Everybody needs brakes. Even a mildly warmed-over 305 Malibu needs to be able to come abruptly to a stop when necessary. You may find your stock brakes are not up to the task, especially if you run your car on a dragstrip with a short shutdown area or at an autocross or track day exercise where you have to really lean on those brakes. Or maybe the pads are just wiped out and it’s time for an upgrade.
The brake catalogs are full of exotic 15-inch rotors and six-piston calipers that are cool. But those systems are expensive and usually demand bigger wheels and tires. What if you only need a minor upgrade and your budget is closer to Top Ramen instead of Top Gun? We have a couple of suggestions that can satisfy all those requirements.
Some enthusiasts think that the only way to improve your braking is to add larger rotors and multi-piston calipers. But we’ll make a case for moderation based on reality. Not everybody is ready or willing to run their car on a road course for 20 laps and put enough heat in the brakes to melt the rotors. Instead, let’s look at a typical, metric Chevy brake system that could be helped by just adding new rotors and performance brake pads.
The late ’70’s to late ’80’s Chevys almost universally used a 10.8-inch metric rotor and caliper system for its midsized cars like the Malibu, Camaro, Monte Carlo, and even the S-10 pickups. The best way to enhance this package without spending a ton of money is to retain the rotor diameter and add more aggressive pads to the caliper. But regardless of how much clamping load you can produce, the bottom line is still the interface between the tire and the road surface. For brakes that are not abused on a 2.5-mile road course for an hour at a time, production-size brakes will get the job done if they are set up correctly with the proper rotors and pads.
The key to maximizing brake efficiency even from a smallish 10.8-inch rotor is to start with fresh, straight rotors and use a performance pad that won’t disintegrate under high heat. English Brake Company (EBC) offers a ridiculous number of options when it comes to disc brake pads and suggests combining these pads with a performance, dimpled and slotted rotor. Our test victim is a V-8 S-10 we built a couple of years ago that uses the same front disc brake package as a typical mid -’80’s Monte Carlo or El Camino. EBC separates its six different pad materials by using different colors, plus a couple of more stock replacement pads. We created a chart that uses online descriptions for each of these different colors that may help you decide which is best for your application.
We intended to use our S-10 for a combination of mostly street driving with perhaps a couple of forays at our local autocross. With that approach, we opted for the YellowStuff pads as they appeared to be the best combination for our application. In the old days, race pads generally employed steel fibers to increase the coefficient of friction. Unfortunately, these pads also tended to literally eat rotors. We ran a set of these pads back in the ’80s on an early Camaro and destroyed a set of rotors in less than 10,000 miles! Today, nearly all performance non-asbestos organic (NAO) pads use Aramid or Kevlar fibers that promote friction and are downright friendly to rotors.
The reason race pads are not a good idea for the street is because they are generally intended to be used in extremely high-temperature situations. As such, these pads do not necessarily offer good low-temperature friction so in short runs on the street, these pads usually require higher pedal effort when they are cold. This is why EBC offers so many different pad combinations in order to offer the best performance for your application.
The best way to ensure that the combination of brake rotor and pads maximize their potential is to carefully bed the pads and rotors. Few enthusiasts know this, but the rotor achieves its maximum coefficient of friction only after sufficient pad material has been transferred from the pad to the rotor. With both new rotors and pads, the bedding-in procedure requires a few more miles and heat cycles.
Most EBC street pads come with a thin, abrasive surface that is used to remove all of the previous pad material from a used rotor and/or to condition the rotor surface. That’s why the car should be carefully driven for the first 5 to 10 miles to ensure this material has worn off and the rotor is conditioned to accept the new pad material. Then, EBC recommends a series of light brake applications to gradually increase the heat in the rotors as the best way to condition them. This means no hard, aggressive braking within the first 200 miles so that the new rotors can gradually be conditioned. EBC says it may take as much as 500 miles or more of street driving to fully bed the pads. This can be judged by a light blue tinge across the entire pad face swept area of the rotor.
While we were swapping the pads and rotors, we also noticed that the original brake fluid in the master cylinder was a nasty black color. It well could have been the original fluid from over 20 years for all we know. We extracted all the fluid from the master and then carefully purged the entire system front and rear with new, AMSOIL DOT 3 brake fluid. AMSOIL’s synthetic fluid is strong enough to handle whatever heat we put into it, but they do make a race style DOT 4 fluid that’s rated at a higher wet and dry boiling point in case that ever comes up. Note that DOT 4 fluid is quite a bit more expensive than the DOT 3 so it’s not necessary unless you are into racing.
We looked up the specs and the wet minimum boiling point for DOT 3 fluid is 284 degrees while AMSOIL’s synthetic tests with a wet minimum of a much higher 304 degrees. As you might expect, the DOT 4 race fluid’s number is higher than the DOT 3, and AMSOIL’s DOT 4 wet minimum is also higher with 379 degrees versus the DOT 4 minimum of 311 degrees. These are really good numbers, especially since the AMSOIL DOT 3 fluid’s price is only slightly higher than off-the-shelf fluids you would find at the auto parts store.
Brake fluid boiling points are rated in both wet and dry conditions because even in a sealed master cylinder, brake fluid will tend to absorb water out of the atmosphere. Once absorbed into the fluid, the water reduces the fluid’s boiling point. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to change your brake fluid every couple of years to maintain the brake system’s performance.
It’s difficult to put a price tag on safety, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton to get great performance. We added up the bill for a pair of EBC rotors, YellowStuff pads, new wheel bearings, seals, brake hoses, and brake fluid and the whole package came to roughly $450. We may not be able to keep up with the big boys after 20 laps at Willow Springs or Road America, but we do have some great brakes now.
A looming deadline prevented us from laying down 500 miles on our V-8 S-10 to deliver a long-term evaluation of these pads. But once we completed the transfer of pad material and the rotors had been subjected to multiple heat cycles we could easily tell there was significantly more brake potential here than with the previous junk pads. When the pads are stone cold, they do require slightly more pedal effort, but after only a couple of stops and there is heat in the pads, they feel great. This adds tremendously to the trust you put in the brakes whether you’re charging a tight corner on an autocross or just jumping on the brake pedal in response to a quick red light. It’s all about confidence in the brake pedal.
1. We selected a set of EBC GD Sport dimpled and slotted rotors with a corrosion-resistant black finish. Rotors with fully drilled holes tend to develop stress cracks around the perimeter of the holes, so EBC merely dimples the rotors and uses slots to help the pads evacuate pad dust and allow extra cooling.
2. After hand-packing our new wheel bearings, we installed them in the new rotors and finished them off with new wheel seals. The rotors are marked left and right as the slots and dimples are directional.
3. Note the reddish finish on the friction surface of the YellowStuff pads (left). This is EBC’s high-friction Brake-In coating that’s intended to clean old rotors and help condition new rotors. That’s why you should put at least 5-10 miles of cautious street driving before attempting to put heat into any new brake pads. The OrangeStuff pads on the right do not come with the abrasive coating as they are intended for competition use.
4. The YellowStuff pads also came equipped with these noise reduction shims on the backside of both pads. These are a common addition for pads normally intended for street use. Noise is the result of vibration that is sometimes generated with performance pads, so these shims help prevent the noise.
5. We bought this Lisle tool many years ago and it works great for pushing the piston(s) back into the caliper in order to fit the new pads over the new rotor. Just remember to check the fluid level in the master and remove some fluid (if the reservoir is full) before you push the pistons back into the calipers.
6. Do you think these brake hoses need to be replaced? They weren’t leaking, but clearly they needed upgrading. We found news ones at a great price through RockAuto.
7. One look at our black, original brake fluid told us we needed to completely flush the system of the old fluid. Brake fluid absorbs water right out of the air, which drastically reduces its boiling point. This stuff would probably boil at 225 degrees F!
8. We replaced the fluid in the system with AMSOIL’s DOT 3 fluid (left) since we’re really not going racing with our little S-10. However, AMSOIL does offer a DOT 4 fluid (right) with a higher boiling point that is advantageous.
9. With the new rotors and pads in place, we put less than 100 miles on the brakes just to evaluate how well the break-in procedure was happening. EBC says that when you can see a light blue hue across the entire face of the rotor, the pads and rotors are properly bedded. While difficult to see in this photo, it appears that the rotor is seated and there is a light blue tinge across nearly the entire face of the rotor.
|Pad Selector Tool|
|GreenStuff||Spirited driving on the street — lighter cars|
|RedStuff||Spirited driving on the street — heavier cars|
|YellowStuff||Faster street car and some track use — also some 4x4 and towing|
|GreenStuff 7000||SUV, 4x4, light trucks|
|BlueStuff||Some street use — mainly road course, track|
|OrangeStuff||Not intended for the street — track use and race applications|
|Disc Brake Crossover|
|Chevy is famous for cross-breeding many parts across several different models of cars. This is also true for the brakes. The following is a list of all the cars that use this exact same 10.8-inch rotor, caliper, and pad assembly. What we didn’t include was all the Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and GMC vehicles that also use this same brake package.|
|1978-’87 El Camino||1982-’02 S-10|
|1978-’83 Malibu||1982-’92 Camaro|
|1978-’88 Monte Carlo||1983-’94 S-10 Blazer|
|EBC brake rotors||GD7000||Summit Racing|
|EBC YellowStuff pads||DP41146R||Summit Racing|
|EBC OrangeStuff pads||DP91146||Summit Racing|
|EBC GreenStuff 2000 pads||DP21146||Summit Racing|
|EBC GreenStuff 7000 pads||DP71146||Summit Racing|
|Timken wheel bearing, outer||SET34||RockAuto|
|Timken wheel bearing, inner||SET 6||RockAuto|
|National wheel seal||NS8871||RockAuto|
|Dorman brake hose, front||H38107||RockAuto|
|Lisle disc brake spreader tool||LIL-24400||Summit Racing|
|AMSOIL Brake Fluid DOT 3, 12 oz.||BF3SN-EA||AMSOIL|
|AMSOIL Brake Fluid DOT 4, 12 oz.||BF4SN-EA||AMSOIL|