The recently-unveiled, much-hyped Ford Bronco has impressed journalists, readers and other observers not just with its tough, rugged design but also its off-road specs.
One of reasons behind the Bronco’s off-road capabilities is the use of Dana products within the drivetrain and four-wheel drive system. What exactly is Dana, what does it make, and where are its products used?
Dana Incorporated is an American supplier of drivetrains for a variety of vehicles across conventional (internal-combustion), hybrid and electric powertrains. The company is primarily involved in the business of producing axles and driveshafts; the part of the vehicle drivetrain helping transfer power from the transmission to the wheels.
With sales to OEMs totalling around US$8 billion, Dana is the 33rd largest supplier in the world when ranked by parts sales, based on 2018 data. Well-known peers with sales around this mark include Italian supplier Magneti Marelli, Japanese transmissions supplier Jatco, and Hella, a German manufacturer of vehicle headlights.
Dana’s origins lie in innovation. In 1904, engineer Clarence Spicer founded the C.W. Spicer Company (later incorporated as the Spicer Universal Joint Manufacturing Company) in Plainfield, New Jersey to manufacture his 1903 patent – the universal joint.
In an automotive context, the universal joint was a superior alternative to using bicycle-style sprockets and chains to transmit power from the engine to the wheels. Compared to a sprocket and chain system, the universal joint produced less noise for a far more refined driving experience.
Being enclosed, it was also less susceptible to breaking down from debris and dust on the road, and stayed lubricated for longer.
Successful mass-production of these joints led to a rapidly expanding clientele, with renowned American OEMs including Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Chevrolet all using universal joints manufactured by Spicer in their cars.
With demand for the automobile rapidly increasing in pre-war America, demand for Spicer’s universal joints was up, and the firm struggled to organise itself in a manner enabling efficient, profitable and reliable production of the universal joints at the level that Spicer (who was a known stickler for quality) desired.
The firm lacked money to expand its production facilities, and Spicer and his staff were overstretched in fulfilling existing orders whilst also attempting to obtain new business.
Charles Dana came to the rescue in 1913, bringing additional investment and gradually increasing his ownership of the company. Dana was also actively involved in the management of the company. Working side-by-side, Spicer and Dana were able to successfully expand the Spicer company and keep it afloat during WW1 and the Great Depression afterwards.
With Spicer passing away in 1939, the company was renamed to the Dana Corporation in 1946 (Spicer instead became a model name for various products), and the post-war years saw a continued focus on expanding the Dana Corporation’s product portfolio, often through the acquisition of other companies.
With the body-on-frame production method being prevalent at the time, the company increased its involvement in other aspects of vehicle assembly, such as the production of steel frames for cars including Mercury’s Park Lane.
This system of gradual expansion through new product development and company acquisitions continued during the latter part of the 20th Century, with sales exceeding US$1 billion for the first time in 1974.
Dana has been involved with the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler not just in their current iterations, but virtually since inception.
Ancestor to the Wrangler and original Jeep, the Willys MA, made use of the Spicer Model 18 Transfer Case for its 4WD and off-road capabilities.
Similarly, the original, first-generation Ford Bronco made use of a heavy-duty Dana 44 front axle to win the 1970 Baja 500 competition, with Ford being impressed enough to make the part standard on all Broncos thereafter.
Today, the recently-unveiled Ford Bronco features a variety of Dana products, including the Dana 44 Advantek solid rear axle, the Dana Advantek independent front differential unit as well as optional Spicer Performa-Trak electronic locking differentials. Similarly, the current Jeep Wrangler also features Dana 44 front and rear axles.
The Dana 44 is a long-running line of solid axles, having been made since the 1940s and having been continually improved upon since then. The “44” in the Dana 44 refers to the maximum peak torque that the axle can handle in hundreds of pound feet.
Therefore, a Dana 44 axle is rated to handle a peak of 4400lb.ft (5965Nm) of torque. Other solid axles available in the Dana range are able to handle different amounts of torque, such as the Dana 60 (6000lb.ft/8135Nm) and Dana 110 (11,000 lb.ft/14,915Nm, typically used in trucks).
Apart from the Spicer Company’s universal joint, Dana is notable for perhaps two other important innovations during the 20th Century.
Firstly, through its subsidiary The Perfect Circle Co. (and company president Ralph Teetor), Dana helped to introduce cruise control in cars, with the invention launching on the 1958 Chrysler Imperial.
In a turn of fate and as an interesting historical coincidence, this system was branded as “Auto-Pilot” (which has no relationship to the Autopilot used by Tesla today). It turns out Tesla isn’t the only company stealing aviation terminology for its advanced technology.
Another important invention was the Powr-Lok LSD (limited-slip differential) in 1956. Similar to LSDs today, it was a differential that was able to direct power to the wheel with better traction, whilst also improving vehicle stability through corners by enabling the outer and inner wheels to rotate at different speeds.