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.
1. Behold the stock drum brakes. They were in good working order and looked like they were recently serviced, which makes the abysmal stopping distances even sadder.
2. CPP's drum-to-disc conversion kit (PN 6874FRBK-S, $1,199) came with just about everything necessary to update our 1968, including the parts needed to upgrade to power brakes. Steering arms don't come with the kit but they will add them in for $40 (PN 6774SP-A). Also, you can upgrade to braided stainless brake lines for an additional $98. If you're fine with having rear drum brakes, CPP offers a front-only disc conversion kit for just $699 that will give nearly the same braking improvement and be a snap to install.
3. The front brakes of this kit couldn't be easier to install. This is because it came fully assembled with the wheel bearings packed, pads installed, and caliper bolted in place.
4. After breaking the ball joints loose with a large hammer, we were able to remove the stock parts by pulling the shocks and supporting the lower control arms with pole jacks. We didn't use a pickle fork since we didn't want to damage the rubber boots on the ball joints.
5. This was a good thing since the ball joints looked to be in good working order. If they had seemed worn, then this would've been the time to replace them.
6. The new CPP assemblies simply slid onto the ball joints and were secured with castle nuts and cotter pins.
7. We then installed the new brake lines included with the kit and reattached the steering linkage. This was about the easiest brake kit we had ever installed. We should note that for $110 CPP will powdercoat the calipers in black, blue, red, or silver.
8. The drum-to-disc conversion on the rear axle was a bit more work. First up was pulling the cover on the GM 12-bolt rear. We then removed the bolt (red arrow) and slid out the pin (blue arrow). Once the pin was out, we were very careful not to spin the axles since that could cause the parts in the rear to fall out of place and create a huge headache. New rearend cover gaskets were included in the CPP kit.
9. With the pin removed, we carefully slid out the axles. Like the front drum brakes, the rears appeared to have been recently serviced.
10. With the axles vacated, we removed the four bolts holding the drum brake assembly to the housing.
11. And this was what we were left with. Like with the front ball joints, this is the time to check the axle bearings and seals and replace them if needed.
12. The CPP kit came with new, longer wheel studs for the rear axle.
13. After pressing in the new studs, we reinstalled the axles and reinserted the pin and bolt. With that done, we started installing the new rear disc brakes by first bolting on the caliper bracket and spacer to the back of the axle flange. Before bolting on the parts, we made sure the surface of the flange was free of stuff like undercoating, welding slag, or anything else that could mess with the alignment of the new caliper bracket. Note that the 4 o'clock bolt wasn't utilized.
14. Our 1968 rolls in stock form on 15-inch rally wheels. Given this, we went with stock-style plain rotors. For an additional $150, CPP offers the rotors (4) cross-drilled and slotted.
15. We then slid on the new rotor and secured it with a lug nut.
16. The caliper was slid on and we checked to make sure it was parallel and centered on the new rotor. We also checked to make sure there was enough room for the pad to fit. Everything looked good, so we pulled the caliper and installed the pads.
17. Our fitment was fine, but keep in mind that manufacturing variances in the GM housings can cause alignment issues. If this had happed, we could have used a combination of these shims to correct the issue.
18. We then installed the new rubber brake lines and the supplied CPP parking brake cables. The kit also included a new rear housing brake hardline and a set of mounting clamps.
19. With that done, our rear brakes were now converted from drum to disc.
20. We prefer manual brakes for the track, but for a street cruiser, power is the way to go. Here was our starting point on the 1968. Obviously someone had replaced the master cylinder at some point.
21. After disconnecting the clevis from the brake pedal, we disconnected the lines and removed the master cylinder. The distribution block was left in place.
22. Like the front brakes, the power brake kit (PN 6769BB4-11) came fully assembled with an 11-inch booster and a proportioning valve set up for four-wheel disc. CPP offers upgrades to a natural or chromed aluminum master as well as different finishes for the booster unit.
23. The kit included all of the small, pre-bent lines needed to connect the new parts to the rest of the Camaro's brake system, including a new line that went from the front of the distribution block to the front brakes.
24. The kit also included this fitting and hose to plumb in the brake booster.