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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Part 1



If you've browsed through our blog during the past few months, you may recognize the above Jeep. This clean 2006 Jeep Wrangler LJ Rubicon features a 5.7L HEMI mated to a 545RFE 4-speed automatic transmission. This Jeep retains a mostly stock appearance with a 2.5" Old Man Emu lift kit, OEM Moab wheels, and LT285/75R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires. We'd had this LJ around the shop for a couple months when a customer dropped by asking about a V8 Brute. This customer ended up purchasing the LJ and asking us to do the AEV Brute conversion in shop. Quite a few tears were shed when the first cuts were made, especially since this was such a pristine LJ, but the build has since come along nicely. This Brute is currently at paint, and we can't wait for it to get back in the shop for the long-arm kit and 37" tires, among other things! First off, the AEV Brute conversion itself.



While well known for aftermarket products for the current-generation Jeep Wrangler JK, AEV traces it's roots back to the 1990s, with some of the first AEV conversions being stretched YJ's and TJ's. In the early 2000's, AEV produced the Brute kit, which converts a standard TJ or LJ into a pickup truck, complete with a removable hard-top and a steel bed with fold-down tailgate. The Brute is commonly seen coupled with AEV's highline fender kit, which matches the fender flares and body lines of the AEV truck bed with those on the front fenders.



First, we started by removing the soft-top, and pulled the doomed LJ into one of our garage bays. Chris Minnich, the lead technician, is shown below removing the stock fenders and liners. Meanwhile Jesse Robertson, the Service Manager, strips out the roll bar padding, rear seat, and carpet. The AEV Kit was placed in the neighboring bay, and the parts were set out on the floor. These included the jigs and frame extentions for the LJ frame, the rear of the new tub/cab, the hard top itself, and the pickup bed. The OEM tailgate, spare tire mount, taillights, front seats, and license plate setup were also taken off.









Now we're entering into the realm of no return as the rearmost portion of the OEM roll-bars are cut and unbolted from the tub by Jesse. All electrical connections leading from the front of the Jeep to the rear (this model came equipped from the factory with a hard-top) are also disconnected and removed, as well as the rear bumper, fuel door and bezel for the gas tank filler/neck. The extra roll-bar padding is removed and then wrapped around the remaining roll-bar segment. Before modification of the tub begins, a cover is placed over the dashboard to help protect against the cutting and welding taking place during the next steps.





After the J-rails are removed and the rear-most section of the tub is unbolted from the frame, the body is carefully marked before Jesse breaks out the sawzall. The spot welds and seam sealer in the bed of the LJ are drilled out and removed, respectively. During this step, it may be helpful to heat the sealer with a small torch before using a chisel to pry it away from the tub. Afterwards, the interior cuts are made by Chris with an air-powered reciprocating saw. Once all of the seam sealer has been removed and the spot welds across the bottom of the tub have been drilled out, this piece is ready for removal.





The rear tub section is then picked up off of the frame and discarded. While converting a TJ will yield less of a rear tub section, an LJ tub provides the perfect dimensions for an off-road trailer. We're kicking around a few ideas involving some 35's and a spare axle we've got at the shop, so stay tuned! The next step in the Brute build involves trimming out the remaining sheet-metal in preparation for fitment of the AEV cab closeout. This closeout wraps around the remaining body of the Jeep, so careful cutting of the door sill and rearmost sheet-metal is required to ensure correct fitment of the AEV part.





If you look closely in the above image, you can see the lip right behind the e-brake where the AEV cab closeout will meet the OEM sheet metal. Correct alignment of the closeout is essential in sealing the new truck cab with the doors and the AEV hard top. Below, Chris drills out the remaining spot welds and takes an air saw to the door sill while Jesse does the same for the passenger-side. After these pieces are removed and any remaining body sealer is chiseled away, the frame is one step closer to being cut in half.





End Part 1

-Evan
 
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Part 2



Next up, the gas tank and drive-shaft are removed and placed aside, while the brake, fuel, and lines for the lockers are either removed or pried from the frame and secured out of the way. Since the exhaust is extended as part of the conversion, we used this opportunity to cut off the pipes at the skid plate as well. The rearmost body mounts, located exactly where the frame was to be cut, are also removed by Chris, and the factory welds are ground down.





At this point, the AEV jigs can be used to mark the frame; however, we went a different route with our measurements before breaking out the chainsaw. The frame is then marked, cut in half, and rolled back.



Just kidding, we didn't actually use the chainsaw, the cuts were made with an electric reciprocating saw, which made short work of the frame. Chris is shown below marking a guide line into the frame with a cut-off wheel, to follow a few seconds later with the saw perched atop the rear 33" tire.





The initial plan was to leave the front section of the tub attached to the forward part of the frame during the conversion, but we elected to remove it after making these cuts, so as to have more room to work when welding the frame back together. It helps to have access to a lift for these conversions. After cutting, the frame was put on jack-stands, the lift-arms readjusted and placed under the tub, the steering shaft and electrical hookups were disconnected, and the tub was unbolted from the frame. The lift was then used to hoist the tub out of the way, for the framework to begin!



There you have it, a mint-condition LJ chopped up in pieces over the course of two afternoons; next up, the frame extensions are added, along with supports for the bed, and more!

End Part 2

-Evan
 
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
When the conversion is done can the front cab top be removed?
Yes, the half-cab top is by AEV, and can be removed!

Part 3



As previously mentioned, we decided to go ahead and remove the remainder of the tub from the frame after cutting the Jeep in half. This gives plenty of room to weld, as well as add in some frame reinforcement. As some of you may already know, many Brute vehicles are plagued by the “Brute bounce”; this is due to the nature of a pickup platform on a Jeep frame. Some Brutes have this issue more than others. To counter this, the frame was reinforced directly underneath the driver seat, with the reinforcing plate extending back towards the rear wheels. But first, let's get to the initial frame modifications. As this is an LJ, the AEV frame extensions were first cut down, and along with the frame sleeves, were then added to the frame. The AEV jigs were used to hold all of this in place while the welds were dropped in by Chris Minnich (below). On the right of the welded frame rail, you can see where the body mounts were initially removed; these will be added back in a later step.







Above, the rear frame extension is test fitted; this is where the second winch will be housed in the dual-winch setup. Below, the tub is placed back onto the frame for fitment of the doors, top, cab closeout, and bed. After the tub is secured, the AEV cab closeout is added, clamped down, and the doors are test fitted before the closeout is welded in place. As you can see, the cab closeout completely wraps around the remnants of the OEM tub, both along the floor at the rear of the cab, and just behind what's left of the factory roll-bar.









Fitment of the top, doors, and tub is very important during this step. Below, the forward bed mount and rear frame extension are temporarily added via a few tack welds to check fitment of the bed. Once everything is in place and checked, the bed is removed. After the bed is taken back off of the Jeep, the forward bed mount is welded in; alignment of this piece is essential to the fit of the Brute bed.





If you look closely in the picture of the forward bed mount (above), you can spy a fishplate on the driver-side frame rail. These are frame reinforcements supplied by AEV, and are applied to the insides of the frame. The prior welds and any rough surfaces on the frame are ground down to ensure that these plates sit flush. After more measuring and double-checking, the rear frame extension is also welded into place, this time with a pair of outbound fishplates, shown below.



Now that the cab closeout, frame extension and the bed supports are all in place, it's time for the frame reinforcements. The cab is lifted off of the frame a second time, to give Jesse Robertson more room to work with the frame reinforcement (below). These plates are welded to the frame directly under the front floorboards and leading back to the forward bed mount. This will help to counter the inherent problem of the “Brute bounce”. After both sides of the frame are reinforced, the entire assembly is painted before the tub and truck bed are bolted to the frame.









End Part 3

-Evan
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Part 4

Once everything is back on the ground, a set of AEV highline fenders are added to complete the AEV Brute build. These highline fenders were removed from an '06 Brute that passed through the shop, as the buyer wanted standard fenders with extended flares on his build, and holding onto these proved a worthwhile investment. As many of you may know, AEV no longer produces the highline kit, and these fenders are getting hard to come by (below).



After the highline fenders are added, the tailgate is bolted up to the bed and the Brute is pulled out of the garage bay. As we've yet to receive the proper rear driveshaft, we pulled the truck out in front-wheel drive to load it onto the trailer. Below, check out pictures of the Brute before it left for the body shop; it's certainly come a long way from the soft-top LJ that it once was! After the Brute returns we'll be taking a look at some of the future upgrades planned, such as a long-arm lift kit and 37” tires, so stay tuned and let us know what you think!











End Part 4

-Evan
 

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Part 4

These highline fenders were removed from an '06 Brute that passed through the shop, as the buyer wanted standard fenders with extended flares on his build, and holding onto these proved a worthwhile investment.

-Evan
If you run across another set of highline fenders I am looking for some (& the highling flares as well) for an LJ project I'm working on.
 
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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
If you run across another set of highline fenders I am looking for some (& the highling flares as well) for an LJ project I'm working on.
We don't have any highline fenders around the shop, sorry. You may try the classified section or find someone looking to swap fenders though! These fenders are pretty rare - We lucked into this set when another Brute came through the shop for some work, just in time for this build - the owner simply didn't like the highline look and wanted the OEM style. Good luck!

Part 5




The Brute build has returned from the paint shop after a long hiatus, and we promptly installed the long arm kit. When complete, this Brute will be ready for the toughest trails around. First up, let's check out the Nth Degree long arm suspension kit! The Nth Degree long-arm kit was chosen because it provides higher ground clearance than other long-arm kits on the market. This will ensure that the underside of the Brute doesn't get caught on any rocks or obstacles on the trail, especially with it's long wheelbase (LWB). The Brute as it returned from paint:



After the new Brute is pulled into the garage, the Rubicon Dana-44 axles are temporarily removed from the vehicle. This will allow easy access to the control arms and underside of the Jeep for the Nth Degree long arm install. Below, a jack supports the weight of the transmission, as the transmission skid has been dropped as well.





With the stock control arms and mounts removed from the vehicle, the new long arm mounts and arms are added. The rear axle housing is reinstalled, along with the new Bilstein shocks. The rear axle is then regeared to 4.88 and a shiny new American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) differential cover is added. The rear differential also gets a skid plate and third arm, shown below as well. As this kit was designed for an LJ, the crossmember connecting the third arm to the rear axles had to be modified; more on this later.







Below we have the new transmission skid plate and mount. You may notice how high up this skid plate is in relation to the frame; other long arm kits feature a much lower skid compared to the Nth Degree kit. As ground clearance was something that couldn't be sacrificed on this build, especially with the length of the Brute, the Nth Degree skid design will certainly come in handy.



The front axle is shown here - Chris Minnich elected to do the gear and truss install while the axle was out of the vehicle, as this allows easy access for welding the truss. The front axle will also get an identical AEV differential cover to the rear. In addition to the truss, regear and diff cover, the front axle shafts will be swapped out for some RCV shafts, to increase the durability over that of a conventional U-joint.



After the front axle was regeared and the truss installed, the Jeep (now with the front long-arms in place) is lowered back onto the axle, and the axle is bolted up. The shocks, springs, sway bar links and track-bar are also attached at this point. Note the track bar bracket from the driver's side of the frame extending to the frame just in front of the passenger-side spring. This Nth degree bracket comes with the lift kit and allows the track-bar to retain the OEM geometry, resulting in an improved ride over that of an adjustable track-bar.





Back to the rear axle; as mentioned the kit is designed for a Jeep LJ. While the Jeep LJ features a longer wheelbase than the Jeep TJ, it is still shorter than a Brute. On a stock LJ the third arm crossmember bolts up directly behind the transfercase/transmission skid plate. However, with the Brute frame extension this leaves the third arm short. Simply moving the crossmember towards the rear of the vehicle won't work, as it will hit the driveshaft. The solution is to build a custom bracket that both attaches to the transmission skid and driver's side frame rail, shown below.



To build this custom bracket, the original crossmember is first cut down and test fit to the Brute. Next up, supports and a mount connecting the transmission skid plate are built to the crossmember. Once this design is roughed out and test fit, it is removed, plated over and painted. Below, you can see the third link angle and finished product.



Next, the Brute is lowered and the steering setup and "rollers" are installed so it can be pulled out of the garage bay. Rollers are often worn out tires that are used simply for moving the vehicle in or out of a garage bay. In this case, we reused the 33" BFGoodrich tires that were already on the vehicle during it's life as a HEMI powered LJ. Soon, this build will get a new set of shoes, but for now, these 33's will do.



The HEMI Brute is then pulled out of the garage bay to make way for another build. If you remember the Brute build with the Inline-6, it's here as well, also recently returned from paint. Both Brutes will be getting 37" tires in addition to the current long arm kits. We're currently waiting on some last minute parts for the HEMI Brute, so stay tuned for further updates and don't forget to let us know what you think!



End Part 5

-Evan
 
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I want!

I look forward to seeing the finish product.
A lot of work and attention to detail, best of luck on the rest of your build. Thoroughly enjoy following along.
Looking good!
Thanks everyone, We are really trying to push these forward but there is more attention to detail than anyone outside of our shop techs really know about. A TON of work that is unseen has to be put into these Brutes to really make them ride perfect and handle well. We will continue updating as much as we can!
 
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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Seems like an awful waist to cut up such a nice LJ.
We have so many LJ Rubis on the lot and around. I actually just cut mine up and stretched it. Plus it already had a HEMI in it and ready to go, what the customer wants the customer gets.
 
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