SAS -- Solid Axle Swap Diary
Okay, this is a work in progress. You've heard that before (like the Centralia pages that were never finished, lol...) but ... Show morethis project -- the truck that is -- has to get done because I'm needing my transportation back!
It really starts when you unbolt the factory suspension components and commence to cutting and grinding off all the factory mounting brackets -- and I do mean all of them. You also have to remove the factory front crossmember. It really commits you once you start this: no turning back...
I've been working on this thing since the end of July/beginning of August and one thing after another has made this difficult.
Difficulty #1 When you are cutting the factory IFS suspension bracketry off the frame, be sure and watch out that you don't cut through the 3mm (1/8") frame metal. SOLUTION: Weld back the slices in the frame by having a friend bring over his old Lincoln "Tombstone" arc welder.
Difficulty #2 Friend can weld, but hasn't welded thin frame material and blows holes in frame SOLUTION: (See difficulty #3)
8-24-2007 to mid September
Difficulty #3 Uh...well, you really should check things out more closely when you plan something. My grand plan to "bolt on" the full suspension from a 1978 F-150 hit a few snags -- like motor mounts being in the way of where I had to bolt through the frame to put the coil buckets on and so forth. SOLUTION: Get a welder and learn to weld well enough to weld on the frame...one month gone.
And so on and so on...well, one hurdle after another has to be vaulted and eventually you start making progress. I cleaned up the frame problems, and filled the holes with bits of patch metal cut to fit and welded in and got to where I could start welding on the sandblasted and painted brackets from the 1978 donor vehicle.
Here's some pics of early welding practice on "leftover metal" from the frame clean-off, my lovely sandy work area, the frame during the cleanup, patch and fill process, and the first brackets welded on the passenger side. Sand is everywhere. I went through about 140 pounds of sand while blasting things to be repainted and cleaning the frame up before and after welding. I ended up with a beach instead of a driveway...
I cut slots between the original bolt holes and welded the brackets to the frame down both edges of the slots. Where possible I welded on the edges of the outside of the bracket as well for a total of 6 vertical beads holding the coil bucket on. Since the shock bracket couldn't be reached under the one edge, I cut another slot right on the radius of the back at the edge and welded through the to the frame. The tops were welded also and on the drivers side the top bracing was welded to the frame first, then fit in a slot in the bracket and welded afterwards in the case of the coil bucket (see pic of drivers side complete below).
Any welds underneath suck badly. I HATE OVERHEAD WELDING!!!
Still, it's strong enough. I ended up running wide beads across the slots intending to fill and grind but decided why bother. So those wide (and not so even) beads you see are not main structural welds -- they're underneath. Yes, I'm not much of a welder yet. Pray for me...
A Brief Summary of What's Going on the Truck
1. Dana 44 from a 1978 standard cab F-150. It's high pinion and I rebuilt it with new bearings, balljoints, and 4.56 gears, etc.
2. All the factory brackets from the original truck including coil buckets, shock mounts and so forth.
3. The mongo-heavy 1978 rebuilt steering box from another truck of the same year. An eBay purchase.
4. New power steering hoses and brake lines, some brake lines home fabbed. The factory Ranger pump works fine and surprisingly enough has the same fitting as a 1979 F-150/Bronco pump so the 1979 hoses bolt right up.
5. Homemade steering shaft of part Chevy, part F-150, part original Ranger parts. I'll recount more on that at some point. It's definitely hillbilly engineering at it's best -- or worst depending on your point of view but it seems strong enough. I'll spend some money when I have some again (the budget is long busted, hence JY scrounging) to make a "real" steering shaft with some Flaming River or Borgeson parts.
6. Factory trackbar, drag link and tie rod which puts the axle 1" too far to the passenger side -- to be corrected at a later date.
7. The somewhat longer 1978/1979 radius arm brackets and radius arms. Requires modification of the tranny cross member to get them in there -- more on that later.
8. Superlift/Warn Black Diamond AT shocks for a 4" lifted 1979 F-150 (bought "scratch and dent" from Superlift on eBay).
9. Energy Suspension full front bushing kit with 7 degree "c-bushings" for caster correction.
I'll cover some other details I'm sure, but that's the basic stuff being used for the SAS.
Here's some random pics and narrative on the process. I was working by myself and didn't take as many pics as you'd probably like, but here's what I got.
Here you can see the track bar and forward shock mount bracket (I'm not using the forward shocks to start, just the ones to the rear of the coils that connect to the radius arms -- but I need this for the track bar). Note the 1/4" plate welded to the frame to the left of the bracket. It was put on there previously by some guys at work at my request because I had a "crumple zone" bump plasma'd out and this plate welded in to provide a smooth foundation for the steering box -- but I miscalculated here and had to add some plate later.
After all my talk about buying American and I was out of money what did I do? Get Harbor Freight junk of course. Sigh. Well it works anyway and got the job done. But I can see now I'm going to want a "real" MIG welder eventually. This one is somewhat "high maintenance" with a fussy wire feeder and touchy speed adjustments. More sand around of course and you can see the sandblaster hopper in the lower left foreground.
10-1-2007 to the beginning of November
An idea. I didn't bolt the power steering box through the entire frame and that may be a problem later I'll have to address. Instead it bolts through one side but the combined 1/8" frame and 1/4" plate in most places should make it pretty strong. We'll see. But I needed to feed the 1/2" grade 8 bolts in from the back and so I tacked my MIG wire to the end of the bolt, spooled out some wire and cut it. Then I used it to "fish" the bolts through the holes from an existing hole down a ways in the other side of the frame. Sure made that easy.
Here's where I added a 1/4" piece between the track bar bracket and the original 1/4" plate in order to provide a place for the other bolts. Later filled and ground and painted before mounting the steering box.
Pretty much the entire drivers side mounted.
Did I mention the sand?...
A hydraulic press is a very handy thing for pressing bearings and ball joints on and off. Requires a bit of ingenuity to figure out exactly how to use it sometimes, but what a time saver. This is a cheap 12 ton "a-frame" type unit which I'm very glad I got.
Some of the mess in the basement around the press. Note the bearing puller clamp on the base of the press. Essential but make sure you tighten it well under the bearing or you'll screw up the "cage" around the outside of the rollers. I experimented on the orignal bearings and got my technique down before tackling the axle setup where I'm pressing them off and on and sometimes doing so multiple times.
Here's something if you haven't seen one. This is an Ingalls Engineering track bar bolt for Ford Dana axles. The track bar bolt tends to wear out the hole in the housing and cause steering shimmy ("death wobble"). This bolt requires you to ream the original hole with a 6 degree tapered reamer; but then the new bolt mounts like a ball joint stud in a tapered hole and you can always lock it down by keeping it tight. Nice design but it's $40 dollars (lists for almost $80). I got mine from Ultrarev.com for around $42 and it would have been a bargain at twice the price -- it's priceless if you want tight steering from these old axles.
The drivers side radius arm bracket. Interestingly, it locates at exactly the same spot as the original torsion bar mounts and transmission cross member. Considering the differences between a 1978 F-150 and 2002 Ranger I found that remarkable somehow. Bolted on with 1/2" grade 8 with the nuts out so they can be torqued properly. Some holes were relocated because of interference from the "fin" that results inside when the two C-channels are welded to make the box frame. One of the C-channels has a turned up bottom edge forming a vertical ridge down the middle that interferes with getting the bolts in unless you move the holes.
Here's the totally hillbilly engineering I did (otherwise known as a "Griggs Rig" in honor of me...) to make the 3/4" double-D u-joint for my homemade steering shaft. Basically, this is a 1" double-D u-joint from a Chevy Astro Van I welded to the 3/4" bar which goes down to the 3/4" 36-spline u-joint on the steering box. I took my original Ranger steering shaft, carefully flattened it, pressed it into the Chevy joint double-D hole, then welded it in place. It seems strong and I can put it at lock and bear down on it. Not my preferred solution but I'm short of funds this far in so it's a "make do" and sometime in the future I'll buy the proper stuff and make a "real" shaft.
Okay, this is the drivers side of the axle put together prior to getting axles/spindles/hubs and steering linkages assembled. The other side has the spring bowed quite a bit due to the offset it has -- the axle is too far to the passenger side. When I get the adjustable track bar and drag link the difference will be "split" and the springs only slightly bowed on each side. Alternatively, I could just cut a piece out of the stock ones, and weld and sleeve them to get what I need out of them. Don't know what I'll do yet. The shock absorbers are Superlift/Warn Black Diamond AT's. They were "scratch and dent" direct from Superlift on eBay and cost $13.50 apiece, I kid you not. Superlift's scratch and dent sales on eBay are great if they have what you need.
This does my heart good! A tire on the truck! It's been a long time since there was a tire on the front of this truck. Okay, well the tire is a junkyard tire and rim I have as an additional apare or for testing -- but to see anything on there is great. I reassembled the remaining front axle items today including the axle shafts, spindles, hubs/rotors, and all the other associated parts. Of course new seals and all. Also I put the tie rod and drag link on and I can actually make the steering work. Another thing that makes me smile to finally see.
Here you can see the drag link and tie rod and note that the geometry between the drag link and track bar is good. You can also see how the passenger side springs bows compared to the drivers side because of the overlong track bar. I'm thinking about just bending this one some to shorten it as a temporary fix until I buy or make an adjustable one. NOTE: This drag link (not the tie rod) is swapped end for end in this photo. The two ends have different sized tapered studs and you will have problems if you don't put it on right! Don't ask...but it's all good now.
Here's a view of the drivers side assembled but without a tire. Yes, the brake rotor needs to be cleaned up. I use a cup brush on my angle grinder to clean them. The back is done but I'll do the outer surface before I put the brakes together. Brake fab is one of the next orders of business. The hub lockouts are Mile Marker Stainless Supreme. As much as my hubs will get dunked in Wharton water, it seemed like stainless was the way to go. I have the original hubs from the axle as spares.
Got one of the Mickey Thompson MTZ's mounted on a cleaned up stock F-150 wheel and put it on tonight. It's going to be a nice wide track, lol. The axle is still too far to this side, so it won't be quite that far out when the track bar is properly set up. They should just come out slightly past the edge of the Bushwacker cutout flares. By the end of this weekend the truck will be completely together and I'll have some pics of the complete setup including the rear wheels mounted on the spacer/adapters to use the 5 on 5.5 F-150 bolt pattern.
11-21-2007: Truck is up on it's wheels!
I put the brakes together today and here's how I piped into the ABS distribution controller. Basically, I combined the formerly independent right and left front circuits into a single circuit.
Here's a bunch of views of the truck up on it's wheels from various angles. Note that the front isn't so high relative to the back. I was afraid I overdid it and it would be way, way high in the front -- but it's just about right and only a little high. It got dark before I finished so some are flash and some are not. Yes, my driveway sure is a mess...
11-23-2007: I actually drove it around the neighborhood today! The suspension is surprisingly smooth in front. I was worried it would be harsh with the F-150 lift coils, but in fact it's quite well mannered. Not much of test circling a couple of blocks a few times -- but it was nice to have it rolling. Tomorrow I'll put the rear tires on the other wheels, mount them with the spacers, and put the Bushwacker cutout flares on and hopefully get the front fenders on as well.
11-24-2007: I got the right side fender flares done and the white wheel in the back is an F-150 wheel on a 1.25" spacer/adapter. It needs to be painted black and obviously a bit more spacing would have been better. In fact, because the spacer was not deep enough to cover the ends of the wheel studs I had to cut off the unthreaded ends of the factory wheel studs in the rear. It won't be so dramatic when the axle is centered. If the right side front shown here was centered then the tire would be just about even with the flare edge.
11-25-2007: Well, it's done enough to get it inspected -- I hope. Got up early and did a lot today...a very rare day where I did not go to church. 50 degree weather forced the decision and I just had time to do everything I needed too working the whole day so tomorrow I take it in to get inspected. We'll see. The only real vulnerability is the front rotors I reused. It still needs a front crossmember, somr other minor work -- but it's a truck again. I can't believe how nice it rides -- it's smoother than when it was stock. We'll see how it handles -- I suspect not so well since I don't run a front swaybar.
11-27-2007: Won't impress anyone but it's still more front flex than the old IFS suspension had! I can't really try it out to see how far it will go because I don't have the crossmembers done. But it's coming!
12-06-2007: I wanted to recenter the axle but didn't want to spend $120 or more for an adjustable track bar. I'm not even sure how much shorter they can get. My solution is seen below. I took the track bar to some friends at a machine shop and I cut back the frame end and they drilled and tapped it for 5/8-18 ("fine" thread) about 2" deep. Then I threaded a 5/8" heim into it with high-misalignment spacers and grade 8 1/2" bolt. The original hole in the track bar mount is 9/16" so I sleeved the holes with some turned-down 1/2" ID 5/8" OD sleeves. It's tight and the axle is centered now. Pics of that and the steering stabilizer later.
12-07-2007 Well, I guess I don't need to put up any more pics -- but here they are anyway. It's flexed a bit more than the previous photos.
In the shot from the front you can see the steering stabilizer (white cylinder) behind the pitman arm on the right of the photo. I mounted one end to the "fin" on the front of the radius arm cap, and the other end to a bracket salvaged from an F-250 that u-bolts to the tie rod. You can't tell from the flex shots, but the axle is centered now. Starting to look like winter around here!
12-08-2007 I went out to put the Daystar EVS foam bumpstops on the shocks. Google "Daystar EVS foam" to learn more. You can get them on the shock rods without the install tool, but it takes a bit of work. Save's about $10 though. Sorry, I didn't take any pictures, but basically they just get put on the shocks rod between the body of the shock and the top of the rod.
Here's some detail on the heim joint that I used to make my shortened track bar. You can see the high-misalignment spacers (sometimes abbreviated "HMS") on either side of the heim. No doubt it's not quite as strong as the factory one. I will use a better heim to strengthen it at some later time, but it will do for now.
Here to the left is the steering stabilizer in the full left lock position. You can see it's mounted to the "fin" on the radius arm cap and the salvaged bracket from the F-250 on the tie rod. This is a BDS stabilizer from Jeff's Bronco Graveyard and it mounts differently on F-150's and Bronco's but the idea is the same. Below you can see details of the mounting to the fin and the salvaged bracket. Simple u-bolts from the original bracket were reused to mount it to the tie-rod. The tie-rod came from a scrap pile at work, and the bulk of it is returning there after having this bracket and the coupling between tie rod sections salvaged from it.
FLASHBACK: 3-24-2007 -- The donor axle cleanup
I actually got the axle from the donor truck about 2 years ago. It stayed at work stored in an out-of-the-way place until I could sandblast it and bring it home. It was dirty and rusty and needed some extreme cleaning and I was able to use and industrial sandblaster at work.
Here's my buddy Bob who showed me how to use the thing sandblasting the chassis of his VW buggy project. It's part stock, part fab. This sandblaster is UNBELIEVABLY loud and kicks like fire hose when you first turn it on.
Here's the axle up on a stand. It's been blasted on the left side as seen here, but not the right. It was so easy to clean up using this method. It literally took less than 1/2 hour to completely clean and derust the axle.
Below are two views of the axle showing a cleaned up end and a dirty end.
I've had a good experience so far with Yukon gears in the rear of my truck, so I got 4.56 gears for the Dana 44 to match the ones in the rear. I also had to get a different carrier. Keep in mind with Dana axles that different ratios require not only a different ring gear and pinion but a different carrier. For instance on the Dana 44 there is one carrier for 3.92 and (numerically smaller) ranges, and a different one for 3.93 and up ranges. Pay careful attention to the ranges when changing gears so you don't get "surprised" during assembly.
FLASHBACK: 10-3-2006 -- A Dramatic Reason Why to SAS
If you've browsed my site here a bit, you've probably seen the first page with me jumping the truck. There's a movie of it and a still posted as well. The result of that jump I believe cracked the spindle/axle shaft of the then Doetsch lift spindles.
Well, I was driving 6 months later on a smooth road and suddenly...CRACK! The axle broke and the tire tucked up under the fender and I pulled it over. Here's some crappy cell phone pics of what it looked like.
35" (or larger) tires ABUSE = Busted Parts. I have gone through ball joints, bearings and tie rod ends like you would not believe with the old 4x2 lift setup. Here you can clearly see the broken shaft. Examining the break showed a discolored area of the cross section that had obviously cracked long before and been infiltrated by grease. Over time the crack or the remaining section flexed under load until fatigue caused it to fail suddenly under conditions of low stress. Good thing it wasn't on the highway at 70 mph! Thank you, Jesus!
I flat-bedded the truck back home and replaced the spindles with much stronger Fabtech ones. Too bad I wasn't in a position to start the SAS back then! The caliper mounting bracket had broken but the caliper was reusable.
I didn't trust the hubs/rotors and replaced them when I put the Fabtech spindles on. Part of the reason you can see here in a photo of the hub of the rotor of the OTHER side after I pulled the spindles apart. If I'm remembering this picture right. I did in bearings other times also so I'm not sure this is a picture of that failure -- but it gives you the idea. The bearings came apart under the stress and I was afraid to reuse anything on either side. The Fabtechs were on less than a year and will probably be up on eBay soon.
1/14/2008: Steering was driving me nuts (but it's a short drive...)
From day one after getting the truck back on the road, I thought my power steering pump might not be adequate since it seemed to strain so much. The wheels didn't quite return to center as they should so I was sure I had caster issues.
Well, a large part of that has been the power steering box. An eBay find that was not such a bargain.
In addition the steering shaft I built used this funky CV-style joint that was stock F-150 on the steering wheel end (but I used it on the steering shaft end). The boot tore on it and it was pulling out and causing the shaft to angle out when turning and causing a kind of play in the steering.
Here's the replacement box with the rebuilt shaft (third shaft I've built). This one uses the homemade 3/4" double-D adaptor I made on one end, with a Chevy Astro Van slip shaft and a used Borgeson heavy duty u-joint on the box end. This box turned out to be a "close ratio" box with about 3 turns lock-to-lock instead of the normal 4 turns. Much, much improvement in play and steering response. It's now a pleasure to drive the truck. In fact, the power steering pump is even quieter reflecting the problems the other box must have had.
I also shortened my drag link. I marked it so I could get it back together right, cut a piece off of it, beveled the ends of the two pieces, and welded them up solid. I also sleeved it for safety, but only with schedule 40 steel pipe (NOT galvanized -- don't weld galvanized without burning away the zinc in a well-ventilated area as zinc fumes are EXTREMELY toxic).
Here you can see all the parts and the homemade jig for aligning the pieces for welding. Note the marks on the rods to help me align them again. In the two pics below you can see the ends prepped for welding, and the pieces clamped in the jig which is made of a piece of 2" angle iron, a couple of jack stands, and a pair of c-clamps.
To the left, a closer view of the setup. Below you can see the ends close up and note there is a gap ("root gap") between them. Without this you can't get good weld penetration. Both the bevel and the gap are necessary to get a good weld. I'm by no means an expert welder, but that's the general idea. Below you can also see the welding in progress. Once you've gotten the first part welded and cooled, you can unclamp, turn the rod and continue. Once it's welded all the way around you can leave the clamps off and just turn it to finish the remaining passes. You need it clamped for alignment and to prevent bending after the first weld.
To the left the rod after its been fully filled and ground back down so the sleeve can fit over it. Oh, by the way: don't forget to put the sleeve on before you weld the splice! Below you can see the sleeve slid over the joint and tacked in place before final burn-in. Also, the finished product on the truck. Now my track bar and drag link are close to the same length which allows the steering box to operate over the full range and helps center the steering wheel and box range.
No big progress lately. Just some minor changes. I got a deal on 4 brand new BFG AT/KO's on 15x10 American Racing wheels (the wheels were well used, lol). So now I've got two sets of tires -- a street set and my muds for offroading. You can also see the bed cap a buddy gave me with his homemade monochrome camo job. I really like it so I'm leaving it like it is.
Well, the truck is finally a fully functional 4x4! The two pics below show a "before" and after for climbing a simple but steep grassy hill. The picture to the left is in 4x2 mode with the rear locker on. I got the rear wheels onto the hill before they slipped and dug and I went no higher. The right hand picture is in 4x4 (4 lo in this case) and I only stopped because I ran out of hill. No wheel slip at all.
The truck could never do this in 4x2! Here I've just climbed a serer access manhole that's about 2.5 feet tall -- no problem. In 4x2 I would have just butted against it.
For a front driveshaft I ended up with a shortened Jeep Cherokee front shaft that started out at 31.5" from u-joint center to u-joint center. A friend cut it down to 28.5" for me and it's perfect.
One thing you can see is that if your radius arms and front driveshaft are about the same length, you will have almost no change in driveshaft length with suspension flex. The picture on the left is the driveshaft with the drivers side fully flexed out, and the right is the drivers side full stuffed. Not much difference in length.
MORE TO COME... Show Less