Much as we're fans of big power, we're also fans of big braking performance. We think it only makes sense that a car's ability to go very fast should be matched by its ability to stop very quickly. Big brake kits are certainly an effective way to improve a musclecar's stopping ability, and they look really cool when peeking out from behind the large-diameter wheels it takes to accommodate them. But does it necessarily take big brakes-along with big wheels and tires-to achieve big braking performance? That's the question we wanted to answer in this experiment, in which we outfitted our '84 Z28 with braided stainless brake hoses from Classic Tube, brake pads from Hawk Performance, and high-performance front rotors from Power Slot. And as you'll see, there are significant gains to be had within the confines of a stock braking system.
Part one of our upgrade was to replace the stock rubber brake lines with StopFlex Stainless Steel Braided Hoses (DOT-certified) from Classic Tube. At its most basic, a brake system-whether manual or power, disc or drum-needs hydraulic pressure to work. More pressure generates more braking force, whether it's a caliper clamping onto a disc or a shoe pushing out against a drum. Rubber hoses, even when new, expand when subjected to this pressure, resulting in a spongy pedal and less braking force. StopFlex stainless lines don't expand, which translates to an increase in hose pressure and therefore more braking force. The firmer pedal feel that comes with the bargain also doesn't hurt when it comes to keeping things under control.
With that handled, we turned our attention toward the friction surfaces, starting with the rotors. We called on Power Slot for our front discs. The decidedly non-OEM slots, called Vac-U-Slots by Power Slot, improve braking performance by disposing of the heat, gases, and pad dust generated when the pads clamp down on the rotors. These waste products can actually become a barrier between the pad and rotor, inhibiting braking performance, so disposing of them is a key to maximizing stopping power.
And finally, we turned to what is arguably the most important part of a brake system, the brake pads. Stock-style, organic-composition pads are at best a compromise, as stopping power is sacrificed in favor of low price, low noise, and long wear. With this in mind, we sourced Hawk Performance for a set of its HPS (High Performance Street) pads. These pucks are intended for high-performance street cars, so we figured they were right up our alley. Their ferro carbon (Carbon Semi-Metallic) composition provides an extremely high coefficient of friction (stopping power), according to Hawk. This creates higher and more consistent torque values. In the real world, this translates into a more consistent pedal feel. These pads are also meant to handle the higher temperatures that come with repeated use without fading.
What we did
Upgraded the pads, rotors, and brake lines on an '84 Z28
For a relatively small investment, we got shorter and more consistent stopping performance
In a nutshell, braking power is like drivetrain power in one very important aspect-you have to have enough tire on your vehicle to transmit the forces of braking and acceleration to the ground. In that respect, modern, speed-rated, 17- and 18-inch rubber certainly has a great advantage. Many people, on the other hand, like a more traditional look-like what we have with the stock 15-inch five-spoke wheels on our Z28.
Hi-po 15-inch rubber isn't all that common these days, but we found a good alternative in Bridgestone's lineup with the Potenza G009. But in the time since we mounted these skins up, Bridgestone has redesigned them as the Potenza G019 Grid. Our Camaro's size-2 15/60R15-still comes H-rated. The tire line also includes several new V-rated 16- to 18-inch tires. Our H-rated versions are good for 130 mph, more than enough for this car for now. The two tires don't look all that different; the most noticeable visual difference is the new tires' Veri-Pitch tread design, meant to cut down on road noise, along with an advanced directional tread design to increase water evacuation (for those of you who actually drive in the wet). Other revisions have been made to improve grip in all phases of driving when compared to the older tire. We're quite satisfied with the G009s we've got mounted (at least until we can score 17-inchers), and anyone in search of good 15-inch rubber should consider the G019 Grid.
So, what did it all get us? Testing was done with an Escort g-Timer GT2 Vehicle Performance Monitor we happened to have on hand, and with the stock brake setup in place, we registered a best stop of 156 feet, with a three-stop average slightly above that, which actually isn't bad. Pedal feel, however, was seriously lacking. The pedal was mushy; it was like you could feel the rubber hoses expanding as the pedal was mashed. Braking power was low at first, and increased as the pedal was depressed. And with repeated use, braking got predictably worse as temperatures increased.
It was notably different with the upgraded components in place. After bedding in the pads to the rotors as specified by Hawk, several things quickly became evident. Right off the bat, we had a much firmer pedal to deal with-no more mushy pedal feel. Consequently, brake response was immediate, though not grabby. Braking power was more consistent throughout the pedal's travel-and there was more of it. We recorded a best stop of 142 feet, a very good improvement over our original 156-foot figure. In a panic-stop situation, 14 feet could be enough to save your car.
Just as important, our three-stop average was 9 feet better, and we think it can get even better as we adjust to the more positive feel of the new brakes. In fact, we spent at least an hour beating on our Z in search of the perfect stop, and the brakes never really faded. Unlike the stockers, which registered 170-plus feet as testing wore on, the new setup stayed firmly in the 150s for as long as we cared to abuse it-and this on a day that was at least 10 degrees hotter.
So in the end, while we're still craving a set of 17s and the platters to fill them, it turned out that our merely stock system was actually quite capable when properly outfitted. And while third-gen Camaros are noted for handling platforms that should be able to stop well, here's the cool thing: The principles we applied here apply to any Chevy that's still wearing its stock brakes. Increase the line pressure and upgrade the friction surfaces, and as long as you've got decent tires in place, you'll get better braking. You'll appreciate it when you really need to stop-and it doesn't cost all that much, especially if you're already due for a brake job.