Project Beast: Solid Axle Swap

For years I had read about the benefits of doing a solid axle swap (SAS) on an independent front suspension (IFS) Toyota truck. Realizing I was reaching the limits of my IFS I began researching what it would take to SAS my truck. I spent about a year reading other articles of SAS's and all the options in doing the swap. I first decided on using an 84-85 Toyota pickup axle and the same all-pro kit most guys have used. This setup works well and had been used on many trucks. A good friend of mine who has worked at a couple off-road shops began giving me more ideas about what we could do with my truck. We decided the truck would be more stable and perform better if we went with full width axles. I bought from him and another friend a dana 44 (68” wms-wms) and a ford 9” rear axle with 31 spline axles. I was now ready to start gathering parts for the axles and the swap.

[ToyotaOffRoad.com note: Snorkleman is running a 1992 extended cab pickup with a 3.0 v6. Mods include Yellow top battery, High output alternator, All-Pro sliders, All-Pro front bumper, Stout rear bumper/carrier, and Steehorse bucket seats.]

I wanted to use at least 36” tires on the truck so I decided on getting 5.13 gears front and rear. I also wanted to get lockers and we would be replacing the gears anyway so it wouldn't be a big hassle. I chose the Detroit locker for the rear axle and a Detroit tru-trac for the front. I began looking for good deals on gears and lockers and ended up going with Complete Off Road. I ordered my gears, lockers and bearing kits from Mike at www.completeoffroad.com . The right parts were delivered and I was satisfied with the price I paid.

The next step was to find the suspension parts needed. Since we were going to fabricate most of the parts for shackles, perches, and steering, I really only needed to get some springs and shocks. I ordered 5.5” lift rear springs from All-Pro (www.allprooffroad.com). I also got 12” travel 5100 Billsteins and front 5” lift springs as well. I could have used Chevy or other springs and been satisfied but I decided on spending the money and getting new springs. After dealing with UPS losing one of my spring packs, All-Pro sent me another one and all my parts were in the garage.

I also started gathering other parts for the brakes, bearings, ball-joints, and other bits and pieces. It is easier to slowly gather all the parts than spend one lump sum right before doing the swap.

The last part of the getting ready for the swap was to assemble the axles and get them ready for when we cut the IFS off. Since this is my daily driver I couldn't leave the truck in the garage for long. We had to get it in and out. Plus we were using a friends shop and had to have the truck out of the garage during business hours.

Like everyone who has done this, we made many trips to the parts store mid-day searching for something we forgot about or needed last minute. I'll try to cover as much about the swap as possible in this write up. Now on to the swap….

We began working on a Thursday night assembling the axles. After unloading all the parts and axles (and goofing around as usual) we began tearing the knuckles down on the front 44. I had begun tearing the front axle down but needed some extra hands to get the factory studs out of the knuckle. We ended up welding a nut to the studs to get them out. Now that the studs were out, we were ready to pull the ball-joints.

Chris goofing around Boxes of parts

I had already torn the rear axle down and cleaned it up for rebuilding. The front however required a specific socket to remove the ball joints. We purchased the socket and pressed out the ball joints using an air hammer. Once the ball joints were out we cut off the old steering arms and cleaned up the knuckles. We also spent some time sanding the rust down off the axle. Once the axle was torn down and cleaned, we put on new ball joints.

Axle without the ball joints New ball joints and removed steering arms

Rushing on a job can cause you to forget things. Sorta like forgetting to drill and tap the knuckle for the crossover steering arms before putting them back on the axle. That wasn't a big deal so we continued on and drilled the knuckle by hand using a square on the drill and taking it real slow. I was nervous about this part. If the studs weren't straight then the arm would not press all the way on and wouldn't be tight. Since this is steering we are talking about, it was important to get it right. After drilling, tapping, and threading the longer studs onto the knuckle, the steering arm went on just as it should have. It set flush and was tight against the knuckle surface.

Drilling the knuckle Setting up the steering arm with spacers

I ordered my steering arms from www.shakerbuilt.com. I also ordered the 1” spacer to raise the steering arms higher above the springs and improve steering arm angles. Tim at shakerbuilt made sure the taper on the steering arms fit the Tie Rods I was going to use. I also got the longer studs to fit the raised steering arm. Everything he sent worked great and I would recommend his product to anyone.

Next up was the gears and locker. I had never done gears before so it was a learning experience for me. We first pulled the old gears and carrier out. Dana 44's need different carriers depending on what size of gears you are installing. We setup the new carrier with the new gears and locker and checked for proper backlash and pattern. Here is a pic of our second try. We ended up doing this a couple more times to get it just right. One trick that helps save time is to use the old bearings off the old carrier and trim the inner race down. Then the bearings slip on and off the carrier each time you have to pull it out and change the shims. Makes things go a lot faster.

Once the gears were finished we installed the front hubs, bearings, brakes, axles and rotors. This axle came with 6 lugs but I was converting to 5 lugs to match the rear axle. It is easier to just buy a new front hub with 5 lugs and get 5 lug rotors. Everything went on fine. I used the old axles and old locking hubs but planned on getting some new chromoly axles with 760 u-joints, and some better locking hubs later.

Shimming the gears - Second try Completed front axle

With the front axle complete, it was now time to turn our attention to the rear axle. First on the list was to add a truss to keep the axle from bowing under stress. I doubt my little 3.0 v6 could do that, but it came with the purchase of the axle so it was definitely going on. Once the truss was welded on we needed to put in the gears and locker.

Fortunately I had purchased a complete diff from Complete Off Road with 5.13 gears and Detroit locker setup and ready to go. It only cost a little more and saved a bunch of time. Besides, I had accidentally cracked the original diff when taking it apart. With the new diff in and the truss installed, we started working on the brakes. I wanted to go with the disc brakes on the rear and get rid of the drums. I looked around and found a disc brake conversion bracket from David Lepp. His website is www.metalfusionfab.com. His kit comes with part numbers and he is very helpful in finding what you need. I used brake parts from a big bronco. It was basically the same parts as the front.

We installed the rotors (with some shaving explained below), calipers, and brackets. Once the rotors were on we could tell where the brackets needed to be located on the axle tube. We trimmed the brackets to fit the location where we needed it on the axle and tacked it in place. Once we were pleased with how it was setup, we welded it in place securely.

Rear axle with disc brakes welded on Completed rear disc brake conversion

We did have to shave down the axle flange a bit to fit inside the rotors. We did this with a grinder and turned the axle in constant motion to keep grinding even on all sides. Once they were on, all the brake components were installed. I ended up replacing the axle seals as we encountered a leak during the installation. Once that was done the rear axle was ready for installation. We spent one weekend to get both axles ready for the swap. Next weekend we start cutting the IFS out.

Shaving the axle flange down to fit the rotors Both axles complete and ready to go

We met after work on Friday and began disassembly of the IFS and rear axle. Everything that night went very fast as expected. We decided while cutting to leave the stock engine mounts. They would be out of the way since we are using full width axles and would be easier than cutting and boxing them. We disconnected the brakes and steering first. Then we disassembled the IFS assembly and lowered it to the ground and rolled it out of the way. With the IFS out, we plasma cut the IFS mounts off. We spent some time grinding to get the frame clean.

IFS on its way out Here are the mounts we left

After getting everything clean on the front frame, we pulled the rear axle and springs. Once all the suspension was off the truck we pulled the pitman arm from the steering box. This took some time as the arm was held solidly on the steering box. Constant work with a puller, mallet, and lube finally set it free. You want to be careful not to damage the box when pulling this off. We then cut a small piece of tube to fit inside the pitman arm as a conversion to the tie rod ends we were using. We welded it in place and tapered it to fit our tie rod end. Now it was time to start the planning on paper for all the mounts and angles for the steering. We had decided not to rotate the pinion on the front axle so we wanted to make sure we design it as level as possible. This meant lower front shackles to match the height of the front crossmember. It also meant running the shackle mount through the frame instead of perches on the frame. This would allow the spring to sit level and work better without giving too much lift.

The second concern was how far to move the front axle forward and keep proper steering geometry. We wanted to move it as far forward to increase approach angles. With using the stock steering box, we were only allowed about 1.5” to move forward (spring eye was 14.5” forward from pitman arm using 5” lift springs). This would allow us to keep our steering arms in correct alignment and from hitting the springs.

Here it is with no axles Sketching out the plans

Once we had a good idea of what we wanted to accomplish it was time to start fabbing the crossmember, perches, steering arms, and mounts. For the crossmember we used a piece of 2x3 square tubing (we also added trusses on this when we were finished welding). The ends of the tube were cut at an angle to support the perches. The perches were cut out of 3½” x3½” square tubing. They were cut and drilled to house the bushings and springs.

At this point we wanted to go ahead and put the tie rod on the front axle so it would be easy to move it around. For the steering rods we used a piece of 1.25 383 wall DOM tubing and a ¾” tap for our tie rod ends. I used Moog ES-150 tie rod ends. We installed the tie rod and checked the alignment front to rear on the brake rotor using a tape measure just to get it somewhat straight. Now we were ready to roll it under the truck.

Once we had the pieces together we rolled the axle in place, installed the springs, installed the perches and centered the crossmember. We lowered the truck onto the springs and checked to make sure everything was centered. Once we were happy with the location of the crossmember and perches, we tacked it into place and disconnected the springs. Now it was time to drill the rear shackle mounts.

Because we were using a full width axle, the spring perches on the axle are wider than the frame. This meant we had to offset the shackle mounts to fit the location of the springs. We measured the frame and picked the right spot for drilling the mounts. The older Toyota frames are trussed very well inside the frame wall. We used a carbide tipped hole saw which cut both holes. Once the holes were cut, we found a piece of tubing that would serve as our shackle mounts. We cut the tubing longer than the frame to allow for the offset springs. We then cut a smaller piece of tubing (same tube as steering arm) as a spacer on the shackles. There is a picture below which will explain this well.

Crossmember and perch tacked in place Webbing in the frame
Offset spring mounts in frame Using a spacer for the shackles

Once we had the springs and shackles in place we mounted up the axle and began finishing the steering. We took another piece of tubing and cut it to length to match what we needed for the drag link. We tapped it and added the tie rod ends and bolted it in place. Now we had full crossover steering. Once the front axle was on we realized our pinion angle was steep and would require a high angle driveshaft or some pretty crazy homebuilt driveshaft. This will be discussed later.

On to the rear axle… First off we needed to decide on where to mount the springs. These springs are longer than stock. We decided on moving the rear axle back to give the truck better rear departure angle and make it stable. Once the mounting points were measured, perches were fabbed same as the front. After mounting the axle and using the stock shackles, we realized we wanted more height. We made some longer shackles and moved the rear mounts back farther. We finally were happy with the height. We also chose to use spring mounts on the axle instead of U-bolts. The axle truss was in the way of U-bolts and we didn't want to drill into it. I have heard differing opinions about doing this but so far it works well.

Spring perches being measured Spring mount before being welded

Once both axles were on the truck we made some more adjustments to make sure it was the way we wanted it, and then welded everything on with truss tabs and solid welds. Once this was completed we measured the rear driveline. On Monday we would need to have the rear driveshaft made to fit. I used a conversion joint on the rear diff along with my Toyota driveshaft lengthened to fit. Now we needed to convert the brake lines. We made a trip to the parts store to get some brake lines to run the rear lines and front lines to the brakes. We bent the lines by hand and used some steel braided lines to run from the axles to the hard lines. Once we had the lines hooked up we bled the brake system. It became apparent that we needed a larger master cylinder to push fluid to the larger calipers on all four corners. I left the brakes how they were until later that week when I could pickup a Chevy master cylinder. We rolled the truck out of the garage and parked it till we had the driveshaft. All the hard stuff was done.

Rear brake setup with driveshaft installed Front brake lines and new tabs

Now on to the finishing touches that happened as we found time later that week. First off we needed to add the 12” travel Bilstein shocks. Chris quickly bent up some fine front shock hoops and we welded them on and bolted the shocks up. In the rear we used an angled approach to get all the travel out of the shocks without having to mount up through the bed. We used a small bent tube welded to the stock crossmember to obtain a mounting point.

Front shock hoops Rear shock hoop - blue line is the breather hose

After working on options for a while for a front driveshaft, Chris came up with this home built job. It is a dual splined shaft with limiting tabs on each end. He used a Toyota yoke and a 1310 yoke joined by a dual spline shaft. It does vibrate around 15mph but it works pretty well so far. There is a double transfer case setup in the works which would move the driveline back and relieve the harsh angle so we could use a better driveshaft. But that is another project. We also added a Chevy ¾ ton master cylinder to assist with braking power. I used a ½“ piece of steel to mate the Chevy MC to the Toyota booster. I found this idea on the net and basically did it the same way. You have to recess some bolts for the master cylinder then drill holes through the plate for the stock bolts into the brake booster. I wasn't able to find the conversion brake lines here locally but lucked out while visiting my wife's family in California. Her uncle owns a huge parts store and I found all the brake line adapters to change from the large bore size of the ¾ ton MC to the foreign size on my truck.

Front driveshaft fully extended Chevy 3/4 ton master cylinder

The brakes work much better with the Chevy MC but still need more bleeding. Even with a little mush in the brakes, it stops and holds better offroad than the drums ever did. I also had the tires balanced again and the front end aligned. I have been driving the truck back and forth to work and love how it rides. I still need a steering stabilizer but the truck doesn't wander enough to make me want to rush out and get one. I took the truck on its maiden voyage to Summertown TN on New Years Day 04 and everything worked better than I had imagined. The truck flexes like crazy and climbs very well. All in all I am very satisfied with the swap. The truck looks and performs better than I had even imagined. I was very fortunate to have a good friend who had access to all the tools and shop to make the swap easier. He also did all the welding and had experience doing such work. This was a team project that we had both been planning on and was worth the wait. Here is the remaining information on the swap.

Links used while researching the options for doing the swap:

http://www.pirate4x4.com/tech/billavista/Steering/Steering_Index/SteeringIndex.htm
http://www.completeoffroad.com
http://home.4x4wire.com/erik
http://www.foothilloffroad.com/fod44faxle.jsp
http://www.flynhi.com/fst.htm
http://www.metalfusionfab.com/
http://www.shakerbuilt.com/Products.html
http://www.tellico4x4.com/steering/soa.htm
http://www.4x4wire.com/toyota/tech/dana44/axle/
http://128.83.80.200/taco/sasfaq.html
http://www.azrockcrawler.com/_images/2001/10-01toyaxles/10-01toyaxles.html
http://www.aor4x4.com/index.htm
http://www.bentup.com/
http://www.allprooffroad.com/

Here are some of the parts lists I used. I unfortunately didn't keep a great record of costs for the swap. I know the price was probably around $5000. I was able to sell some parts to buy stuff I needed which helped.

Front Dana 44 axle with flat top knuckles with passenger side diff.
Rear Ford 9” axle with 31 splined axles and truss
Front 5.13 gear – Yukon gear
Front dana 44 carrier for 5.13 gear
Rear 5.13 gear – Yukon gear
Front Detroit Tru-trac locker
Front bearing and install kit for gears
Rear Detroit locker installed with diff and gears
Rear axle seals
Rear 5 lug rotors
Four GM calipers with pads, clips, 7/16” banjo bolts, and two rear rubber brake hoses.
Four 5 lug brake rotors
Two front Big Bronco hubs with bearings, seals and lug bolts
Front Ball Joints
Moog Tie Rod ends for steering (Moog ES-150 R and L)
Shakerbuilt Steering arms
Shakerbuilt 1” steering arm spacers
Shakerbuilt 1” longer knuckle studs and nuts
Front 5” All Pro lift springs
Rear 5.5” All Pro lift springs
Four 12” travel Bilstein shocks
Disc brake conversion brackets
Rear axle truss
Steel braided brake lines and brake T for rear.
Conversion U- joint for rear driveshaft
Misc shackle bushings
Bolts for rear spring mount – grade 8
5 feet 4 ½ “x 5/16” flat bar (U-bolt plates)
1 ½ “x 5/16” flat bar (Shackle material)
12 - 9/16 bolts and sleeves 4 ½ “ long for springs
2”x3” square tube for cross member – 5 feet
3” ID square tube for perches ( 3½”x 3½” OD)
1.25 383 wall DOM tubing and a 3 ¼ tap (not sure of the taper)
Lug Nuts
¾ ton Chevy Master Cylinder
½” steel plate cut to size
Brake line adaptors misc sizes
½” flat plate for master cylinder adaptor
(4) 15x8 US Wheel 5lug 5.5 pattern
(4) 36x12.5x15 Interco Super Swamper Radials
And misc fluids, oils, nuts, locking washers, locking nuts, washers, scrap steel, and welding tabs.

Learn the phrase “Fifty dollar ya to death!” All the small stuff adds up fast.

Here are some before and after pictures, misc pictures, and during swap pics….

Before SAS After SAS
Before SAS After SAS

Nice Welds!

DISCLAIMER

The information provided above was submitted by a visitor to ToyotaOffRoad.com.  ToyotaOffRoad.com takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information above.  ToyotaOffRoad.com, it's owners, or Toyota Motor Company deny any liability for actions taken based on the information in this article and will not accept responsibility for damage incurred to any vehicle, parts, or person, based on those actions.  As always, ToyotaOffRoad.com encourages its visitors to seek the advise of a professional before attempting any modification to any vehicle.

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