When the Jeep Wrangler J8 was unveiled at Jeep Camp 2008 in Germany, there were howls of protest from Jeep aficionados the world over. Here were a pair of pared-down, utilitarian Wranglers with augmented build quality to stand up to foreign military durability requirements, a diesel and Dana axles. To add insult to injury, the two-door model rode on the Wrangler unlimited chassis resulting in the defacto rebirth of the Scrambler. And yet, it wasn't for sale, not to civilians anyway. It was to be assembled in Egypt and only available for sale to foreign militaries. Mud, meet eye. Spit, meet soup.
However, not all is lost, American Expedition Vehicles is listening. Hearing the outcry, they've negotiated with Chrysler to bring the J8 to the US market, if only in very, very limited numbers. The deal works like this: AEV has acquired the rights to buy the complete knockdown kits directly from Chrysler, which are diverted on their path to Egypt from Toledo and delivered directly to AEV's doorstep. AEV assembles the vehicles by hand, right down to the windshield washer fluid. What they don't do is install the engine and transmission. The truck is delivered to the customer as a very complete rolling chassis set up for either a VM Motori 2.8-liter four cylinder diesel good for 174 HP, 339 lb-ft of torque, or the 5.7 liter HEMI V8 kit package from AEV which starts at 330 HP and 375 lb-ft of torque and goes from there or, actually, whatever you want. The customer then takes it to a Chrysler dealer, where their choice of engine and transmission is installed. Why this way? AEV doesn't want to be the manufacturer of record, which opens them up for legalities they aren't interested in shouldering. The dealer is then named on the title as the manufacturer of record and you're on the road with a military grade jeep built to your exact specification.
But what do you get with your rolling chassis? The base chassis is a thoroughly massaged Wrangler unit, braced and reinforced to endure durability roughly three times as demanding as the regular Wrangler. We were invited to a behind-the-scenes look after we snagged our spy photos, and can attest to the upgrades. Reinforcement patches live on class-A surfaces with the kind of reckless disregard for aesthetics that makes military vehicles awesome. Underneath you get a heavy duty, custom-built pair of Dana axles, a Dana 44 up front and a Dana 60 at the rear with Dodge Ram brakes attached at the ends. The rear is perched on leaf springs versus the coils on the regular Wrangler, which pushes payload up to 2,557 lbs and towing capacity to 3,500 lbs. Front and rear bumpers are properly heavy duty, plenty thick enough to make short work of your nearest peasant uprising or Geo Metro and you get beefy tow loops (rated for helicopter lifting) and a pintle hitch at the rear. It also comes plumbed with a exterior snorkel hooked to a severe duty air filter capable of running five hours in zero-visibility sand storms. Like we said, it's exactly what gets shipped to Egypt.
Inside the vehicle is properly spartan. You get a steering wheel and a dashboard, seats, optional air conditioning and... that's about it. There's no radio, no sound deadening, no amenities. It doesn't even have carpet, the wiring loom runs down the distal side of the driver's footwell. It takes the hose-down principle to the ragged extreme.
Barring the chassis and body reinforcement, leaf springs and built axles, the Unlimited version seems like something anyone could build, but the truck version is lust-worthy. It's got a corrugated bed plate, though no bulkhead separating cargo from cabin, the version we saw was equipped with a remote two-battery 24V charge system which had the batteries mounted just in front of the rear wheel wells.
All of this is fantastic, but what about the bad news? Well, AEV is contractually limited to only 120 copies per year, making them a rare bird indeed and, because of the labor intensive assembly process, the price for a fully complete model is approximated at a very steep $50,000. Ouch. You can also order whatever extra goodies you want, like the bigger BFGoodrich tires, AEV hood and and the swing-away spare tire mount pictured here . Now, it's easy to balk, but the most brutal, ultimate expression of the factory Wrangler is going to be a small market to begin with, and we suspect they'll be able to sell all the J8's they build. Why? Because they're badass. Bad. Ass.
Stay tuned too, as we've been promised the keys when the trucks return from their formal debut at Easter Jeep Safari out in Moab. Full press release below:
J8 MILSPEC Press Release -
The J8 is one of the toughest vehicles in the world and, until now, it was only sold to foreign militaries and governments. A very limited number of 2010 J8's will be made available to enthusiasts in the United States exclusively from American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) as the AEV J8 MILSPEC.
"Hardcore off-road enthusiasts have been asking for a vehicle like this for years, no frills and setup for a choice of diesel or V8 power and built with extra heavy-duty components," said Dave Harriton, CEO of American Expedition Vehicles. "It's certainly not for everyone, but that's all part of the appeal. Being able to offer even limited quantities to the American public is really a dream come true for AEV. First, it's a perfect match with our niche manufacturing and distribution channels, and second, the J8 is a unique part of history that we're proud to be part of."
The AEV J8 MILSPEC will be sold as a component rolling chassis. The vehicle is meant for off-road use, and as typical for component vehicles the engine and transmission will be installed by the buyer or at the buyer's direction by an independent contractor. Although AEV does not provide the powertrain, there are a number of independent AEV dealers that can supply and install either a 2.8-liter diesel engine or a 5.7-liter V-8 HEMI® engine and transmission package.
The J8 MILSPEC will be assembled in Detroit by AEV. The complete rolling chassis will be delivered painted, upholstered, fully instrumented and will include ABS brakes, heavy duty suspension and axles, exhaust, wheels and tires.
Designed for military use, the J8 was designed to pass one of the world's toughest durability cycles, which is three times more severe than what civilian applications must endure. The axles are both beefed up to a heavy duty Dana 44 front and a Dana 60 rear axle equipped with Dodge Ram brakes. The frame is built for severe use and the rear suspension uses leaf springs to facilitate more than a 2,500 lb. payload capacity and a 3,500 lb. tow rating. The J8 MILSPEC will accept two powertrain options, either a VM 2.8-liter diesel engine rated at 174 hp and 339 lb.-ft.of torque or a 5.7-liter V-8 HEMI rated at 330 hp and 375 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engine choices will use a 5 speed automatic transmission. The vehicles also have a number of military-specific components, including tow loops that are rated for helicopter use, an air filter capable of running as long as five hours in zero visibility dust storms and remote-mounted batteries. Don't look for satellite navigation or leather seats, options are limited to paint color (Desert Sand or Military Green), a choice of a three door or five door body styles and air conditioning.
The J8 MILSPEC will only be sold and warranted through AEV and its authorized network.
Interested enthusiasts can contact American Expedition Vehicles to learn more or to place an order, www.aev-conversions.com / 248-926-0256. Owners should expect to invest approximately $50,000 for a complete running vehicle, chassis plus powertrain.