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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Long time lurker, first time poster (I think).

I've been weighing my options for a front axle build for literally years now. I could write a novel about the pros/cons of many different setups, from building a 30 to building a 609. I have analysis paralysis from all the web-wheeling I've been doing. Instead of writing that novel, I'd like to pose this question to hopefully start a discussion.

Assuming you have no pre-existing parts, what front axle and associated parts would you chose to fit the following conditions and goals?

Usage conditions:
  • 35" tires. Mayyybe 37's down the line, but probably just 35's.
  • ~4,000 lb rig (full bodied XJ with some tube and overloaded with gear)
  • 200-250 HP
  • automatic trans
  • driver drop
  • east coast terrain (mud/slick rocks/tight trails)
  • moderate trail riding, nothing too hardcore
  • good amount of road miles (to/from trail, store runs, drive to work etc)
  • some remote wilderness driving/overlanding/camping

Goals:
  • easily serviceable fuse (driveshaft u-joint/stub shaft/locking hub)
  • won't wear prematurely (looking at you, Dana 30 ball joints...)
  • easily available parts (generally)
  • axle to "grow into" (aint nothing wrong with overkill)

  • reasonable budget is a factor
  • fab work is not an issue

I have a lot I could ramble about, and some opinions about what I think is/is not the right choice, but I'm curious to hear some responses before I express my thoughts.

Assume 4.88 gears and an ARB.

Some options:
  • Dana 30 built to the moon
  • Dana 44 with ???
  • Dana 44/50/60 hybrid
  • Narrowed and shaved Dana 60
  • 609
 

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609. Clearance of a 9 inch with easy gear changes and the one ton outer. I should have paid a shop to convert a 9 inch I had and went with a Dana 60 front.
 

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blatant asshole
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D44 and some spanky shafts and hd balljoints. Cost you less than a 9" build, weight less than a 609.

Toyota rockassualt with 6 shooters and birfieds would be just as $ as a 609 but weigh less. But i fucking hate toyota stuff.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
I'm glad to see some thoughtful responses. I was worried this thread would get no traffic being in newbie discussion.

I thought this might stir up some differing opinions because there is no clear-cut winner. 35's on a 60 seems pretty silly, a 30 is a 30, and the 44 has its own drawbacks. I would go nuts over a 609 build, but $3,250-$3,500 for a high pinion third member is a tough pill to swallow. Its not in the cards. Nor do I think its necessary to fit the requirements.

I would argue the best choice is the smallest (lightest) axle which is sufficiently robust to handle the given conditions. Of course, the challenge is that the conditions are not explicitly defined, and the capability of each axle is not known definitively.

On the small end of the spectrum, there's the Dana 30. Many people successfully run 30's in these exact conditions for years on end. However, many other people grenade ring and pinions after going chromoly shafts. I am intrigued by the idea of polishing the turd as far as it could go. For the sake of argument, consider this setup:

HP 30, ARB, cryo'd gears, load bolt, girdle cover, trussed housing. 4.75" from tube center to bottom of diff. ~250 lb.

I think that would be a wicked fun build and would prove to be a pretty stout little axle. I have not been able to find any reports of somebody doing a load bolt on a 30 (Carl Jantz said it would be possible in one post), nor have I seen someone do a girdle cover. With a full case locker and a trussed housing, the gear deflection would be minimized as much as possible on that setup to utilize every last bit of strength the tiny ring and pinion could offer. With every last drop of turd polish in the jar, I bet it would kick ass. With that said, I'm not willing to be the guinea pig.

Next step up is HP44. ~5.375" from centerline to the bottom of the diff. ~350-400 lb (don't quote me on these numbers). I love the idea of thicker tubes and a bit more width. Wouldn't need to mess with cryo, load bolt, or girdle. Would go Chevy small bearing outers for high steer. Limiting factor would be the 760 u-joint, or also maybe the stub or lockout. I like this idea because doing chromo shafts would support the u-joint better and hopefully hold up to some decent abuse. Lock outs are an easy fuse. The biggest drawback I see are the lack of options for ball joints. I'd go chromoly if someone made them. Thoughts?

Further about the 44, it still uses the same u-joint as the 30. Sure, chromos help, but the u-joints just aren't that beefy. With no option for larger u-joints (even the 30 can take the 5-7166x 1350 sized u joints), RCV's or CTM's are the next step up. Now, not only am I unwilling to drop that coin on shafts, but I would then start to question the ring and pinion to holding up with the abuse. Not to mention the 30 spline lock outs or drive slugs that are now required with this setup, which means more money for bling parts that are hard to come by.

So how do we beef up a 44? Well, a hybrid of course! I went down the rabbit hole looking at doing a Jana 54 kit with 60 outers. I'm talking Dana 50 gears with 35 spline inners, 30 spline outers, huge u joints, and kingpins or huge ball joints. Why not even go as far as adding in a load bolt if we're in there giving it the business? It can be done. It has been done. It could be done on a budget with junkyard parts. But for what? The thing that really entices me about going to 1 ton outers is peace of mind that the u joints and KP's/BP's are very much overkill.

All that custom work to save a little bit of weight and ground clearance? Math doesn't add up there. HP 60 narrowed to ~65 WMS with a shave kit, 5x5.5 conversion, and smaller brakes would net similar clearance as the 44 and ~500(???) lb (making up numbers at this point). Even considering building a HP 60 to run 35's sounds ridiculous. It would be a very future-proof setup, almost necessitating the need to go 37's. The rest of the rig isn't setup well to handle the extra weight or stress from a 60 and 37's yet. Plus this would be the most involved build.


Long story longer I have no idea what I need or want. My current thoughts are to build a 30 up a bit and see how long I can milk it while I build up the rest of the rig. Would be nice because then I can throw some gears in my 8.25 for cheap money and run it. I already have a Dana 30 Yukon Zip, Synergy Chromoly ball joints, and WJ swap parts in boxes, all of which I bought used for much less than retail. However, I could just as well build the HP44 I have in my garage to the same specs as the 30 and either gear the 8.25 to run with adapters or slap my 9" under the Jeep for the same effect. Now we're talking more money and more investment in parts that aren't nearly as future proof.

God damnit. Someone sell me some shit that's already built, I'm too poor for this hobby. About to go flip a 3 sided coin.


Definitely locked Dana 44's in stock form will sufice your described wheelin style.

Sent from my Redmi Note 7 using Tapatalk
Kinda what I was thinking too. Drawback is the 44 is less future-proof.

609, 60 or 44 w/ 60 outers. 44balljoints bring the suck w/ 37’s or bigger.
609. Clearance of a 9 inch with easy gear changes and the one ton outer. I should have paid a shop to convert a 9 inch I had and went with a Dana 60 front.
I totally agree with the 609 love. I'd jump through some serious hoops to make that happen. They're baller af, but they come with a baller price tag that I can't swing.

D44 and some spanky shafts and hd balljoints. Cost you less than a 9" build, weight less than a 609.

Toyota rockassualt with 6 shooters and birfieds would be just as $ as a 609 but weigh less. But i fucking hate toyota stuff.
Luckily I don't know the first thing about yota junk :D

Got any recommendations for decent Dana 44 ball joints? Seems like there's fuck all for options.
 

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P.B.A.
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What you describe was my setup for years on an old school 44 with good shafts. Napa sells their premium ball joints with blue boot. I’ve ran spicers which got loose real quick then ran a set of the blue boot Napa’s with 2” back spaced wheels on 37’s. I replaced them on a rebuild after 8 years and they were still tight.

Also someone is making or coming out with ball joint eliminators. If I was buying all new stuff I’d go Jana 54 if it was high pinion. Or jk ring and pinion if it was low pinion.

If it was me I’d Run a passenger drop axle jk ring and pinion chromoly shafts with good joints warn hubs for my fuse reroute exhaust and swap in a clocked Dana 300. Gets rid of slip yoke and you’ll have front digs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Don’t build a Dana 30. Spend the money you would on a dana 30 build towards paying a shop to swap in another axle.
I definitely wouldn't pay to have a shop swap something else in. I can fab brackets and do all the bitch work. I've never done gears before but I have a close friend with all the tools/equipment who has done them and I'd love to learn.

I think you're right about not building the 30. The only reason its enticing is because its the least amount of work to get me gears/locker/big brakes, but I know I wouldn't be happy with it in the long run. Especially if I grenade the thing a year after building it.

What you describe was my setup for years on an old school 44 with good shafts. Napa sells their premium ball joints with blue boot. I’ve ran spicers which got loose real quick then ran a set of the blue boot Napa’s with 2” back spaced wheels on 37’s. I replaced them on a rebuild after 8 years and they were still tight.

Also someone is making or coming out with ball joint eliminators. If I was buying all new stuff I’d go Jana 54 if it was high pinion. Or jk ring and pinion if it was low pinion.
Its shocking that the Spicer BJ's wouldn't be the best for these. Spicer seems to have the highest quality for everything I buy.

Ball joint eliminators are something I'm unfamiliar with. I've seen them online, but haven't taken the time to look into their function and decide if they are right for me or not. Could be a good upgrade path if I pitch enough worn ball joints across the yard.

I'm feeling like the 44 is an appropriate choice for my use. I don't think I'll go Jana 54 when building because IMO there is no benefit to be gained doing that without going to a 35 spline carrier, which means 60 (or 50) outers, and at that point we're back at "why not just build a 60?" I would go 54 if I could find a 30 spline 3.73 and down locker used for cheap. At that point, the extra cost of going 54 is justified. I'll likely just search for second-hand parts and whatever I find first will be what I build.

I haven't totally written off the idea of going 609. Deep down, I know its what I really want. High pinion is out of the question because of cost, but I hadn't really considered a low pinion until yesterday. I was scheming a bit and was thinking how I could do a LP nodular 3rd in a 609, paired with a 9" rear end also. I'd run the rear end 31 spline with the cast iron case until I blow the pinion out of it, then I could put the front third member into the rear housing and maybe somehow scrape up the cash for a high pinion front third member at that point.

Cost breakdown for the 44:

-HP Ford Housing: $250 (already have it)
-Chevy Outers: $100 (only one 3 bolt flat top knuckle. Already have them. Also have 5 locking hubs)
-Knuckles/High Steer: $400 (eBay kit with two 4 bolt knuckles, high steer arms, and studs)
-Gears/Install kit: ~$350
-Locker: ~$650?
-Diff cover: ~$80
-Chromo Shafts/u-joints: ~$600
-Ball Joints: ~$100
-Brakes: ~$150 (pads/rotors/calipers)
-Bearings/Seals: ~$140 (every bearing and seal)
-Brackets Material: ~$100?
-Paint/Fluid/Misc: ~$50?

Total: about $3,000, plus new wheels and cost to mount and balance. Also plus cost of gear install or price of tools to do it myself. I'm hoping I can reuse my current driveshaft

Cost breakdown for 609:

-Housing: ~$1,000
-Strange 3rd with Detroit: ~1,600
-Everything else: ???

I'll have to dig into this setup a bit more to get a better price comparison. I anticipate it would be in the $4,000-$4,500 ballpark. I anticipate the extra cost would be warranted by the increased capability of the axle, but it likely is super overkill for my needs.
 

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P.B.A.
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I’m in similar boat on my cj. I have a semi polished Chevy 44 with Arb and chromoly shafts I had most everything build this on the shelf so I wasn’t into it very much. I’m running and will continue to run 37’s and I’ve upgraded the motor.

I’m debating on 609, or jk polished 44 both with 99-04 superduty outer. But at that point why not just build a 60 since I’d have to buy gears and lockers. Only things I’d gain with either of these over a 60 is weight and it would be different I could keep same wheels with spidertrax unit bearings. But the cost of everything is more than new wheels.
 

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FORD 9 INCH

$300 in Nevada. Have a shop retube it at whatever wosth and offset you need.

Eaton or Yukon Ford 9 inch Detroit locker

$325 used locker with bearings.

Axle shafts, inner C ($650-700 for a pair of Reid’s) plus kingpins top and bottom with bearings. Reid knuckles would be another $650-700 and then it’s spindles, lock nuts, rotors and calipers. Oh and axle shafts. You could probably save money if you can find used knuckles, or buy something other than Reid. So it might actually be less than $4,000 fully built after paying a shop to retube it and build it if you find a used housing and buy parts when you can.
 

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FWIW, which isnt much.
Ive been DD'ing Dana 30s since 1998.
Logged 400,000+ miles on em STOCK with no abnormal maintenance.
My buddies have been blowing them up in modded Jeeps long before that.
If building go with a D44.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
FORD 9 INCH

$300 in Nevada. Have a shop retube it at whatever wosth and offset you need.

Eaton or Yukon Ford 9 inch Detroit locker

$325 used locker with bearings.

Axle shafts, inner C ($650-700 for a pair of Reid’s) plus kingpins top and bottom with bearings. Reid knuckles would be another $650-700 and then it’s spindles, lock nuts, rotors and calipers. Oh and axle shafts. You could probably save money if you can find used knuckles, or buy something other than Reid. So it might actually be less than $4,000 fully built after paying a shop to retube it and build it if you find a used housing and buy parts when you can.
Looking at prices, and also the level of hardcoreness that people run this stuff at, I'm feeling like its not for me. Not right now, at least. I've been wheeling an open Dana 30 with 3.55's on 35's for several years, and I've been having fun with it, even while working with its limitations. I want a bump up to the next level. Putting a 609 that's worth more than my Jeep under it would be completely unnecessary, not to mention I then wouldn't be able to afford a rear to match it.

FWIW, which isnt much.
Ive been DD'ing Dana 30s since 1998.
Logged 400,000+ miles on em STOCK with no abnormal maintenance.
My buddies have been blowing them up in modded Jeeps long before that.
If building go with a D44.
I think the Dana 30 is a great axle for its intended purpose. They've served me well for years. Now that I'm a bit more confident off road and have been asking more of my 30, its been showing its weaknesses. I have not yet broken anything on the 30, but I'd like to think that's because I've stayed on top of the maintenance and am very conscious of asking too much of it. I tend to do the axle u-joints every year, and ball joints have been once every 2 years (with them showing signs of wear after the 1st). High 3.55 gears and an open diff have also been a saving grace for the 30.

Recently I bent the housing, which is what drove me to make this thread and pose the question as "assuming no pre-existing parts."

I'm feeling that if I can get my 44/9 setup under my rig for a budget price, I'll be a happy camper. This will allow me to learn what I actually need to upgrade, rather than throwing money at bling parts I don't need. I'm thinking I'll keep the cast iron third member in the 9 inch for now, and run stock shafts in the 44 with full circle clips. Maybe weld some washers over the caps.

Any thoughts on running a lunchbox over a full case in the 44?

I know in Dana 30 world, the recommendation is definitely go full case locker to reduce gear deflection from the wimpy carrier. Does this hold true with the 44, or would the extra strength of the gears/carrier support cutting this corner? I'm just thinking how I could get a carrier and lunchbox locker for $350, the next step up being a Grizzly at about $625, and selectables start around $875 for a Zip and go north of $1,000 for everything else. I'd really prefer to go selectable to save some stress on the u-joints, but I'd entertain trying my luck with a more simple setup to see how I fare. An E-locker is 3x the cost of a lunchbox setup. Same for an ARB, plus I don't have an OBA setup.

Looking quickly, that would put the 44 under the Jeep at about $2,200 (assuming I do the gears myself). Add another $200-$250 for getting the gears done (actual price, not an estimate). Looking at another ~$1,500 or so to get the 9" hung with 8.8 discs on it. Alternatively could throw gears at my 8.25 and run adapters to match the width/pattern of the 44 for like $400...
 

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You could put a Ford 8.8 in the rear. No one says you have to run 40s with a 609. I just see it as the best option since you could grow into it if you wanted.
 

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I would NEVER run a lunchbox ever again. I blew up 2 in my Dana 35 on 33s. Fuck those pieces of shit. It’s a waste of money and mine were covered under warranty then I just got a refund.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I’d run selectable locker. I’ve sheared the pin on lockrites in axles before.
I would NEVER run a lunchbox ever again. I blew up 2 in my Dana 35 on 33s. Fuck those pieces of shit. It’s a waste of money and mine were covered under warranty then I just got a refund.
I've had a Spartan in my 8.25 for a couple years. Its been great for me. It came with a hardened cross pin to replace the factory one. So far, so good.

You could put a Ford 8.8 in the rear. No one says you have to run 40s with a 609. I just see it as the best option since you could grow into it if you wanted.
I'd rather keep the 8.25 than swap for an 8.8. Long term goal is 9", regardless of what front axle is in there. I totally agree with the "grow into" part of the 609 though. It seems like its the only option that has big axle balls in a little axle sack. Comes with the price tag of being the best though. I paid $1,000 for the car I've been driving everyday for the last 3 years. I can't swing putting $5k-$6k into the axles on my toy.

I mean, I can... but I shouldn't.
 

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I've had a Spartan in my 8.25 for a couple years. Its been great for me. It came with a hardened cross pin to replace the factory one. So far, so good.



I'd rather keep the 8.25 than swap for an 8.8. Long term goal is 9", regardless of what front axle is in there. I totally agree with the "grow into" part of the 609 though. It seems like its the only option that has big axle balls in a little axle sack. Comes with the price tag of being the best though. I paid $1,000 for the car I've been driving everyday for the last 3 years. I can't swing putting $5k-$6k into the axles on my toy.

I mean, I can... but I shouldn't.
Sounds like you didn’t need to make a thread discussing axles. 9 inch rear. 44 front. Lockers. Driveshafts. Welding. Get it started.
 

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I agree with H8DWINGS. 9" rear and D44 front. That should be plenty for what you are doing.
I am close to getting mine running with the same axles. Mustang 5.0, NP435, NWF doubler and NP205. Rear is 4-link and front is 3-link. Hope the lunchbox locker holds up in the front.
My wheeling goals are similar to yours also. Drive to and from the trails. Mild crawling and rocks on 35's. Going to enjoy it and see what happens.

Good luck with your choice!
 
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