44 FOR LIFE
The ever-transpiring game of off-road “catch up” has us strapping on bigger tires, bolting on heavier armor, applying more power and upgrading driveline components to our rigs in order to keep up with the crowds in the woods with turn key trail slayers and homebrewed monsters alike.
As such, the “chicken or egg” quandary often rears its ugly head. Heavy armor? Yes, have plenty of that, as the scales tell no lies. Power? Ya, a nitrous huffing, fuel injected leviathan that makes enough torque to twist a Prius like tinfoil. Tires? 150 lbs a corner of 37” Pitbull Rockers and BAD Beadlocks are at the ready. Axles? Well, between the weight, power, tires and gearing… we can snap rear Dana 44 shafts at will, and the well of junkyard spares were gobbled up long ago. It’s time to fix that.
If the first thought you had was “time to swap in one ton axles!” we’re going to disappoint you greatly, but with good reason. A Scout Dana 44 ended up in the rear end of our trail steed with a width only a few inches narrower then our front axle, and the same 5 on 5.5 bolt pattern. At a narrow ”ish” 58” wide from wheel mounting surface to wheel mounting surface, it was perfect for fitting through tight trails while maintaining enough ground clearance. We really didn’t want to change these dimensions much.
After a few brown pop infused brainstorming sessions, we dreamed up a high strength, 4.10 geared, disc brake equipped Dana 44 with a width of around 60”, and a 5 on 5.5 bolt pattern. Now it was time for action, but we’re married and don’t have a big enough allowance, so we’re going to have to pick up pieces one at time. For the base of our axle foundation, we scooped another rear Scout Dana 44, after all, we know the axle design works for us, and we
just need to spruce it up.
It may seem odd to start with a bearing package, but Jantz Engineering just south of the border is renowned for innovative ways of keeping a Dana axle together. Namely, their K4 installation kit which allows for a much larger Jeep JK Dana 44 ring and pinion to be placed in our old school Dana 44 housing, for a claimed strength increase of 44%. Jantz kits require specific ring gear carriers, but the installation bearing kits are complete and use only top shelf brands such as Koyo, NTN, SKF and Timken.
A 35 spline ARB Air Locker was ordered next in a 3.73 and down (numerically) carrier size (PN RD147). A selectable locker such as the ARB takes wheeling trips to the “Epic” plateau by locking both left and right axle shafts together for maximum traction at the flick of a button and the slight hiss of air. We have heard stories of leaking gaskets and air seals, but in our experience, avoiding this headache involves starting with a straight housing, keeping it that way, and proper installation techniques. To date, we have had exactly “zero” issues with any of our ARB installations.
To match the 35-spline locker, we need 35 spline shafts… there are “Scout” specific 35 spline shafts, but this can end up costing more then our aforementioned allowance allows. Plan ‘B’ was to scoop later model (think Jeep TJ and XJ) Dana 44 cut to length, 35-spline Chromoly Yukon shafts from Randy’s Ring and Pinion (PN YA WD44-35-32.0). The beaucoup beefier 4340 alloy shafts would ensure we would have to try pretty hard to snap them, and the additional beef from jumping from 30 to 35 splines will make it a true feat of utter stupidity if we do.
The Scout Dana 44 housing outer bearing pockets use standard “set 10” bearings, which work for our new 35 spline shafts, BUT the distance between the bearing and the axle flange is about 1.25” longer with the new TJ/XJ style axle shafts. This little SNAFU meant we needed a solution for the brakes. A trip to the local junkyard yielded a set of late 90’s Nissan Maxima calipers with a built-in emergency brake. A set of Suzuki Samurai front rotors fit like a glove with some CAD (Cardboard Aided Design) mounting brackets to match. The bracket sets were cut at a local shop out of 3/8 steel plate. Some drilling, tapping and coat of paint allowed the brackets and calipers to bolt to the factory outer housing and hold the calipers securely.
Also, from Randy’s Ring and Pinion we ordered a set of 4.10 axle gears (PN YG D44JK-411RUB) for a Jeep JK as described in the Jantz instructions. The pinion shaft OD of the JK gearset is on par with its big brother the Dana 60, and the ring gear diameter much larger and closer in strength to a Dana 50, and we were happy to get this kind of strength upgrade. The ring gear bolts are also stepped up a size, so be warned, you may have to drill out your locker/carrier mounting bolt holes to fit.
With the internals sorted, we needed to turn our attention to mounting the axle and keeping it safe. TMR customs in Newmarket, Ontario had everything we needed for our metal fix. Their 2.5” U-bolt eliminator kit (PN 1363) allows for a 2” stretch and negates our U-bolt hanging under the axle, which can catch on the trail in our “Spring Under Axle” configuration.
We also sourced out a super beefy differential cover (PN 1188) from TMR. In the past, we have built these in our shop but couldn’t achieve the same quality as TMR and ended up chasing leaks for far too long. TMR cuts, bends and welds the 3/8” thick covers before machining the mounting surface perfectly flat. The mounting holes are cut flat and new stainless hardware is supplied. All made in Canada!
Our last, and most nerve-racking piece to pick up was a complete axle truss, again from TMR. While generic brackets for Dana 44’s are available, we wanted all the beef we could get. Since Dana 44 housings come in many different shapes and configurations, we selected a JK specific Dana 44 truss (PN 1293) and modified it slightly to fit our Scout unit. We took our time and welded the brackets on slowly so as to not warp the housing. Look for an upcoming issue in 4WDrive where we take a closer look at the process.
End of the day thought… Could you build a stronger axle for less money? Yes, most certainly but you will have to make trade offs. Without the ability to finance a crate axle, we had to build ours piece by piece as money and time would allow. In the end, we landed on the perfect unit for our needs. One that will get us further down the trail without hearing the sound of shrapnel flying behind the differential cover. Now onto how it all went together…
Jantz Engineering – www.jantz4x4.com
TMR Customs www.tmrcustoms.com
ARB – arbusa.com
Yukon Gear and Axle www.yukongear.com
Randy’s Ring and Pinion www.ringpinion.com