When we're talking about front axles, "Dana 60" generally implies nearly bulletproof performance. Are there stronger axles? Sure. Are there weaknesses and undesirable aspects to the Dana 60 axle? Sure. But when it comes to building a front axle to handle most of what we can dish out, chances are the name Dana 60 will pass someone's lips, and early on.
There are several variations in what a Dana 60 is, and many changes have occurred over the many years that these axles have been produced—some good, some not so good. Some factory Dana 60s are highly desirable (and rare), while other factory Dana 60s are less desirable and fairly common. There are also several very desirable custom "Dana 60" axles in the aftermarket, some that may not have any parts from the mother company.
Somewhere in the middle of the pack (but closer to the top) is the 1992-1998 ball joint Ford Dana 60, the focus of this article. Books could be written on the differences between the axles all tagged with the "Dana 60" name, and that's not the point of this article. We are here to show you the best way to get the strength and upgradability you want to build an axle that will take the abuse while keeping the cost and value of different upgrades in mind.
To that end, we can assure you that ordering a custom Dana 60 from several aftermarket companies is a great idea, but plunking down that much cash isn't always an easy pill to swallow. We nabbed this 1995 Ford Dana 60 for under $300 from a roadside junkyard during an epic trip down to the southern tip of Baja, Mexico. That price is a great deal for one of these desirable axles, and to us this particular one will forever be known as the Mexican Dana 60.
So in a world of DIY and with a nod to saving a buck or two, what's the best compromise when it comes to the legendary Dana 60? Here's one recipe for success with room to grow with a garage-based refresh on our Mexican Dana 60.
Over the years we have run into just about every type of spindle nut and locking design there is. We generally like the old-school style with two nuts and some sort of locking plate in between, or one of the heavy-duty aftermarket type of locking spindle nuts. We've never encountered this type of lock nut, and we aren't sure whether part of it was missing or damaged. We won't reuse it, but our research indicated that this 1995 ball joint Ford Dana 60 would need either a 2 9/16-inch spindle nut socket or a 2 3/4-inch one. The latter worked for us.
Removing the spindle from even a slightly rusty Dana 60 can be a real bear. The best method we've found is to use a hammer and a brass drift to hit the spindle from the back, inside the outer knuckle. Once it moves a little bit, put a flathead screwdriver in the gap and whack the other side of the spindle with a rubber or brass mallet. Keep this up, walking it out of the bore. Both of the spindles on our axle were junk because an inner bearing got loose and spun on the spindle. See the galling and discoloration from the heat. Luckily, Spicer had new replacement spindles for this and other axles (PN 708085).
Given the condition of the rest of the axle we decided it was a good idea to replace all four ball joints on the axle. We loosened the nuts and whacked the upper inner knuckle ear with our hammer until we could see it free up. Do the same with the lower inner knuckle ear, and the knuckle will drop. We left both ball joint nuts on the last few threads of the ball joints so the knuckle wouldn't fall all the way off the axle (and possibly onto our toe).
Then, with the knuckle off, you can use a ball-joint tool to remove the ball joint, once you've removed any snap rings. We've found that tapping the knuckle near the ball joint as shown while the tool is loaded helps release the ball joint a bit easier.
You have to remove the lower ball joint before the tool can be set up to remove the upper one as shown. We used our pneumatic impact gun and lubed up the threads of the ball joint tool with plenty of antiseize to protect the threads of the tool. New ball joint kits (upper and lower) from Spicer are PN 700238-2x, one for each side for a 1978-1998 Ford Dana 60.
Most Dana axles have a Bill of Materials (BOM) number stamped into the front of the long-side axletube. (If you can read them, chances are you can find a website that will tell you information about the axle.) The BOM and the differential cover tag can tell you the axle ratio was from the factory, but that could have been changed since 1995. Unfortunately the only way to confirm what either the diff tag or the BOM says about the ratio is to pull the cover and find a number on the ring gear like this. Ours says "41-10." That's 41 teeth on the ring gear and 10 on the pinion for a 4.10:1 axle ratio, which is exactly what this axle had from the factory and thus confirms the BOM and diff tag.
Lock-Right lockers by Powertrax are less expensive and are easy to install compared to full case lockers. The locker replaces the side gears in your open differential (PN 2620-LR for this Ford Dana 60 with 35-spline inner axles). Lock-Rights are a good place to start if you aren't sure you want an automatic locker and you'd like to easily be able to go back to stock. They aren't quite as strong as a full case locker, but we doubt we are going to be hitting anything too hard in the truck this axle will live in. Also, we can always take the locker out (if we sell the truck), and if we start wheeling the truck harder we can always upgrade to a full case locker.
Installation of a Lock-Right is pretty easy. In fact, sometimes you can get away with installing the Lock-Right in the differential while it's still in the axlehousing (although sometimes you have to pull the carrier and remove the ring gear). We could have left ours in, but pulling the carrier makes installing those little springs a bit easier. Follow the instructions, use plenty of grease to hold the parts in place, and use a small screwdriver to get the springs in place. We've found that temporarily installing the cross shaft between the two sides of the locker as shown makes getting the springs in a little easier.
Cleaning the axletubes on an old axle is critical to proper assembly. On most axles there is nothing to keep water and dirt from getting inside the axlehousing on an open knuckle axle outside of the inner axle seal. That means mud and rust can build up in the axletube and while it's in the axle it's next to impossible to keep off the axleshafts and can damage inner axle seals. We like to use some scrap steel to push a heavy rag soaked in parts cleaner through each axletube once the inner axle seals have been pulled. Once you get most of the mess out, you can make a "chimney sweep" out of a wire wheel and some small steel tubing from the hardware store. Chuck it into your drill and scour the inside of those axletubes.
Chromoly inner axleshafts from Spicer (35-spline PN 10007749 short and PN 10007748 long) will make our old Mexican Dana 60 that much stronger, giving us more confidence while off the beaten path. Our new axleshafts came with Spicer's relatively new blue coated U-joints (in our case, PN SPL55). These joints are optimized for strength and long-lasting service. Although we've tried a couple of different methods to install axle U-joints (like with a shop press or a ball joint press) we keep going back to the first method we ever used: a couple of sockets, a hammer, and some concrete (or a metal work table). Just be sure to avoid mixing caps on the U-joint cross and hold the trunnion (the little arm of the U-joint cross) into the cap you are tapping into place. That helps keep the little needle bearings in place so you don't make more work for yourself and possibly ruin a brand-new U-joint or cap. Later our outer axles can easily be upgraded to 35-spline units along with the locking hubs.
Not everyone has a handy dandy shop assistant for those moments when you need a third hand. Therefore we try to do as much tech work on our own so we can share with you how best to do it single-handedly. That said, one thing that's next to impossible to do without another person is installing new inner axle seals in a housing. We lined up the seal, held the seal driver, and aligned a scrap bit of tubing while our buddy whacked the tubing with a hammer to drive home the seal. These seals are a bit of a bear; just take it slow and make sure the seal isn't trying to go into its machined spot at an angle. You want it square to the bore.
Spicer also has these heavy-duty Nodular Iron Performance Differential Covers (PN 10024090). They are thick and well reinforced with webbing, and bring peace of mind to anyone who is driving a 4x4 on a trail. Given our propensity to drive by braille (we have been known to accidentally center-punch a rock with the differential), this is a nice addition to protect the internals. The diff cover also comes with new mounting hardware, a fill plug, and a drain plug with an integrated magnet.