Part 11: Strengthening The Right Way
With a focus on axles and drivelines in this month's issue, we thought we would show you a few upgrades we made to the 'Con Artist in order to beef it up for our recent outing on the Rubicon trail.
First up on our list was a new set of driveshafts to replace the beat-up ones we have been running with for the past year. We have had some annoying vibration at around 55 mph that would disappear and reappear, only to get progressively worse around 70 mph, or in other words-when we were on the freeway. As it turns out, tapping rocks with your driveshafts also tends to cause issues with balance and vibration. Who knew?
Enter the experts at Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts. Tom Wood has been offering up his shafts for the 'Con Artist for some time now, and we finally got around to taking him up on it. He personally made promises of the smoothest-running, highest-quality shafts we've tested, so we anxiously awaited the chance to test out his claims and rid ourselves of unwanted vibration.
Anticipating a future engine swap or jump in tire size, Tom sent us his super-sized 1350 rear shaft. We chose the standard, yet strong, 1310 shaft for the front.
Instead of using the generally accepted adapter-flange method (where a conventional yoke is welded to a round, flat plate with holes drilled in it, before being bolted to the stock pinion flange), which Tom considers weak if not done correctly, Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts uses a flange machined from solid billet steel that accepts standard off-the-shelf mating flanges. This also reduces the overall length of the flange assembly, limiting overhung load by keeping the U-joint closer to the pinion bearing. This isn't the cheapest way to make a driveline, but Tom Wood considers it the best way to go for a premium product, and after experiencing the shafts in the vehicle, we would have to agree.
Tom has some great pictures and technical information on his website that is worth a read if you are interested in upgrading the shafts on your 4x4.
We also decided to try out ARB's distinctive new nodular-iron differential covers and Heavy Duty Air Line (HDAL) for our rear Air Locker. The ARB diff covers not only draw attention to the underside of your Jeep with the bright red powdercoat finish, but are also some of the lowest-profile diff covers on the market, ensuring there are no interference issues with bigger aftermarket track bars. The ARB diff covers also include high-power neodymium magnets in both the drain plug and dipstick, a computer-optimized crossbrace design for increased strength and rigidity while providing extra carrier bearing support, and a unique dipstick/filler-cap design that allows the oil level to be adjusted for custom high driveline angles.
Ever since we installed the rear Air Locker in the back of Project 'Con Artist, we worried about the way the blue nylon air line was touching the metallic heat shield around the muffler. We never did have a problem, but to give us the peace of mind we were after, we upgraded the air line to ARB's HDAL. The HDAL kit replaces the section of nylon air hose between the chassis and differential that might be vulnerable to breakage with a high-pressure pneumatic hose covered with a durable elastomer and textile reinforcement.
Lastly, while we were at Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, for this install, we decided to add the Off Road Evolution C2 Axle Gusset kit and Evo Front Control Arm Skids. The weld-on 3/16-inch laser-cut C2 brackets reinforce the knuckles at the axletubes and the lower control-arm bracket skids prevent the lower control-arm brackets from folding in under abusive rockcrawling situations.