JEEP has announced it will produce a ute, or pick-up version, of the next model Wrangler, but there are plenty of enthusiasts not willing to wait until 2018 for the factory option.
As always, wherever there are folks looking for something the manufacturers aren’t supplying, you’ll find aftermarket businesses willing to build it for them.
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) built its first TJ Wrangler ‘Brute’ pick-up for the 2002 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Jeep was so impressed by the concept it took the Brute back to Detroit to investigate building one at the factory, but with the JK Wrangler already well and truly in the planning stages it decided it was too late to develop a TJ ute. Jeep said it would look at it again for the JK.
AEV took the initiative and began building TJ Brutes for customers who loved the versatility and ability of a Wrangler-based pick-up, especially when combined with one of AEV’s Hemi V8 engine conversions.
AEV’s business boomed with the launch of the JK Wrangler and a host of specialised products designed to make the Jeep more capable and functional wherever its customers’ off-road adventures took them. With rumours of a factory-built JK pick-up still in the background, AEV held off developing a Brute for the new model.
However, when the factory offering didn’t eventuate, the AEV double-cab Brute broke cover in 2011. AEV never officially developed a JK Brute single-cab, and Jeep’s factory JK ute didn’t eventuate either. On the other side of the world a Queensland company finally made it happen.
Murchison Products in Brisbane, a distributor of AEV gear, also builds, maintains and services all manner of Jeep vehicles, from mild to wild. Owner Stuart Murchison had built a couple of TJ Brutes over the years and saw the potential of a JK version. He built a few of what he calls ‘Overlands’, using the Mopar JK8 kit, but they didn’t have the true pick-up style
The gold nugget you see here was originally a JK Unlimited Sport that Stu picked up second-hand for the right price, before it went under the surgeon’s knife in the Murchison workshop.
The body was chopped in half behind the front doors and a new rear panel fabricated from scratch, utilising the JK8 rear window section. With a bit of extra space behind the doors this Overland is an extra-cab more than a true single-cab; although, the space really just allows the seats to sit back, rather than provide much space behind them. The roof section retains the JK’s ‘Freedom’ panels, which can be removed to give the unique Jeep an open-top feel.
The rear cargo tub is a modified AEV TJ Brute item. With no JK Brute available, Stu chose to section the steel TJ tub, widening it 150mm to match the JK’s proportions. Inside, the tub is protected by a spray-on liner, and it also houses the fuel filler for the custom 120-litre tank that sits in the chassis rails. The rear wheel-arch flares are modified Wrangler Unlimited pieces from the donor vehicle.
The cut-and-crafted ute body is accentuated by a host of AEV products, starting with the heat-reduction hood (that’s Jeep-speak for bonnet) that allows hot air to easily exit the engine bay. Helping to get clear air into the engine is an AEV intake, while up front an AEV premium bumper accommodates a Runva winch and a pair of IPF spotties.
You won’t find the paint colour in any Jeep catalogue, it is Range Rover Zanzibar Metallic, adding to this Wrangler’s one-off status.
When you look at the side profile of the JK Brute, you could be excused for thinking the chassis has been lengthened. It hasn’t, but the wheelbase has. With no factory rear wheel-arches to dictate where the wheels should sit, Stu was able to stretch the wheelbase 254mm longer than the standard JKU using Clayton long arm suspension. The cargo tub was modified to have the arches sit in the right place, while long suspension arms allow for longer travel.
The set-up is aided by remote reservoir Fox 2.5 Extreme Racing shocks both front and rear, with Murshison-tuned coil springs. The rear diff is the original Dana 44, albeit equipped with an ARB air locker, 4.10 gears and Dynatrac cover; the front diff is a complete Dynatrac Pro Rock 44 replacement, again featuring the ARB locking differential, plus RCV axles and a high steer arrangement.
Those sexy wheels are 17-inch AEV Salta alloys wrapped in 35-inch BFG muddies. Getting the grunt to those wheels and tyres is the original 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine that has received a flash-tune tweak to give it some more berries when needed.
Flash-tuning modern 4x4s is a big part of the Murchison business and, even though they can do most brands of vehicle, Jeeps remain the shop’s specialty. Tuning this vehicle supplied an extra 105Nm to those massive 35-inch treads. The grunt feeds back through the factory five-speed automatic transmission, and the combination is sweet both on open roads and bush tracks.
Even though this vehicle has been built to a premium standard, it is all about the functionality of an off-road-capable pick-up. Stu Murchison handed us the keys to the Overland ute on a recent customer drive weekend in South East Queensland, and we were stoked with its quality fit-and-finish, on-highway ride and off-road capability.
From the outside the Jeep looks top-shelf. The quality continues when you slip inside and sit on Jeep seats that have been custom-trimmed in two-tone leather with complementary Overland logos.
Everything works as it should, and the cabin is well-insulated from road noise. Power for highway cruising and overtaking is always on tap, and there’s no noticeable loss pushing the big 35-inch muddies. In fact, when you combine the tuned engine with the lower weight of the ute conversion, this Wrangler boogies along better than any other diesel JK we’ve driven.
The ability doesn’t end where the bitumen stops, as the ute made easy work of the steep and rutted tracks at Swan Gully Off Road Park, where we took it for a couple of days’ fun. Murchison has created a vehicle that not only looks über-cool but functions better than standard in all disciplines – unless you want a four-door five-seater that is. But we all know utes are way cooler.
A good as this golden Jeep is, Stu has bigger fish to fry. A partnership with SCD American Vehicles has a RAM 1500 on the shopping list, so the Jeep has to go. This one-of-a-kind Overland pick-up will soon find a lucky new owner. Give Stu a call if you’re interested.
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