1-ton Swapping: Building The Ultimate Junkyard Axles

    1-Ton Swapping

    Ali MansourPhotographer, Writer

    When it comes to building a trail rig, pairing the right axles to the vehicle is incredibly important. While tire size is generally the first thing to come to mind when matching the right axle assembly to a given vehicle, there’s quite a bit more to think about. Axle width, available aftermarket parts, vehicle weight, and, of course, your powerplant are all major parts of the equation. With plenty of aftermarket axle manufacturers offering bolt-in heavy-duty axle assemblies these days, upgrading your 4x4 has never been easier.

    However, if your vehicle doesn’t have great aftermarket support, or you don’t have the coin to go all-in on a fresh set of axles, then you’ll likely find yourself on the same parts journey we embarked on. With plans of running 40-inch-tall tires, and not looking to compromise on strength, we sought out two of the most coveted used axles on the market—a high-pinion Dana 60 front and a GM 14-bolt rear. Pound for pound, both are exceptionally strong and can handle big tires and serious horsepower with very little upgrades. Even better? If you’re a savvy searcher, you can pick up both for less than a grand.

    Part of the attraction of the 14-bolt is the fact that it’s a commonly used GM rear axle that’s been around since 1973. Given that most 14-bolts are full-float axles, it removes the load from the axleshafts and transfers it to the hub. This allows for a stronger axleshaft and increased load-carrying capacity compared to a semi-float axle. Add that to the fact that the 10.5-inch ring gear is extraordinarily strong, and you have yourself an axle that can easily handle up to 44-inch-tall tires in stock form. A high-pinion Dana 60, however, is a bit tougher to find.

    Unlike the 14-bolt, there are many variants of the Dana 60. We ultimately decided to narrow our search to the Dana 60 found under the front of ’99-to-’04 Ford Super Duty trucks. These high-pinion axles have excellent aftermarket support, the required driver-side drop for our project, and are much easier to find when compared to the older kingpin-era high-pinion Dana 60s. However, it’s not without faults and challenges.

    Once we finally had our axles, we dragged them to the off-road experts at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina. It would be here where we would completely dismantle and rebuild both axle assemblies. Follow along as we cover the pros and cons of both of these junkyard 1-tons and transform them into a formidable axle set.

    An S-10?

    If you’re curious where these junkyard jewels will end up, then wonder no more. Pictured here is maybe one of the most underrated build platforms of its time. It’s an ’01 Chevy S-10 4x4. While most S-10 platforms are a dime a dozen, the four-door versions are slightly tougher to find. This one is fit with one of the General’s most reliable engines—the 4.3L V-6, which is backed by a 4L60E. We love the body-on-frame construction and crazy cheap replacement parts; in many cases, its cost is far less than a used Tacoma Double Cab!

    The idea here is to build a heavy-duty trail rig that we can easily tote our family along in. We’ll be the first to admit that these trucks don’t have great aftermarket support. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt parts made for other pickups for this one. Next up on the docket—suspension.