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1994 Ford Ranger & 2000 Jeep Cherokee - Off-Road Mail

Posted in Features on March 1, 2006
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Ranger Danger?I have a '94 Ranger with a stock 4.0L engine, a 6-inch Class II Skyjacker lift kit, and 33-inch tires. I would like to make a trail rig out of it and was wondering what modifications I might have to do as far as changing gears, axles, transfer case, etc. I want to be able to drive on the freeway to get to my destination, but once there, I don't want to be stuck in the mud. I already have 3.73 gears (I think). Will these do the job off-road, or should I go with another size? Could you also tell me what type of rear axle to install and if the transfer case is strong enough to do the job when it counts?Jeff Stebner, Roseville, MI

Hey Jeff,You've already got a great platform for a multi-purpose rig, so the mods needed for trail duty won't be all that extensive. With the 4.0 engine, Ford included the Dana 35 reverse cut/ high pinion Twin Traction Beam front axle and the Ford 8.8 rear axle, which are both strong items. The transfer case is the Borg Warner 1354. Advance Adapters says that the 1354 transfer case can withstand V-8 horsepower, so there's no reason to change it especially if you're keeping the 4.0, which by the way, is a good engine. Thirty-three-inch tires can go a lot of places, so try them out first. The 3.73 gears should be swapped for a set of 4.56 gears, though. In addition to the gears, traction-aiding diff-erentials will make a major difference off-road. OFF-ROAD's Project TrailRunner, a '92 4.0 4x4 Ranger is using a Detroit Locker in the rear and a Detroit TrueTrac up front, with 33s and 4.56 gears. You should also know that 4.56 gears for your Dana 35 are on a basically nationwide backorder, and should be available again shortly.

If you do find out that you need something bigger than 33s, be aware that the bigger the tire, the more strain it will put on the rest of the vehicle. You'll probably need a bigger suspension lift or (what we'd recommend) larger fender openings. The larger openings can be had by: 1) trimming the sheetmetal with aviation snips or a body saw or a Sawzall; 2) cut-out fender flares a la Bushwacker; 3) fiberglass prerunner fenders from companies such as Hannemann Fiberglass, Glassworks Unlimited, Fiberwerx, McNeil Off-Road, or Trailer Products. The last two choices (add-on flares or fiberglass fenders) also add fender width, which will help keep mud from flinging all over the place, and also help keep you from getting pulled over by various law enforcement officers who may otherwise give you a ticket for having tires that protrude past the body lines. Thirty-five-inch tires work OK (not great) with 4.56 gears. A better ratio for 35's would be 5.13. Unfortunately, 4.88 gears are not available for the Dana 35 TTB.

Keep an eye out for Project TrailRunner in OFF-ROAD magazine. When it's done, it should be capable of high-speed desert work as well as low-range 4x4 trail action. Hopefully, Project Trail-Runner will give you some helpful info for your '94.Hope this helps.

Cherokee Goes Big... MaybeI'm currently stationed in Afghanistan. When I get back to the States, I'm planning on making my '00 Jeep Cherokee a little more trail worthy. I will be swapping out my Rough Country 3-inch lift for its 6.5-inch X-series kit. I will also be installing a Rough Country slip-yoke eliminator kit and CV driveshaft. I will also install some BFG 33 All-Terrains on Mickey Thompson Classic Lock wheels. I was wondering what would be a good donor vehicle for a front Dana 44 and Dana 60 rearend for my '00 XJ. I would also appreciate any other information you could give me. I have many years of automotive experience, but nothing like this. I want to do the work myself, so once again, any help would be appreciated.Sgt. Reed Roalf, 82nd ABN DIV, Afghanistan

Hey Reed,We think you'll indeed like the lift, wheel, and tire package you've got in mind. As for the axles, you'll need a Dana 44 with a driver's side diff-erential, and preferably one with a high pinion for better gear strength and ground clearance. A good donor vehicle would be a '78-'79 full-sized Bronco or a mid-'70s to '79 F-150 4x4. This axle has a 5-on-5 and a half bolt pattern. The Dana 60 can be found on many one-ton pickups and vans. Although that is a stout axle combo, it's gonna be a tough one to pull off if you're trying to do the work yourself. Most of the Dana 60 rears you'll find will have an 8-lug bolt pattern. Both of these axles will be too wide for your XJ, so you'll need to narrow them, which we'd advise you to send to a pro-fessional to have done. In addition, you'll need to fabricate the bracketry for your front four-link suspension, and install it correctly on the front axle.

There are some simpler options, and since you're not using massive tires or installing a dyno-killing V-8, these simpler options will probably suit you and your XJ just fine. Consider beefing the front Dana 30. Superior Axle and Gear offers a Super 30 kit which includes an ARB Air Locker, CrMo axles, Spicer U-joints, and Timken roller bearings. You can also go for Superior's Big Spline option which will upgrade the 27-spline axles to 30-spline. This will beef your stock front axle without the need for narrowing or fabricating bracketry, and the wheel bolt pattern doesn't change. Superior also offers a Super 35 kit, which can be used to upgrade your rear axle, again with an ARB Air Locker and a Big Spline option.

For the rear, we'd suggest finding a Ford 8.8-inch rearend out of an Explorer or 4.0-equipped Ranger pickup. The width is correct, and the bolt pattern is also correct for your XJ. Since many Explorers were factory-equipped with disc brakes, we'd opt for an Explorer rearend, and we'd install new axle perches on top of the axle.

Keep in mind that you'll most likely need to change ring and pinion gears in both axles - the front and rear ratios absolutely must match. We'd suggest 4.56 or 4.88 gears with your 33-inch tires.

The ultimate (and priciest) way to go would be to get a pair of completely custom axles made by the likes of Dynatrac or Currie Enterprises. Although it's a larger initial outlay, in the end you'll have a pair of axles that feature long-term reliability and minimal installation hassle once they arrive shipped to your doorstep.

A good "in between" solution might be to get a custom Dana 44 front axle, and hunt down an 8.8-inch Explorer axle for the rear.

Editor's Note: If you have any questions, comments, rants, or raves, please feel free to contact us at OFF-ROAD magazine, Mailbox, 2400 E. Katella Ave., 7th Floor, Anaheim, CA 92806. You can e-mail us at kevin.blumer@primedia.com.

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