Braking systems have long been ignored as a mandatory performance upgrade. The visual impact of cross-drilled rotors and racy looking multi-piston calipers looks great and stops even the heaviest of heavyweight cars, but the price tag is often out of the typical "street cruiser" budget. Welcome to the new century, where everyone is trading in their huge rear tires and skinny front pizza cutters for 18-inch wheels and racy brakes (heck, even Popular Hot Rodding's Project X is being retrofitted to stop and handle!) So, how can we do this without shelling out big bucks and spending hours trying to retrofit our old Chevy with modern components?
Classic Performance Products (CPP) of Buena Park, California, has come to the rescue with disc brake conversion kits for everything from early Chevy trucks to 70's era musclecars. One of the big advantages of the CPP kits is that most of the major components are OEM parts. The kits are designed to be a bolt-on installation, so even the average backyard mechanic with normal hand tools can complete the upgrade in about a day. The kit includes rear disc brake calipers with a built in emergency brake (OEM parts for '80-85 Cadillac Sevilles); 11-inch vented rotors, laser-cut caliper mounting brackets, rubber brake hoses, and all necessary mounting hardware. To complete the installation in style, CPP offers cross-drilling and gas-slotting of the rotors, emergency brake cables, and custom-bent hard brake lines.
Since all four corners of our Chevy will now be "modern," it was a given to update the master cylinder and the brake booster. CPP offers a custom master cylinder/booster combo that's available in 7-, 8-, and 9-inch diameters (an 8-inch dual- diaphragm master cylinder is also available from CPP). Along with offering a variety of sizes, CPP engineered the booster to mount close to the firewall for improved valve cover clearance. The proper brake pedal ratio is incorporated into the design so the full travel of the master cylinder is used, resulting in a higher, firmer brake pedal. The complete kit includes your choice of booster size, Corvette master cylinder, and proportioning valve. To prove how easy the installation is, Chris Basset installed the rear brake kit and booster in his storage garage with basic hand tools.
Chris wanted his classic '62 Bel-Air wagon to stop without having the annoying side-to-side pull usually associated with drum brakes, so he had already installed the front disc kit before we began our rear installation. After all of the CPP parts arrived, Chris quickly went to workupgrading his wagon. The installation was fairly straightforward. Follow along to see just how easy it is to get vastly improved braking on your classic.
A seat-of-the-pants comparison between drum brake and disc brake stopping power
When we completed Chris Basset's disc brake conversion, no conclusions in the stopping power department could be made because the wagon was in the process of a major restoration. I took it amongst myself to test two different cars: one having drum brakes at all four corners, and one with four-wheel discs. The ride I will never forget was in my friend Dave "Riff-Raff" Miller's '68 big-block Camaro (equipped with four-wheel drum brakes). When I put my foot in the car to do a full-throttle pass, I have to say it was quite thrilling, but little did I know my thrills were just about to begin! After taking my foot out of the throttle, I went for the brake pedal (expecting it to stop like a Corvette, I guess) and to my surprise the car pulled to the left without seeming to slow down. I let out of the brakes and tried again; this time I darted to the right, but at least I was slowing down. After catching my breath and finally slowing the Camaro down, I didn't think I was ready to do another braking evaluation (I did anyway). The next test subject was a '69 big-block Camaro that belongs to another "friend" of mine. The major difference is that this Camaro had the Classic Performance Products disc brake kit installed at all four-corners, CPP's power brake booster kit, braided-steel brake lines, and cross-drilled/gas-slotted rotors. While this car wasn't quite as powerful as Dave's Camaro, it could accelerate hard enough to paste you to the seat. While accelerating, all I could keep thinking about was stopping. To my surprise the Camaro responded by slowing me down without the side-to-side pulling or brake fade that the drum-brake Camaro exhibited. The brake pedal felt firm and stayed high as I slowed the car down. In conclusion, I don't have any percentage statistics in braking or 60-zero mph times, but I can give you my personal opinion: Always consider a disc brake conversion when upgrading horsepower. The new "complete conversion kits" are readily available for most classics, easy to install, and within the budget of most "cruisers."