Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: Belleville, Illinois
Thanked 22 Times in 17 Posts
There are a lot of choices. When I needed a front D44 I just went to the yards and looked to see what was there. Eventually I found a full-size '79 Cherokee and an '84 Dodge Ram Charger axels for $75 each. I used the Jeep housing because it was passenger-side drop and had the right gear ratio, and the entire Dodge outers, because it had a better brake setup, five-lug hubs and flat-top knuckles. I narrowed the housing 7" on the left and 3" on the right, IIRC. I also modified the knuckles so that the stock steering linkage geometry would work, and it makes a very tidy swap that very few people realize isn't stock.
The main point is that there are a lot of possibilities. Chevys and GMCs used passenger-side drop, and some also had five-lug hubs, but they can be hard to find. Just go cruise the yards, write down what's there and then post your findings. We'll point out the good possibilities and combinations.
For the rear, the AMC 20 differential is very strong. The weak points of the CJ version are the two-piece axle shafts and the housing. There is nothing that's a direct swap other than a CJ D44, which is also rather rare but out there. I think your '81 is still a narrow-track where all of the later CJ Danas are wide. Not sure about that, and someone will correct me if I'm wrong. There are older CJs, from before the AMC days, that had D44 rears, but those are really rare now. Also, I think some of the Jeep Postals had D44s which might be the right width.
But the good news is that if you install some one-piece shafts your 20 should live a long time, and welding up some bracing on the tubes will help even more.
My next project is to narrow a heavy-duty AMC 20 from a Waggoneer for my CJ. It has one-piece shafts, larger-diameter tubes and also larger axle bearings. I think that narrowing a rear is going to be a bit more tricky than doing a front, though.
Oh, the Explorer axles use a smaller bolt circle than your CJ. They're very strong axels, but I don't know if you can get them redrilled to your bolt pattern.