JeepKonection Jeep Wrangler with Hemi V8 custom review

JEEPS and V8 engines go together like rum and coke.

This was first published in 4x4 Australia's January 2012 issue.

It’s a marriage made in heaven, yet the company only ever offered a factory-fitted V8 in the CJ5, CJ6 and CJ7 models.

Hemi-V8-engine.jpgThe successor to the CJ, the Wrangler, was never endowed with a V8 from the factory, yet Jeep enthusiasts, being what they are, were quick to swap out the standard six-pots for bent-eights and more grunt.

Ford Windsors, Chevy small blocks and GM LS-series engines have all found happy homes in Wrangler engine bays over the years, but when American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) wanted to create a factory-style V8 conversion for the TJ Wrangler, it went to Jeep’s parent company Chrysler for a donor, and used the iconic Hemi V8.

This is the modern Hemi, not the legendary mill that Top Fuel drag-racing engines are still based on today, and it features all the mod cons including electronic fuel injection and variable camshaft timing for better driveability and fuel economy.

AEV first fitted the Hemi to the TJ Wrangler in 2003 and, by 2006, when the TJ was replaced by the JK, had produced and sold close to 200 conversions. AEV has been behind many of the wild concept vehicles that Jeep unveils at events like the SEMA show and Jeep Safari each year and its close association with Chrysler has given it first-hand knowledge of how a vehicle manufacturer puts a car together.

JeepKonection-Jeep-Wrangler-hillclimb.jpgThis has enabled the company to give its conversions a factory finish and AEV has received four Daimler-Chrysler Design Excellence awards over the years as testament to its engineering and design skill. With the launch of the JK Wrangler, AEV set about designing a conversion for the more refined model, and it also offered the conversion in a do-it-yourself kit form for the home mechanic.

The DIY kit contains all the hardware you need to fit your own 5.7 or 6.1-litre Hemi engine including ‘no measure’ engine and transmission mounts, radiator, computer, plug-and-play wiring harness, and coolant bottle. Plus you get all the plumbing – three new air conditioning hoses, two powersteering hoses, a new fuel line, radiator hoses – and even clamps you need.

AEV’s Premium HEMI Kit adds a custom Flowmaster stainless steel exhaust, catalytic converters, a chrome exhaust tip, heavy-duty transmission cooler and an AEV ProCal Module so you don’t need to go to a dealer for the set-up. The ProCal will enter the VIN and allow you to program the throttle at home – not to mention all the normal ProCal features like setting your speedometer, gear ratio, TPMS thresholds – and have a high idle for winching operations.

JeepKonection-Jeep-Wrangler-exhaust.jpgJeepKonection in Melbourne is the AEV distributor here in Australia, and when it needed a vehicle to adapt the Hemi conversion kit to right-hand-drive and get all the necessary approvals for road registration, it created this Hemi hauler.

JeepKonection is a part of Pro Comp 4x4 and Pro Comp’s Alan McMullen is a long-time Jeep enthusiast. He’s owned plenty of them. Mostly modified and competes in off-road competitions, winning the Outback Challenge in a GM V8-powered TJ. What Al doesn’t know about getting Jeeps to work well off-road isn’t worth knowing so he’s the ideal bloke to head up AEV’s Aussie outlet.

“This vehicle is part of our JeepKonection business where we install, test, modify if required and obtain engineering approval if required in order to ensure the products we sell are legal for use in Australia,” Alan told 4X4 Australia. “We use the AEV, LHD Hemi installation kit, and modified specific parts to enable the kit to be installed as in a RHD configuration.”

A brand-new 2010 Wrangler Sport Unlimited was bought to start the project and the standard V6 engine was soon turfed. The AEV conversion kit, a 5.7-litre Chrysler Hemi and five-speed auto were also shipped to the shop for the transplant.

JeepKonection-Jeep-Wrangler-front.jpgThe engine and 545RE five-speed auto are brand new and sourced in the US by AEV. The 5.7-litre Hemi is 2010 Grand Cherokee spec and features variable valve timing to produce 260kW and 520Nm. 

The engine breathes through a pod style air intake and out through cast exhaust manifolds and an AEV dual 2.5-inch system to a single three-inch outlet which Alan says just scrapes through on the noise test for registration. There’s nothing like the sound of the V8 and this heavy breathing Hemi won’t disappoint!

Of course, the AEV conversion kit was designed for left-hand-drive vehicles and the crew at JeepKonection had to modify various components to suit our right hook Jeeps. These include the engine and transmission mounts, power steering and air conditioning lines and the modified components by JeepKonection were sent back to AEV in the US where they are now produced for the RHD kit.

Fitting the conversion is a relatively simple job that can be done by any good mechanical workshop or done by JeepKonection in less than a week. A drive-in/drive-out Hemi conversion on your JK Wrangler will set you back $25,000 and includes the new Hemi engine, five-speed auto, the kit and all fitting costs.

JeepKonection-Jeep-Wrangler-garage.jpgThen there are all the AEV extras you’ll no doubt want. On this high rolling R&D test bed these include the front and rear bumpers. The front bar accepts an electric Warn winch if desired while the rear bumper has a wheel carrier to allow up to a 40-inch spare tyre and 19-litres of internal water tanks. It’s a really clever design that gives added protection to the rear of the Jeep while adding some water storage.

The wheels on this Blue Meanie are AEV Savegre alloys measuring 17x8.8-inches and they mount monster 37x12.5-inch Pro Comp MT hoops. “This vehicle is fitted with AEV’s 3.5-inch premium suspension kit,” says Alan. “It has been swerve/lane change tested according to ISO 3888-1 Part 1, double lane change test and it passed.

This test is outlined in Section LT, Vehicle Standards Bulletin 14, National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and Modification, and now that the vehicle has passed with the suspension it can be registered here legally.” This test should make the kit legal in any state of Australia.

The suspension kit comprises Bilstein mono-tube shocks, 3.5-inch raised coils, drop mount brackets and roll-centre correction. Currently the Blue Meanie mounts the standard Dana diffs but they won’t be there for long.

Bilstein mono-tube shocks“The next step is to install Dynatrac Pro Rock 44 front and Pro Rock 60 rear diffs,” says Alan – the heavier-duty axle housings give more ground clearance than the standard units and have locking centres. “Then we’ll perform the swerve test again with the Dynatracs to get legal status with this configuration.”

You might also notice the heat reduction bonnet. This is another AEV product and is designed to draw hot air out of the engine bay to improve cooling. The Hemi engine already benefits from an AEV radiator, but the bonnet helps aid air flow. The Hemi Wrangler runs fine without the stylish steel bonnet although AEV recommends fitting it if you tow for extended periods in warmer climates.

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Other cool gear from AEV includes protection guards for the rear corners, and underbody, an air intake snorkel, the ProCal module and a clever jack baseplate that lifts the jack for raising vehicles with higher suspension. There’s a range of suspension kits, wheels and accessories and some other Jeep models are catered for as well.

AEV and JeepKonection can transform your Jeep no matter what your desires. This vehicle clearly shows the ability of the engine and suspension conversions and with factory fit and finish as well as road legal certification, your Jeep will never be the same again.

YOU BRUTE

ALAN McMullen also had his AEV TJ Brute out on the day we drove his Wrangler. Like the Hemi engine conversions, AEV designed and developed the Brute ute and now sells them through its worldwide distributors as a DIY kit, or JeepKonection can build them for you. Alan’s vehicle is the only one to be built by JeepKonection so far.

The Brute is built on a stretched TJ chassis and the kit includes the frame extensions, cab closeout, rear frame extension with winch mount, bed assembly with tailgate, Brute hard top, fuel and brake lines, and body mounts.

Jeep was so taken by the Brute when it was first shown in 2003 that it took one back to Detroit to see about factory production. But it was too close to the launch of the JK and a proposed factory JK pick up, so the plan was kyboshed. The proposed factory JK ute is also why AEV hasn’t done a JK Brute itself.

AEV-TJ-Brute.jpgFor a JK ute, Mopar offers its JK8 Independence kit and JeepKonection will soon be playing with one of these here in Oz.

Alan has had the yellow Brute on the road now for three years and it is still powered by the original 4.0-litre straight six. But, like the blue Unlimited, there are more plans for it – and they include a 6.0-litre GM V8, six-speed auto transmission and an Atlas transfer case.

Should be wild!

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