How To Hemi
Stuffing a Hemi V-8 in a Jeep JK Wrangler may seem like a huge undertaking, but the crew at American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) has removed the guesswork. The JK is the hottest vehicle in off-roading these days, but for all its pluses it has one big negative: the engine. In stock form the 3.8L V-6 isn’t bad, but add a hard top, taller tires, a winch bumper, and all your trail tools and gear, and the next thing you know the Wrangler isn’t wrangling very high speeds uphill (and we’re talking about the two-door; the Unlimited can be a downright turtle with four adults inside).
AEV has been developing the Hemi conversion for years and can sell you a do-it -yourself kit or do it for you in their facility outside of Detroit, Michigan. Their shop has a clean professional feel comparable to the many boutique auto shops that specialize in performance street cars. The AEV mechanics don’t just stuff an engine under the hood of your Jeep; they literally transplant the power of the late-model Jeep Grand Cherokee or Commander 5.7 or 6.1L V-8 into your Jeep with factory-style wiring, plumbing, cooling, and not a single annoying Check Engine light glowing on your dash. You really will think it rolled off the factory floor that way.
So is it Worth it?
We had the chance to testdrive an ’11 Rubicon Unlimited with a 5.7L Variable Valve Timing (VVT) V-8 engine on a road trip in Montana and decided that it is just about the perfect vehicle. We often like to play the “If I could only have one vehicle, what would it be?” game, and this Jeep made a good showing.
First the bad news: This Jeep will set you back about $72,000 which includes lift, tires, wheels, bumpers, an engine and transmission swap, and the price of the new Wrangler. But when you consider that there isn’t a new vehicle on the market that has these options along with solid axles, four doors, and a coil-sprung suspension besides the Mercedes Benz G550 (which starts at over $100,000), then the price looks better. Yes, it’s a dream for most, and who would want to risk damaging such an investment on severe off-road trails? But when you’re behind the wheel fighting a strong headwind and still accelerating up tall Montana passes, you start to wonder why Jeep doesn’t build them this way to start with.
Our test vehicle was equipped with an AEV snorkel and bumpers along with 37-inch tires on AEV wheels. The engine pulled great, but initial acceleration was a tad slow. We later found out there are different “tunes” available for the engine and transmission controllers and we had been given a tamer version. The comfort level and power of this Jeep with leather and the curvaceous new-for-2011 Jeep interior would have diehard Jeepers groaning for less civility, but you learn to really enjoy on long trips. We suspect that even the grumpiest of gray haired Jeep drivers would cherish such a vehicle, though they may never admit it.
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