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Old October 25th, 2006, 08:18
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CRASH CRASH is offline
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Front Dana 44 info

So, you’ve determined that for a variety of reasons the Dana 30 is not going to hold up for you. You need something bigger, manlier, beefier. Dana 44 is what I need, you say. Bravo. Splendid.

Now get ready for a reality check.

Shoving a Dana 44 under an XJ is not a bolt in affair. Far from it, actually. As I see it, you have two options:

1. Call Currie or Dynatrac, shell out $4,500 - $5,000 for a 44 built to factory specs.
2. Buy yourself a welder and learn to weld, ‘cause you’re going to need it.

As for the first option, a word of caution. Custom axle builders are often leery of modifying the stock bracketry to suit your particular needs. Which leads you into your first Catch-22. How do you know if you need modifications until you get your axle under the rig? Well, that’s why most folks go with option #2.

Physically, the Dana 44 is bigger than a 30 in every dimension. This leads to certain problems, which we’ll discuss later. There are also multiple Dana 44’s to choose from, as they’ve appeared in various forms on all domestic manufacturer’s vehicles from the mid 60’s to present. They are a fine upgrade axle for a Jeep that is going to run 36” and smaller tires, a built I-6 or mild V-8, and weighs less than 6,000 pounds. If you have an exceedingly light rig, like less than 3,500 pounds loaded for bear, you could get away with 37’s. More on limitations later.

OK, so, you’re still wanting to move forward on this swap. First, you’ll need to choose a housing as a foundation for your build. As I mentioned, the 44 is the most heavily used front axle by domestic manufacturers. It comes in standard and reverse spiral designs, with and without lock-out hubs, in 5 on 4.5”, 5 on 5.5”, 6 on 5.5” and 8 on 6.5” bolt patterns. Tube sixes range from 2.75” x .375” to 3” x .500”. For purposes of this article we’ll focus on the driver’s side third-member D-44’s. These include all Ford models from the mid 60’s to 1979, the full-size Jeep models from 1980 – 1984 (often referred to as “Waggy’s”), and 1994 to 2002 Dodge full size truck models.

Let’s begin with the Waggy’s. These axles are low pinion, i.e . have a standard cut gearset that enters the pumpkin below the centerline. They are 61.5” wide from the factory, have lock-out hubs, 12” disk brakes, and a 6 on 5.5” bolt pattern. The tubes are 2.75” x .375” wall, and they are set-up for leaf springs in a spring-under-axle configuration. These axles are popular swaps into late model jeeps because there is no need to narrow them, and they are easily changed to 5 on 5.5” pattern or left as six lug and paired with the OEM rear Waggy Dana 44.

In the late 1960’s Ford directed Dana to design a high pinion, reverse spiral 44 (see Dana 30 tech for info on reverse spiral axles). The first 3-4 years of production used a kingpin knuckle design that is obsolete, and difficult to play with. One could use an early housing and press aftermarket inner-knuckles on to fix this limitation. About 1970, Ford began utilizing a ball joint inner knuckle that is very common. The early to mid 70’s F-100 and F-150 Ford axles utilized drum brakes, and either a 5 bolt or 6 bolt spindle pattern.. This should not be confused with wheel bolt pattern. The spindle bolt pattern attaches the spindle to the outer knuckle. All F-100’s and F-150’s were a 5 on 5.5” wheel bolt pattern and they are about 67” wide, WMS to WMS. These early Ford units are desirable because Ford welded the suspension mounts (Radius Arm “C’s” as they are commonly known) to the axle tubes. Beginning in mid-to-late 1976, Ford began casting the suspension mounts as part of the inner knuckle assembly. These mounts take up a considerable amount of tube, and if you want to use any other than Ford’s suspension design, they will vex your efforts. In 77-79, the vaunted an highly prized (by Big Red, anyway) “Camper Special” F-150 was available. This is basically an F-250 axle with 5 on 5.5” outers which you are going to ditch anyway (more later). Don’t pay a premium for this unit unless you have the odd desire to run leaf springs, as the extra material in the leaf spring perch makes it difficult to mount link mounts. The same applies for the F-250’s of that vintage. In late 1979, Ford revamped there whole front suspension design, and introduced the highly undesirable, and quite frankly, gay, Twin Traction design.

The late model Dodge’s really should not be in consideration for a swap because they are lacking in two critical areas that are usually desirable to XJers. They have no provision to move the steering up to the top of the knuckle “high steer”, and they have no lockout hubs. They use a vacuum disconnect familiar to the early XJ’s. They also have little aftermarket support as far as axleshafts, etc.

OK, so you can see you’ve really got two choices if you want to run OEM XJ or custom suspension: The 70-76 Ford and the 80-86 Waggy. Hey, now we’re getting somewhere! If you want to go with the superior Ford RS design, you have to go through a couple of extra steps to get the width to about 60-62”. As far as I am concerned, you MUST cut the knuckles off of each axle anyway to set the proper caster. In the case of the Jeep, you can cut through the welds, turn the inner knuckles while they are on the housing, and re-weld. In the case of the Ford, if you want an axle that’s about XJ width, you can cut the inner knuckles totally off, cut through the weld, press out the stub, re-press onto the trimmed tube, and re-weld. When I say press, I don’t mean you need a hydraulic press, a large hammer will work, or you can rig up a press that uses threaded rod and washers.

How much do you turn? Well, this is going to depend on the amount of lift you have, but for purposes of this article, I’ll assume if you need a 44, you’ve got about 6” of lift to clear 35’s. Ideal handling at this height comes from about 4-7 degrees of castor. I’m very happy with 5 degrees. With the axle on a stand, you can measure the caster by putting an angle finder on the bottom flat of the inner knuckle where the ball joint presses in. If you set the caster here to 6 degrees, the pinion should be pointed up 13 degrees from horizontal (for an RS Ford). 2-3 degrees more if you’re at 8 inches of lift. Probably 4-5 degrees more if you've got a Waggy (Brett, chime in here). These are ballpark, but will get you pretty darned close. Remember, it’s not as critical because you’re going to have lock-out hubs, so your front DS won’t be spinning while going down the road. I can run mine, however, at 65 mph in 4 wheel drive with no vibes.

1978-1979 BRONCO (Length 18.91 in.; 30 Spline;Driver Side; ) 39143

1978-1979 BRONCO (Length 33.91 in.; 30 Spline;Passenger Side; ) 39144

1972-1977 BRONCO (Length 18.31 in.; 30 Spline;Driver Side; ) 38809

1972-1977 BRONCO (Length 27.94 in.; 30 Spline;Passenger Side; ) 38810

1968-1979 F-100 PICKUP (Length 18.91 in.; 30 Spline;Driver Side; ) 39143

1968-1979 F-100 PICKUP (Length 33.91 in.; 30 Spline;Passenger Side; ) 39144

1975-1979 F-150 PICKUP (Length 18.91 in.; 30 Spline;Driver Side; ) 39143

1975-1979 F-150 PICKUP (Length 33.91 in.; 30 Spline;Passenger Side; ) 39144

1980-1984 WAGONEER (Length 15.8 in.; 30 Spline;Passenger Side; ) 39459

1980-1984 WAGONEER (Length 32.12 in.; 30 Spline;Driver Side; ) 39461

1974-1979 WAGONEER Disc/Drum;Drum/Drum (Length 33.19 in.; 30 Spline;Driver Side; ) 39339

1974-1979 WAGONEER Disc/Drum;Drum/Drum (Length 14.69 in.; 30 Spline;Passenger Side; ) 38808

OK, so how about width. The above charts are excerpted from the Warn HD front axle catalogue (last number is the part number). I firmly believe that the 80-84 Waggy width is absolutely perfect for an XJ. Each shaft is the correct width to put the pumpkin far enough away from the track bar bracket, but not too close to the header. There is enough room on the driver’s side for the coil bucket and a slightly larger (i.e. Skyjacker) coil. I used the shorter early Waggy shaft on my short side and have a slight problem fitting the coil between the center-section casting and the inner knuckle. The shafts are off-the-shelf parts at Warn and Superior, so you can just order the part without custom machine work. To narrow a Ford 44 to the correct width, you’ll need to measure the length of a Waggy shaft from the end of the splines to the beginning of the yoke area. Then, with a carrier in the housing, take a tape measure and insert through the tube until the end slips over the female splines. Trim the tube so that the yoke collar has about 1/8” between the end of the tube and you have about 1/8” of travel before the splined end of the shaft hits the crosspin in the diff. This allows for some movement during turns. What ever axle shafts you choose, an easy way to calculate the OAL width of the finished assembly is to add the two shaft lengths together and add 13.6”.

A special note here for users who want to keep the Ford radius arm design. Many people have had success with this design, and it’s simple and cheap. To gain the advantages of the RS design, many people have narrowed the late model RS housing to match the width of the early Bronco shafts. This puts you at 60.5” wide, but the pumpkin gets awfully close to the header. It is quite easy to narrow the cast-in radius arm design axles of the late 70’s. Just cut the axle at the tube-casting juncture, get all the weld off, an press the remaining stub out. Trim the axle to your desired width, turn the knuckles appropriately, and weld the casting back on. I’ve done several this way, but used a custom shaft on the passenger side to give the owners a bit more width.

When welding the inner knuckles back on, use some care. You want to make sure that both are at the same caster angle and that they are square to the tube. A framing square and level comes in handy for this. The inner knuckles are forgings, so they are fairly easy to weld to, if it’s cold outside, pre-heat the tube and the forging with a propane torch to avoid thermal shock issues. Pre-heat is a nice extra step anyway to get any residual oil out of the metal’s pores, thus avoiding contamination.

Right, now we’ve got a good foundation. This is the point where you have to decide what you are doing about wheel bolt pattern and steering. If you want to keep regular old steering, and a 5 on 5.5” pattern, just throw any Ford outer assembly from 1976-1979 on. If you want to go to a high steer style, you need to do some searching for parts. The good news is that the aftermarket has really stepped up in recent years and you can get some hell-for-stout outer knuckles and high steer arms. Part’s Mike and Crane High Clearance both have heavy duty castings that are drilled and tapped for high steer arm studs. Instead of repeating all this steering stuff here, I’ll direct you to Bill Ansel’s excellent steering page:

For 5 on 5.5”, basically you want to use Chevy caliper brackets and calipers, Ford hub and rotor (cheap!) and an early Chevy small bearing spindle (not cheap!).

Ultimate 44.

Let’s get down to assembling parts for the ultimate 44. Basically, I’m describing the axle Jes and I just built for him, he’s got a thread here:

I’d start with a Ford RS housing, narrowed to late model Waggy width. I’d use Moog HD ball joints, Warn or Superior shafts, Crane or Parts Mike outer knuckles, OTT or Parts Mike high steer arms, an ARB or Ox Locker and Warn hubs. CTM’s or OX’s would be my joint of choice, though Longfields and Jantz’z are more budget friendly. Built this way, a 44 is good for 36” tires, 37’s if you have a light (sub-3500lb) vehicle. The weak link seems to be either the stub shaft or the hub, as they seem to break interchangeably.

With the advent of new parts, an even better 44 is now available. You can now run an ARB or OX with 33 or 35 spline inner axles. If you left the 19 spline outers you wouldn’t be gaining anything. But, with a Warn spindle designed for 5 on5.5” Dana 30 application, you could run a 30 spline outer. I think the hub would then definitely be the weak link, but you could always run a Warn 30 spline drive flange for the ultimate in strength. I think this setup could stand up to 37s.


We could around and around on what work and what doesn’t. I love the URF “Disappearing 3 link”; radius arms are cheap and bulletproof but have some problems with anti-dive geometry and unloading on steep climbs; the stock junk works, I guess, but tends to eat bushings, and the control angles are horrible. My thought on this is that if you are going to all the trouble of building a 44, why not build a cool suspension to go with it? I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but even a well executed leaf spring design with a good spring pack and a traction bar would be better than the stock stuff. Be creative.

One word of caution, if you are going to need a mount up above the casting, don’t weld directly to it. Build an axle bridge similar to RE’s. The chances of cracking the casting are very high even if you know what you are doing with a welder. Much safer to just buy the RE bridge if you don’t have the facilities to make one.

Another thing. If you are going to use high steer arm, they tend to be a bit shorter than OEM XJ knuckle steering arms, so if you put your coil bucket in the OEM position, the tie rod will touch the spring on full lock turning. Do yourself a favor and move the coil back at least an inch. This helps straighten out the coil anyway, so no reason not to do it.

Lincoln suggested that I detail some of the costs of an OEM build by Currie, so here is his contribution:

Having Currie build one with XJ/TJ style knuckles and reuse the stock outer knuckles and brakes.

Housing $600
Brackets $450
D30 knuckles $0
Warn inner Shafts $360
Warn 5.5 hub kit $1,159
Rotors $150
CTM's $400
ARB $750
Gears $140
Gear Setup $200
Total $4,209

Having currie build the housing and using parts Mike knuckles:
Housing $550
Brackets $450
Parts Mike knuckles w/ arms $700
Alloy Shafts $600
Hubs/Rotors $130
CTM's $400
Spindles $150
Spindle kit $25
Caliper Brackets $80
Calipers '84 Waggy $80
Warn Lockouts $90
Wheel Bearings (including lock nuts) $75
Ball Joints $90
ARB $750
Gears $140
Gear Setup $200
Total $4,510

Last edited by CRASH; November 2nd, 2006 at 10:14.

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