Michael Jonas readily admits his '89 Corvette, which is powered by a 410hp small-block, has too much braking capability for a street car.
"It's a little excessive," he says. "They're too much for the street, but I usually use the car on a road course, anyway."
Indeed, a look through the wheels of the black Vette reveals nothing but four circular walls of brake rotor-thirteen-inchers all around on a car wearing 17-inch wheels.
"They're the first set of production Force 10 brakes we made," Jonas says proudly, adding with equal pride, " From 60, the car averages 93-ft stops. If I stand on them real quick, I'll beat the ABS."
Centering his performance expertise on a car's "whoa," rather than "go," has been in Jonas's blood for more than 25 years. That's when his father, George, began manufacturing upgraded replacement parts for Corvettes.
It was 1975, and George Jonas was at his wits' end trying to solve the fluid leak problems of his vintage Corvette's front caliper sleeves. Relying on his engineering experience and the personal know-how of a real enthusiast, Jonas designed and manufactured stainless steel replacement sleeves for the leaky brakes.
When other Corvette aficionados heard of Jonas's revolutionary fix, they beat a path to his door... And left little puddles of brake fluid once they reached it. More than 25 years later, Jonas's solution to fix his personal car has resulted in a multifaceted business that supplies brakes and brake accessories to enthusiasts of almost all makes and models.
Although George still has a hand in the business, the reigns of Stainless Steel Brakes have been turned over to Michael. And though it seems a symbolic shift to a newer generation, the change is manifested in the technological leaps the company is currently undertaking. On our recent visit to Stainless' Clarence, New York (near Buffalo), headquarters, for example, one of the engineers was getting his fingerprints all over the keyboard of the company's new computer-aided design terminal.
"We've just started to design new products with it," Michael Jonas says. "We're still learning, but already we're seeing that this investment is going lessen the time it takes to test and, ultimately, manufacture new parts."
The design program allows engineers to design and test rotors, calipers, and brake pads. An "exploded" view of the design even allows the parts to be assembled on-screen, which allows the engineers to check for fitment interference problems before someone starts cutting into real steel or aluminum.
Also, the kits designed by Stainless Steel Brakes are extensive and include things like all-new spindles, if necessary. "We don't want anyone modifying an existing part to make ours fit," says Jonas. "When you start asking people to trim a spindle, you open the door to stress cracks and broken parts. Believe me, a spindle or brake part is not something you want to have develop of stress crack."
Although the complete design of parts by computer is relatively new, the manufacturing process on the shop floor isn't. CNC-controlled lathes and machining centers (both horizontal and vertical) cut and mill each part precisely and identically. Once an operator hits the button, the cutters cut away according to a computer program that ensures that each part machined is exactly as the last.
One aspect of the process that isn't left to computers is the inspection of each caliper. Each caliper is individually pressure-tested for leaks with helium. As helium is thinner than air and, especially, hydraulic brake fluid, a leaking caliper is going to be detected more easily and quickly with this gas.
Besides simple replacement upgrades for stock brake systems, including some nifty front-disc conversions and rear-disc brake kits for early- and musclecar-era Chevys, Stainless is quickly growing a reputation for its affordable performance brakes. Systems like the four-piston Force 10 calipers and "turbo" slotted rotors are delivering eye-popping stopping for both early- and late-model vehicles.
Innovations in cast aluminum, too, improve Stainless' products' performance by reducing the sprung weight of the car-a particularly important consideration if you're upgrading from a less-efficient drum brake system. Take the typical caliper of, say, a '70 Corvette. Stainless' Force 10 aluminum calipers are each 7.25 pounds lighter than stock cast-iron calipers. Attach them to each corner and the car has shaved 33 pounds of sprung weight. Micheal Jonas is rightfully proud of such achievements, but he knows that the brakes are usually the last area of the car where people spend money.
"Engine, wheels and tires, a paint job...," says Jonas. "The brakes are the last consideration. They shouldn't be, but we know they are. Our kits are designed for affordability because we know that if a brake system is too expensive, an enthusiast may just try to get by with what he already has. You shouldn't skimp on your car's brakes, though." Coming from a guy who can beat an anti-lock braking system to the punch, that's sound advice.
Check out what we spied while poking around the racks: Yenko-scribed calipers. Although a little mum about the customer for them, we were told this caliper is just part of a larger order that's intended for a series of Camaros and Corvettes to be modified by the company that bought the rights to the Yenko name. Stainless is making calipers to outfit more than 50 Camaros and more than 50 Corvettes. When we get more details about the cars, we'll let you know.