Tired of breaking axles? Want to run with the Big Dogs? Maybe it’s time to swap in a set of Dana 44 axles from a Scout! There are a couple of ways to do this, but both can be done fairly easily and at minimal expense, depending on how much work you’re willing to do yourself. For me, working on or upgrading my Jeep is almost as fun as crawling rocks. Almost!
Scout axles from 1976 through 1980 work the best because CJ knuckles, spindles and brakes will all swap. Also, the wheel bolt pattern is the same as a CJ at 5 on 5 ½”.
The rear axle is really quite easy. All you need to do is torch or grind the Scout spring pads off the axle tubes (don’t get them too hot, they can warp!) and weld new 2 ½” pads on. On my 1977 CJ-7, the pads are exactly 36” apart, center of pad to center of pad. The most difficult part is setting up the proper pinion angle for your setup. If you weren’t having driveline vibrations from your AMC 20 rearend, try to duplicate the same pinion angle. A cheap magnetic angle gauge will help greatly here. The Scout rear 44 is about 1 inch longer, which will necessitate shortening the driveshaft in most cases. Be sure to get the Scout rear brake lines, too. The parking brake cables on the CJ-7 will work, but you have to adjust them to the rear and modify the mount to fit the Scout backing plate.
Mounting the front axle housing is another story. First, you must decide whether to narrow the housing and axle shaft 3 ½” (on the long side) or move your spring shackle mounts outside the frame the corresponding distance. I’ve seen both, and, because of other modifications I had already made to my Jeep, I decided to narrow the housing. If you go the other way, it will involve a bit more welding on the frame than I care to do. Either way, you will need to rotate the knuckles for the correct caster. Be aware that the Scout front axle is somewhat wider than the rear, which is not unusual for many vehicles. By narrowing the front housing 3 ½”, the rear track is actually about 2” wider (or 1” on each side). Since I used Xenon extended flares for a Scrambler, which is actually a combination of CJ front flares and YJ rears, no one can tell! Anyway, on to the nitty gritty details of how I did it.
- Disassemble the assembly completely and clean it thoroughly. (I’m going to assume you know how to put it back together!)
- Cut off the left spring pad (the right is part of the pumpkin). I used a 4 ½” grinder, working very, very carefully.
- Cut the welds at the knuckles carefully. They are pressed on the tubes about 1”, so the tubes support the weight, not the weld. I used my grinder with several new wheels to keep the removal of the weld square to the tube and knuckle. Once you get down to the tube, stop. Next, use a small grinder, such as a Dremel tool with a fiberglass reinforced cutting wheel to cut outwards into the weld in the knuckle. This is time consuming! Don’t hurry. The idea is to cut only the weld, not the axle tube or knuckle. As you cut, you will eventually see what looks like a crack, which is actually the end of the weld. Find an inch or so of this crack at 3 or 4 places around the tube.
- Remove the left knuckle. Easier said than done! Use a big hammer (a sledge works best) and hit the back of the knuckle as evenly as humanly possible. Watch the cracks and apply force as necessary!
- The right knuckle does not need to be removed, just rotated for proper caster (5 degrees positive works best). More on this later.
- Cut off exactly 3 ½” from the left axle tube. Measure twice, cut once. (I think I measured 20 times!) I actually used a circular saw with a metal cutting blade to do this! I cut off 3 ¼” first, then used a square and my grinder to finish the job. Since the inner knuckle sits over the tube about 1”, even if you are slightly off you should be OK. Just take your time!
- The process of setting pinion and caster angles goes much easier if you have an extra CJ Dana 30 housing, or use the one out of your Jeep with the brakes, outer knuckles, and axle shafts removed. Setting the 30 & 44 parallel to each other on a sturdy table works best. This way you can compare the angles by sight. Support both housings under the spring pads with 2 X 4’s, (The 44 housing just sits on a new 2” pad, not yet welded.) as well as the pinion “snout”. Once you get the proper angle, tack weld the pad.
- By now you’ve figured out that you will have to remove material from the right spring “pad”, at the proper angle. Use your grinder to remove about ¼” at the front angling to the rear. Once I got close, I used a 3” belt sander to even out the surface. Again, take your time!
- Now for more fun. It’s time to reinstall the left knuckle at the correct caster and rotate the right one to match. Position both housings like they were in #7. Your pinion angles should match. Place a steel rod (I used ½”) at least 36” long in the ball joint holes of the left Dana 30 knuckle and another in the left Dana 44 knuckle that’s been tapped onto the cut tube. Now, simply put, match the caster angle housing to housing. (Use duct tape to secure the rods in the same relative position within the ball joint holes.) The rods will give you an excellent visual reference. Once the angles match, hammer the knuckle on so it won’t move in handling. Mark the knuckle and tube, just in case. Using your big hammer again, rotate the right knuckle to match the 30. Now, hammer on the left knuckle all the way, or find a press (20-30 ton) big enough to do the job.
- Finally, finish welding the new spring pad and weld the knuckles to the tubes. I elected to have a pro do this part, as I’m not!
- Get the left axle shortened exactly 3 ½” by a competent machine shop.
After reassembling the housing and installing it in your Jeep, you will need new steering linkage. I used ¾” steel “tap tube” like used on circle track cars with ¾” Heim joints on both ends of both steering rods. This will require drilling your pitman arm and outer knuckles to fit ¾” grade 8 bolts. You can also move the rods to the top of the knuckles at the same time. So far, this works great!
Last but not least, go get your Jeep aligned. The caster on mine was 5.02 degrees on the right, and 4.92 on the left! Well within specs! Like I said, I like working on my Jeep. This may be more than you’re willing to take on, but it’s worth it. So far (knock on wood!) this setup has performed flawlessly, even on the infamous Stairway to Heaven trail in Big Bend! (For Big Bend Trail Report Click Here)