Recently, we spent time wheeling in the American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) Jeep Commander and Wrangler project vehicles. The company is well known for turning out some truly incredible show-stopping and dirt-destroying rigs, and in this case AEV has successfully turned out a pair of dueling dirt devastators. Both vehicles were purpose-built for an upcoming expedition across Iceland as well as for being displayed at the '05 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Reading through AEV's Jordan and Dave Harriton's journal notes covering the upcoming trek and the build itself, we decided to let you read about this adventure in their own words.
Expedition Mission and Background"Besides their show purposes, these vehicles were built in order to provide transportation and support for a team of some of the world's best expedition kayakers and filmmakers as they descend the largest river in Iceland. The kayakers will rappel 300 feet, using the Jeeps as anchors, into a series of caverns within the Vatnajokull Glacier to the very headwaters of the Jokulsa River, a geothermal-heated 'hot river' that flows under the glacier. It is a geographic feature of a kind found virtually nowhere else on the planet. From there, the team will kayak out from under the glacier and proceed across Iceland, navigating extreme rapids and one of Europe's most powerful waterfalls, the deadly 300-foot Deaden Foss. The expedition will then continue all the way across the country to the ocean.
"A similar expedition was attempted in the mid-'80s with National Geographic magazine. Instead of utilizing four-wheel-drive vehicles, the explorers used a combination of snow cats, ultra-light aircraft, and snowmobiles. The expedition was not a complete failure, but it was plagued by malfunctioning equipment and the inexperience of the kayakers. With today's specially prepared vehicles and some of the world's best kayakers, the expedition has an excellent chance of succeeding while providing spectacular film footage and still photos.
"The Jeeps will provide transportation across the Vatnajokull Glacier to the put-in for the river; the vehicles will then complete the mission across the arctic desert, providing support for the team, transportation for the film crew, and emergency services if needed."
The Build (or "No Sleep for Three Weeks")"This year, we received the Commander three weeks before SEMA. Within these three weeks, we were informed, we were to have a Wrangler Unlimited ready as well. For the Wrangler, we literally went out back and picked out a frame and body and started assembling the vehicle as quickly as we could. To add to the confusion, we had a three-person camera crew following our every move, documenting for cable TV what goes on in 4x4 shops all around the country every year before SEMA.
"We had definite plans for both the Commander and the Wrangler, but it was still a lot of work to do in such a short period of time. Everything but the Commander's suspension and the fabrication of the Wrangler's hood and fenders was done in house. The flares and the rear door of the Wrangler took the most amount of time, as we had to design and surface (actually generating the math data for the CNC mill) very complicated parts in a very small amount of time. The CNC mill was running for about two weeks straight, allowing us roughly two days to build and paint the fiberglass parts. The flares on the TJ and the XK were painted at 2 a.m. the morning we left for the SEMA show (at 7 a.m.)."