Dana 44s: Open Or Closed Knuckles?
Reader: Just want to say, great mag! I'm an average backyard knuckle-buster with a Dana 44 with enclosed knuckles out of a Ford. It has a locker and 4.88:1s stuffed in there. I would like to narrow this to fit under my '88 YJ (with a 350 and 700R4). Can I change the knuckles out for the newer open ones with disc brakes? Or should I pony up and find a 44 out of a late-'70s Ford? How short should I cut this, and how will I get it square with the rear? I also have a 31-spline Dana 60 rear with 4.88:1s and a locker that I will be narrowing.
Editor: Early Bronco axle expert Christian Hazel replies: Forget the closed-knuckle Dana 44. They're pretty much junk compared with an open-knuckle Dana 44. Compared with the open-knuckle 44, the closed-knuckle axles have weaker shafts with 260-sized U-joints (same size as your Dana 30) and weaker axletubes. If you're set on sticking with a Ford Dana 44, then look for a '77-and-up open-knuckle axle that you can hack up. You'll probably want to look for one from a 3/4-ton pickup since the 1/2-ton axles will have big C-shaped radius-arm mounts that are a major pain to remove in the best case scenario. Worst case scenario, you'll get one of the years in which the axletubes were two-piece and held together with the radius-arm mounts. You can convert to the 1/2-ton, 5-on-51/2 bolt pattern with a hub and rotor swap on the 3/4-ton spindle.
If you go with the Ford axle and want to narrow it, scribe a line down the knuckle and axletube so you'll be able to reinstall the knuckle in the same orientation on the tube. Then, grind out the weld holding the knuckle to the tube and knock it off with a big darn hammer or sledge. Once the knuckle is off, use a chop saw to remove the amount of tube from the long side you need to get the wheelbase you're after. Then, tap the knuckle back on and weld it up. Once the knuckle is on you can measure for a custom inner shaft, or if you're careful with your cutting you may be able to use a Wagoneer shaft. Which brings me to my next suggestion:
I'd use an '80-and-up wide-track Wagoneer axle. It's not high-pinion like the Ford Dana 44, but it'll be a lot easier to find and you won't need to narrow it. Jeep went from a passenger-side drop front axle to a driver-side drop in '80, so the diff will match your stock NP231 transfer case. The wide-track axle will have a 64-inch WMS-WMS measurement, which is close to your stock axle's 601/2-inch width. You'll want a little more width for running bigger tires and for stability on the trail.
For the rear, I'd really suggest looking for a Ford 9-inch out of an early-'80s Ford pickup. Its width is nearly perfect for use with the wide-track Wagoneer Dana 44. Plus, you don't need to buy custom shafts. However, if you're dead set on using the Dana 60 and narrowing it, you'll need to ensure the tube ends are welded on straight. Currie Enterprises sells a straight bar for this task. It bolts to the carrier caps and runs the length of the axletubes. A couple of discs slide onto the bar at the tube ends and index the bearing-retainer ends squarely on the tubes for welding. It's the only way to ensure your axleshafts will have zero runout if you cut off and reweld the tube ends.
Wants To See Explorer Buildups
Reader: We see you guys work on pickups and Jeeps all the time. Maybe it's time you showed us a buildup of a second-generation Ford Explorer. They are very capable SUVs. I know everyone on the Explorer forum would love to read about an Explorer buildup. I know I would!
Editor: Sounds great to us! Can we borrow yours?
Wants To Host A Maine Jeep Rally
Reader: I am looking to hold a vintage Jeep rally or Jeep get-together in my area. I own a lodge in Greenville Maine, at the base of Moose-head Lake, which would work out to be a great base camp after a day of wheeling in the backwoods of Western Maine. My family would welcome the extra business. Please keep me in mind for barbecues, swimming, fishing, and a great family adventure.
Leisure Life Resort
Editor: We're passing along your request, along with your Web site address, to our readers. Who knows? If enough four-wheelin' folks in your area are interested, that Jeep rally you've been wishing for might happen a lot quicker than anything that we could organize from our offices 3,000 miles away from you. New England wheelers, take note-the welcome mat is out.