Some dumb bastards in this fine hobby of ours make it a point to ignore their high-performance vehicle's mechanical warning signs. These are the ones who, instead of replacing a worn-out part, just make driving adjustments as said widget progresses from a minor concern into a serious health risk. I should know all about this, as I've been nursing a sick Powermaster brake unit (my third) in our project Turbo-T for six months.
Let's start this tale of woe at the beginning. Back in my college days in Lincoln, Nebraska, a sunny fall day on a stretch of Highway 6 was ruined when a Ford hit the brakes in front of me. Neither the 45-mph speed nor the three-car-length distance that I was traveling behind it would have mattered with a good brake system. One hard pedal and a demo-derby collision later, I had a busted-up bumper, a screaming mother and a crying baby to contend with. Thankfully everyone involved was fine, but that incident was forever marked the day I lost faith in the Powermaster.
Ah, but those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I kept replacing brake switches, accumulator bulbs, and finally entire units, with each barely lasting three years apiece. And when the familiar red brake light lit on one of my many trips down the Garden State Parkway last year, Powermaster Remorse again set in. Because it's not only the poor stopping power that is such a pain, it's the ridiculous replacement prices. Starting at the top, you can expect to pay over $1,200 for one over a GM counter. Some Turbo Regal vendors still have brand new units in stock, which can be had for under $800. Several of the large chain auto-parts stores carry lifetime-warranty rebuilt Powermasters for a few hundred bucks, but the reliability of these boosters has repeatedly been called into question. And you can hit the junkyard and scrounge around for a cheapie, but even if you did find one, chances are it wouldn't last long.
And speaking of not lasting long, the Parkway is Highway 6 with about 10 times the traffic and twice the observed speed. And apparently, all of the random gunfire around the Newark area isn't enough excitement for our little import homies, who scream 10-deep single-file between wide-eyed commuters at triple-digit speeds. God help the little punk that sideswipes the Buford...but anyway, I finally decided that the T would be dead meat out here if I pushed my luck any longer--it was time to do my part for safe motoring. The Powermaster had failed me for the last time...enter the vacuum conversion.
This swap is not new--there are many Turbo Regal aficionados who have pirated the necessary boosters and brake pedals from donor cars to create a poor man's vacuum system. This is a great idea that's cheap and effective. But the parts needed for that swap are quickly dwindling, and no matter how you slice it, used parts are still used parts. Ninety-five percent of them will probably be fine. But what about the other five?
On that note, I rang Master Power Brakes in Mooresville, North Carolina. Master Power is great for two reasons: a polite and knowledgeable sales and technical staff, and a building chock-full of just about any kind of brake component you could ever want. After a few conversations with owner Rich Nossel, I ordered up the Power Booster Conversion for 1985-1987 Turbo Regals. This kit comes complete with everything needed to change over to a vacuum system, and it even retains your car's stock brake pedal--something that has to be changed with other vacuum conversions. When the parts showed up a few days later, the thought of brakes that actually worked had me chomping at the bit to get started. Follow along to check out the install and track test of this system.
WHAT IT IS: Vacuum brake conversion for '85-87 Turbo Regals COMPANY: Master Power Brakes PRICE: $495 ($845 with optional vacuum pump) PROS: Quick and easy installation, good instructions, ultra-reliable braking, improved braking distances CONS: Pedal "grabbier" than Powermaster VERDICT: A well-designed and affordably priced alternative to the trouble-prone Powermaster