IFS to Live Axle Conversion (SAS) ...
The first pictures are of misc parts and such. The new 35s vs the original 33s. The James Duff radius arms. The front Dana 44 reverse high-pinion housing and, just barely visible, the two boxed ARB air lockers. Rear standard rotation Dana 44 with the new axle shafts in the housing is sitting on the 4x6s. The next three are of the completed rear Dana 44 assembled with disc brakes, ARB air locker and Precision Gear 5.38s awaiting install in my Sport.
They've started! The next eight in the series are of the rear Dana 44 installed in the back. Just waiting for one brake hard line and e-brake cables, pinion angle adjustment and finish welds on the perches to be completely done. The bright blue line is the ARB air locker line. You can also see the cross member under the drive shaft that still may have to be modified for clearance. A CV drive shaft is being installed so that may push the drive shaft far enough back to make modification to the cross member unnecessary.
Next, are two pics of the completed rear axle assembly. You can see my original Rancho RS9000 RS9126s; they look to be a perfect fit. Following are two pictures of the partially disassembled front IFS assembly. All of this goes away! The next four pictures are of the striped and cleaned up front frame with the front axle in position.
Four more; only slightly out of place. :-) Completely striped front passenger side. The next three pictures are full shots of my Sport on the rack. Looks pretty bare without the IFS!
OOPS! Retraction! The pictures above of my shiny new front axle are incorrect. The front axle in the above pictures is a Ford Dana 44 reverse cut high-pinion model but it's for a Ford F150 not a Bronco. You can see from the pictures that the C bushing and knuckle assembly is a single cast unit unlike the Bronco axle where the C bushing and knuckle assembly are seperate pieces. This axle would need to be shortened 2" on the driver side and 6" on the passenger side to fit as well as have the C bushing mounts relocated inboard of their present locations - away from the knuckles - to align the lower spring pads with the upper spring buckets. Seems someone picked up this axle by mistake. The correct axle is already at the shop.
Here are a few shots of the back with tires mounted and sitting on the ground as well a picture of the - correct - axle. As you can see the differences are pretty obvious. You'll probably notice that the radius arm mounts are not on yet but its sized and ready for install. The body will actually sit about two inches lower than in the pictures; not all the weight is on the rear. Believe me, that is a good thing 'cause you'd need a step ladder to get the spare off right now.
Following are three pictures of the assembled Dana 44 reverse high-pinion axle and the new transfer case cross member - the black bar crossing just in front of the catalytic converter. There is a really good picture of the radius arm and C bushing assembly as well as the ARB air locker.
Well, after quite a bit of work they've decided that the new radius arms aren't going to fit due to their length. So, they're back to using the regular Ford radius arms. In the next four pictures you can see the new axle mounted to the chassis and one of the new progressive springs.
Yes! Its finally on the ground! The next four shots give a pretty good idea of ride height and angle. Dang, but it looks so much better with the Dana in the front! Following those four are two pictures of the front steering assembly. You can see parts of the high-steer steering stuff in these.
The next six are of the front axle with the new vented disk brakes and part of the semi high-steer steering setup and the new front drive shaft. The pictures of the axle are at the maximum amount of drop they plan to allow. Limiting straps will go on closer to the end of the project.
In the next seven pictures you can see the new assembled steering assembly - drag link and tie rod. The relocated steering box which doesn't even look like it moved (1" to the left and rotated about 10 degrees) and new forged pitman arm. You can just see the track bar mounts next to each end of the drag link. He was installing that when I left this evening. The drag link and track bar will be perfectly parallel. Oh, and there's a shot of the new CV drive shaft.
Here are four pictures of the almost completed front steering track bar assembly. These pictures show the only two "Johnny-Joints" used in the entire conversion. In the first one of this set and the fourth one of the last set you might also notice the completly unobstructed access to the entire bottom of the engine, all the accessories and bell housing. Major plus to this conversion!
The next four are of the new hub assemblies. Warn Premium manual hubs, disk brakes and the heavy 3/4 ton Dana 44 axle shafts and U-joints.
Well, that's about it for the front. The next six pictures are of the completed front minus the limiting straps, which were ordered today, and the soft brake lines. The springs are not installed in these pictures because it was easier for him to finish up without them in the way. Otherwise, its done. Notice the new track bar which differs from previous pictures. I got two more inches of upward travel because of the slightly different design. In these pictures the axle is compressed about an inch so its not exactly at normal ride height.
And, that's it! The last nine pictures are of my Sport on the ramp and on the street. Its all done! Yes! Dang, it looks NICE, too!!! Took a quick measurement last night. I have 25" measured from the ground to the bottom of the frame rail centered between the front and back tires. And, its was 69" up the ramp when I took the pictures. That was with two more inches to go before it hit the bump stops on the front and a brand new TIGHT suspension. The shop said give it a few hundred miles and I'd get another couple inches. Too cool!
Ok, so you're probably asking yourself, "Why would ANYONE want to DO this to a perfectly good vehicle?!??" Well, "anyone" probably wouldn't want to. Most people are quite happy with their vehicle just the way it is. But, then again, most people just drive whatever they have back and forth to the supermarket or to drop their kids off at some function or other.
When I bought mine that wasn't too far off from my intended purpose. I needed a vehicle that would carry several kids and or adults, computer gear, whatever and get me back and forth to work in the Colorado winters. I also wanted something to go camping in. And, yes, something to do some light 'wheeling in, too, maybe a couple times a year. A good, durable all around carry-all. So, after much looking and driving I bought my Sport - a good vehicle that matched my needs perfectly at the time.
However, priorities and needs change. I no longer need to carry lots of kids and a fiancee, but my "light" 'wheeling a couple times a year is now more like a couple times a week and has progressed from dirt fire roads to crawling over rocks the size of VERY large prehistoric animals. And, instead of computer gear I now have four times as much in recovery gear, spare parts, tools, straps, jacks, tires, etc. And, now my job lets me spend a dozen times more time in the Rocky Mountains in the winter as it used to.
So, slowly over three years, I went from needing a drive around town mini-van to a drive off highway truck. Yes, I can hear you all saying, "You should have bought a Jeep." Maybe, but I'm attached to my vehicle now. Double sealed doors, extremely high quality construction, ROOM for STUFF, quiet, comfortable and almost completely PAID FOR. Overall, my Sport STILL had 97% of all the qualities I wanted now. The only exception was drive train and suspension.
When I first bought it the drive train was not an issue. However, changing from the stock P265/70R15 tires to 31x10.5 and then latter to 33x12.5, adding an 80lb ARB Bull Bar with an 80lb Warn winch, Garvin steel rack and the gear, tools, and gee-gaws in the cargo area showed the need for much deeper gearing in both the axles and the transfer case; even deeper then the 4.63 axle gears it already came with.
And, while Independent Front Suspension (IFS) may be all the rage on the street, I soon was reacquainted with what I'd learned in high school. There is NO WHEEL travel in the front suspension of a 1968 Pontiac Firebird. My trusty 'Bird front suspension was a duplicate of my brand new rough and 'wheel'n Montero Sport. A-arms to idler arm. And, like my 'Bird, wheel travel was nonexistent.
Anyway, with the number of my 'wheeling trips increasing right along with the difficulty of the trails I was faced with a couple problems. First, getting deeper axle and transfer case gears for Mitsubishi products either from the dealerships or after-market arena was a virtual impossibility and increasing trail difficulty was requiring more and more equipment that just wasn't available. Second, IFS is just not the "trick set up" for crawling. Lizard boy doing 60 MPH down a flat desert track in SoCal may love it but for the Rocky Mountains where top speed is usually slower then you can walk and everything seems to be at a 40 degree angle it creates some untenable problems; the big three being: lack of wheel travel, durability and vehicle stability. Lack of wheel travel creates a loss of traction every time you hang a wheel, IFS suspensions tend to force the body to follow the motion of the suspension rather then the suspension moving while the body stays relatively stationary and CV, Birfield, whatever joints are not known for their strength nor are any of the other parts in an IFS set up.
The solution seemed pretty obvious; no, it was NOT "buy a Jeep". This solution would kill three birds with one stone. Get better gearing, more wheel travel and more durability all in one "swell foop", so to speak. I'd put in a SOLID AXLE to replace the IFS! I'd started reading about "Frankenfinder", Chris James' converted Nissan Pathfinder, and Rock Runner, Chris Geiger's 4-Runner, and almost a year and a half ago started wondering, "If they can do it why can't I?" Over the next year or so I started seeing more and more conversions to solid front axles and hearing more and more about the improvements it'd made in exactly the areas I was having problems in.
That was it. I had my solution! And, I'd even get some perks! More lift. Enough lift to fit 35x12.5 Geolandar M/Ts under my Sport! Since I'd already fell in love with the 33x12.5s I was currently running this seemed too good to be true. So, ok, decision made, now what? Need a shop. A good shop! A REALLY GOOD SHOP that has LOTS of experience in doing weird things like putting an American solid axle in the front of an IFS equipped Japanese SUV. That actually proved to be the easy part. Convincing them to do it and then their getting the time to do it proved to be a bit harder. As many shops as there are in California that do this now you'd figure Colorado wouldn't be lacking good 4x4 fabrication shops. Well, obviously, living here your entire life doesn't mean you know everything. But, after tons of research, prearranging fabrication of parts with other shops, and much groveling, begging and pleading and almost daily trips to the shop that was going to do the actual conversion over a period of about four months a schedule was set, money changed hands and parts were ordered!
Oh, and what parts they were! After agonizing over the choice of a Ford 9" for the rear versus a Dana 44 I settled on the Dana 44. Principally, because I could get 5.38 gears for both the reverse high-pinion and standard model Dana and the rear standard model Dana pinion would sit higher then the Ford 9". Hopefully, this will not come to bite me in the butt some day down the road. The Dana 44 is not quite as strong as the Ford 9" but since I don't plan on running larger then a 35x12.5 tire I think I'll be ok. Also, instead of searching through junk yards for some old, used Danas with the possibility of problems I decided to go with brand new housings; the shop contacted Currie and a week or two latter they showed up. ARB air lockers front and rear was a no-brainer as was front and rear disc brakes; since mine already came with them I'd stick with discs. My brand new Ford blue James Duff, Ent., Inc. radius arms showed up promptly on time; the new long travel ones featured in the November 2000 issue of Off-Road magazine. Yes, radius arms. The much maligned Ford radius arm suspension was my choice for sitting this Japanese body on top of that nice shiny new Detroit Iron axle. Lack of front frame rail and an ARB Bull Bar bumper pretty much ruled out leaf springs and my demand for simplicity and durability over the long haul - this being my daily driver - ruled against fancy, arcane 4-link and 3-link suspensions even without taking into consideration space constraints under the chassis. So, while many might argue that you won't get the maximum amount of wheel travel possible from the vehicle, few will debate the longevity of a plain radius arm and coil spring set up; I am quite content to loose 2-4 inches of travel if my suspension parts will last 20,000-40,000 miles longer. Tires and rims ordered arrived and I was summoned to pick them up. Five shiny new 15x8 inch American Racing 136 rims sporting new meat - 35x12.5 inch Yokohama Geolandar M/Ts! All the other miscellaneous parts also showed up at the shop along with three sets of axle gears. Yes, three. It seems Richmond Gear, the maker of the 5.38 reverse cut gear set for the Dana 44 high-pinion, has stopped making them; the shop, after spending a day on the phone calling all over the country and coming up empty handed, finally found two sets which I bought both of in case something breaks down the road.
The Project ...
Well, they've started! The rear axle install needs to be done first so that the front can be adjusted to match the amount of lift from the spring-over in the back. The only problem encountered there has been, as anticipated, the cross member that the torsion bars mount to. However, there is much more clearance then I thought there would be even with the spring-over and they plan on installing a CV drive shaft so modification to the cross-member may be in order rather then removal and reinstall of a fabricated unit somewhere else.
In the pictures you can see the bright blue line for the ARB air locking carrier. You can also see the housing vent line running to a sealed unit built into the chassis. This is a factory design from Mitsubishi and just one instance of their attention to details that makes an off road vehicle. You can also see shots of the disc brakes. These are Ford Explorer disc brakes. The rotors are bought as blanks and drilled to the required lug bolt pattern - in my case the Chevy 6 lug to match the front Chevy hub assemblies. Cool, huh? Aside from the factory stock appearance I also get the internal drum style parking brake assembly rather than the much less then dependable "in the caliper" e-brake. The entire brake assembly - calipers, rotors, hoses, pads - is DOT approved, too. Nice touch for a daily driven vehicle like this one.
Well, rumor has it they're supposed to be working on the front now. Time to take more pictures!:-)