Over the years there has been much written about shortening axle housings, but it has been rare to ever see anything written by a shade tree mechanic (or is that a Shade Tree Howler Monkey?). No one has ever written a guide to help you do it yourself (at least not that I know of). Because of this I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the job myself. Among the rumors I had heard were that I would need a 50 ton press to get the old tubing out of the knuckle, I would never get the geometry right, and the old standard of “Do you really think you can do something yourself that shops need ten of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to do?”. Here’s what I did and how I did it.
This write up will cover the preparation of a Dana 44 out of an 87 XJ. The second and third parts will describe the modifications and the subsequent installation of that axle into a 97 XJ. The axle received new alloy shafts and a disc brake conversion. It was not regeared nor locked (both will come at later dates). There’s a lot that has been “glossed over” in this write up.
There are a few candidates for a Dana 44 swap into a YJ. I built my axles basically from the ground up from salvaged axles and new wear parts – new ball joints, u-joints, bearings, R&P, lockers, brakes, etc. Total cost was around $2700 for completely rebuilt front and rear Dana 44s with 4.88s and ARBs.
Despite setting the front CV shaft angles properly, with the new Detroit Locker up front, the vibrations were so bad that both my mirrors vibrated loose and fell off, smashing to pieces while I was driving. Not good! Also, with the pinion rotated up, I had almost zero caster, and this made the steering worse. Imagine steep control arm angles, steep steering linkage angles, a full time locker, zero castor, not to mention the worn tie rod ends, and 2 badly worn ball joints!! Something had to be done.
Frame cracks around a Chevy’s steering box. Closed-knuckle front-axle assemblies on early-’70s Fords. Model 20 axles on Jeeps. Flaws. Every vehicle has at least one weakness, while others have quite a few. Some problems are easily fixed and don’t cost an arm and a leg, but unfortunately most aren’t easily remedied and require a sizable investment in order to go away.