YJ Transformation, From Mild to Wild in a Month
Building a Better YJ, in an Average Garage, in a Month Short Cuts

By: John Nutter - 5/2001

Photos by Brian Simon, John Nutter and Dave Jacobs

A YJ Project That Didn't Break The Budget!

Have you ever wondered what it would take to transform your nearly stock YJ into a serious trail machine? Brian Simon and I answered that question by building up his formerly mild YJ into a Jeep capable of handling any type of a trail situation. The YJ started with a sagged 2.5" lift, a Rubicon Express "cut your own shaft" type slip yoke eliminator, stock axles, 4.10 gears and a Lockright. In the end it was fully built trail machine capable of taking on all the extreme trails. Want to find out what we did to get it ready for the rough stuff? Read on. Curious about how these modifications worked? They worked very well. Check the 2001 Moab Easter Jeep Safari coverage and look for Brian's Jeep on Moab's toughest trails.

Photo by Brian Simon
The finished Jeep.
Photo by Brian Simon
Testing the Suspension.
Photo by John Nutter
Getting the un-needed tubing out of the inner knuckle.
Photo by ???? John and Brian are both in the photo. Dave Jacobs must have taken this one.
Welding the inner knuckles to the front axle tubes after shortening.
Photo by Dave Jacobs
The inner knuckles are actually a tight press fit on the tube, the welds don't support any weight.
Photo by Brian Simon
Drilling the new hole for the driver's side spring centering pin.
Photo by Brian Simon
Removing the inner pinion bearing with a hammer and brass drift.
Photo by Brian Simon
Installing the ARB. It should not just drop in on a Dana 44. Be careful not to hit the ARB air line witht he dead blow hammer.
Photo by Brian Simon
Checking backlash. Dial indicators are not very expensive. Buy one if you want to do any gear work.
Photo by John Nutter
The ARB without the O-rings.
Photo by John Nutter
The ARB with the O-rings.
Photo by Brian Simon
The ladder bar.
Photo by Brian Simon
The lower ladder bar mount on the skid plate. There is a shackle between this mount and the bar, just like the shackle on one end of a leaf spring.


The original plan was to drop a cheap pair of Grand Wagoneer axles under the Jeep and put the existing springs on top of the new axles. This plan soon changed when Dave Jacobs offered Brian a high pinion Dana 44 from a '79 F250 for a bargain price. Dave and I had cut one of these down to Grand Wagoneer dimensions for Dave's Jeep last Summer and the high pinion had really helped Dave's front drive shaft angles, so we knew it would be the best way to go for Brian too. We decided to cut the F250 axle to keep the track width close to stock, and the Grand Wagoneer shafts fit well with that plan. After tearing down the Grand Wagoneer Dana 44 that would donate the axle shafts, we began the work on the high pinion housing. The tubes on the F250 housing were too long for the Grand Wagoneer's inner axle shafts, so the first job was to cut the housing down to size.

The first step when cutting a Dana 44 housing down to a smaller size is to measure and plan. Figure out exactly what you want to do before you do anything. I'm not going to offer any simple formulas on how to duplicate this axle, if you can't figure out where to cut you should leave it to someone who can. More information on cutting down a Dana 44 housing can be found at http://www.outdoorwire.com/jeep/tech/axle/conv/dana44/fsj-cj/ Both sides were cut down for this project. We began work on the spring perches after the housing was cut to size and re-assembled. After taking some measurements we discovered that the hole for the center pin on the cast in spring perch needed to be moved in towards the center by about 3/4". The old hole was plugged with a piece of metal and welded shut and a new hole was drilled in the correct spot. Once the hole was drilled we went for a test fitting with a YJ spring pack and some U-bolts and discovered that we needed to do some serious grinding to make everything fit. A few hours and several grinding wheels later we had everything fitting like it was intended to be that way. The passenger side was much easier because we only needed to weld a spring perch in place.

With all the cutting, welding and grinding done it was time to clean the housing, install new axle shaft seals and set up the 4.56 gears and ARB air locker in the front. The Dana 44 from the rear of the Grand Wagoneer was used as originally planned. The rear went much faster since we only needed to strip off all of the old brackets and spring perches, clean the housing and install the 4.56 gears and Detroit Soft Locker. It is much faster to install a Detroit becuase you don't need to spend hours getting an air line routed perfectly. There was still more work to do with the steering and brakes, but the internals of the axles were finished at this point.


Brian wanted to try to go with the springs that he had been using. They had originally started life as 2.5" lift spring packs, but over time they had sagged down to near stock height. Brian had added more leafs into the rear pack at one time, and the rear sat a little higher than the front. We put the axles on jack stands under the springs and started checking over the situation. We ended up pulling out all but three leafs from each pack in an effort to keep the Jeep from getting too tall. When we were done the height ended up being about the same as a Spring Over YJ using stock packs with add a leafs. This was simple and inexpensive solution, and we found out later that it really flexes well. Brian went with 35x 12.5" Super Swamper SSRs. The lift cleared the Swampers well, even at full twist, but soon sagged. The simple solution was to put the leafs we had removed back in, and now it's sitting at the right height and flexing properly again.

Drive Shafts

With the Jeep sitting on top of the Dana 44s at it's normal ride height we could begin to see the big picture of how the lift was coming together, and it was clear that we were far from done. The biggest issue looked like it was going to be rear drive shaft angle. Brian wanted a CV type rear drive shaft, but was having trouble finding a CV type flange for his budget slip yoke eliminator. I could see that even with a CV flange that slip yoke eliminator was still too long and suggested that Brian look into a heavy duty 32 spline output shaft conversion kit so he could make use of a spare Spicer 1310 CV shaft that I had. Brian began researching his options and in the mean time a fellow club member sold him a set of 1" raised motor mounts. While Brian was doing his research he came across a deal on a refurbished Atlas transfer case from Advanced Adapters. The price was too good to pass up and soon the transfer case was on its way. Rear drive shaft angle was looking good with the Atlas and 1" motor mounts. The 20" long rear drive shaft was a major improvement over the short stock shaft. We also discovered that the front drive shaft was too long, so Brian had the stock shaft shortened to fit.

Final Details

We were able to determine the pinion angle for the rear axle once we had the rest of the drive train in place. With the pinion angle set it was quick work to weld on the spring perches and rear shock mounts. A new transmission mount was purchased and the skid plate was bolted in at stock height. Eventually the high steering parts arrived and the rest of the front end was assembled using Wagoneer brake parts.

The high steering arms were angled in more than the original Wagoneer arms, so the stock Wagoneer tie rod and drag link needed to be shortened. Dave Jacobs showed up on a very cold Saturday to show Brian and I how he shortens these parts. Dave starts by carefully measuring the required length and cutting the Wagoneer tie rod down to size. The Wagoneer tie rod is stepped down for the threads, so Dave used an angle grinder and reduced the sized of the end of the tie rod down to about 1 inch, so he was able to run a 1" 14NF thread die over it and re-thread it to fit the adjusting sleeve. It sounds easy, but Dave took his time on the grinding so that he was able to keep the tie rod round and concentric. The drag link was easier because no re-threading was required. Only about 1/2" was cut off the drag link and the rod end that attaches to the pitman arm, plus another 1/2" from each end of the drag link's adjusting sleeve. The Drag link was put back together and works fine with this minor modification. The YJ pitman arm was removed and replaced with a Wagoneer pitman arm to match the larger taper on the Wagoneer steering parts.

The last part we needed to work on was the ladder bar for the rear end. The purpose of the ladder bar is to control spring wrap, and Brian knew he would need one with the soft springs that he'd chosen to use. The design of this bar was the basic triangle, but with a threaded portion at the apex to allow the bar to rotate when the axle articulates. A shackle was used at the leading edge of the bar to allow for length changes during articulation. The material for the ladder bar was heavy wall seamless tubing with a 1" inner diameter. Shackle bushings from a CJ were chosen for all three corners of the ladder bar as well as the lower shackle mount. CJ shackle bushings work well for this because they have a 1" outer diameter and fit a 1/2" bolt through the center. The mount on the axle was made from 3/16" thick steel plate, and the threaded part was made from an old Wagoneer tie rod and adjusting sleeve. The mount for the lower shackle bushing was made from the same tubing and welded directly to the stock skid plate. The skid plate was heavily reinforced in the area where the mount was attached to prevent the skid plate from deforming under torque.

What did it all cost?

Cost summary:
Refurb Atlas I:                           900
Detroit                                      350
ARB                                          615
Rear Gears                                125
Front RR Gears                          165
3 axle housings                         300
Driveshafts                               150
Wheels                                     225
Tires                                         875

Tubing                                      40
Shackle & busings                      15

Yokes, u-bolts, u-joints
Axle u-joints                 60  ($12x5)
Axle u-bolts       80  (4x$8 + 4x$12)
Motor mounts                            60
Tranny mount                            25
Speedo Gear                             12

Special thanks to Dave Jacobs for all the help with this project as well as assisting with the photography and beer drinking. Thanks also to Joe Isle for loaning his wire feed welder to Brian and I for a month.

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