Much like our hideous caveman ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, the first Dana 44s found under Jeeps in the late ’40s were simple and unrefined, coarse and archaic. Sporting 10- or 19-spline two-piece axleshafts with a keyway and a nut holding the axle flange to the axleshafts, a course 10-spline pinion, and weak small-diameter axletubes, a lot has changed over the years since the dawn of Dana 44s. While modern man carries a smart phone with more computing power than that of NASA in the ’70s, those early Dana 44s are like the club to the smart phone of the “next generation” Dana 44. Alright, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But hey, you have to admit that Dana 44s have evolved over the years into a much stronger axle that approaches, if not exceeds, the strength of the venerable Dana 60. All this while still maintaining a relatively girlish figure—that is, getting stronger without packing on all the excess weight. When the rear Wagoneer Dana 44 axlehousing in our ’49 CJ-3A literally broke in half at the 2013 Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari (“Unintended Consequences,” July ’13), we considered many different rear axles as a replacement. Our mind went from building a replacement Wagoneer Dana 44, to a Ford 9-inch, and we even contemplated a Dana 60. Ah, what to do?
In the Jeep’s current form, that is with a Buick V-6, granny-geared T-18, 35-inch tires, and a YJ spring conversion, we have run a couple of different Dana 44s in the rear of our Jeep. The first Dana 44 was an offset CJ-3A or early CJ-5 Dana 44. This axle was beefed up with a 30-spline Detroit Locker, a Warn full-float kit, Chevy caliper mounting brackets and calipers, and Ford 11-inch rotors. The axle still ran an old and worn 10-spline 5.38 ring-and-pinion that was living on borrowed time. At some point we had built a huge and ugly truss in an attempt to add strength to the tiny axletubes. We also disliked the thick wheel spacers necessary to get the old narrow axle to approach the width of our more-modern Dana 44 front axle. The axle worked—sort of—and we loved the disc brakes, but we had twisted splines on the short 30-spline chromoly axleshaft. That’s not good.
The second axle that served time was a Dana 44 from a ’78 Wagoneer. This axle had the same 30-spline Detroit, a new 5.38 gearset from Dana, and chromoly axleshafts and factory drum brakes that were constantly getting packed with mud. This axle seemed to be nearly perfect for the old Jeep. It was just strong enough unless we were in a bad bind. It was also wide enough to match the front axle. That was until it broke in half. So as we stood in the desert feeling hopeless our mind raced between possible replacement axles we asked ourselves if we could come up with something better. Well, for once we skipped the junkyard and went with plan B. Plan B involved calling Dynatrac to build a cutting-edge Dana 44 for our old Jeep. This axle that you see here will take our Flattie from the Stone Age to the Internet Age of Dana 44s.
What you see here built by Dynatrac is a bigger, stronger Dana 44 using JK parts like a G2 Axle and Gear 5.38 JK ring-and-pinion with a large 8.8-inch ring gear (standard Dana 44s are 8.5 inches). Both the new Dana 44 ring gear and older Dana 44 ring gears share the same inside diameter so the new Dana 44 is tooth face is nearly a 1⁄2-inch larger which allows more tooth contact between the ring-and-pinion. Also the JK gears feature a larger-diameter pinion that is the same size as a Dana 60 pinion. We also were able to upgrade to a 35-spline Dana 44 ARB Air Locker and 35-spline axleshafts from Dynatrac. Yep, that’s 1.5-inch 35-spline axles in this Dana 44, just like what’s in a 35-spline Dana 60. Our axle also has the same 31⁄8-inch, 5⁄16-inch-wall tubes that Dynatrac would build into one of its semi-float Dana 60s. So why is this not just a Dana 60 replacement? Well, it’s not quite as strong as a 60 as it has a slightly smaller ring gear (Dana 60 is 9.75 inches in diameter) and smaller carrier bearings, but it is a lot stronger than our old Dana 44. This axle also has better clearance than a Dana 60 and is slightly lighter in weight (Dynatrac estimates up to 100 lbs lighter than a semi-float Dana 60). That makes it perfect for our lightweight Buick V-6 powered flattie. Follow along as we watch Dynatrac build one beefcake of a Dana 44.
Will It Fit?
Dynatrac has tons of experience building axles for all kinds of Jeeps and vehicles. The axle build specification sheet includes all the important measurements. That means that when the axle arrives at your house it will be easy to install, and all specifications, such as pinion angle, leaf spring perch position, and control arm bracketry, will be spot-on. Know the legend of a Jeep in a crate? How about this picture: That is one sexy Jeep axle in a crate!