Why is it that when our beloved early Camaros were new, drum brakes seemed fine, but now they feel borderline dangerous?
Well, several factors have conspired to change our perception. For one, many of these drum-brake systems have been in service for over 40 years and, even if serviced regularly, just don't work as well as they once did. But the main reason they seem so bad today is that the world has changed around them. First, back in the 1960s people didn't know any better, but now we've become accustomed to high-tech ABS-assisted brake systems. Also, we're driving these classics around on roads filled with modern cars capable of stopping much quicker. Back then it didn't matter as much that it took 200 feet to stop your Camaro if the guy in front of you was in the same boat. But today, when the car in front you can stop in 140 feet, you're at a real disadvantage. So, it's not so much that drum brakes are bad as it is that modern brakes are better.
We all know that there are big-brake kits out there that can stop your first-gen on a proverbial dime. Besides huge price tags, the other issue, especially for those who want a more classic look for their Camaro, is that they require 17-inch or larger wheels. Classic Performance Products (CPP) has come out with an affordable solution for Camaro owners to convert to power four-wheel disc brakes while keeping their 15-inch rally wheels.
A friend of ours recently picked up a semi-restored 1968 SS, and while it looked pretty clean, the brakes had a fairly high pucker factor when driving around town. In fact, after driving the car a bit we decided it was the perfect candidate for trying out the CPP conversion kit.
Put to the Test
Before tearing the car apart, we hooked up our handy G-Tech and got a few baseline braking distances from 60-0 mph. What we found was a bit scary. The first stop took 246 feet, which is firmly in the "pretty bad" category. The second stop was slightly worse at 252 feet. But on the third stop, with heat-soaked brakes, we didn't stop for 284 feet. We didn't try a fourth test since we were pretty sure the car wouldn't stop safely, if at all.
After bedding in the new brakes, our first 60-0 mph stop was 146 feet, exactly 100 feet shorter than the best "before" test. The next five tests came out to 147, 151, 155, 152, and 157 feet. This shows us that the new disc brakes were far less susceptible to heat-induced fade. A 60-0 mph stopping distance of 146-feet is damn good, especially considering the Camaro's low-performance, all-weather redline radials.