Crossing Over To More Dana 44 Strength And Reliability
The Dana 44 and the closely related 10-Bolt are two of the most commonly used front axles around. It comes as no surprise that the aftermarket provides such a multitude of readily-available upgrades. We've got a few of these axles under trucks ourselves- one in particular that needed some steering help. And being that our axle is under a '73-'87 Chevy, the factory steering system guiding that axle can become inadequate when suspension travel is increased. The stock GM design uses a draglink that runs parallel with the frame, correctly following the path that the leaf springs take the axle when compressing and rebounding. This is actually a good steering design, but the short draglink used loses too much effective length when suspension travel is increased and lift kits are added. While the angle of the draglink changes, so does the required length of the link itself (to keep the wheels straight). These sudden changes in the effective drag link length can turn the steering wheel back and forth, creating some scary situations during speedy off-road runs-- something known as bumpsteer. The preferred solution to solve a bumpsteer issue is to completely replace the stock system with a crossover steering design.
Crossover steering systems on Chevys position the draglink at a perpendicular position to what they came with from the factory. And in fact, it could be deemed geometrically incorrect to change the steering this way while running leaf springs that move the axle straight back and forth (parallel to the frame) on shackles. But this is by far the simplest method to reduce severe bumpsteer.
How? The draglink drops from the pitman arm on the steering box and runs it across the truck to a steering arm mounted on the opposite side's knuckle. By almost doubling the length of the draglink, the change in the angle induced by the axle traveling up and down is vastly reduced, and overshadows any bumpsteer made by repositioning the draglink perpendicular to the direction of suspension travel.
There are some parts that need to be obtained to run a crossover steering system. The original GM 4wd steering box rotates the pitman arm back to front, and the sector shaft has a single index to mount the pitman arm position. In order to run a crossover setup on your Chevy, you need a GM 2WD box. The output shafts of these boxes have four indices to allow the pitman arm to be properly positioned for side to side movement. But now the vehicle also requires a flat-top passenger side knuckle on the axle in order to mount a steering arm. From around '73-'77, Chevy half-tons had Dana 44s with flat-top passenger side knuckles. Unfortunately, they weren't machined flat or drilled to accept a steering arm and studs. Rather than deal with machining, cleaning, and painting weaker knuckles, we opted to purchase a new set of stronger knuckles. Reid Racing's custom manufactured knuckles have just the kind of brute strength we are after.
Reid Racing (RR) is an offshoot of Dedenbear Products, handling the Superglide transmissions and off-road product lines. RR makes heavy-duty flat-top Dana 44 knuckles that are perfect for our application. Made from high strength ductile iron, these knuckles will also fit Dana 30 and 10-Bolt frontends up to 1986 with only minor modifications to the tie rod setup. The massive flat tops are drilled for four stud holes instead of the usual three. Using four studs allows for a greater clamping force on the steering arm and increases shear strength by distributing the shearing forces over four studs instead of three. Beefier components like .75-inch rod ends can be used by drilling out the reinforced tie rod holes. The stock style screw-in steering stops are ditched in favor of two cast-in studs per wheel. The dual studs help prevent bending screws which can lead to u-joint and axle shaft failures. If needed, the studs can be ground down, or drilled and tapped for screw-in style stops. Unlike most knuckles, Reid Racing's knuckles have been machined to clear CTM U-joints without removing the grease fittings in the upper ball joints. This is another example of the extra consideration and careful planning that went into their design. Since such a solid set of knuckles will undoubtedly see some serious terrain, the flat tops have an additional 0.375-inch elevation over stock to help clearance of a high steer tie rod and draglink. The knuckles are powder coated with the signature Reid Racing bright orange. Now that a firm base had been chosen, it was time to mount up a set Offroad Design's High Steer Kit.
Offroad Design (ORD) has spent years building burly parts for full-size trucks. Having experienced great results from their parts before and because they specialize in '73-'87 GMs, they were our first choice for steering options. Their D44 high steer arms were a four-bolt design and would fit our Reid Racing knuckles. A full kit is available with passenger and driver side arms, two chrome moly stud kits, a draglink, tie rod, end kits and the pitman arm.
Since we had our own draglink and tie rod that we were going to use, we ordered only the high steer arms. The arms are milled from 1020 cold rolled steel to handle large tires or hydraulic assists. The steering arm end is cut at an angle to minimize the angle of articulation between the steering arm and draglink's joint. This helps extend the life of the joint and also allows for more vertical suspension travel without binding.
Both steering arms are drilled with four stud holes to take advantage of the Reid Racing knuckle design. The benefit of using a high steer arm on the driver side knuckle is the ability to then relocate the tie rod above the axle, between the two arms. This prevents damage of a the originally low hanging tie rod, which is in front of the axle housing between the two knuckles. ORD's High Steer kits are a great addition to any solid axle off-road vehicle.