If you've ever had a truck project, and I'm guessing most of you have, you know that things do not always go as planned. Due to a front axle knuckle change, a wrong part number ordered, and an unexpected axle shaft surprise, we have still not completely finished the suspension or the axles. And in less than a month we have a bumper building story to get to you in June's issue. Yes, we definitely have some catching up to do, as it's January right now and the whole plan is to get this truck on the road in time for a northwest road trip for some snow wheeling. Hopefully this will be a long winter, but I don't want to take any chances. Besides, I'm guessing Off Road Evolution doesn't want its shop to become Jinxy's semi-permanent new home.
As hurried as we now are, we still need to take one step at a time and make sure everything works correctly, so we don't end up taking more time to fix things we've already done. But this month the truck jinx struck again (why do you think it was named Jinxy?), and the axle builds did not go as smoothly as planned.
For axles, I always had big plans, but after some careful thought I ended up barely deviating from the Dana 44 front and Chrysler 9.25 rear axles that the '94-'01 Dodge 1500s originally came with.
The stock rear 9.25 axle is strong and has a good size ring and pinion and large axleshafts, but it had a C-clip design that I don't like, especially since I'd already blown up two of them. In hindsight, it might have been cool trying to stick some Ford 9-inch ends on the original Chrysler 9.25 housing, get some new axleshafts, and eliminate the C-clip aspect from the axle. But at the time I originally built my current rear axle, I was reading a bunch of magazines that told me I needed a Dana 60 with a 9.5-inch ring gear so I ordered up a Currie Dana 60 housing with 35-spline Superior axle shafts, got Wilwood disc brakes (without the parking brake), some 4.56 gears, and a spool. Using a spool, the non-parking brake disc kit, and a standard Dana 60 housing really kept the cost down. In fact, I believe my total expenditure was less than $2,000 when everything was done. But I quickly grew tired of that spool in my street-driven truck, and I also started to understand how nice parking brakes really were. For this final end-build of Jinxy, I took the opportunity to put an actual locking differential (an Ox locker) in the Dana 60 axle and add a parking brake to my rear disc set up.
The factory Dodge Ram low-pinion Dana 44 front has a standard 8.5-inch ring gear, unit bearings instead of rebuildable hubs, and a Central Axle Disconnect (CAD) two-piece axleshaft design on the passenger side. The CAD has a vacuum-actuated collar that slips over the splines of both axleshafts and engages them together. For years I (and other Dodge and Jeep owners) would have told you that the CAD was the weak link in the axle, but in all the years I've owned this truck I've never had a single failure with it. The most likely thing to go wrong is the vacuum actuation, and a company called Posi-Lok makes a cable-driven actuator that can remedy that. Unit bearings get a bad rap, but they actually have a longer service life than rebuildable hubs. The catch is that unit bearings are throw-away and not rebuildable. But I had already convinced myself long ago that I needed to swap in a front Dana 60 or a '79 Ford high-pinion Dana 44 axle to get rid of my "terrible" CAD axle and unit bearings. For that reason, I had acquired myself a '79 Ford high-pinion Dana 44 housing (thanks, Big Stevie) and some Reid Racing knuckles and Off Road Design billet high steer arms. But two things kept coming into my head: The first being that I was barely ever going to unlock some locking hubs and that I had never had a unit bearing failure (though I had one wear out after about 70,000 miles). The second thing that bugged me was that there are really very few serious brake improvements out there for a standard Dana 44 knuckle, and I had some fancy Stillen calipers on my axle from a brake install years ago. Instead of doing all those modifications and ending up with less braking ability than I had before I started this custom axle, I called Currie up and made a last-minute change to instead meld my original axle and it's knuckles to the '79 Ford high-pinion housing. This would allow me to keep my brakes while getting rid of the CAD two-piece axle that I senselessly feared. Besides that, a lot of money was saved on the front axle build since we were only adding the original outer equipment to a used high-pinion housing, requiring a retubing service. I also had to get some new superior shafts and a ring and pinion set for a high-pinion axle. Still, cost was significantly reduced over building an entirely new axle.
We'll hopefully be finished with the suspension and axles, and watching Off Road Evolution craft some beautiful bumpers to fit the lines of this truck. The old bumpers have taken a few good hits and never really turned out the way I wanted due to time constraints and me cheaping out on materials. Stay tuned.