We constantly hear and often find ourselves saying, They dont build em like they used to. This generic phrase can also be applied to transfer cases. Long gone are the days of heavy-duty, iron-cased, geardriven transfer cases like the NP205, Rockwell, Dana 20, Dana 300, and the best transfer case ever, the Dana Spicer 18.
Oh sure, there are stronger cases than the 18, but no case has as many desirable off-road features. We commend the NP205 for being bulletproof, but is its extra weight needed when youre only throwing pebbles at it with your stock V-8, six-cylinder, or four-popper? Its also too big to use in most short-wheelbase applications and has a measly low-range of 1.96:1.
The 205 has its place in fullsizes where the 18 probably has no business because of the corpulence of such vehicles. Those that need the 205 accept that the low-range leaves something to be desired, or they add a Doubler kit if there is enough space. Interestingly, the gears in the 18 and the 205 are similar in size, hinting at the strength of the smaller Spicer. Manufacturers build aftermarket parts to make lightweights like the NP231 and others more like the early Spicer, with items such as twin-stick shifters, true neutrals, part time kits, 2-low conversions, slip-yoke eliminator kits, and so on. All of this and more is achieved on the 18 without buying these often expensive parts. Come to think of it, the best way to make the 231 off-road ready might be to swap it out for some real iron, the Spicer 18.
The 18 may be a far cry from modern but it does have its advantages. It is perfectly suited in lighter-weight rigs (although it can be found in some larger trucks and wagons), and we have seen versions of the 18 survive in 1,000hp sand drag Jeeps.
For crawling around sharp corners, two-wheel-drive low-range can be obtained simply by removing an interlock pellet (well show how).
Most 18s came with twin-sticks from the factory so theres no need to purchase them separately like on the 300, or dream about them if you have a Dana 20, NP205 or 231. Adding an overdrive to your 18 is a simple bolt-on procedure, no tranny swap or driveshaft modifications necessary. The overdrive effectively turns your four-speed transmission into an eight-speed with a 25 percent overdrive. Also, if a P.T.O. is your bag then try and put one on an NP231, Dana 300, or 20. Good luck. While P.T.O. units for the 18 are no longer manufactured, used ones can still be found by roaming wrecking yards.
Looking for something to cure vibrations and binding coming from your rear driveshaft? Look no further. The Spicer 18 has a rear output yoke 5 inches lower than any of the other common cases. The 18 is also shorter than most transfer cases, allowing a longer driveshaft. No need for expensive CV shafts. Sure, both outputs are to the passenger side, but this is an advantage when traversing the rough stuff. A friend tells us, Just keep the rocks under the driver seat. With both differentials on the right side of the vehicle, the rocks pass snag free on the left. Thats much easier than trying to avoid the rock with the front diff only to have it smack your centered rear differential. Besides, if you use your newer Jeep hard then youll be replacing the axles anyway. Might as well do it right the first time.
Worried about low-range? Well, the 18 has a low of 2.46. Thats lower than the Dana 20 and close to the 2.62 of the Dana 300. It doesnt quite compare with the 2.72 of the 231, but 4:1 low-range gears are available for the 18 at a much cheaper price than a 4:1 planetary and new front case half for the 231.
The 18 came in several versions. If you are looking to swap one in then it is important to know what you have so you can get the right rebuild kit and adapters. Early Jeeps (42-45) used a weaker version of the 18. It had a ¾-inch intermediate shaft. Few of the internals are interchangeable with other 18s. These cases should be avoided unless you are putting together a restoration project.
The 1 1/8-inch intermediate shaft cases can be found in 46-53 Jeeps and some Internationals. Its not the strongest version but it is adequate for most applications. It has a 26-tooth, six-spline input gear. It can be converted to the 29-tooth, 10-spline version if the accompanying gears (input, intermediate, low-range output, and high-range output) are used as well.
The 1 ¼-inch version can be found in 53-79 Jeeps and some Scouts. This case has a 29-tooth, six-spline input gear. The 18s mated to the T14 transmission from the factory have a 29-tooth, 10-spline input gear. The 1 ¼-inch Spicer 18 is the most desirable from a strength standpoint. Later versions of this case have a 4.00-inch locating bore and a sturdier design. These versions are interchangeable with Dana 20 housings. All of the 18 parts will bolt onto the Dana 20 case. The internals from a 1 1/8-inch case can be used in the 1¼-inch case with the exception of the intermediate shaft and bearings. Low-range gearsets are only available for the 4.00-inch bore version of the 18.
If you have a Wrangler or later CJ, the Spicer 18 may be the perfect conversion. Add up the prices of all the parts youll need to make your current Jeep case off-road ready. You just might find out that its less expensive and more beneficial to ditch that new stuff and replace it with the old. Here are a few captions that might sway you to the right side. We also threw in a rebuild for those in-the-know.