If you’re looking to turn your Jeep Wrangler Rubicon or Willys into a one-of-a-kind overlanding rig, American Expedition Vehicles is here to help. The Montana-based company has earned a reputation as one of the industry’s leading upfitters, partnering with some of the biggest names in today’s truck and SUV market to produce rugged, off-road-conquering versions of some of today’s most capable models. From Chevy’s ZR2 Bison trim on the Colorado and Silverado to GMC’s AT4X AEV Edition for the Canyon and Sierra, to the AEV Prospector/Prospector XL packages for the Ram 2500/3500, AEV has carved out a niche in catering to the more hardcore end of the off-road spectrum.
What happens when you find the perfect Jeep Wrangler for sale and want to turn it into the ultimate off-road machine? The Jeep and AEV collaboration is a match made in off-roading heaven. AEV has three distinct options available for the coming year. The first sees the return of an old favorite, as AEV revives the Level II trim for 2024. The generous off-roading package was a smash hit the first time around, with a limited number of 2023 Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary Edition models outfitted with the Level II package selling out within the first two hours on the market.
The success of the AEV-modified 2023 Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary Edition has inspired the company to expand its list of Wrangler Rubicon packages for 2024 and, for the first time, extend the overlanding trims to the more affordable Wrangler Willys model. The Level II package will be joined by two new offerings in the Upcountry and Upcountry + trims. Starting at just $7,476, these new packages should allow a wider swath of drivers to get a taste of the AEV lifestyle without breaking the bank. What else do these purpose-built off-roaders have to offer and how has AEV become such a force to be reckoned with in the upfitting market? We’ll answer all that and more as we throw it into four-wheel drive and explore this unique partnership.
The AEV Story
While most people’s dorm room entrepreneurship is limited to collecting redeemable bottles and cans, Dave Harriton had his sights set a little higher. It was the mid-1990s, and Harriton was a student at the University of Montana. Located in the hotbed of outdoor adventure that is Missoula, Harriton and his friends would spend their weekends exploring Big Sky Country. Whitewater rafting was one favorite activity, but the remote nature of the best put-ins created some problems. Harriton’s Wrangler could get him to the river easily enough, but it was a cramped ride, especially with a kayak in tow. This limitation inspired Harriton to stretch out his Jeep, giving it a longer wheelbase to enable a more comfortable, spacious ride for the undergrad, his friends, and their outdoor gear.
Inspiration aside, AEV wouldn’t exist without AAA. Harriton was mechanically inclined enough to strip down the Jeep with nothing but a $40 socket set, but cutting the off-roader in half was another story. Using one of his four annual tows, Harriton called AAA and had the Jeep transported to his friend Dave Golden, who cut and extended the chassis. Another tow got the frame back to Harriton, who reassembled the Wrangler before towing it back to Golden to weld on new sheet-metal body parts. Finally, the world’s first AEV model was transported back to Harriton, who finished off the Jeep in convincing style. “I’d walk out of the grocery store and someone would be lying under it because they’d never seen one,” said Harriton in an article in the University of Montana’s alumni magazine. “It looked factory-made, but it wasn’t.”
Harriton quickly saw potential in the cottage industry and applied for a competition hosted by Montana’s business school. The customized Jeeps were a hit, and the future AEV president walked away with first prize in the annual John Ruffatto Business Plan Competition. Harriton parlayed his trophy into a $35,000 loan from a local bank, and AEV was born. The loan was poured into a 1997 Wrangler, which Harriton turned into the first AEV prototype after ample stripping, stretching, and off-road outfitting. The next stop was the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) aftermarket auto show in Las Vegas, where the prototype Wrangler won a design award from none other than Chrysler, owner of the Jeep brand. There can be few more encouraging signs for an upfitting startup, except for maybe preorders, which Harriton had five of by the time he left SEMA.
After a few years of burning the midnight oil and crashing on a cot in the back of the shop, AEV was starting to gain some steam. Customizing one-off models was a good start, but to grow Harriton knew he needed to find a different approach. This led the AEV founder to start developing customized parts for off-road vehicles, starting with a set of bumpers. The rear bumper, in particular, demonstrated Harriton’s knack for clever, space-saving solutions, as it could be used to hold five gallons of water. Harriton pulled off a similar trick with a curved 10-gallon fuel caddy that fit behind the Jeep’s spare tire. He wasn’t done yet, as a heat-reduction hood built to accommodate a snorkel for off-road water fording was next, and the AEV legend began to grow.
AEV forged its first ties with the auto industry in 2000 when a Jeep engineer at Chrysler sent in his Wrangler for the AEV treatment. In 2012, Chrysler teamed up with AEV to produce a line of hoods and bumpers for its special-edition models, beginning a relationship that lasts to this day. While AEV retains its Montana office for research and development purposes, the bulk of the company’s operations has moved to the Detroit area, where AEV can more easily access the equipment and expertise it needs to complete its upfits, not to mention fresh models from Chrysler and the like. Today’s AEV’s partner company, Quality Metal Craft, employs over 500 employees at a 500,000-square-foot facility near Detroit, while 90 percent of the company’s products are made within 200 miles of the automotive hub. The company has 800 U.S. dealers, 60 international distributors, and 100 JEEP dealerships selling AEV products, making it one of the biggest names in the upfitting market.
2024 Jeep Wrangler Upfit Packages
Jeeps have been AEV’s specialty since the company’s earliest days, and continue to be a strong part of the brand’s business. From popular options like the Brute Double Cab, which converts the JK Wrangler into a longer four-door pickup, to the first-of-its-kind Hemi conversion kit that allows drivers to drop a 5.7L or 6.4L V8 under the hood, AEV has never slowed down when it comes to perfecting the iconic off-roader. Given this history, it’s little surprise to see the company expanding its slate of upfitting options for 2024.
Available for both the Wrangler Rubicon and Willys, the new Upcountry kit is centered around AEV’s two-inch suspension lift kit. A little extra ground clearance goes a long way when you’re tackling tough off-road terrain, and with the two-inch lift you won’t have to worry about bottoming out on fallen logs, boulders, and other obstacles. If you do and need to perform a little trailside repair, the included AEV jack base will come in handy. Designed to provide better stability when using the factory jack in soft soil conditions, the jack base is one of those tools you don’t know you need until it’s too late. The addition of BFGoodrich All-Terrain 35-inch T/A KO2 tires paired with striking, satin black AEV Pintler wheels maximizes both traction and ground clearance, while a spare tire relocation kit allows the Jeep to carry a 35-inch spare without it making contact with the rear bumper. Lastly, there’s the company’s ProCal module, an electronic component designed to recalibrate the speedometer and tire pressure monitors for use in off-road scenarios. Of course, AEV has thrown in a plaque with its logo for good measure, though any Jeep fan should be able to spot an AEV model without such a crutch. The Upcountry package costs $7,476 and is quite impressive for an entry-level offering.
Stepping up a level, you’ll find the Upcountry + package for the 2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and WIllys. The comprehensive package includes the same two-inch suspension lift, 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires, and AEV Pintler wheels you’ll find on the base Upcountry, as well as the ProCal module, jack base, fender flares, and spare tire relocation kits, but makes some significant upgrades when it comes to the bumper and skid plates.
The addition of an AEV EX front bumper accounts for most of the price increase, with a standalone price of $2,300. It’s a valuable addition to the Jeep, offering full-width protection, multi-stage E-coat/powder coat finish for maximum corrosion and UV resistance, and hot-stamped boron steel (HSBS) construction. The latter is probably the bumper’s biggest selling point, as it allows the 110-pound component to outperform similar bumpers weighing twice as much. Designed to offer superior visibility, the bumper can accommodate AEV 7000 Series LED Off-Road Lights, a 10,000-pound Warn Zeon 10-S winch, and the included Trail Cam Relocation Kit, which allows drivers to place their camera underneath the bumper’s center hoop for an unobstructed view of the trail ahead. The Upcountry + package also includes an HSBS skid plate to protect the sway bar, impact beam, and steering components from the ravages of off-road life, as well as an AEV swing-gate badge. All this can be yours for $11,599.
For those who will settle for nothing but the best, there’s the Level II kit for the Wrangler Rubicon. The Willys misses out on this exclusive package, but given its $20,049 price tag it’s easy to understand why. The Level II kit is also available for the new Jeep Wrangler 4XE, a plug-in hybrid version of the SUV that debuted in 2021. Drivers will pay $22,099 to pair the hybrid with the Level II kit, but that price does include a 4.56 gear upgrade.
What does a $20,000 AEV package get you? First off, you get the same front bumper, ProCal module, jack base, flare extensions, skid plates, and trail camera relocation kit you’d find on the Upcountry +. The BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires get upgraded to 37 inches and are paired with satin black AEV Savegre II wheels. It’s the kit’s heavy-duty suspension components that really set the Level II package apart. AEV’s 2.5-inch DualSport suspension with Bilstein 5100 shocks is the star of the show, giving the driver the sort of off-road performance and comfort that puts the stock Wrangler to shame. Throw in a new steering damper, AEV 7000 series lights, and a Warn Zeon 10-S Winch, and the 2024 Wrangler Rubicon with AEV’s Level II package might just be the most complete off-road package we’ve ever seen.
The Jeep Wrangler is already one of the most legendary off-road models on the market, so what can an upfitter like AEV bring to the table? Quite a lot, as it turns out, with the 2024 Jeep Wrangler’s AEV upfits creating some of the most off-road-ready models on the market. Under Harriton’s leadership, AEV has grown from a small dorm room project into one of the industry’s leading upfitters. The company might have made some inroads with Chevy, Ram, GMC, and the like, but given its history, its Jeep-based creations are always going to be the real standout. The collaboration doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon, with AEV expanding its line of upfitted Wranglers to include two new options for both the Rubicon and Willys models. The return of the Level II package makes it easier than ever to create the brawniest Wrangler Rubicon on the road and has us looking forward to the next batch of AEV creations.