Inside the strongest bolt-in rearends on the planet
Wayne Scraba - January 19, 2012 10:00 AM
Strange Engineering came up with the idea of actually improving upon the vintage Dana 60. Their version is dubbed the “S60,” and it’s full of neat tricks and rearend innovation. As pointed out elsewhere, it’s available in any number of configurations from a bare housing without ends and brackets to a bolt-in housing (as shown here), all the way up to a complete rear axle assembly.
The Strange S60 center section is cast from premium nodular iron, and so are the large bearing caps. Note the material under both of the main caps. In a conventional Dana 60, this large support doesn’t exist (likely as a means to reduce overall weight). Strange took a different approach. They added this material where it counted and shaved bulk off the exterior of the case. Overall, the S60 case is thicker than a standard Dana 60.
With a conventional Dana 60, it’s not uncommon to replace the caps with billet steel models. The reason – to provide more strength. When stressed (big power, big tires, sticky pavement), the car will attempt to force the carrier right out of the back. The fix isn’t required here. The extra material within the case prevents the carrier from migrating. Note the hefty Allen-head capscrews included in the mix. This thing isn’t going anywhere. By the way, the caps in the S60 are almost twice as thick as standard Dana 60 pieces. Strange marks the case along with the caps. They’re numbered so there’s no chance of a mix-up during set-up.
In a standard Dana 60, the axle tubes are simply pressed into place and plug welded. The Strange S60, on the other hand, has the tubes cleanly rosette welded and then each tube is totally welded to the case. Welding the axle tubes to the case prevents them from rotating under hard use. In some stock applications, the plug welds will actually weep. The reason this happens is the plug welds aren’t always complete. That isn’t the case here.
The housing ends are similarly welded to the axle tubes. That’s what a proper weld on a housing end looks like. For this application, a small-bearing GM housing end is used (Nova, Camaro, Chevelle, GTO, etc.). This allows the use of a stock GM drum brake backing plate. The backing plate bearing ID has to be opened up to accommodate the larger bearing, but that’s another story.
Upstairs, the nose of the S60 is set up so that it can be used on many different applications. That means that a Mopar pinion snubber is easily affixed. Cases for coil spring GM A-body cars include the large ears necessary for the upper trailing arms.
In leaf-spring applications, Strange equips the S60 with OEM-style leaf-spring perches. Note that each side is fully welded (wherever accessible). You can see how the perches are further welded to the housing. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for racers and enthusiasts to brace the perch. This little welding job here pretty much does the same thing.
Another important feature of Strange’s S60 program is the fact they can provide different perches for different springs. The perch shown here is set up for a multi-leaf spring (2¾-inches wide). They can also supply a perch for a mono leaf-spring package (2 9/16-inches wide).
Internal adjusters are supplied as standard equipment in the S60 case. This allows for easy backlash setup.
Strange has included an easy-to-access drain plug with the housing. This eliminates the huge mess that arises when you pull the back cover off for inspection or service.
Up front, the S60 accepts any conventional Dana 60 yoke – standard Dana-Spicer pieces with a dust seal or high-performance billet models.
A nice option available with the S60 is this cool cast aluminum cover. It’s a premium casting that is considerably thicker than standard. By the way, there’s no need for a girdle or housing back brace on the S60. The internal beef within the housing precludes it.
Over the years, getting the right heavy-duty rearend for a car meant junkyard scrounging. You had to unearth the right rearend for the right car.
It is no secret that those heavy-duty GM passenger car 12-bolts, Ford 9-inch rears (with the appropriately tough “N” series pumpkin), and Dana 60s were fitted to only a select few automobiles (and in some cases, a select few light trucks). They were scarce then. The good ones that bolted right in have been gone for decades. If you do find an appropriate piece today, you’re probably in for a ton of work and expense due to age, abuse, inappropriate applications and so on.
So what’s an enthusiast to do?
It’s actually incredibly easy right at the moment, as companies such as Strange Engineering offer a full range of heavy-duty, bolt-in rearend assemblies for a large number of popular applications (GM, Ford and Mopar). Topping the heap, as far as we’re concerned, is the toughest, strongest passenger car rearend ever offered by Detroit – the Dana 60. Sure, in highly modified race form, you can now build a better rear than a Dana, but for street-driven cars, it’s difficult to beat.
Dana 60s are equipped with a huge 9¾-inch diameter ring gear. When fitted with a contemporary Positraction set-up (there are several, including Detroit Lockers), the axle splines increase to a hefty 35. The pinion is a large 15/8-inch diameter affair (29-spline) that can be set up to accept massive Spicer 1350-series universal joints. Gear ratio choices prove plentiful too, ranging from 3.31:1 all the way up to 7.17:1. As you can see, the Dana 60 has always been the bully of the boulevard when it came to rearend housings. Spot one under a car and you know there’s something serious under the hood.
But that’s not the end of it. The Strange-built Dana 60 (dubbed the “S60”) isn’t exactly a piece-by-piece clone of the original. Instead, its jam-packed with interesting technology, much of it garnered from lessons learned in the drag racing trade. Essentially, the Strange Engineering team took the stock Dana 60 and filled it with a full complement of modern features. They’ve pretty much created the King Kong of bolt-in, streetable, rearend assemblies.