factory clock in the center of the dash to become a tach, but the hands still look like a clock. The hour hand is the red-line, the minute hand is the RPM, super trick.

The alligator couch is so comfortable, it belongs in my living room. The lack of side bolsters means the drive better hang on in the twisties.

The seats and doors are covered in beautiful alligator and buffalo hide, but these are not vinyl knock offs or exotic purchases. Ward, a true entrepreneur, obtained the proper permits and hunted the alligators in the Florida everglades.

The Buffalo hides were sourced from an American Buffalo farm.  Using the chocolate brown dye created by Hermes for JFK’s famous briefcase.

On the outside, the car is period perfect. Various bits and pieces were sourced from the internet to complete the look. It had to match the patina on the car; otherwise it would be out of place. As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of time to put together a car with this level of thinking.

“We built the car in 8 months. It hasn’t driven more than from the parking to the booth. I haven’t even had it aligned yet” Jonathan told us. However that didn’t stop him taking part in the 2011 OUSCI (Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational). A “Golden Ticket” winner, the latest offering from Icon was out on the track in force the Saturday after the SEMA show closed. You know that had to turn some heads.

Over 30 years in a barn will give you that perfect patina.

About the author

Jefferson Bryant

It is almost terrifying the breadth of Jefferson's technical abilities. A fabricator, master technician, engine builder, paint and body guy, dirt track racer, road course driver, or a glossy magazine reporter, Jefferson can do it all. Oh yeah, he's also a YouTube hero.
Read My Articles

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