Until now, civilians couldn't buy the AEV J8 MILSPEC — the militarized truck-bed-equipped Jeep Wrangler. Now you can. We hit the mud to uncover the government secret on Jeep's pickup truck.
For those unfamiliar, the Jeep J8 is a military-only product, stamped out in Jeep's Toledo assembly plant and shipped to Egypt for final assembly and distribution. It's designed to a durability standard three times that of the civilian version and comes with a built Dana 44 front axle, Dana 60 rear, leaf springs in the rear, pintle hitches, a reinforced frame and body and stripped amenities. The only problem is, Chrysler doesn't offer it to US civilian buyers. American Expedition Vehicles saw this opportunity and contracted with Chrysler to obtain up to 120 vehicle kits a year, which they assemble and sell as a rolling chassis to rabid Wrangler fans who will supply their own motivation, installed at an approved dealer. We just had to know what it could do off-road, so along with Mike Levine of PickupTrucks.com, we decided to find out.
Michigan's Island Lake State Park is little more than an also-ran to it's more flashy fraternal twin across the I-96 freeway, Kensington Metropark. But Island Lake holds a secret — a 1000 acre off-road park normally off-limits to the public due to liability issues. Chrysler donates engineering vehicles to the park for patrol duty and, in return, they get wink-wink, nod-nod access to the massive facility. In a former life, it was home to a concrete and gravel business, now it's a mélange of high hills and low ponds all covered in a slippery sand and pea gravel surface material — perfect to test the merits of a hairy-knuckled Jeep.
This particular J8 is equipped with a VM Motori 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel — definitely not an engine you'd be able to purchase in a production Jeep state-side — so what we've got here is a real torque monster. Great for crawling rocks and powering through muck, but tough to get a lot of entertaining wheelspin going. That doesn't mean we didn't have a hoot tossing it into disconcertingly deep water and then covering it with sand in the hills. The J8 was totally in its element here; crawling, traversing, bogging, crushing, bashing... it was the perfect tool to have a lot of fun.
The bare interior is awesomely functional. Nobody was concerned about how long it would take to get the mud out of the carpets, there are no carpets. The radio didn't drown out the turbo whine, there is no radio. It was, at times, problematic. Let's just say bashing your elbow into the raw steel interior panels takes some getting used to. We're not saying we'd wuss out and order one with stuff like "roll cage padding" or "B-pillar panels," just that we need to toughen up our elbows a bit. The MILSPEC is raw, it doesn't even come with floor mats and the assembly rivets poke through the floor, making this a no-flip-flop zone.
The MILSPEC took everything we threw at it and didn't even blink. In fact, we thought we heard it yawn. It's like a billy goat with an attitude. As we left our magical off-limits, off-roading heaven, we drew stares from the onlookers as we bombed along at freeway speeds where engine, tire, and road noise serenaded us sweetly. There was even the occasional rubber-necking Wrangler owner. The AEV J8 MILSPEC is every part the beefy and unique machine it's intended to be. It's a wolf in wolf's clothing.
Having said that, it's hard to justify the approximate $50,000 you'd need to put together a complete model, more if you want a fancier engine. The AEV Hemi Wrangler would make a better toy, while AEV's own Brute Conversion adds just $8,995 to the price of a previous-generation TJ Wrangler, endowing it with similar functionality from pickup bed and beefed up running gear. Sure, it's more Russian gangster than African mercenary, but the savings will buy a whole bed full of semi-legal apocalypse survival gear.