If you're looking for ultimate braking power for your Chevy project, some of the best aftermarket systems available come from Wilwood brakes in Camarillo, California. For the past several decades, the experts at Wilwood have developed top-notch disc brake systems for all sorts of motorsports, and today you can even make your tired, old muscle car stop on a dime.
We chose Wilwood brakes for our late model-powered Chevelle project and were very impressed how much they improved the car's street prowess. The Chevelle's stock brakes, discs in front drum in the rear, could effectively stop the car, just not very quickly. And that's really what performance braking is about; it's not about if they can stop you, but rather how long it takes. Old cars are notorious for being sluggish to stop, so when you make this upgrade, it totally changes the driving experience.
We contacted Mike Hamrick, a Wilwood technician, to get the scoop on their various brake setups, including what we bolted on to our project. Wilwood actually offers five different levels of brake setups; their Forged Dynalite line which comes with an 11-inch rotor and fits most 15-inch wheels; the FDL Front Drag Brake, which is an 11.75-inch rotor designed for drag racing; the FNSL6R setup, which is a 12.88-inch rotor that works with most 17-inch wheels; the beefy W6A Big Brake kit for 18-inch and larger wheels; and the SUV/Truck brake setup for 20-inch and larger wheels. These five styles cover an array of performance levels, everything from mild street driving to all out competition.
Our Chevelle had already received a healthy powertrain consisting of an LQ9 engine and a 4L80E transmission; it only made sense to give it the braking ability to match. With one phone call to Wilwood, we had exactly what our street car needed, keeping mild racing (drag and autocross) in mind.
Q&A with Wilwood's Mike Hamrick
Chevy High Performance: How did you determine what brakes we needed?
Hamrick: The front kit was a snap, our 13-inch Challenge kit uses a 6 piston Superlite caliper over a one piece rotor, and aluminum hub; all for $1,199. The rear kit was selected because of the owners desire to use a 15-inch drag wheel occasionally, while retaining the parking brake. Our 11-inch Dynapro rear kit meets both those requirements.
CHP: What master cylinder did you recommend and why?
Hamrick: On a car equipped with a manual pedal, the 7/8th tandem master cylinder is the right way to go. It's a good compromise between leg effort and pedal travel, essentially, it doesn't take too much of either to activate the brakes.
CHP: How important is front-to-rear brake bias in a street car? What about an autocross car?
Hamrick: Front to rear bias is very important, as a matter of performance and safety.
CHP: What happens if the brake bias is off badly?
Hamrick: Generally, you want to be able to lock the wheels predictably. If either the fronts or rears lock up too easily, the car will be unpredictable and performance as well as safety will be compromised. The most common problem is having too much rear brake in the car, and having the rears lock up way before the fronts, somewhat unpredictably. The easiest way to solve this problem is with an adjustable proportioning valve. This lets you turn down the pressure to the rear brakes so that lock up happens at the same time on both ends of the car.
CHP: What type of brake fluid do you recommend and why?
Hamrick: Performance cars should always use a good DOT 3 or DOT 4 fluid, and for a car that's going to see track time, we always recommend our EXP600 fluid. The dry boiling point is 626 degrees, the highest in racing.
1. The number of pistons in a caliper determines how much clamping force can be applied. In drag racing applications where weight is a number one issue, a large single piston caliper is used, however in our Chevelle’s case, we opted for the large 13-inch, Superlite six-piston caliper kit (PN 140-12271-DR) in front and the 11-inch,Dynapro four-piston caliper kit (PN 140-11389-DR) from Wilwood out back. The smaller rear brakes will allow for a set of 15-inch drag wheels in the future.
2. Most of Wilwood’s discs come with drilled and slotted rotors, however the diameter and thicknesses change depending on what you choose. The Drag Brake kit for example uses a solid, thin rotor for ultimate weight savings, whereas the Dynapro and Superlite Kits use thick, vented rotors to prevent warping when being abused in an autocross or road course environment.
3. Unlike rubber lines that can expand when hot and cause a mushy brake pedal, braided stainless steel brake lines withstand the heat and will actually improve pedal feel.
4. We have some drag racing aspirations with the Chevelle, so we opted for the Dynapro series brake setup in the rear. We have to mention that the black coating on the rotors is designed to slough off and does not need to be ground off whatsoever.
5. To install the Wilwood brakes, we contacted Classic Performance Products in Orange, California for a brake line and fitting kit (PN SLS-04). Here, Source Interlink’s Jason Scudellari uses his masterful line bending skills to plumb our Chevelle’s rearend.
6. Notice how the bleeders on the calipers are located on both sides? That’s because the calipers are interchangeable, but you still have to bleed them from the top.
7. The brake pads used in Wilwood’s kits are an exclusive semi-metallic blend, however many different configurations are available. We also really like the retaining clips on these since they allow for quick and easy brake pad swaps.
8. The rear brakes on our Chevelle feature four-piston Dynapro calipers, while the front brakes grab with six. Vehicles do most braking with the front anyway, and it’s a small compromise for being able to run adequate drag wheels.
9. The front brakes we chose for the Chevelle utilize a 13-inch diameter rotor, which give your braking ability tremendous leverage. Unlike the factory discs we had, this setup can bring our 3,600 pound muscle machine to a halt in a hurry.
10. According to Jason Scudellari, bolting up the Wilwood brakes to our Detroit Speed spindles was a breeze. Once the wheel bearings were properly packed, it was only a matter of sliding on the rotor, bolting up the caliper bracket, positioning the caliper, slipping in the pads, then finally hooking up the brake line.
11. However, since these are fixed rotors, Scudellari had to shim the caliper so that the pads are centered around the disc, making sure one side didn’t grab more than the other.
12. Cragar sent us some of their classic 5-spokes to show off on the Chevelle.
13. The 18x9.5-inch Cragars we’re running in the rear are for the autocross competitions we’ll be entering in this year, but we plan to try some drag radials on it at some point.
14. Wilwood’s proportioning valvle (PN 260-8419) was used to balance the Chevelle’s new brakes, front to rear. We’ll likely fine-tune how the brakes engage with this component at the autocross.
15. On the street, we noticed a huge difference in braking distance over the factory setup. Although the brakes we had were new, the Wilwood stuff blew it out of the water in terms of performance. This meant we could drive the car confidently, and if we had to make a sudden stop to, let’s say, avoid a rogue driver, we could with Wilwood’s powerful binders.