“In California, I was standing in line at the DMV, and I was, you know, sort of beginning to lose it,” recalls Dave Harriton. “That’s when I resolved to move where people weren’t and to build cars that would take me places people weren’t.” In 1997, Harriton thus borrowed $35,000 and launched American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), based in Missoula, Montana. Today, half of AEV’s business is off-road parts, but the other half is devoted to converting Jeep Wranglers into unstoppable little off-road armadillos. Including the cost of the Wrangler, the conversions fetch from $45,000 to $100,000, “the latter for a king in the Middle East,” says Harriton. AEV currently churns out 250 conversions annually, “mostly for customers replacing Land Cruisers and Land Rovers,” he adds. “AEV really took off in 2003, when we started installing the Hemis. That’s when we started making money.” Harriton invited C/D to Montana to traverse Horse Creek Pass in the Bitterroot Mountains. Who knew there’d be snow in late July? He armed us with a 2010 Unlimited Rubicon that had undergone AEV’s JK231R conversion, by no means its wildest upgrade. The $14,019 kit includes, among other temptations, custom bumpers, an integrated Warn (9.5ti) winch, front-bumper skid plate, 17-inch Savegre wheels, 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler MTR Kevlar mudders, and a fantastic custom vented hood that appears to have been pried off a Lamborghini LM002. (To jealous Jeepers who rushed us: Yes, you can buy a similar hood for $1556.) Also part of the package is a 3.5-inch suspension lift designed by a former Jeep engineer. As a result, AEV’s tall Jeep steers and tracks like a stock 2010 Jeep steers and tracks, which is to say badly. Major options on our Rubicon included a Getrag 238 manual transmission ($3000) as well as the 372-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi ($20,750). Should you require more power—God knows why—the 425-hp, 6.1-liter Hemi will set you back $26,500. The V-8’s exhaust evinces a nice growl, but it’s as aurally subdued as a Hemi Charger’s. At least it’s rarely intrusive. Under wide-open whack, you can bark the huge mudders on the shift into second. Surprisingly, all that bonus oomph isn’t particularly noticeable around town, although an observed 13 mpg will regularly remind you what two extra cylinders can impose. The power pays for itself mostly when you’ve idled down into a nasty gully and need to power out in one momentous squirt. At step-off, a lot of revs are required to get this bolide in motion, probably a function of the gooey and tall high-friction tires. The shifter is acceptably light—clutch takeup is, too—but the throws are long, and the Getrag gearbox whines and whinnies like Mister Ed. Overall, the AEV Jeep most impresses because it never feels like a collection of add-on parts. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated, adults-only sort of vehicle—nothing hot-roddish about it—that draws attention for its solidity and integration. The powder-coated spare-tire carrier is a good example. “It took me two years to get that right,” declares Harriton. Customers sometimes present their personal Jeeps to AEV, but it’s usually cheaper if you let AEV buy the thing directly from Chrysler—at invoice—and have it drop-shipped to AEV’s conversion facility in Wixom, Michigan. Each conversion comes with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty. Of course, none of this is cheap. The Jeep we sampled, with AEV’s upgrades, carried an out-the-door price of $72,408, a sum that will cause your neighbors to bray like sunburned donkeys. On the other hand, this Jeep is so competent that most of Mother Nature’s rudest impediments are reduced to minor annoyances. In fact, it kills the challenge. Will we get through? Uh, yes, we will, even as we enjoy a soothing Sirius broadcast of Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody. Hold on. That might be Ted Nugent.