Brake Upgrades for Classic Cars & Restomods
Published on 6/5/2021
Brake Upgrades for Classic Cars & Restomods are one of the more common upgrades we (PRO-SPEED) perform on a regular basis. There is good reason for this... brakes on old cars are terrible! Back in the 1960s and 70s, muscle cars were meant to go fast in a straight line. Drag racing was very popular and racing culture drove (pardon the pun) the design of many vehicles back then. Unfortunately, little regard was given to simple safety items - like the ability to stop safely! There are many ways to upgrade the brakes on classic cars and musclecars which we'll go into in this blog article.
For starters, many 60s and early 70s cars had drum brakes, front and rear. Some had them only on the rear. Drum brakes are not all that bad, and many cars and trucks still have them on the rear. They don't work that well on the front of most vehicles though. They do grab pretty well the first or second time brakes are applied, but they are very susceptible to brake-fade (loss of grip due to overheating). They also tend to go out of adjustment often which can cause the brakes to pull left or right when they are on the front. Disc brakes on the front of older cars are a far superior solution as they self adjust as they wear, they don't generally fade and the clamping force is much higher that that of drum brakes. Upgrading to disc brakes on the rear of most cars is also a nice upgrade but is not as large of boost as swapping front drums for discs. Rear brakes only tend to do about 20-25% of vehicle braking.
When looking at disc brake upgrades, there are many options and they vary by the car. Some classic cars had disc brake available as an option or were standard on higher end performance base models. When this is the case, there are usually complete stock style disc brake kits that can be purchased for a reasonable price. Some cars never came with them, this is where you need to look into other aftermarket options. Wilwood, SSBC, CPP, Baer and many others make kits for the most popular musclecars out there. Wilwood for instance offers a full line of disc brake conversion kits which come in multiple levels of performance. Pay attention to rotor and caliper size, larger brakes do stop better but as they get bigger, you need to check and be sure they'll fit inside your wheels. A lot of the kits we install, we wind up doing a wheel upgrade as well because the client wants the most stopping power they can get. There are many systems that will fit inside of 14 and 15 inch wheels though. Rear disc brake conversions are popular now too. Not only do they add stopping power but they looks great on a car with open style wheels. Rear wheel drive musclecars getting a disc brake upgrade must have the rear axles removed to install the brake mounting brackets, so plan on doing axle seals and possibly bearings while there.
Master Cylinders & Power Boosters - You will almost always need to replace the master cylinder when doing a disc brake conversion to accommodate for the change in bias. An adjustable proportioning valve is highly recommended as well to fine tune the amount of brake bias applied to front versus rear. This needs to be plumbed in to the brake hard lines and is usually no simple task for DIYers. Some kits will come complete with everything you need, including a master cylinder and power brake booster (if converting to power brakes), some don't. Adding a power booster to your new disc brake conversion is highly recommended. Standard brake boosters use engine vacuum to provide the boost to the brake system. These typically work fine for most street cars with stock engines. When you get into oversized engines with not much room under the hood -- or engines built with big camshafts that don't make much vacuum, you'll need to consider other options. If there is a low vacuum situation, this can sometimes be cured using a vacuum pump and reserve tank. If other cases, consider the ultimate power booster, the Hydra-Boost. Hydra-Boost taps into power steering pump hydraulics to provide brake boost and they work extremely well. These boosters were originally invented for diesel trucks because those engines don't make any vacuum. Hydra-Boost has become a very popular option for hot-rodders over the part several years and we really love the results you get from them.
When you are planning to upgrade your classic car or musclecar, one of the most important things to consider is upgrading the braking system. This is a key essential when building any restomod. As stated, there are several options to accomplish this. Disc brake conversions are available for the front and rear, stock style and performance options, or add power brakes using vacuum or hydra boosters. You should not skimp on cost when it comes to an effective brake upgrade and you should seriously consider having this work done by a professional shop that is experienced with brake conversions on older cars. It's not the same as brake jobs on modern vehicles and it's not DIY friendly. In terms of importance, it's right up there with suspension upgrades and improvements, if you can't stop the car safely, nothing else really matters. Consider the population of vehicles on the roads these days (especially in Northern Virginia), do you really want to be driving a high-powered muscle car that can't stop effectively in an urgent situation?
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