Mix & Match Axle Build

Something Old, Something New

Harry WagnerPhotographer, Writer

There are a million axles out there, from insufficient options we wouldn’t wish on our enemies (we’re looking at you, Dana 35) to stuff that’s overkill for 99 percent of the vehicles on the trail (cough Rockwell cough). None, however, are as ubiquitous as the Dana 44, and for good reason. Dana 44s are available for front and rear applications in a variety of widths in five-, six-, and eight-lug bolt patterns to make a matching pair with everything from a Ford 9-inch to a Toyota axle, and they don’t cost an arm and a leg.

Even after deciding on a Dana 44 though, the gamut runs from grabbing an axle out of a junkyard and hoping for the best to calling up a supplier such as Currie Enterprises, Dana, Dynatrac, G2, or a host of others to have a brand-new bolt-in axle assembly delivered in a crate. We were looking for the middle ground, trying to determine where it makes sense to source used parts to save cash and what upgrades are essential to provide the strength necessary for our application.

We started with a used Dana 44 out of a 1970s F-150, a 64-inch-wide, high-pinion Dana 44 equipped with disc brakes and manual locking hubs. On half-price day at the local wrecking yard you can find axles like this for under $200, but that’s only the starting point. We worked with Aaron Lechner of Axleline to maximize our strength-to-dollar ratio using components from ARB, Motive Gear, Ten Factory, and Spicer. Our specific application consists of a 4,500-pound early Bronco with a mild V-8, automatic transmission, and 37-inch-tall tires.

“There are a lot more factors to making a reliable axle than just tire size,” Lechner says. “Horsepower, transmission, gearing, intended use, vehicle weight . . . even tire and wheel weight. These are all details that should be considered.”

Not to mention perhaps the most important factor: driver finesse. The end result in an axle that is strong and reliable yet still built on a budget.