By Gary Gastelu
Published June 13, 2013
Jeep CEO Mike Manley says he’s clearly aware of the interest and that it’s a great opportunity to expand the Wrangler brand, which saw its best sales ever last year.
The automaker hasn’t offered one since the Scrambler in 1986, but there are indications such a model could return to the lineup when the next generation Wrangler is introduced in a couple of years.
Too impatient to wait?
Well, you can get one today, just not from Jeep.
The Brute Double Cab is a Wrangler Unlimited that’s been converted, quite effectively, into pickup by American Expedition Vehicles, one of the top producers of custom Wranglers and the parts and accessories to go with them.
Developed at AEV’s R&D facility in Missoula, Mont. and built by its manufacturing arm, Quality Metalcraft, run by Michael Chetcuti in Michigan, the four-door gets 23 inches added to its wheelbase, and another 16 inches to the rear overhang that preserves the size of the cabin while accommodating a 61×60-inch bed.
While the newly-designed rear roof section is metal, the bed is constructed from a cored composite material that AEV CEO Dave Harriton says is stronger and weighs 150 pounds less than a comparable steel bed would. The Wrangler’s standard removable front roof panels remain in place.
Two basic builds are available.
The DC250 is aimed at customers who plan on doing even more modifications to the truck and comes with a 2.5-inch lifted suspension, underbody spare tire carrier, systems recalibration, rear bumper fitted with potable water tanks, and AEV badges.
The DC350 gets all that, plus a selection of off-road goodies that includes a 3.5-inch lift, auxiliary lighting, front bumper with integrated push bar, Warn winch, front skid plate and 35-inch tires mounted on 17-inch AEV-designed wheels.
Both versions are fitted with AEV gauges and leather seats with a design somewhat oddly inspired by the contrast-stitched and ribbed buckets from a classic Ferrari Daytona sports car. A catalog’s worth of additional add-ons, including air intake snorkels and various racks, are also available.
The conversion can be done on any JK-series Wrangler, so 2007 and later, but Harriton says most of the orders are for brand new vehicles based on high-end Wrangler trim levels, like the Rubicon.
Prices are $29,999 for the DC250 and $39,999 for the DC350 on top of the donor vehicle, but it’s definitely a “you get what you pay for” proposition.
AEV builds 75 percent of its parts in house at Quality Metalcraft, and uses Tier 1 OEM suppliers to manufacture the rest to order. The two companies also do engineering and low-volume production work for a number of major automakers, and that level of quality is evident throughout the Brute.
I drove a DC350 based on a 2012 Rubicon and fitted with 37-inch tires. Standing in the bed, it felt enormous compared to the last Wrangler I drove, and absolutely dwarfed the other Jeeps we came across in the mountains of northwest New Jersey.
This particular truck had the Wrangler’s standard 290 hp 3.6-liter V6, but another one of AEVs specialties is Hemi conversions, so feel free to check the box for a 470 hp 6.4-liter V8. The Rubicon’s detachable sway bars and locking differentials also carry over intact.
Aside from its overall solidity, the most impressive thing about the Brute is the suspension. The vehicle was designed primarily as a long-haul adventure vehicle, and AEV puts great care into optimizing the geometry of its upgrades and employs combination of digressive rate dampers and progressive rate springs to tune in a controlled ride for pavement while improving its off-road composure.
On the street, the Brute doesn’t feel vague or drift around the way a lot of modified trucks riding on jumbo tires do. Unfortunately, the best off-roading we could throw at it was a moderate, rock-strewn trail that hardly challenged it, but the body control and lack of head-toss incurred there was at least on par with the last air-sprung Range Rover that I got dirty, and better than in any showroom stock Wrangler that I can recall.
As an alternative to a wide spectrum of vehicles that runs from the Ford F-150 Raptor SVT and Ram 2500 Power Wagon to old Land Rover Defenders and the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the Brute definitely fills a niche, especially for nothing-else-will-do Wrangler fanatics. But what happens when Jeep starts making a pickup of its own?
Mopar already offers a DIY conversion kit that turns a Wrangler Unlimited into a two-door pickup — perhaps inspired by the success of similar trucks built by AEV since 2002 — and there’s no doubt a future production version would be a four-door like the Brute Double Cab.
Harriton says bring it on, they’ll make more money selling parts for the thousands of trucks Jeep will turn out compared to the hundreds AEV can currently build. Besides, they’ll just come up with something new that Jeep doesn’t make for itself.
Anyone want to start filling up the wish list?