Last month, we took a break from wrenching on our once derelict ’95 Jeep Wrangler to fulfill other editorial obligations, but we are now back to the grind on our low-budget, big Jeep. When we last left off (“The Rescued Wrangler,” July ’13), we had finished installing our Poison Spyder Customs body armor and Ouverson Engineering & Machine pinion brakes. This month, we’re turning our attention to some of the small details on our 2½-ton Rockwell axles and making headway on the custom suspension.
From the beginning, our goal has been to build a vehicle that wasn’t over-the-top budget-wise, and could be just at home on a rocky trail or local mud pit. We are all for building purpose-built rigs, but sometimes it’s OK to have a rig that is good at most types of wheeling, even if that means it doesn’t necessarily excel in one specific arena. Since we purchased the YJ equipped with the Rockwell axles and mocked-in linked rear suspension, part of the foundation of our do-all rig was already in place.
We are doing our best to work with what we already have and upgrading the parts that we feel we absolutely need. With the Jeep resting on jackstands at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina, we are making great strides alongside the wrench masters at the build shop. Be sure to check back next month as we set our sights on finishing out the suspension and test fitting the Jeep’s new shoes.
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To offer perspective on just how massive the 1.62-inch, 16-spline 2 1/2-ton Rockwell axleshaft is, we placed one alongside a stock Dana 30 ’shaft. There are three common types of Rockwell axleshafts, the Bendix, Rezepa, and U-joint (shown). The U-joint-style cup diameter is an impressive 15⁄8-inch and is most commonly found in later model Deuce-and-a-Half trucks. The Bendix and Rezepa ’shafts are said to be nearly as strong (stronger according to some literature) than the U-joints ’shafts, but given that the early ’shafts cannot be rebuilt once broken, give the U-joints the upper hand.
All 2 1/2-ton Rockwell steering axles are of the kingpin variety. While our front axle was clearly decades old, the stock kingpin caps and sleeves were in great shape. The driver-side Rockwell knuckle is fitted with studs and a steering arm from the factory. Since we have different plans for the steering, we opted to swap out all of the stock steering-knuckle hardware for Grade 8 bolts.
The full-float Rockwell hubs are interchangeable between steering and non-steering axles. Even better is the fact that the hubs can easily be flipped in or out, which opens up your width, wheel, and brake options greatly. We opted to flip our hubs in to work with our custom wheels and width goals. Since we are running Ouverson pinion brakes, the hub position doesn’t matter for our brakes, but for those looking to run a wheel-mounted brake kit, you will probably need the hubs flipped out. To secure the dual-nut hubs, we used a 3-inch hub tool, but a hammer and chisel can get the job done as well.
From the factory, the 2 1/2-ton front knuckles use studs and nuts to secure the spindle. Since we are running our hubs flipped in, we swapped out the studs for Grade 8 bolts. Doing so required us to clearance the wheel studs so that the heads would clear the spindle mounting bolts.
There are actually a few ways to solve this problem, but this is likely the easiest/cheapest. This isn’t something we would suggest doing on a normal, daily-driven rig, but for our trail toy, it is fine.
Speaking of wheel studs, ours were mostly MIA when we purchased the Jeep. Stock Deuce-and-a-Half trucks have left-hand-thread studs on the driver side of the vehicle and right-hand thread on the passenger side. To simplify our rig, we ordered 24 right-hand studs and lug nuts from Red River Parts & Equipment. Installing the new studs only takes a few swings of a hammer.
In our experience with 2 1/2-ton Rockwell axles, you rarely have to replace many bearings, but plan on swapping out a few seals and the front axle boots. Sourcing replacement parts isn’t as easy as driving to your local hardware store, but there are companies that offer new, in-the-box parts for the 2 1/2-ton axles. We sourced all of our axle replacement and service parts from Red River Parts & Equipment in Texarkana, Texas. Red River is a military surplus company that houses everything from complete military vehicles and trailers to axles, engines, and small hard to find parts.
We opted to fabricate most of our suspension to better fit the needs of the rig. Since much of the infrastructure was already in place on the rear of the rig when we purchased the vehicle, we set off to finish it first. Using a wet-saw, we measured the length for our new lowers and cut the 2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing to length.
To provide our Johnny Joints a place to thread in to, we picked up a set of left and right hand weld-in inserts from Currie Enterprises. Placing the link on a set of jackstands makes for an easy welding jig and allowed us to quickly burn the ends in place with our MIG welder.
For the rear lowers we are running forged-steel 2.5-inch Johnny Joints on both ends. The rebuildable flex joints come fully assembled and are designed to offer 30 degrees of unrestricted movement. The sturdy construction and quality internals have made the Johnny Joint the standard in flex joints. The fact that the joints are also serviceable via the integrated grease fitting on the body means they will hold up longer in the muddy southeast wheeling conditions where our rig will live. For ease of link adjustability, we opted for left and right hand joints.
After prepping the frame with a grinder and flap disc, we welded the EVO Manufacturing universal lower link brackets in place. We burned in EVO’s laser-cut 3⁄16-inch steel brackets just behind the stock bellypan on the Jeep. The EVO mounts are designed to use a 9⁄16-inch bolt, and they accept the Johnny Joints we are using perfectly. Keeping the link mount separate from the bellypan makes the suspension and undercarriage more easily serviceable.
The rear lower links are a little over 32 inches long and have plenty of room for adjustment. The lowers tie into the Ballistic Fabrication Rockwell-specific rear link and coil bucket combo mount nicely. We are not looking for gobs of suspension travel out of the Jeep, so the overall link length and mounting position should work great. As soon as we get a set of coil springs in the rear, we will have a better idea of the exact link degrees and ride-height position.
The upper links and Ballistic third-member mount were in relatively good shape when we purchased the Jeep, so we saved a little time and money and kept them in place. This four-link design sports a triangulated set of upper links. The triangulation centralizes the axle and prevents us from having to run a track bar. With the extremely tall third member already taking up a fair amount of space under the Jeep, we will need to be inventive when it comes to controlling the suspensions movement. We’ll have more suspension fine tuning in next month’s installment.