By: Jim Oaks:
After several years of running a Dana 28 in my V-8 Ranger, I finally decided to replace it with a Dana 35. Although the Dana 28 was still in good shape, I wanted to add a locker with 4.56 gears, and decided it was time to swap to a Dana 35.
The swap to the Dana 35 is pretty straight forward. I replaced the Dana 28 in my 1983 Ranger with a Dana 35 from a 1994 Explorer. You can use your existing radius arms, brackets and calipers on the 1990-1994 axles. The Dana 35 upgraded to a dual piston caliper for 1995. This would be a brake upgrade over your Dana 28 brakes, or even the 1990-1994 Dana 35’s.
I was already using Skyjacker radius arms. You may find that you have to increase the size of the hole in your radius arm and sway bar mounting bracket (wraps around axle beam and is held on by radius arm bolts along with two bolts on the front of the axle beam) if you use the Dana 28 radius arms. The Dana 28 upper radius arm stud (bolt) uses a small lower thread and large upper threaded stud. The Dana 35 uses a large lower thread and small upper thread retaining stud. Sounds weird, but the Dana 35 and Dana 28 upper axle beam stud are the same diameters, but flipped over. Make sure you get the Dana 35 studs. If not, you can turn over the Dana 28 studs and cut off the excess thread to clear the axle shafts in the axle beam. You’ll have to get the right size nuts though. The easiest thing to do (what I did) was buy two (2) new studs from a Ford Dealer. They come in a set of two (2) with retaining nuts for the coil spring.
Special Fabrication! – You’ll need to shorten the front drive shaft about 1 to 1-1/2 inches. This will require a reputable driveline shop.
Warning! – If you are using drop brackets with a drop plate (Trailmaster / Rough Country) for the factory passenger side beam, check your clearance between your Dana 35 carrier and your drop bracket. Make sure you install bump stops, or you will knock a hole in the carrier if you compress the suspension hard enough. Some kits such as Skyjacker use a complete replacement bracket instead of the drop bracket, and offers more clearance.
This older photo above shows the passenger beam bracket bolted to a plate style drop bracket from a Trailmaster suspension kit. You’ll see that there’s only 2-inches of clearance between the bracket and the Dana 35 differential. Although Trailmaster no longer makes a Ranger kit, there are some companies that still do, so shop wisely.
The photos below shows the size difference between the Dana 35 and Dana 28 differentials.
Mounting Tips: Place the radius arms in the rear mounting brackets, put the nut on but don’t tighten it up. This will allow you to maneuver the beams to get it all in place. I also waited to tighten my pivot bolts until everything was in. Since the axle beam pivot bushings were falling apart I replaced them with new ones.