Project 1997 Jeep TJ Brute - Project Teal Brute

Part 1: Introduction And Disassembly

Robin StoverPhotographer, Writer

(Editors note: Never before in Four Wheeler's 45-plus years has there been a project vehicle more well-known than our beloved teal-blue '97 Jeep Wrangler. Similarly, Chrysler's North American product portfolio has enjoyed a decade of undisputed success thanks in part to the TJ model. Perhaps it is appropriate to say that the majority of our countrymen embrace the great outdoors and whatever adventures exist beyond the artificial network of asphalt and progress. Or maybe it's just the allure that comes from tossing in the old fishing rod or swift-water kayak and heading out into the backcountry just because you can. After all, life in suburbia can be pretty monotonous without some form of external endangerment, right? That was the idea behind Teal-J when Chrysler gifted her to us back in 1996. Back then it didn't take long for our staff to add a whole assortment of bolt-on parts, arming Teal-J for outback amusement. Fast forward 10 years and Teal-J is still chugging right along, only now she's been modified so drastically there isn't much Jeep left. Luckily Chrysler honored Four Wheeler again. This time with a new red four-door JK Unlimited, which we're sure Jeep purists won't disapprove of. However, this did present a whole new question; what's going to happen to Teal-J?)

American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), of Missoula, Montana, has been at it for just over 10 years now. Regarded as a leader in Jeep aftermarket parts, conversions, and vehicle buildups, AEV's owner Dave Harriton ranks right up there with aftermarket styling legends like Chip Foose and Carroll Shelby, transforming otherwise ordinary vehicles into show-stopping marvels quite unlike anything else. Unprecedented quality, along with original styling, gives AEV the upper hand in vehicle accessorizing. The Brute Pickup conversion, for example, adds pickup truck utility while enhancing the unique character of the Jeep TJ. We fell in love with the Brute concept at the 2006 SEMA show. The fact that anyone can take a '97-'06 TJ and transform it into a midsized pickup in just about 60 hours intrigued us. So we got in touch with AEV and proposed the idea of performing the conversion on Teal-J. Luckily they agreed to the deal and shipped out one of the very first production kits including stamped-steel body parts, frame extensions, and a injection-molded composite hardtop. As the pallets arrived, we marveled at the quality and attention to detail found on each and every item.

We knew we needed a fab shop with an extensive background in body work to do this conversion justice. We also assumed performing the very first production Brute conversion would include a fair amount of stumbling blocks, especially since nobody other than AEV has done a conversion. So we made some calls and did some digging. Our doubts about the project quickly vanished when we spoke to Dustin Chernoh of DC Customs in Ukiah, California. Dustin started his career in the autobody industry 15 years ago. However, his love for four-wheeling overcame his everyday struggle to make a paycheck when he decided to open a four-wheel-drive shop. DC Customs has been around for four years and is quite capable of everything from bolt-on suspension systems to custom fabrication. We flat-towed Teal-J into DC Customs on the first Monday afternoon in March, knowing full well we'd never see her as a Jeep Wrangler again.

As the professionals at DC Customs stripped Teal of all her componentry, we were reminded that each and every editor throughout the years had left an obvious impression on the project, some of which entailed a lot of massaging to undo. With less than a month to get the project done, DC Customs's crew felt confident that Feature Editor Robin Stover would be driving a Brute in time for Easter Jeep Safari 2007.

13. Once all cutting was finished, this is what we were left with. At this point our beloved Teal-J was going to become a Brute, no excuses. We left Ukiah headed for Los Angeles excited to share the process with our co-workers. Up to this point it had only been seen by AEV employees.

* Mid-frame extensions (24-inch)
* Cab closeout (assembled)
* Rear-frame extension with winch mount
* All 14-gauge-steel bed assembly with tailgate
* Brute hardtop (assembled)
* Glass for hardtop
* CNC-bent fuel and brake lines
* Body mounts (2)
* All necessary hardware and decals
* Detailed instructions

AEV operates out of two facilities comprising more than 25,000 square feet of Jeep-building heaven. One 6,000-square-foot facility is located in Missoula, Montana, and houses AEV's design center, prototype, and development operations, as well as various other consumer-related services. Another 20,000-square-foot facility in Detroit serves as its warehouse, distribution center, and primary Jeep conversion center. AEV is one of a handful of privately-owned companies that have captured the attention of Chrysler's product planning team as well as just about every related enthusiast media operation in the industry. AEV is the only aftermarket company with an emphasis on four-wheelers that manufactures products with high-grade sheetmetal-stamping technology. They have already received four DaimlerChrysler Design Excellence awards and have built no less than eight Corporate Image Vehicles for Chrysler since 1997. The Brute Concept was entirely conceived by AEV in 2002 and nearly went into production with Jeep but was nixed at the last minute when the Unlimited (LJ) went into production instead. AEV can ship out the Brute conversion as a kit (like ours) or if you have the money, fully converted Brutes are available turnkey and built to spec by AEV.

We'll show you the next phase of the conversion process along with a ton of trick and custom goodies we used to assemble our Brute Pickup. Stay tuned!

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