High Steering Conversion with Early Bronco Axles


It’s been almost three years since the Early Bronco axles went under the Jeep’s springs. It only took a few days to get used to the way my YJ behaved with the springover and everything else that had changed during that project, but one thing that always bothered me was the bump steer. That much lift had put such an angle on the drag link that I felt every pothole and speed bump as a tug on the steering wheel, and even accelerating and braking made the Jeep pull to one side or the other as the front springs compressed and extended. I got used to all this just fine, but obviously something needed to be done sooner or later. The other downside to the D44 upgrade was the loss of turning radius – the combination of a dropped YJ pitman arm and the factory EB knuckles left me with fond memories of the (relatively) small stock YJ turning circle.

The most basic solution to the bump steer issue would have been to install a track bar, but I’d never had any luck fabricating an axle mount that was high up enough to keep the bar parallel to the drag link and strong enough to withstand the leverage from being so far away from the axle. My initial attempt at a bracket broke and I never got around to improving the design.

Why not? Because I knew there was a better way. Back in ’98 a few people on the ‘net were starting to talk about a high-clearance steering modification for Dana 44 front ends, and once I saw the photos I was convinced – this was the right way to fix the bump steer problem, and to regain my factory turning radius at the same time! It works by moving the tie rod straight up about 5", massively reducing the operating angle of the drag link. This means a factory pitman arm can be used, and the steering linkage can be moved closer to the axle tube, both of which improve the turning radius. Having the tie rod up higher keeps it out of danger from rocks at the same time, which is definitely for the better.

Here’s how the high steering conversion works:

  1. Get a set of factory steering knuckles from a mid-70’s GM ˝-ton truck (like a Blazer, for example). The same knuckles can be found on some ˝-ton Dodge truck and Jeep Grand Wagoneer front D44s as well. You can identify the right passenger side knuckle to use by its large, flat top and the bosses on the inside of the casting where the three studs will go through.
  2. Mill the top of the passenger-side knuckle dead flat (it comes from the factory as a rough cast surface) and drill and tap three 9/16" fine-thread holes in it, to match the ones in the driver’s-side knuckle.
  3. Bolt a pair of custom high-steering arms from BR Fabworks onto the knuckles.
  4. Install the knuckles (with new balljoints of course) onto the Dana 44 front end, replacing the factory knuckles.
  5. Install a custom-length tie rod and drag link, and reassemble the front end outer parts.

That’s it! Sounds pretty simple, eh? I suppose it is, relatively speaking, but as with most projects the devil is in the details. Also needed to make this work is factory GM fastening hardware to attach the arms to the knuckles. Chevy used three high-grade 9/16" studs per side, each with a special tapered washer (to positively align and secure the arm) and a jam nut. Here’s a list of the GM part numbers and prices for these parts:

Part Name

GM Part Number

Price (in CDN $) each

9/16" stud

3965137

$6.92

Tapered washer (adapter)

3965138

$5.76

Jam nut

9442950

$1.88

Remember, you’ll need six of each part. Brace yourself for the total – these things aren’t cheap, but then think about how important it is to you that your steering doesn’t fail, and pony up. Now isn’t the time to cheap out and buy this stuff from your local hardware store.

As for the arms, Bob Rogey at BR Fabworks made these to order, and got them out to me within a week. Sure there are other places making high steering arms out there, but nobody could touch Bob’s prices, and I couldn’t fault the quality. They’re very beefy, cut from 1-1/4" thick steel plate, each with three tapered holes that lined up perfectly with the studs on the knuckles. At the ends, I asked Bob for tapered holes sized for the factory YJ tie rod ends. The passenger-side arm got an extra hole right at its end to hook up the drag link. With the tie rod flipped over and bolted to the tops of the arms, the tapered hole it has for the drag link was now pointed in the wrong direction, so running the drag link over to the steering arm seemed the most sensible way to hook it up. This meant I had to have a 3" longer-than-stock drag link tube made at a local machine shop, but on the flip side the extra length reduced the drag link operating angle even more.

I decided to go with the YJ tie rod and drag link because they’re relatively cheap and easy to find around here. With the tie rod tucked up above the springs out of harms way, I reckon strength is less of an issue. Besides, if I start shearing off tie rod ends I can always have the holes in the arms re-bored for the larger GM rod ends. In order to make the YJ tie rod fit my EB D44, I had to have it shortened by 4". Other D44s will need different lengths, of course.

Here are some photos of the arms mounted to the knuckles. Note how Bob recessed the bottoms of the drag link and tie rod holes. This clever idea puts the nuts at the right depth for installing the cotter pins, while keeping as much beefy steel as possible out at the ends of the arms.

Here are a bunch more photos, these ones taken over the course of the weekend I spent doing this swap:

 

Acknowledgments

There's a few people who helped out greatly during the course of this project. Without them it would likely have taken even longer than it did, and that’s saying quite a lot.

References

Thinking about doing this conversion yourself?  Here's some links with more useful information on the topic:

Questions?  Email me!

Or, go back to my home page!