Direct Axle Swap
Q: I was wondering if you could help me with finding a solid-axle conversion for my ’02 GMC 1500 pickup. Also, what front axle will I need? I’ve been told to look for a Dana 44 or 60 from a late ’70s Ford. I could not find any of these. Is there some place that you would suggest I could get an axle built that’s not too pricey?
A: Off-Road Direct (www.offroaddirect.com) offers a straight-axle kit for your ’02 Chevy. The kit is designed to use 47-inch front leaf springs from a ’73-’87 Chevy and is said to work with a variety of solid front axles. The ’78-’79 Ford Dana 44 and Dana 60 high-pinion driver-side drop front axles are extremely sought after. Depending on where you live, they are either moderately abundant or completely gone.
Assuming that you’ve dug through the local wrecking yards, eBay, and Craigslist, your next option is a custom axle. Plenty of reputable aftermarkets builders such as Dynatrac (www.dynatrac.com) and Currie (www.currieenterprises.com) can easily build you a heavy-duty front axle to fit your needs. Oftentimes a junkyard axle may seem like the cheap way to go, but after you rebuild it, gear it, and modify it for your truck, you’re pretty close to the price of a brand-new aftermarket axle.
As much as we would love to tell you that there is a dirt-cheap way to straight-axle your pickup, there is not. Remember that getting the front axle is only part of the puzzle. A rear axle will be needed to match the strength and wheel bolt pattern, along with a host of new suspension, drivetrain, and steering components.
JK Engine Swap
Q: I was wondering if anyone has put anything besides a Hemi in a ’07 or newer Jeep Wrangler JK. My 3.8L is junk. The Jeep is currently at the dealership for the second time because of bad piston rings. I can’t afford the $20,000 Hemi conversion and hoped you knew of a less expensive engine option for the JK.
A: Sorry to hear about your factory engine woes. Given the right time, money, and skills you could put just about any engine you’d like in the JK. The real challenge is dropping in an engine that will mesh with your vehicle’s electronics.
Currently MoTech (www.lswrangler.com) offers a GM 5.3L and 6.2L conversion for the JK, but you’ll have to send your Jeep to Las Vegas. MoTech also offers a kit so you can do the swap yourself if you are capable. The company is currently getting the swap smog-legal as well—look for an exclusive story coming soon.
Depending on your state’s emissions restrictions, swapping engines could be a red tape affair. We know there is a huge demand for an affordable JK engine conversion and feel that it is only a matter of time before the aftermarket steps in with a few more budget-friendly solutions. The new 3.6L in the ’12 Wrangler is a great improvement over the 3.8L, but many of us with the 3.8L are ready for a DIY upgrade that’s not out of our budget’s hemisphere!
Nuts, I’m Confused
Q: I have an ’84 Toyota 4Runner with a 4-inch Pro Comp lift and 33x12.50 BFG KM2s. It has the stock 22R engine and has trouble getting out of its own way. I am on a budget, so swapping out the engine is not something I can do right now. I want to regear the axles, but I’m not sure which gears to install. From what I have read, 4.88 gears would bring the truck back to stock. I have been told I should install 5.29 gears because I will eventually want bigger tires. I like the 33s, but I can see going to 35s at some point. How will the 5.29s work if I decide to stay with 33s?
A: What your modest four-cylinder lacks in power it should make up for in dependability! While the 4.88 gearset will put you closer to the stock power and rpm ranges with 33s, I suggest going with the 5.29 gearset. The numerically higher 5.29 gears will raise the rpm a bit on the highway, but if you believe 35s are in your future, it’s the smart investment. There won’t be a huge difference between the two ratios, and if anything, the 5.29s and 33s should give your tired Runner an extra bit of pep over the 4.88s.
Changing the differential gears can be a costly upgrade when you are not doing the work yourself. So gearing once will save you serious coin overall.
I understand your quest for doing the job right the first time and have chosen your question as this month’s Nut’s, I’m Confused winner. Since you’ll have your 4Runner’s frontend apart for the gear swap and big tires are on the horizon, I’m sending you a Rock Assault Trunnion Bearing Eliminator Kit from Trail Gear.
This front axle upgrade converts the steering knuckle pivots from the often troublesome trunnion bearing to a heavy-duty kingpin design. In addition to being stronger, the kingpin conversion is completely serviceable. Trail Gear specializes in Toyota, Jeep, and Samurai parts and has a complete line of high-quality bumpers, suspensions, and drivetrain upgrades. To find out more about Trail Gear visit www.trail-gear.com.
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