How to Choose a Brake Kit

Mike Maier helps you chose a Mustang brake kit. When planning for upgrades on your first gen Mustang and you are a working man that has to budget out your steps finances usually tend to dictate our direction more than we want. This subject comes up a lot with our customers and brakes. We often get people asking about off brand systems that check the box of disc brakes. Customers feel the need to buy rear disc brake kits when buying their front brakes all the while stretching their pocketbooks a little thin in the excitement of the moment.

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To combat this dilemma we look to the past for a tried and true system. I remember as a kid my dad telling me that he would out stop C2 and C3 Corvettes while he was road racing with Lincoln front brakes and big rear drums on his 68 Mustang coupe. At that time it was just another story from Pops, until one day I got an opportunity to drive a vintage B sedan 65 Mustang at Sears Point (Sonoma Raceway). As I started the first few laps I notice how impressive the car stopped and quickly remembered my dad’s story about the old days. Throughout that first test session I proceeded to pass each car on the track in the braking zones with authority, including the corvettes. This was a wonderful drive and it was done with humble, yet effective parts.
Now that we know this, you might think we are going to tell you to go out and purchase some cast iron brakes and call it good, Not quite. This is where knowing the industry and how to choose the proper parts for your application.  The 1st lesson with vintage cars it’s ok to use rear drums; Is it the best that you can buy? No, but remember this is a budget that we are working with so stretching your dollar is important. Secondly, is it is hard to go wrong with a good sized caliper/rotor in the front. Thirdly, get the right parts to accompany the brake kit. The master cylinder and proportioning valve is key to the right feel in the brakes. The final key is the ability to use different brake pad materials.

Rear Brakes

When looking at rear brakes two major subjects come up; more rear braking and just wanting to see the disc instead of drums.  The real challenges are actually heat and looks. The fact about rear drums are they are already reduced by a stock equipment proportioning valve to keep them from over braking the back of the car and locking up the tires. So the real culprit is really heat buildup which over heats the fluid and shoes causing premature fade. The fix here is several things. Find yourself some old Torino/ Fairlane 10”x 2.5″ drums to get a little more mass to absorb the heat. An old but very effective trick is to carefully plot out a series of holes on the drum backing plate at the nine o’clock and three o’clock locations before you install your backing plate on to your hub. The holes closest to the front of the car can receive a brake duct if driving hard for fresh air intake to the drums and the back set of holes are there to vent the hot air out during braking.  Another thing to be cognizant of is that you can mechanically set the course pressure applied to your rear brakes by changing the bore of your wheel cylinder. The larger the wheel cylinder the more clamping the drum will have and vice versa. Many times people’s bias adjuster can’t get rid of enough rear brake; this is a way to help get that under control. These simple rear tips along with a close eye to maintenance can enable your humble little drums to do great amounts of work.

IMG_5707Front Brakes

Choosing a proper front brake is probably the most important choice of the project. We will need a brake that is reasonable in cost however a major stumbling point with customers is skimping financially here. The front of the car provides roughly 70% of the braking loads. This is the component that will give you the repeated stops and confidence that you need in these old cars. So in saving some money in the back we push to have the customer stretch themselves on a brake system in the front. For this we choose the Wilwood Superite6 12.88″ front brake kit. It is a close relative of the old Lincoln / T-bird brakes. They both have roughly the same pad area and rotor size. However Wilwood has improved what needs to be improved. The have a nice sized rotor that can take quite a bit of heat with a really nice aluminum hub and hat that reduces a ton of weight compared to the old systems. The rotor diameter has also been increased a bit as well. The Superlite6 caliper also has all of the up to date attributes to give you the tools that you need. Staggered bore pistons to give even pad wear and a strong aluminum housing. Perhaps the best attribute is the pad shape as it has been around for years. This means that many companies have had a shot at making a pad compound that they believe is good. The front pad can make your car feel as though it will never stop or stop on a dime and gives you nine cents change. As we have stressed saving money is a key component here. By choosing the lesser brake systems out there you will soon find that the cheap system leaves something lacking and you will find yourself buying another brake kit again, thus ultimately spending more money than if you were to do it once.

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Master Cylinder

Choosing a master cylinder is a key component to the right feel. When using a master cylinder with too large of a bore the brake pedal will be too hard and there will not be enough modulation in the pedal. With this you will find yourself standing on the pedal very hard and without warning you will see smoke coming from the front tire. You need to be able to feel this moment come and not be surprised by it. As the master cylinder bore gets smaller the pedal travel increases as does the line pressure with a given input. This is good to a point, when using too small of a master cylinder you will find a long pedal travel. To the point of being uncomfortable and giving the feeling of air in the lines. With this all being said you will ultimately have your own feel and you will want options. Companies like ours can make suggestions on what we like but when it really comes down to it, it will be up to you. Years ago the process to get to the sweet spot was to raid the shelves and catalogs of parts houses and modify different Ford masters to kind of fit, now we have the option to buy a Wilwood master cylinder. They come all the same shape with different bore sizes. The option is also there to buy adjustable push rods to set the pedal height. This is really nice when you don’t nail it the first time. You can change the master out with another size and all the brake lines will match. Not to mention the quality is much better than the old stock rebuilt masters. We have been very happy with a 1” bore master to start with manual brakes. Also when updating the master cylinder the original drum (rear) masters had a residual check valve in the rear port. The Wilwood Masters do not come with this. So we also install a Wilwood check valve in line to the rear brakes. This massively helps out the rear brake feel when using drum.

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Brake Pads

Brake pads… The brake pads can make or break a good brake system. Generally the less aggressive the pad, the lower the operating temperature and the nicer the pads will be to the rotor; however the car may feel like it will never stop. It is normal to have all the right parts with a poor pad and then you would feel as though you are pushing the pedal through the floor to stop the car. As you get more aggressive with the pad compounds the heat range generally goes up and the pad can start to give more bite giving the feel most are looking for. The side effects can be premature rotor wear, squeaking brakes and excessive dust. The goal here is to first make sure that you buy a caliper that has lots of options (which we have), then start with a good recommendation. When those pads are worn or you get a little side cash try something else. You will be amazed with the difference.

 

At the end of the day this all comes down to making the most of what you have. When you have the opportunity to buy something make sure that you will not be boxed in to one set of options. Try not to buy the oddball one off thing for the good deal. Most of the time that cool widget will cost more in the end. Also, the old guys aren’t dumb as they went through this to. Quick to listen to and slow to buy is never a bad deal. Not all, but some old things have stood the test of time and it is still good for the working man today.

 

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