Step By Step
You can upgrade 69-74 drum-brake 44s to discs using all-Dodge parts. You can also convert 75-79 full-time, 5-on-4 1/2-bolt 44s to 5-on-5 1/2 or eight-lug discs with lockout hubs using all-Mopar hardware. GM components also work and are more plentiful, but brand loyalty has its price, right? Shown here is Ely McGhghys disc-converted 72 Power Wagon.
You have two choices to get all-Dodge front disc brakes on your 69-74 drum-brake Dodge Dana 44. Swap in an entire 80-84 disc-brake axle assembly (shown); or swap in 80-93 components from the steering knuckle out, including the stub shaft. The 80-84 Dodge 44s have disc brakes, 5-on-5 1/2 or eight-lugs, and either lock-out or automatic locking hubs.
Dodge began using this vacuum-operated center-axle disconnect setup in 85 models for 1/2-ton and 3/4-tons. Serious 4x4 builders usually avoid this as a whole axle-assembly swap. Look for this mess of hoses and clutter on the driver-side axletube. However, McGhghy points out that, swap-wise, the components from the steering knuckle out are the same as 80-84, so you can swap the discs onto your 69-74.
According to McGhghy, the big problem with the all-Dodge approach is simply parts availability, especially in 3/4-tons. If you want to swap the whole front axle, youll find that 80-84 eight-lug (3/4-ton) Dodge disc-brake front 44s are scarce whereas eight-lug (3/4-ton) GM 44s and Corporate 10-bolts are plentiful. After all, the GM axles were made for 20 years (72-92) compared to Dodges 5 years. Worse still for Mopar-only maniacs, GM disc brakes bolt right up to 69-74 Dodge drum-brake steering knuckles and dont require steering-linkage mods (more on that later).
The 75-79 Dodge full-time 1/2-ton and 3/4-ton front 44s are easily identified by the recessed nut in place of a protruding hub on the axle end. Half-ton pickups and Ramchargers have a 5-on-41/2-inch bolt circle. So swapping on later 80-93 hubs gets you lock-out capability and better bearings, but it also gives you a 5-on-51/2-inch bolt circle that doesnt match your stock rear. Thats why the most popular 1/2-ton solution is to swap 80-84 axles (if you can find them) into both ends.
Weve said that 80-84 Dodge 3/4-ton disc-brake 44s are scarce. However, 69-74 3/4-tons are more common in wrecking yards, and whole 4x4s are more frequently for sale. So some 75-and-up 1/2-ton Mopar builders upgrade to the drum-brake 3/4-ton axles first, then either keep a sharp lookout for a Dodge eight-lug disc-brake front or (dare we say it) bolt GM 3/4-ton discs onto the older Mopar axle.
Weve encountered a number of Dodge Dana 60 (3/4-ton) rear axles with what looks like corrosion where the U-bolt plates sit beneath the spring perches. Is that a problem or just the way Dana made the axle? According to McGhghy, its corrosion all right, thanks to mud and water getting trapped between the axle and U-bolt plates. But he says its not serious unless the axletube rusts through and starts leaking. He says hes never seen or heard of a Dana 60 breaking there due to corrosion weakness.
Heres how to swap 80-93 Dodge disc brakes and lock-out hubs onto 69-74 drum brake axles and 75-79 full-time 44s. This process is identical for 1/2- and 3/4-ton 44s. You simply swap all the components from the steering knuckle out. Follow any good Dana 44 service manuals procedure for removing the axleshaft from the housing or changing the steering knuckle ball joints. That means removing the donors hubs, brake parts, wheel hubs, bearings, and spindles. Slide out the axles. Then unbolt the upper (finger point) and lower ball joints and take off the steering knuckles. Swap the donor stub shafts onto your inners and install all the donor parts on your axle.
Yet another reason why swapping GM discs for 69-74 Dodge drums is easier than staying all-Dodge. GM disc brake parts bolt right up to the 69-74 Dodge drum-brake steering knuckle (left). But the Dodge 80-up disc-brake knuckle (right) is entirely different. The Dodge disc parts do not retrofit to the earlier knuckle. Thats why you have to change to the later steering knuckles if you want to do an all-Dodge conversion.
According to McGhghy, spindle-bolt patterns are identical on Dodge drum-brake steering knuckles and on GM disc-brake knuckles. However, bearing sizes and the design of spindles, hubs, and stub shafts varied over the years. So you cant usually mix and match components. Its best to get all your swap components from a single complete donor. And that includes the axle stub shafts.
If youre junkyarding for brake-swap parts, McGhghy cautions that GM disc-brake steering knuckles and Dodge drum-brake knuckles look almost identical. In fact, McGhghy has found some GM and Dodge knuckles with the same casting number on the side. But the knuckles differ in the size and taper of the tie-rod hole. The Dodge knuckles have the smaller hole (left). Make sure you get the right one or your tie rod wont bolt up.
If you keep your axle upgrade all-Dodge, youll have to use Dodge or made-for-Dodge wheels too. The wheel-flange shoulder (indicated) is larger on Dodge hubs than on GMs. So, according to McGhghy, GM wheels wont fit Dodges (but Dodge wheels fit GM hubs).
Disc brakes usually require more hydraulic pressure than drums. So whether your upgrade is all-Dodge or part-GM, you may need to use a proportioning valve from the later Dodge or add one such as this Wilwood adjustable valve. Do you really need a different valve? Weve seen builders go both with and without. Whether you need a new proportioning valve depends upon your specific 4x4, your driving habits and terrain, and whether and how much you tow or haul.
This article is a tribute to two great 4x4-builders character traits: rabid brand loyalty and obsessive-compulsive junkyard scrounging. This time were honoring all the Dodge fans whove written, called, and e-mailed us to object (to put it mildly) to our suggestion of converting Mopar drum brakes to discs using GM components. We cant even print some of the, uh, colorful language involved in the requests to see a drum-to-disc article using all-Dodge parts.
The Dana 44s have disc brakes, but they also have a 5-on-4 ½-inch bolt circle, wear-prone wheel bearings, and no provision for locking hubs. Is there a practical way to keep the discsbut upgrade the restshort of swapping in a whole new axle assembly?
To find out exactly how to do the upgrades and where to get the necessary parts, you can forget calling your local Dodge dealer. Head straight for the best 4x4 salvage yard you can find with the most 70s-and-80s-knowledgeable used parts hounds.
Best of all is to find somebody who loves old Dodges and has actually converted the old axles. Ely McGhghy is just such a Mopar maniac. He has built, beefed and otherwise upgraded dozens of them. And his years in the 4x4 salvage business have taught him all the conversion secrets. McGhghys also kinda publicity shy, so he shared his salvage yard savvy only on the condition that we didnt include his phone number or address.
Thats fine. His information is Mopar gold, and theres a real wealth of it here. Come on. Check it out and then go junkyarding.