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Building A Junkyard Dana 60 For A TJ

Posted in How To: Transmission Drivetrain on September 1, 2012
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Photographers: Trenton McGee

When it comes to front axles, the Dana 60 is pretty much the gold standard. It enables you to confidently stay in the throttle longer, bounce harder, and lift later than if you have a pair of potential grenades under your rig. Of course, there are several companies willing to build you a complete Dana 60 that bolts under your Jeep, but if you’re on a beer budget, those champagne tastes are a little out of reach. Many of us have a hard enough time keeping credit card balances to a minimum without a money-Hoovering Jeep addiction.

For us, we started getting serious about upgrading when we noticed years of swinging 37s off a TJ Dana 30 front axle was gradually bending the housing into a quite visible U-shape (keep in mind we don’t make a habit of jumping it). Plus, we were getting tired of swapping parts on the trail and carting around spares of everything, including a spare ring-and-pinion during extended trips. We scored a highly coveted high-pinion Ford Dana 60 for $650 thanks to sharp-eyed friend and Feature Editor Verne Simons. It was complete and hiding in plain sight right on the local junkyard inventory portal We immediately called the junkyard and put down a deposit over the phone. A couple of days later the yard presented us with a pristine Dana 60 that they had even been kind enough to steam clean and paint! We loaded it up and peeled out before someone figured out they had sold us the axle at about 50 percent the going rate, and we didn’t have to spin a single wrench to get it.

We scored a high-pinion ball joint Dana 60 out of a ’96 Ford F-350. The ’73-’79 kingpin versions are more highly coveted since you can bolt on high-steer arms and they have a longer driver-side axletube for more coil spring mount room. However, the kingpin diff housing is closer to center, which can cause problems with oil pan and exhaust clearance. We considered running our housing full-width and then thought about shortening the housing ourselves, but ultimately took the bare housing to Arizona Differential for the necessary alterations (see sidebar).

Follow along as we highlight what it takes to build a junkyard Dana 60 front axle that’s ready to bolt into a TJ, XJ, MJ, or even a ZJ. We’ll show you what went well, what didn’t, and how we solved the problems we encountered. While it took quite a bit of elbow grease, we’re giggling like a little schoolgirl knowing that we now have a front axle we can hammer on without barfing parts all over the trail.

To Chop or Not To Chop, and How Much?
We considered just running the axle full width, which would have saved time and money, but in the end decided to shorten it for a variety of reasons. First, full-width axles have advantages and disadvantages on the trail, and for most of the wheeling we do, narrower is a little better. Second, we wanted to get closer to the width of the rear axle than farther away; though we plan on upgrading the rear at some point, it might be a couple of years down the road. Third, though the vehicle is street legal it also spends its fair share of time being trailered to events, so we wanted to make it would fit without making a bunch of trailer modifications.

We stripped the axle and removed the brackets before bringing the housing in for shortening. Technician Tim Adkins measured for the cut and carefully torched the weld attaching the inner C to the axletube. This can be done with a grinder or cut-off tool, but a torch or plasma cutter makes the process a whole lot easier. Once the weld was gone, Adkins cut the tube just inside the inner C with a chop saw. A second cut was made at our previous mark, and approximately four inches of axletube hit the ground. No turning back now!

There are a lot of things to take into account when deciding on a final overall WMS-WMS (Wheel Mounting Surface) width like tire size, wheel offset, frame clearance, axle bracket location, and fender coverage. A factory TJ Dana 30 is about 60 3⁄4 inches wide. Our TJ had an old Warn hub conversion, which pushed the width another ¾-inch on each side. Still, the 37-inch tires rubbed the frame slightly, and we wanted room to run 40s someday. We ultimately decided that 65 inches would be ideal. The factory Ford WMS-WMS is 691⁄4 inches, which meant chopping 41⁄4 inches off of the passenger side of the axletube.

We were going to take a stab at shortening the housing ourselves, but we were pretty nervous about screwing it up and really didn’t have all the right tools to get the job done, namely a torch and the skills to use it without gouging up the tube and the inner C. We were about to go ahead and take the plunge anyway when a local wheeler turned us on to Arizona Differential, who quoted us an amazing $200 to shorten one side of our housing. Done deal. Now that we’ve seen it done, we’re confident we or anyone else with a fair amount of fabrication experience could do it, but at only $200, we’d still probably pay to have it done, mostly due to the time and hassle factor.

PhotosView Slideshow


Huntington Beach, CA 92647
RCV Performance
Loves Park, IL
Warn Industries
Clackamas, OR 97015
G2 Axle & Gear
Compton, CA 90220
Eaton Performance Products
Arizona Differential

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