How to Swap a Dana 60 in a 1970s-1980s square-body GM 4x4
Is this the easiest axle swap ever?
While others in the off-road world must pay a hefty price to have a custom Dana 60 axle built for the front of their 4x4, your truck of choice has a Dana 60 axle that was designed and built in mass quantities to bolt in. That's because from 1977 to 1991 GM offered this prize frontend in all of its 1-ton trucks. And while you may not be interested in a 1-ton crew cab or dually for a trail vehicle, their front axles make an excellent upgrade for your 1/2-or 3/4-ton 1973-1991 GM truck.
The cheapest place to find a Dana 60 is to snag one from a rusted-out snowplow truck from an area that had a lot of four-wheel-drive 1-tons. To us that means the Northeast, the Midwest, or anywhere it snows, and stuff rusts. If you're not pulling the axle yourself, make sure it is from a GM truck and not a Ford or Dodge. Look for Dana 60s with a passenger-side differential, open knuckles, and a 32-inch spring perch to spring perch centerline distance. As long as the housing is straight and the knuckles are in good shape, the rest of the parts are readily available and easily upgraded.
Speaking of parts, we get our Dana 60 components like kingpin rebuild kits, dually-to-single-wheel hub conversions, 35-spline stub shafts, and master rebuild kits from Offroad Design. From time to time, ORD even has a few core Dana 60s available in stock. These guys know solid-axle GM trucks and what it takes to make them hold up off road, so we brought our 1982 Chevy Blazer to their shop in Colorado and had them show just how easy it is to upgrade a K5 Blazer to a GM Dana 60.
The reason this swap is so easy is because all GM solid-axle trucks share the same front suspension. That makes a GM-style Dana 60 axle about as close to a bolt-in as it gets. It is heavier, about 150 pounds more than your 10-bolt or Dana 44, but the strength advantage is worth it. To swing the nuke-proof Dana under your truck, use an engine hoist, three floor jacks, or cheat and get a forklift like the guys at Offroad Design. The axle should be lifted up to the leaf springs until it indexes with the center pins before you start the U-bolts into the spring plates.
You'll need to get the spring plates from a 1-ton truck (background) to work with 3.25-inch-diameter tubes on the Dana 60. If you're buying a used axle, see if the plates are also for sale. We suppose you could slot the holes in your set of 1/2- or 3/4-ton plates (foreground), but it's easier to just get the correct parts. Regardless of which way you go, you'll need to get three new U-bolts and two Grade 8 bolts to secure the axle to the springs.
Getting the steering to hook up can be as simple as connecting your stock drag link to the Dana 60's steering arm. Here, a dropped pitman arm is being used to correct the drag link angle to make it parallel to the ground even with 4-inch-lift springs. The Dana 60 uses its own unique tie rod that doesn't interchange with the 1/2- or 3/4-ton versions. Which means if your axle didn't come with the tie rod, you'll need to buy a new one from your local parts store or Offroad Design.