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November 2008 Letters To The Editor

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 1, 2008
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Where To Write
Address your correspondence to:
Four Wheeler
6420 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048.

All letters become the property of Four Wheeler, and we reserve the right to edit them for length, accuracy, and clarity. The editorial department also can be reached through the Web site at Due to the volume of mail, electronic and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

A Hitch In Time
Reader: I saw the article about the Hensley Arrow hitch in your July '08 issue and would like to comment on the hitch. I owned an '05 Holiday Rambler 35-foot trailer, which swayed so badly it was nearly untowable. Holiday Rambler paid for installation of a Hensley Arrow hitch on the trailer. The hitch removed all the sway and made the trailer a delight to tow. A couple of minor comments: Purchase an adjustable foot to move the tongue sideways, it makes it much easier to line up the hitch to the tow truck. There is an adjusting nut located on the bar that runs parallel to the tongue of the trailer. This has to be tightened every few thousand miles, or the trailer will show signs of sway. I would recommend the hitch to anyone purchasing a trailer.
Newt Young
Edinburg, TX

Editor: You mean we actually gave some good advice? Where the heck did we go wrong that month?

When Is A Disco Not A Disco?
Reader: You guys do a great job with this mag. I like this wheelin' publication over some of the others because you include more overseas action than the competition usually does. I wanted to point out that on page 40 of "Exide Istria Challenge" (Aug. '08), someone may have mistakenly identified a Mercedes G-Wagen as a Land Rover Discovery. What do you think?
Richland, AL

Editor: Uhhhh...yep, you're right, seems our Euro-ID skills are getting a little rusty. Guess this means the boss needs to send us to Europe more often. You listening, boss?

Wants Rubicon Gearbox Info
Reader: I am interested in purchasing a used '03-'06 Jeep TJ Rubicon. I would like any specific model year information you may be able to provide. For example, I believe that the '03-'04 model years have a five-speed manual transmission versus a six-speed manual transmission in the '05-'06 model years. What are the differences in the transmissions, especially regarding component strength, durability, and gear ratios? Any other differences you may be able to highlight would be appreciated.
Christopher J. Lowden
Somewhere in OH

Editor: Our advice: go for the six-speed. The NVG3550 five-speed that came in the pre-'05 models is perfectly adequate, but the NSG370 six-speed gives you a better 4.46:1 First gear versus the five-speed's 4.01:1 First, and a lower Reverse gear as well (4.06:1 vs. 3.57:1). Both boxes are cast-aluminum, chaindriven units that were designed to handle roughly the same amounts of horsepower, so durability for both boxes should be similar under normal use.

Wants To Enter Top Truck 2009
Reader: Hey, I'm just looking for news and/or milestone dates for Top Truck Challenge next year. I have a truck I would like to enter.
Jeff Allen
Mishawaka, IN

Editor: You're in luck. Turn to page 66 for all the info you need to enter your truck for a chance to compete at Top Truck Challenge 2009.

New Toyota Owner Wants Parts Info
Reader: I recently purchased an '86 Toyota 4x4 truck for $500. It's a little hard on the eyes but it runs decent and the drivetrain works great. I am writing for information about good Web sites for rebuilding this truck, and any magazines that may help me hunt down any of the parts and pieces I may need during the build.
Heath Fly
Portsmouth, VA

Editor: First, be sure to check out the Toyota forums at We've got a few knowledgeable readers out there who can likely give you good tips or advice. There are plenty of other good online resources. Also try Toyota Territory (, Toyota Nation (, and Yota Tech ( They're all good online clearinghouses for Toyota truck tech and general info. Happy surfing.

How Big A Lift For IFS Ranger?
Reader: I have an '03 Ford Ranger Edge 4x4. I am having a hard time finding a suspension lift that is bigger than 4 inches. I have a 3-inch body lift already and was looking for a suspension lift around 6 inches or more because I would like to put 38-inch tires on the truck. Is there anything out there for the '03 Ranger that's bigger than 4 inches? Is there anything I could do to lift the truck after the 4-inch suspension lift? I would like to have a total of 9 or more inches of total lift. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
Somewhere in VA

Editor: We hate to break the news to you, but if you want that much lift for your Ranger, a solid-axle swap is going to be your only option. You will probably want to consider swapping out the rear axle as well, as the stock piece likely won't live long turning that big a tire.

Dana 44s: Open Or Closed Knuckles?
Reader: Just want to say, great mag! I'm an average backyard knuckle-buster with a Dana 44 with enclosed knuckles out of a Ford. It has a locker and 4.88:1s stuffed in there. I would like to narrow this to fit under my '88 YJ (with a 350 and 700R4). Can I change the knuckles out for the newer open ones with disc brakes? Or should I pony up and find a 44 out of a late-'70s Ford? How short should I cut this, and how will I get it square with the rear? I also have a 31-spline Dana 60 rear with 4.88:1s and a locker that I will be narrowing.
Jeff Hasselbach
Bellevue, OH

Editor: Early Bronco axle expert Christian Hazel replies: Forget the closed-knuckle Dana 44. They're pretty much junk compared with an open-knuckle Dana 44. Compared with the open-knuckle 44, the closed-knuckle axles have weaker shafts with 260-sized U-joints (same size as your Dana 30) and weaker axletubes. If you're set on sticking with a Ford Dana 44, then look for a '77-and-up open-knuckle axle that you can hack up. You'll probably want to look for one from a 3/4-ton pickup since the 1/2-ton axles will have big C-shaped radius-arm mounts that are a major pain to remove in the best case scenario. Worst case scenario, you'll get one of the years in which the axletubes were two-piece and held together with the radius-arm mounts. You can convert to the 1/2-ton, 5-on-51/2 bolt pattern with a hub and rotor swap on the 3/4-ton spindle.

If you go with the Ford axle and want to narrow it, scribe a line down the knuckle and axletube so you'll be able to reinstall the knuckle in the same orientation on the tube. Then, grind out the weld holding the knuckle to the tube and knock it off with a big darn hammer or sledge. Once the knuckle is off, use a chop saw to remove the amount of tube from the long side you need to get the wheelbase you're after. Then, tap the knuckle back on and weld it up. Once the knuckle is on you can measure for a custom inner shaft, or if you're careful with your cutting you may be able to use a Wagoneer shaft. Which brings me to my next suggestion:

I'd use an '80-and-up wide-track Wagoneer axle. It's not high-pinion like the Ford Dana 44, but it'll be a lot easier to find and you won't need to narrow it. Jeep went from a passenger-side drop front axle to a driver-side drop in '80, so the diff will match your stock NP231 transfer case. The wide-track axle will have a 64-inch WMS-WMS measurement, which is close to your stock axle's 601/2-inch width. You'll want a little more width for running bigger tires and for stability on the trail.

For the rear, I'd really suggest looking for a Ford 9-inch out of an early-'80s Ford pickup. Its width is nearly perfect for use with the wide-track Wagoneer Dana 44. Plus, you don't need to buy custom shafts. However, if you're dead set on using the Dana 60 and narrowing it, you'll need to ensure the tube ends are welded on straight. Currie Enterprises sells a straight bar for this task. It bolts to the carrier caps and runs the length of the axletubes. A couple of discs slide onto the bar at the tube ends and index the bearing-retainer ends squarely on the tubes for welding. It's the only way to ensure your axleshafts will have zero runout if you cut off and reweld the tube ends.

Wants To See Explorer Buildups
Reader: We see you guys work on pickups and Jeeps all the time. Maybe it's time you showed us a buildup of a second-generation Ford Explorer. They are very capable SUVs. I know everyone on the Explorer forum would love to read about an Explorer buildup. I know I would!
Ryan Minutello
McDonald, PA

Editor: Sounds great to us! Can we borrow yours?

Wants To Host A Maine Jeep Rally
Reader: I am looking to hold a vintage Jeep rally or Jeep get-together in my area. I own a lodge in Greenville Maine, at the base of Moose-head Lake, which would work out to be a great base camp after a day of wheeling in the backwoods of Western Maine. My family would welcome the extra business. Please keep me in mind for barbecues, swimming, fishing, and a great family adventure.
Kevin Adrien
Leisure Life Resort
Greenville, ME

Editor: We're passing along your request, along with your Web site address, to our readers. Who knows? If enough four-wheelin' folks in your area are interested, that Jeep rally you've been wishing for might happen a lot quicker than anything that we could organize from our offices 3,000 miles away from you. New England wheelers, take note-the welcome mat is out.

No Crossovers In FW For Him, Thanks
Reader: In the June '08 issue, you asked for opinions on whether Four Wheeler should include crossover vehicles. My opinion would be not to. I own one (a Ford Escape), but Four Wheeler isn't where I go to find out about them. Don't spread yourselves too thin trying to cover everything a little, and end up not covering anything as well. And don't waste space in the magazine covering things that aren't in your core. Along those same lines, I'd suggest not including Volkswagens, Porsches, and Lexuses (Lexi?). Granted they can be good off-roaders. But (in my opinion) they are so unlikely to be used that way by anyone, let alone by your readers, that they aren't worth the magazine space either. Keep focusing on real-world trail rigs, extreme trail rigs (we can all dream, right?), and real-world tow rigs. That's what I expect to see in your magazine, and that's why I subscribe.
Bob Wahlstedt
Roseville, MN

Editor: Oh dear, you're really not going to like our Patriot vs. Outback speed-bump comparo next month. Just kidding.

Thanks for the suggestion about crossovers. As far as the "unreal" production rigs go, well, we still think that new Lexi or VWs are worth a look every few years, if for no other reason than to check out the latest advancements in suspension and driveline technology that they offer. And besides, we're just happy to see manufacturers equipping their vehicles with a two-speed transfer case! Rest assured, though, there are no plans in the offing to build a Cayenne or a Touareg to conquer the Rubicon. On the other hand, if Mercedes wants to lend us a G-Wagen, hmmm...

No Clocks, Just Good Tech & Travel
Reader: I have had a subscription to your magazine for a year and I really love the articles and tech information you put into this publication each month. I have a '65 Jeep J-300 ton pickup that I have for a project vehicle. The tech articles have given me some great insight on what works and what does not. In April this year you sent me a great offer where I could get three years of your great magazine for $26. I jumped right on it.

Editor: I am thinking, "This is cool-three more years of some great articles and pictures of Jeeps and other four-wheeled vehicles in action." Then the next month I get another offer from another mag named Petersen's for $15. I can have a two-year subscription and a great wall clock (hmmm, no wall clock on the first offer). So I went down to the store to check out the competition. I found Petersen's, but I could not find any competition. So I know that the first choice was the best one.

Thanks for the great job on the mag.
Paul Rogers
Salt Lake City, UT

And Now For Something Completely...
Reader: I was wondering if you could offer me some advice. I have a '02 Toyota Solara convertible that I have done a lot of work on. When I got the car, I put in all-new leather and redid the canvas top. But now I'm looking to do something really interesting to the car. I want to lift the car up and put some off-road wheels on it, a pushbar on the front, and step bars on the side. I know this is a very odd request; I've made plenty of calls and sent tons of e-mails all over the U.S. and I've been met multiple times with the response "get a truck." But I want to have something completely different. Any recommendations on if something like this is possible and where it could be done? It seems to be very difficult since it is front-wheel drive, but I found a business out in Minnesota (that specializes in lifting Cadillacs), and they think they could do it by sending them my struts and modifying them with a 3-inch lift. Could something like that work?
St. Petersburg, FL

Editor: Ay yay yay. Sure, we imagine it could-repeat, could-work, but honestly, if you really want a lifted 4x4 Solara without having to spend a lot of time troubleshooting issues related to suspension, steering, and driveline geometry (and that's only for starters), we'd advise you find a complete running assembly (complete with wiring harness) from a donor Tacoma or 4Runner, and graft the Solara body and interior on top of it. And no, we have no idea how difficult this would be. Our guess would be, plenty.

We did, however, find a Camry Solara enthusiast site on the Internet ( that seems to be frequently trafficked by hundreds of your fellow Solara owners. Perhaps there's somebody there who has already tried this, or might know who you need to contact. But frankly, we're stumped to come up with an easy answer that doesn't involve a lot of custom fabrication.

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