Building our 1-ton axles.
If you've been paying attention, you know we're building a 1975 1/2-ton Chevy to tackle the 2005 Ultimate Adventure. In year's past we've built some impressive late-model rigs to take on our annual off-road road trip. But rather than try to outdo last year's trick Tacoma, we wanted to find a wreck we could transform into a machine that will drive across the nation, wheel, and make it back in mostly one piece.
This month we're focusing on the most abused parts of any 4x4, the axles. From experience we know that this is one place you don't want to skimp on when you're building for extreme use. We knew there was no way the original Dana 44 and 12-bolt were going to survive our trip with 39-inch tires, lockers, and 5.13 gears. We needed 1-ton axles. Sure, we could have tracked down a Dana 60 front out of a '77-'91 GM 1-ton for around $1,500. But we didn't, and here's why: The newest GM 60 we could hope to find is going to be at least 14 years old. It'll only come with a low-pinion centersection. And assuming it's not bent or has spun a pinion bearing, it'll still need to be completely rebuilt and regeared for another $2,000. Even after we built it up with all the trick parts we ended up using, it still wouldn't be wide enough to run the bead-lock wheels we had planned. So we knew a custom axle was in the cards.
Since the frontend was going to be an all-new piece, we wanted to save some money on the rearend and run a 14-bolt. Plus it would give us a chance to try the new 14-bolt ARB Air Locker. To match the front axle width we had planned, we needed the widest 14-bolt axle we could find. Ideally we would have used a '91-and-up dualie axle (72 inches) but we had to settle for a 69-inch-wide version from a '78 GMC 1-ton van. We shipped a core axle we pulled out of the local boneyard over to the guys at Off Road Unlimited and stood back as they worked their magic.