Part 2: Front Axle Upgrade
Most readers are all hot and bothered over the fact that we finally broke our '99 XJ out of mothballs and are giving it a much-needed refurbishment. Last month we showed you the installation of the new Poly Performance three-link front suspension and promised to wrap it all up in this issue with some new front coils and upgraded rear spring perches. Well, we got a little sidetracked and instead decided to bring you the buildup of our new front axle. We'll put the wraps on the suspension next issue-we promise!
Our stock front axle has been bent since the first time we took Project JR out prerunning. It took only a couple good mogul hits to put a smile in our Jeep's Dana 30. Since that day years ago, we've been hoping to install a heavy-duty front axle that can take some punishment. However, we naturally had to toss in a few curveballs. Anybody with a credit card can order up a custom front axle built to their specs, but since we have a broader duty to showcase as many options as possible to our readers, we took a rather circuitous route to a better front axle.
To start things off, we got our hands on a pair of Reid Racing's stellar new Dana 30/Rubicon Dana 44 conversion knuckles that allow the use of six-bolt Dana 44 spindles, backing plates, hubs, and rotors on your YJ/TJ/XJ/WJ/ZJ/MJ's Dana 30 or Dana 44. This means that you can rummage the junkyard for most of the parts to cheaply and easily run 5x5.5, 6x5.5, or even 8x6.5 bolt patterns. So there's curveball number one: finding a way to run junkyard Dana 44 outers and their bigger and better brakes on your D30/D44.
Curveball number two was finding a way of retaining the stock Dana 30/Dana 44 outers but upgrading your housing and inner shafts. After all, there are lots of guys who dropped a lot of money on 5x4.5 beadlock wheels and alloy stub shafts for their factory axles, but want more housing, ring and pinion, and inner axleshaft strength. To that end, we tapped Currie Enterprises and ordered a custom F9 fabricated 9-inch housing and inner shafts complete with a Currie High Pinion 9-inch centersection and Currie's heavy-duty brackets. Had we been running our stock outers, it would have been a short matter of installing our knuckles and stub shafts to the new Currie parts and bolting the new axle under the Jeep.
Curveball number three was finding a way to build this axle without hitting the junkyard-'cause it's always a crap shoot as to whether or not you'll stumble onto the parts you really need. To save a lot of coin over our local auto parts stores, we logged onto RockAuto's website and ordered as much of the stuff as we could. Naturally, we ordered a bit too much of certain items and not enough of some others, so we'll list every nut and bolt we actually used and where we got it from in the sidebar "Build Sheet." RockAuto is a slam-dunk for common replacement parts like bearings, hubs, rotors, and calipers, but the company doesn't carry the less common stuff like the backing plates, stub shafts, and spindles. Not to worry, because Parts Mike manufactures some extremely well-built, heavy-duty backing plates that accept the stock Chevy caliper. And Superior Axle & Gear is always our go-to for the best U-jointed alloy shafts on the planet and a good supply of genuine Dana Spicer product.
So follow along as we assemble our new front axle at home-and be sure to check back in the next issue for the suspension finish and to see the axle get slung under our Jeep's Unitbody.