Jeep Wrangler YJ Rear Axle Swap - Reverse-Cut Dana 60
The ultimate axle upgrade for Jeep vehicles Short Cuts
by: Ron Hollatz - 3/2001

sleeve in freezer
The frozen sleeve waiting to be installed.

Photo by Author

pounding the extension on
Tom Steiger takes a turn with the pounding stick.

Photo by Author

Alignment jig
Axle housing with the jig installed.

Photo by Author

billet axle end
Billet housing ends from Dutchman Motorsports.

Photo by Author

welding the housing
Jim Hoeft welding up the housing.

Photo by Author

4x4 Unlimited brakes
4x4 Unlimited's bolt on disc brakes.

Photo by Author

While planning the latest round of upgrades on Project Money Pit, I decided I was going to replace my sagging 4" suspension lift with a spring-over suspension. For most people this is pretty straight forward, but my 700R4 conversion added some complexity to the project. For a normal spring-under suspension, my short rear driveline was no problem. Add some Revolver Shackles and 6+ inches of lift, and the pinion angle was getting really steep. The best solution was to go with a high pinion reverse-cut axle in the rear.

Finding the right axle

I was already putting a reverse-cut Dana 44 from a 78 Ford F-150 into the front of my YJ, so I might as well change the rear axle as well. A reverse-cut axle is stronger than a standard-cut in the front of the vehicle, but in the rear the rotation of the gears makes the reverse-cut Dana 44 less desirable. To make up for the difference, the logical choice is to go with a reverse-cut Dana 60 in the rear. The problem is reverse-cut Dana 60s never came in the rear of a vehicle. They were available in the front of some vehicles, primarily Ford 1-ton or special order 1/2-ton trucks. Used axles of this type are highly desirable upgrades for the full-size truck crowd making them difficult to find and expensive when you do find one. The durability of these axles also posed a problem while I was doing my research. Since they don't break very often, most are sold as complete axles. All I wanted was a housing to modify to my specifications. There are several aftermarket suppliers of Dana 60s built any way you want them, but my budget wouldn't allow for one of those. The solution for me seemed to be to find a used housing and have new tubes installed to make it wider. This would require shipping from Minnesota and back. While I was looking at the various options, I found out one of the people I wheel with, Mike Knorr, had modified a housing himself to put into his CJ. After pestering Mike for all the details, I spoke with the people at my local shop, 4x4 Unlimited, and they thought the project was doable. After a couple months of searching, I finally came up with a housing out of a 1979 Ford F-350 and we were off.

After finding out how Mike had widened his axle, I can't believe more people don't do it that way. The whole key to the operation is to lengthen the driver's side axle tube. In front applications the differential is offset to the driver's side making that side's axle tube too short for a rear application. The usual approach is to remove the tube from the driver's side, and install a longer tube. This requires drilling out the welds in the differential casting. A new tube is then pressed into the casting. What Mike did was to insert a sleeve into the stock tube allowing another piece of tubing to be used to lengthen the housing. Although the modification itself was pretty easy, there are some special tools and skills required.

The most important piece of equipment required is a jig to align the housing and axle tubes. The alignment is critical to the longevity of the axle. If the axle isn't aligned properly, there will be stress on the components resulting in accelerated wear. Add that to the forces generated off-road and you can be in some real trouble. The jig works by using machined pucks installed in the housing ends and carrier bearing caps. A steel rod is then installed through the pucks. If the steel rod will not go through the pucks, the housing is misaligned. Luckily, Jim at 4x4 Unlimited had built a jig to use while building Ford 9" axle housings. Jim machined new pucks to match the carrier and axle bearing used in my Dana 60.

Now that we had the jig, the sleeve and extended tube could be machined. The stock axle tubes are 3.125" OD, .500" wall tubing. What we needed was a matching piece of 3.125" OD, .500" wall D.O.M tubing to use as the extension, and a piece of 2.625" OD, .250" wall D.O.M tubing for the sleeve. Jim started with a piece of larger diameter tubing for the sleeve. This way he could machine it down to the correct diameter. We did run into difficulties finding the appropriate size tubing for the extension locally. A slightly thinner wall piece was used and Jim machined the sleeve to match both tubes and chamfered it to ease assembly. Without Jim's machining skills, this project probably would have ended or been delayed until the correct tubing was found. The housing was now ready to be assembled.

Putting it all together

Now for the fun part, putting it all together. Jim had put the sleeve in the freezer when he finished machining it. The cold would help the installation by shrinking it slightly. We were really surprised when the sleeve dropped right in the housing tube. During test fitting it wouldn't go in without some force. Jim had also machined a solid block to fit in the end of the tube. We had planned on using this to protect the end of the tube when we put the housing in the press for assembly. Since the sleeve went in so easily, we decided to use the "very large hammer" approach to install the extension tube. All it took were a couple of minutes with a pounding stick and the housing was extended. The next step was to put the pucks in the housing and install the steel rod. We could then put the pucks in the housing ends and slip them over the ends of the rod. Once turned to the proper rotation, Jim tack-welded the housing ends in place. At this point we verified the rod could still turn freely in the pucks. Jim put a bead in the grooves left by chamfering the housing ends and extension. Once cooled, the housing would be stronger than stock. The whole assembly process took less than an hour.

It was now time for me to spend some quality time with a grinder to smooth out the welds. After a couple of coats of paint, the housing was ready to have the gears and axle shafts installed. All that was left was to bolt on the brakes and weld on the spring perches. We waited until the axle was complete to weld on the spring perches so we could set the pinion angle. The axle was muscled under the Jeep and set on jack stands. We then lowered the Jeep onto the axle and tack welded the spring perches on. We could then pull the axle back out and weld the brackets on properly. A couple more coats of paint and we were ready to go.

Final Thoughts

My first impression is that the Dana 60 is much heavier than the Dana 44 it replaced. Two of us could easily maneuver the Dana 44 in place. It took 3 people to put the Dana 60 in and get it lined up. The added weight of the front and rear axles does affect acceleration off the line. I should probably think about upgrading the motor next. It also hangs a bit lower, but the change to 35" tires should make that up. The difference in the driveline angle is incredible. We put it on the lift in the shop to check for u-joint bind and the Revolver Shackles could extend almost all the way before the C.V. Joint started to bind. I'll add a limiting strap to take care of that. I did end up losing about 1" in rear driveline length because of the high pinion. I feel it was well worth it to eliminate any potential bind. I'm really happy with the conversion, and I hope to do some serious off-road testing in the near future.

Contacts: Related Links:
  • 4X4 Unlimited
    Dept. ORN
    10025 40th Ave. NE.
    , MN 55932 USA
    Phone 507-285-1231
  • Tractech Inc.
    Dept ORN
    11445 Stephens Drive, P.O. Box 882
    Warren, Michigan 48090 U.S.A.
    Phone (810)759-3850
    Fax (810)759-1645
  • Dutchman Motorsports
    Dept ORN
    7937 N.E. Alberta

    Portland, OR 97218 U.S.A.
    Phone 503-257-6604
  • Precision Gear
    Dept. ORN
    12351 Universal Drive
    Taylor, MI 48180 USA
    Phone 734-946-0524
    Fax 734-946-2981

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