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Time to SAS Hawairish's truck

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Time to give this subforum some love...


In a couple weeks, I will have owned my Pathfinder for 10 years.  I bought it as a birthday present to myself, having traded in a 2008 Wrangler 2-door several months prior for an SUV that could actually fit two baby seats (unlike a 2-door Wrangler).  My kids just turned 10 and 11 the other day, so I'd say we're way past that point.  Time flies.


I purchased the truck with just under 166K miles, and in another 400 miles it'll reach 200K.  It just turn 20 yrs old.  Some milestones here.  You could say I've done a few things to the truck over the years.  As it sits today, it's got front and rear air lockers plus 3.97:1 crawler gears, among other things.  I've finally sorted a few gremlins that have plagued me for the last year-plus.  Sold the bumpers a few months ago; need to build new ones.  But right now, I've been hankering for something significant, and if I don't spill it here, it may never happen.  So, here goes!


I think it's time to SAS my truck.


I've been stewing on this for a long while.  In August 2021, I bought an incomplete SAS project from a guy that included a Dana 44 axle, a bunch of new parts including matching gears for both the D44 and H233B diffs, an Xterra TX10, and even the 2000 Frontier everything was destined for.  I mainly bought the SAS parts for $1000, but the truck with a blown headgasket was only another $700 so I bought everything.  The axle was rebuilt (sorta).  The truck overall was disgusting, but at some point I at least considering repairing the truck and possibly completing the SAS on it.  I literally gutted the interior to clean out layers of filth in the form of dog hair and caked-in dirt to clean everything, but in the end, I didn't need a 3rd truck and sold it to a buddy.  But, here I am with all the SAS parts still...and then some.


Since then, I have properly rebuilt the Dana and bought and sold a few other parts towards the project.  I've not officially started it yet, but I plan to soon especially since a few suspension and steering parts are already due for repair and replacements.  At a very high-level, these are my project goals/objectives:


  • Keep costs low.  To date, I'm already in $2500 in parts (factors parts bought and sold), and another $500 in tools/consumables.  I expect to spend another $1000-$1500 in parts and tools, but also probably recoup another $1200 in parts.  $5K seems like a reasonable cap.  I am tracking all my transactions.  I've also bought several parts either on clearance, or from others who've abandoned their SAS projects.
  • Restore gearing.  I swapped in 4.63s long ago, but as we know, this is the end of the line for R50 owners.  SAS opens up gearing options, and this might be the number one reason for me.
  • Keep the ride reasonable.  I am not doing this to go overboard on lift or tire sizes.  In fact, I expect and want to end up a little higher than where I am (currently about 5" of lift between OME HD and 3" SFD up front, and 9448s and 2" spacers in rear for 6" lift).  I do not ever expect, nor want, to run more than 35" tires, and I have plenty of life left on my 33" tires.
  • Build confidence in parts.  I've never had trail failure with CVs, TREs, shocks, springs, bearings, hubs, etc., which is great.  But...I'm also at my max comfort limit.  Without any beefier steering and suspension part options available, it may just be a matter of time.  The axle, suspension, and steering options I have in mind will give me a ton more confidence.
  • Not regress on things.  I expect everything I install will be better than what it's replacing, though probably the most debatable part might be my choice of leaf springs vs. IFS in terms of ride comfort.  But going to a straight axle will inherently change the ride comfort, regardless of the suspension type chosen.


Breakdown of components:



The D44 I have is from a 1981 Jeep Wagoneer SJ.  It's the "narrow-track" version with a WMS-WMS width of 60.75".  According to my notes, I measured 62.25" WMS-WMS on my current stance, but can't recall if that includes the 3" worth of wheels spacers I use (I don't think it does).  So, this should be pretty close, and if I have to run spacers again, no sweat.  It's also a low-pinion axle; the high-pinion R200A is preferable here, but the slightly larger D44 gears might make it an even trade-off.  



The axle is set up for spring-under-axle (SUA) using leaf springs, and that is the approach I plan to take.  I mulled over all the other suspension types, and while something like a linked or radius arm setup seems great, it's simply out of budget.  I've read no shortage of past and current comments about how dumb leaf springs are, how dumb they are on a truck/unibody with 4-link rear, how old-tech they are...blah blah blah.  I'm not trying to ignore such advice and comments, but realistically, it's how I want to allocate my money and effort, and it aligns wonderfully with what I want out of a finished truck.


That said, the SUA approach greatly simplifies a lot of things for me and that's why I like it.  I plan to use OE leaf springs for the Wagoneer (I have new Dorman units).  With an offset center pin, they should allow me to move the axle about 3" forward from the current driveline.  Instead of shackles, I will use leaf spring sliders.  Mounting everything will be a challenge.  I intend to make a subframe that uses the existing subframe mount points and has the provisions for the front leaf eyelets.  The rear sliders may be incorporated into a new or modified transmission crossmember.  Plan to make everything from scratch to keep costs down...plus I have a CNC plasma table and small press brake, so there's that.


I will also not do a traditional u-bolt setup to attach the axle to the leaves.  Instead, planning to make a u-bolt eliminator kit to minimize parts hang-down under the perches.


I'd love to do a RA or linked setup, but the decision alone instantly adds $1K-1.5K to the budget between joints, coils/coilovers, and material.  There are savings here and there, but it's not significant.  I've also considered going to a spring-over-axle (SOA) setup, but this will also greatly introduce costs, namely needing to buy a high-steer knuckle, potentially needing to "cut-and-turn the C's" to correct pinion and caster angles, and also adding about 5" more lift than what I want.



I will be going to 5.13 gears.  On 33's, it'll be about -3% over-geared, but on 35's, it'll be about +1%.  The axle originally came with 5.89's installed and in-box for the H233B, but I sold those.  Too much for my needs.



I already run an ARB in the R200A, so of course I'm locking this one.  Axle came with a Spartan lunchbox locker, but I sold it and bought an ARB instead.  In between, I bought an Auburn eLocker/LSD combo (LSD when it's not locked), but it arrived with all sorts of damage so I returned it.



Axle came with old Warn Premium hubs, but bought some new Mile Markers on the cheap from Amazon Warehouse.  Warns will serve as backups.



The axle came with all new/rebuilt brake parts, which is great.  They're beefy.  However, this setup means defeating ABS braking since this is axle is 40+ years old.  Many people won't care and just plan to delete or omit ABS, but I don't like defeating or ignoring systems, especially not considering how pleased I am with the braking performance on my truck with the rear discs.  Plus, I think the speedometer factors vehicle speed by the wheel sensors, since there isn't a speedometer pinion on the t-case.


To get around this, I'm going to mimic a setup a guy uses where he machines down the Dana hub to accept a tone ring and use Hummer H3 rotors and calipers on it.  A new caliper bracket adds the provision for the wheel sensor, and it's a perfect a solution.  In my case, I would do pretty much the same, except I will keep the R50 calipers.  Comes to find out, an H3 rotor is the same thickness as the R50 front rotor, and the diameters are very similar (H3 315mm vs R50 300mm) to the point I can just move the caliper out a little.


Also worth noting is that on the Dana hub setup, the rotor is mounted behind the hub, kind of like our R50 setup.  In taking this approach, the rotor will install over the hub, which will increase the WMS a small amount (about 1/2") and make rotor changes easier.



The axle came with a 3/4" Heim steering kit, which is pretty beefy.  But, I didn't like that it was essentially going to be a straight bolt in a tapered hole on the knuckle.  No way that won't wallow out in time, and it seems most people suggested modifying the knuckle to make it double-sheer.  Instead, I'm going with a GM 1-ton tie rods.  These are beefy, too, and I have less worries about shearing.  I will have to ream out the knuckles and pitman to get things to work, but I have the reamer.  The kit also included 1.5" OD x .25" wall DOM tubing, and although the previous owner already got the tie-rod to the perfect length for the setup, I'll need to cut off the ends to weld on new bungs for the GM setup.


For the steering box, I'm planning to use a one from a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee (WJ) 2wd.  This will sit inside the chassis rail.  Would've been nice to stick with Nissan and use a Frontier or Xterra gearbox, but those sit outside the their frames and I didn't feel like cutting through the wheel well.  Fortunately, these WJs use metric fittings, so hopefully adapting the lines won't be difficult.



TBD.  I have three pairs of shocks once fitted to R50s, including the last two longer sets from my own truck while lifted.  I plan to use them if possible to keep costs down.  Mounting them will be a challenge.  Easiest approach would be making new plates that mount where the strut does, but I think it'll be too high up from the axle.  I don't want to make the mounting tabs from it extend too low, but I have other ideas in mind.


Subframe/Motor Mounts:

This will be the most complicated part.  Won't know my exact approach until the OE subframe and everything else is out.  I also plan to make some new motor mounts using poly bushings I have around.




Right now, I'm waiting for an engine support bar to get delivered sometime next week.  I may start pulling things off the truck and get this going very soon.

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One more thing.



TBD, kind of.  The pinion flange on the axle straps directly to a common Spicer 1310 u-joint.  The R50 driveshaft uses an uncommon joint so I can't mate them, but the driveshafts in D21 Hardbodies and 1st and 2nd Gen Frontiers and Xterras did use 1310s.  The D21, D22, and WD22 all run TX10s so they'll mate up perfectly, and the TX15 on D40 and N40 trucks has an output flange with the same pattern.  I suspect the older driveshafts will be too short (I think they're about 1" shorter than the R50's), but the 2nd Gens are about 6" longer.  Presuming they have enough slip on them, they might be perfect donors.


Also, this is where the SUA has benefit.  Hopefully, I won't need a truly custom driveshaft or a double-cardan joint since this will sit relatively lower than a SOA setup.  This should also minimize the amount of clearance needed on the transmission crossmember, though I think the 2nd Gen driveshafts have a larger diameter than the 1st Gens.

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1 hour ago, mjotrainbrain said:

Ooh, looking forward to seeing this come together! You mentioned needing to do new bumpers as well, do you have anything in mind for those?

Sort of.  They'll be plate and I've started a few designs, but stopped short a while ago.  Buddy of mine with a Q had a custom rear bumper done that I'd like to mimic to some degree in terms of having dual swing outs (tire + a pannier box for a motorcycle), integrated hitch, and drop down tables.  High quality build.  I didn't want to trek too far ahead on the front because I want to make sure it doesn't interfere with whatever mounting I need to do for the leaf hanger.

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Posted (edited)

A few teaser pics...


The axle and springs, all rebuilt and mostly painted up.




Outer hubs.  Nice part about this axle is that it has the same 6x5.5 pattern.  Uses these smaller 7/16" studs, though.  If I changed nothing, I could just put my current M12x1.25 spacers on it to adapt the thread pitch, but I will be changing these to use M12x1.25 studs.




You can also get an idea of how the rotor is attached to the backside of the hub (the wheel studs press into the rotor, which has a tall enough shoulder to also press fit into the hub.


Backside of the hub and knuckle.  No space to squeeze an ABS sensor in.  




This is the idea on how to incorporate ABS into the axle:




These are parts by a guy/company called THOR Parts.  Very clever solution where he modifies the backside of the hub to accept a tone ring, machines the hubs down so Hummer H3 rotors can fit over the hub (note the studs pressed into the hub first), and then adapter plates to hold H3 calipers and a GM ABS sensor.  Again, I plan to keep the R50 caliper and hopefully the 45° angle on the ABS sensor leaves room.  End result should be something like this:




GM 1-ton TREs.  Pic doesn't do justice on how fat these things are.  The treaded ends are 7/8", compared to the R50's 14mm (9/16") threads.  And these may still be the weak link in the steering!  




ARB and 5.13s installed, new bearings, slingers, shims, everything:




Beefier diff cover, nice deal on it from a local guy.




Mock-up of leaf placement:




The perch width on the axle is almost perfectly the same width of the radiator crossmember, so the spring would reside almost perfectly under the wheel well skirt, directly under the subframe spacers so to speak.  Notably, when using the narrow-track D44 I'm using, it wouldn't leave a lot of space for a conventional coil spring between the tire and wheel well, which is one reason I like the leaf spring approach (coilovers aren't cheap).  Less of an issue running the wide-track version, though.


I do plan to retain the sway bar and I have a pretty good idea on how I'll achieve that.


Another downside to using leaves is the loss of clearance up front in small section.  I'll likely lose a little departure angle unless I move the front hanger position back.  With the low SAS, another issue is just exposure to the axle and steering.  The tie rod will reside above the springs, but still be fully exposed in the center.  I've hit plenty of obstacles with my skid grate, so it'll be a concern.  Could go to full high-steer, but it's costly and doesn't do anything about the axle still be exposed.  (Notably, these issues exist for any straight-axle truck, regardless of suspension type.)




The rear mount will be interesting.  The chassis starts to widen halfway between the rear subframe mount and where the leaf eyelet is, leaving mostly nothing directly above the eyelet.  The transmission crossmember holes are still a good 12" past that, and there's no useful existing bolt holes and a bunch of overlapping sheet metal in that space (i.e., around where the OE jack pad is).  I imagine I'll need to get a lot of that flattened out and cleaned up, then will probably weld in some sort of support plate.  I'd like to tie it in with the cross member if possible.




You can also see that my CV boot has given up the goods and slung grease.  I don't want to deal with that any more.

Edited by hawairish
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Hell yeah! Looking forward to seeing this one come together.


Nice that there's a kit to retain ABS. Is the tooth count on the GM tone wheels the same as the ones in the R50 hubs? I don't know if the ABS would notice/care about a mismatch vs the rear speed sensors, or if it's just looking for lockups.


I've got a WD21 front driveshaft on the floor in my shop, let me know if you need measurements.

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8 hours ago, Slartibartfast said:

Hell yeah! Looking forward to seeing this one come together.


Nice that there's a kit to retain ABS. Is the tooth count on the GM tone wheels the same as the ones in the R50 hubs? I don't know if the ABS would notice/care about a mismatch vs the rear speed sensors, or if it's just looking for lockups.


I've got a WD21 front driveshaft on the floor in my shop, let me know if you need measurements.


Ah yes, let me expand on that.  This part of the project is one of the main reasons I became more willing to move forward on it.  In short, I'll be using the R50 tone ring.




I had a junk R50 spindle and hub laying around.  Ring pops off with a little effort, and the ID is just barely large enough.  The backside of the D44 hub will get machined down to about 1/8" thickness (about the thickness of the flat lip at the top).




Since the H3 approach was already laid out at the time, I did look into using the GM ring initially.  But it's 55-tooth vs. the R50's 48-tooth.  Any mismatch would/should screw with the ABS and ECU.  Tried to find suitable matching rings that could maybe be machined down to fit the rear axle shafts, but that sort of search proved difficult.


One more notable about the brakes: whenever I've read about Nissan guys using the D44 brakes, they always need to jump to a larger brake booster and/or master cylinder.  The D44 calipers are monster one-pots.  I was stoked to see that the H3 rotors were the exact same thickness as the R50 rotors, and very similar diameters.  Using the R50 calipers means not having to change anything about the system, which is huge.  The next hope is that both the ABS and brake hose are long enough to support axle droop with my setup.  It looks very promising considering that the lines snake around the strut and have a lot of slack.


Thanks for the offer about the WD21 shaft dimensions.  The FSMs have so far provided the base dimensions, except the slip distance.  I was also really surprised to see in the FSM (and echoed by Nissan Nut) that the WD21 driveshaft also uses the oddball u-joints the R50 does.  All the other trucks had the 1310 joints (same true for the rear shafts).  What gives, Nissan?

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On 1/6/2024 at 1:01 AM, hawairish said:



I'd love to do a RA or linked setup, but the decision alone instantly adds $1K-1.5K to the budget between joints, coils/coilovers, and material.  There are savings here and there, but it's not significant. 


Looks like I've talked myself into doing a radius arms setup at the 11th hour.  I'll just have to keep things on the cheap affordable side as best as possible.


Conveniently/suspiciously, my Facebook feed today showed a local Marketplace listing for an adjustable track bar (panhard bar) and OE sway bar with disconnects from a JK Wrangler.  Met up with the guy, talked shop, observed the cringe-face when I mentioned "unibody", and made the deal for $100 for everything.  Track bar could be a $115 Amazon knock-off, a $150 Rough Country unit, or $325 Teraflex unit because they are identical.  Key thing is that it's shaped to wrap around the diff cover and it's adjustable...and within the range I'd need it.  Does need to be freshened up and bushings replaced, but that's easy stuff.


The JK sway bar is straight and beefier compared the R50 unit, which I was already planning to reuse but poses some complications because of the shape.  I'll probably toss or sell the disconnects that it came with; they're worn, but appear to be a rather expensive Teraflex set.  I plan to run disconnects either way.


Engine support bar arrived the other day and the garage is as clean as it's getting.  I may start tearing things down in the morning.  To be honest, this project terrifies me more than any other I've done so I'm dragging my feet to dive in.  Pulling stuff off is easy, but there will eventually be a point-of-no-return moment that I hope I don't dread.

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30 minutes ago, tobin_r50 said:

This is going to be the craziest r50 ever built. Have you ever thought about power train upgrades?


Ha, hopefully not too crazy, but surely not the craziest.  There were videos of this one R50 that surfaced the other year of probably the most amazing Pathfinder out there.  SAS'd, dual axle steering, and an amazing suspension setup I can't even describe.  The work was pro.  Dude even had a pet duck.  F'n hero.  Wish I still had the links.


Define power train upgrades, though.  I do have dual lockers and crawler gears, and it's been an amazing setup so far.  Engine performance wise...there's not really anything available and mine has been such a hog the last 2 years that I don't think I want anything from it beyond stock performance and better fuel economy (I'm barely at 12 mpg after fixing a major intake air leak that went undetected for a while).  I have a few side quests that hopefully I can address when there's down time, including changing (or attempting to change, 2nd try) at least the upper cats.  "SAS" and "fuel economy" probably shouldn't be bundled together, but I think the new gearing's going to help a bit.

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A pet duck is crazy. What a legend. Sorry my question was worded poorly, but you also kind of answered my question in your response. I was curious if you had ever thought about any form of forced induction, or god forbid an engine swap of some kind.

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Jeepers have rubber ducks, this guy has a real one! Dammit, now I want to see this, too.


A guy on here turbo'd his VQ and was having transmission slip issues. Probably more hassle than it's worth in a rig that goes places where most tow trucks don't.


12 mpg is rough. Hopefully the gearing helps. I've heard of some rigs de-tuning themselves if they have smog codes--no idea if the R50 works that way, but that could explain a lot.


The point of no return is always daunting. If it helps, you've got a group of Pathfinder nerds here cheering you on. :popcorn:

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Well, project officially began today.




Had some helping hands:




Just need to figure out how to sling the engine up.  No good attachment points on the passenger side at all.  Once I figure that out, I can pull the subframe and finally have a clean slate for mock-up.


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10 hours ago, tobin_r50 said:

A pet duck is crazy. What a legend. Sorry my question was worded poorly, but you also kind of answered my question in your response. I was curious if you had ever thought about any form of forced induction, or god forbid an engine swap of some kind.


All good.  Yeah, our VQ is just too complicated and so poorly supported to justify changing things, unlike every other VQ35DE that's actually supported well.  I've given far more thought to turboing the KA in my Frontier, but recently I've been looking into EV swapping it instead.


8 hours ago, Slartibartfast said:

Jeepers have rubber ducks, this guy has a real one! Dammit, now I want to see this, too.


A guy on here turbo'd his VQ and was having transmission slip issues. Probably more hassle than it's worth in a rig that goes places where most tow trucks don't.


12 mpg is rough. Hopefully the gearing helps. I've heard of some rigs de-tuning themselves if they have smog codes--no idea if the R50 works that way, but that could explain a lot.


The point of no return is always daunting. If it helps, you've got a group of Pathfinder nerds here cheering you on. :popcorn:


I really wish I could find those videos again.  Truly amazing work.  Lost in the ether.


12 mpg is very rough.  Was 10 for a while, which made it just miserable to want to drive it anywhere.  I'm sure it's because my tire/gearing setup right now is nearly 8% under-geared, so dropping to 3.5% over-geared will lighten loads up considerably until it's time for new tires.


And thanks for the support!  I'll take all I can get!



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Phase 1 (Disassembly) complete!


Finished removing all the power steering components, basically leaving only the steering linkage at the firewall.  Little leaks and dirt saturation all over the pump and reservoir, both of which will get cleaned up, rebuilt, and new hoses.  Leaning towards buying a hose crimper just to do the high pressure line myself when the time comes.





First fabrication of the project was making engine slingers.  Once I pulled the p/s pump I could see where the holes are for factory slingers, but it basically mandated use of those specific genuine tools and it's a pretty lousy spot.  Instead, I made a bracket to mount where the p/s pump was, and another that attaches to the motor mount bracket.








With engine supported, I could drop the subframe and spacers...clean slate!








One thing's to be said about preparing the space on a unibody vs. a framed truck...there was zero grinding or cutting involved.  Everything just unbolts and that's it.  I'm going to try to keep other things as bolt-on as possible.  For sure, the area where the steering gear box will go will be plated and sleeved, so welding required there.


Phase 2 (Mock-up) began by dropping some plumbs and getting the axle in place.  For now, I just needed to get a solid feel about how much space I'll have between the tires and the wheel well skirts.  Looks like it's almost 7", but that might be a generous number.  Coil springs I'm eyeballing (likely a Jeep WJ or JK spring) appear to be about 5" OD.  I'll get a little more space if I run the 1" spacers I already run, and I prefer that stance overall.








Initial observations are good overall!  For now, I'm using the Heim steering setup for mock-up since it's already the correct length, but it'll get chopped up a little to use the GM TREs.  The JK adjustable track bar looks like it might be a really good match length-wise for the drag link, but numbers still pretty rough until I can mock up the gear box.  Plenty of oil pan clearance, though I still want to move the axle forward another inch or two than shown in pics.  Good clearances so far.


As for the radius arms, I've been looking into either making custom arms or using a OE set from an FJ80.  I'd prefer to minimize work if I can since pretty much everything else has to be fabricated from scratch.  There's a set somewhat local to me that needs some cleaning and new bushings; easy enough.  Length looks to be about perfect, too.  The tails should end up around where the transmission crossmember is, which will work out great building up a new crossmember for the mounts and driveshaft clearance.


Next step is to start mirroring the subframe mounting points so I have an idea of how to reattach the motor to the chassis and space for mounting provisions.  Also need to pull the motor mounts, get them jigged up to make poly versions, and clean up the chassis rail where the gear box will go. 

Edited by hawairish
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So much room for activities!


Buying the hose crimping tool is probably easier than explaining what you need to the guys at the local auto parts place, and probably cheaper, too. I don't remember what my dad paid to have a hose made for our plow, but it was not cheap.

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Initially, I looked into threaded fittings and I think I identified all the ones I would need, so the hope is that a crimper isn't even necessary.  Main concern is just the high pressure side as I will retain the pressure sensor on the line.  Main parts are just the banjo at the pump, a tee for the sensor, and fitting at the gear box.  Low side is just hoses through a new cooler and hose clamps.




Slow progress yesterday, mainly just a full mock-up day.  Right now, axle's looking real good 2" forward.  I originally had the truck lifted about 5" higher than it was previously, but lowered it down to about 3" higher.  Supposing I can get it at that height, that'd net about 8" of lift from OE height which I guess feels low for a SAS project, but in reality meets my project goals better.  The rear is currently about 6" over stock and at this 8"/6" stance, the truck is perfectly level according to my sliders.  When the front is done, I will be redoing the rear suspension to also move the axle back about 2" to center it up in the wheel well and at that point I'll probably lift another 1-2" to get some rake back.

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Not sure if this counts as point of no return yet, but the truck has officially been modified.  The pivot box brackets are gone.






Spot weld drill bit did the trick for the most part; fought keeping it centered sometimes.  Radiator had to be removed to gain access, of course.


I did a brief mockup of the steering box and I was initially hoping to not have to cut the wheel well for clearance, but it might be inevitable.  It'll be tight in that space.  Hopefully it doesn't require me to move the axle back further, am liking where it sits now.  


Tubing got cut today for the GM TREs and the bungs tacked in.  I'll cover steering links at a little date when I have more mocked up.

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Slow progress yesterday and today.  CAD'd up the poly motor mounts and am going to try to get the pieces cut tomorrow.


Made a bit of a drive today to pick up some FJ80 radius arms.  Had been eyeballing a crusty set on eBay, but with tax and shipping they'd be about $250.  Fortunately, the guy's not far from here so I got in touch with him offline...done deal at $80.  They were as crusty as expected, so they needed some wire wheel'n.








And now I have RAs, into them about $140 after gas and new bushings.  And here's what we're shooting for...






This orientation is how the FJ80/FZJ80 is set up.  In that world, some guys will flip the RAs to be atop the axle, and I was hoping to do the same but the rear subframe mount would ultimately limit up-travel unless I put a lot more lift back in.  But, this setup works fine for me.  I need to drag the axle back out to cut and grind the leaf spring perches to tuck the arms up.  Passenger side shouldn't be too bad, but the driver's side is integrated into the cast so it's just a big chunk of steel I'll need to get through.  I'm going to see if I can move the arms outboard so that I'm just dealing with tube, but I think the tires will just scrub on them.


As far as rear mounting goes, that bushing is almost directly under the transmission crossmember, which is perfect.  Plan there is to build a new crossmember that has the mounting provisions, and also clears the driveshaft.  I plan to reinforce the mounting area and add more attachment points.


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  • 2 weeks later...

The last few days have largely been spent measuring and CAD'ing things.  Latest efforts have been towards designing the plate work on the driver's side chassis rail in the engine bay.  In general, I'll plate the top, side, and bottom of the rail about 24" to provide the provisions for the steering box, panhard mount, motor mount perch, and bump stops/limit straps. 


The passenger side will be different since I only need a plate with provisions for the motor mount perch and bump/limit components.  This plate will be bolt on, though.  There's vast difference in working space between the LH and RH sides of the rail.  I'd have to tear down the engine further (coolant pipes, exhaust manifold) to have better top access, but then there's still an AC line right on top of the rail that I'm not going to relocate or weld around...can't even slip 3/16" plate under it.  But, I have a good bolt-on plan.


Speaking of motor mounts, I finally welded up a poly set.




This will be the gear box placement.  Hard to see with shadows, but there's clearance at all points so zero need to cut the wheel well.  Placement is 1.25" above the rail, and 0.5" off it.  The rail tapers in that area so my plating approach will also square it up.






However, this placement will have the metal edge of the radiator right up to it and obstructs the fan shroud.  The radiator will be moved 1/2" over and planning to heat the fan shroud up and reshape it.  I also forgot to mock this up with the airbox initially, but it cleared just enough.  The high pressure line will be routed under the engine.  Should work great because it'll be tucked up with other oil lines, is within reach of the pressure sensor, and the pump's OE hardline already points downward in that direction (assuming I can use part of the OE line).


Reamed out a tie-rod and the pitman to accept the larger GM TREs.  That was sucky process, but it got done.  This is one thing where I need to keep in mind that some trail spares need to be modified in advance. 


Work on the brakes and ABS design still a work in progress.  I discovered the R50 calipers mount a lot closer to the hub center than I thought they would...my initial (mis)calculation showed me they'd be fully obstructed, so I had a small panic until I realized I used the wrong measurement in my math.  Still, fitment is tight.  Going with 4th Gen 4Runner rotors (also FJ Cruiser and 05+ Tacoma) instead.  Same nominal thickness as R50 and H3 (28mm), but slightly larger diameter than H3 (300mm vs 315mm vs 319mm).  I'll take any additional clearance I can get.  Plus, I figure there will be more support for Toy parts in the long run...or in my case, more RockAuto clearance options.  But, before I could pull the trigger on returning the H3 rotors and buying the 4R ones, I fired up the CNC router to make a bracket to visualize the general placement.




This isn't the exact depth the caliper (it is the exact distance outward it will be), just a general placement so I could confirm things clear.




That's right: I can wear sandals in my garage during the winters here.  Though, I do wear steel-toed shoes for projects like this.  Saw one thread of a guy SAS'ing his Tacoma...he dropped a Dana 60 on his big toe.  "¡Adios!" - toenail.




I don't know the physics behind caliper placement, but my understanding is it matters.  The R50 and D44 calipers are mounted higher, but I have obvious constraints here.  The mock-up put them vertically, but I should be able to rotate them up a few more degrees.


The main problem with doing these brake mockups is that can't fit the rotors until the hub is turned down to fit inside the rotors (D44 brakes normally mount to the back of the hub).  Fortunately, unlike the H3 rotor, I was able to attach the 4R rotor to the backside so I could good reference distances.


I'll need to go a slightly different direction for the tone ring.  New plan is to make larger tone rings that'll move the sensor up and out, but also avoid taking too much meat off the hub, particularly where it'd overlap where the inner bear race is installed.  The general idea:






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This looks great. Any updates? There aren't too many SAS r50 around and most of them seem to be hack jobs. Of course knowing you, yours will be the outlier!

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Some good progress yesterday and today!  Nothing major, but big little steps, so to speak.


Yesterday drilled some holes in the chassis rail to mount up the steering box so I could confirm fitment.  Box is a little closer to the wheel well than I had mocked up, but still clears fine.  Box is rigged in there with some spacers for the time being until I get all the plate work designed out and the bolt sleeves in hand.




With box temporarily attached, I was able to measure up for the steering link and get to chopping the R50 and WJ units.




The WJ shaft normally has about 10" of slip, but in it's reduced form now only has about 2.5".  I couldn't really get more because I needed to keep enough round tube at the end for the splined end from the R50 shaft...but since the R50 shaft also tapers down, that piece also needed to retain enough length.  Total shaft length ends up around 16".  The R50 shaft OD is about 1/16" smaller than the WJ shaft ID, so I hammered some 1/32" washers around the shaft, tacked them on, smoothed them out, and ended up with a nice friction fit that also kept the splined end centered nicely.  Main thing here was remembering to align the flat part in the spline upwards and perpendicular to the flat sides of the WJ shaft.




Also got around to chopping off the leaf spring perches on the axle, since they obstruct where I'll need to mount the FJ radius arms.  The passenger side wasn't too bad since it was just a cast piece welded to the tube.  The driver's side perch, on the other hand, is cast into the housing but fortunately wasn't too bad.  Attacked it with a cut-off wheel and my cheap HF sawzall.




Still need to measure up the arms and design some brackets.


Shipped up the D44 hubs to Towndawg for his magic touch.  They've got a fancy industrial CNC machine at work that will be making the tone rings, so I'm excited to see how that turns out and getting them onto the modified hubs so I can work on the backing plate for the calipers and ABS sensor.  He's also going to turn some custom hub adapters that'll support the 108mm rotor and a wheel spacer up to 1.5" (I plan to run the 1" I already have), and then narrow down to 100mm for Nissan wheels.

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No progress today, but yesterday I felt confident enough in axle placement to cut up my last piece of tubing for the drag link, so now I can talk about the steering setup.


The approach here is what the SAS community calls "GM 1-ton TREs".  Several 4wd shops sell these kits as "Y-Link" setups.  Since this axle came with a Heim kit that was mostly welded up (drag link was ready to be cut to length), I'm just using the tubing but cut the pieces in a manner that retained some length with the bungs previously welded in (project foreshadowing: looks like I'm making Heim jointed upper trailing arms when I focus on the rear axle).


The tubing is 1.5" OD x 0.250" wall...it's beefy.  The TREs have 1" shafts, so they're beefy, too.  I used the following SKP parts from Rock Auto:

Tie rod: SES2233L & SES2234R

Drag link: SES2027L & SES2026R


TREs ran about $28 for all before tax/shipping, and then another $30 for LH/RH threaded bungs and jam nuts off a shop on ebay.  Also needed a 1.5" TPF (taper per foot) or 7° reamer, which ran another $77.  The reamer is necessary because the 2233L piece and the pitman arm need to be reamed out.  The nice part about this is spares are cheap and easy to obtain, but one part does need to be reamed beforehand.


The end result:










Drag link's at about 6°, which is not too bad.  Currently projecting (aiming for) 4" of up-travel, and this position is good enough to keep the tie rod off the pitman joint, and that's really about the only constraint I needed to be mindful of this.  There's otherwise plenty of clearance; next closest thing is the drag link below the oil filter, but still ample space. 


Hidden in that last pic is a very crude placement of the PHB, which should fit really nicely in there.  The drag link ended up being 37" center-center, and the PHB will be at 33".  I couldn't find much info about the effect of differing lengths, but should be easily to keep them parallel.  The PHB is from a JK Wrangler and has hump/kickout for diff cover clearance.




The first pic also has the FJ arm wired up.  I'm pretty satisfied with the angles and planned placement.  Just need to get the plates CAD'd up and cut.






Hard to tell with the angle, but the rear eye is just inboard of chassis rail, so it fortunately won't have a big cantilever.  Figuring to weld on brackets for the mounts, with a middle removable crossmember.


I'm stalled a little on progress because I'm not liking how I've got the engine slung up.  Having the support bar at an angle causes the legs on the passenger side to be lower than the driver's side, which is cause the engine to be supported a little crooked.  I realized this when I attempted to reinstall the subframe so I could confirm the engine was at the correct height (my decision to do this ended up being a terrible one...installing the subframe was far more difficult than removing it).  The real problem is Nissan failing to put any reasonable sling points on the engine.  I can't even wrap a strap under the engine without fear of it crushing a tube, or bending something.  I mean, the KA in my Frontier already has slingers attached...from the factory...and you could pull that engine out with crowbar.  The VQ points are ridiculous obnoxious and inaccessible...not to mention basically requiring genuine Nissan slingers that don't exist (and wouldn't do me any good anyway).  So, I'm trying to make slingers I can leave attached for future use.  The driver's side is done.  The passenger side has been a total ishtshow.  I can't even remove the RH bracket to weld something because half the bolts are obstructed by the exhaust manifold.  After a couple hours of ideas and measurements, I think I have a plan of attack, which I'll make tomorrow and get the engine re-slung.

Edited by hawairish
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  • 2 months later...

Progress has been very slow.  Kids' sports in full swing and I started a new job at the beginning of April.  New focus had been getting my Frontier back into commuter mode.  I'm dropping off a set of LE wheels for refinishing and powder coating in the morning, and new rubber by the end of the week.  It should look fantastic...it better be for what I'll be paying.


Since last update, I built a new bracket and re-slung the engine.  I didn't like that I could only use one bolt on it due to space limitations, but it creates a cantilever that holds fine.  The intermediate piece is bar stock from the WJ steering shaft after I cut it down.




View from the bottom...




Engine hasn't fallen to the floor yet, so it must be good enough.


I also mulled considerably on the radius arm brackets.  Wanted to get caster adjustment since the optimal angle varies depending on who you ask.  OE caster is 3°±0.75°, but the straight axle community says 4°-8°.  So, I'm targeting 5°, and the caster adjustment I did gives me ±2° range.


The final brackets...




My craptastic welding.  Old Blue in the background to distract you.




And finally, actual results...








Finding the right caster (or really, camber bolts turned 90°) was a pain.  The front FJ bushings use 16mm bolts, and the only 16mm caster/camber bolts I could find were the lobe style we use for camber adjustment on our struts, but they were all just a little too short.  Anything else I could find that used a cam washer was 14mm and too long, except ones for a late-80's to early-00's GMC/Chevy trucks and vans which were a good length but still 14mm bolts.  I ended up using 14mm ID x 16mm OD sleeve bushings to fill the void.  Took some effort to get the slotting sorted to make the adjustment work, but they work great.  Other hardware being used is OE Toyota. 


I did not do a very good job of maintaining spacing on the brackets for the bushings.  I had scrap bushings from a prior job to swapping out bushings on FJ arms, and used them as spacers, but the welding still tightened up on them.  I was able to coax them to width without angling them out, except for the lower panhard mount.  Just needed to grind down the sleeve for a few seconds and it's good to go, though.

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  • 1 month later...

Looks good. Any more updates? I'm getting ready to possibly do this on my xterra but will mean I lose it for this wheeling season.

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