Chevy Nova Disc Brake Conversion - Beating The Drums

We Ditch The Outdated Drum Brakes On A '69 Nova And Install A CPP Disc Brake Conversion Kit

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A long time ago, when our now classic Chevys were new, people didn't know any better when it came to braking performance. If your car took 200 feet to stop from 60 mph, it wasn't a big deal, since that's just how far it took back then. Disc brakes were still an option, just like many of the widgets that are standard fare today. It was a simpler time.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, where things are different. We whiz around in our modern cars and have grown accustomed to technology like four-wheel power disc brakes and ABS. In a way, we've gotten soft; we like how nice our modern rides drive and, more importantly, stop. It's almost shocking how bad our classic feels when we hop in it for a drive. In reality, our classics don't stop any worse than they did back in the day; we've just gotten used to better. Well, thanks to the aftermarket, we no longer have to settle for sketchy braking with a high pucker factor. With a few bucks and a couple of days of wrench time, it's pretty easy to impart modern braking performance into our old Chevys.

Our plan was simple. We would find an old Chevy with stock binders, test it, and then throw some high-tech parts at it. Also, to be fair, we would upgrade the rolling stock before the test so we could get accurate data on how much the new braking parts helped the stopping distance. After all, tires play a big part in how quickly any car comes to a halt. We also didn't want to mortgage our house to pay for it. With a plan in mind and the keys to a buddy's '69 Nova, we headed over to Classic Performance Products (CPP) in Anaheim, California, to see what they had to help slow our aging Chevy.

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Meet the star of our show. This '69 Nova is your typical street machine. The owner dropped in a worked-over small-block topped with a small Weiand blower, but the brakes weren't considered sexy enough to warrant any attention. As such, it still ran the power-assisted four-wheel drums that the General had given it at the factory. Initial testing yielded nail-biting stopping distances from 60 mph-around 200 feet, with the best one being 196 feet. It was downright scary, and to make matters worse, it also had a tendency to pull to one side.

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We wanted modern performance for our Nova, so bigger binders were in order. However, that meant we needed bigger wheels. Since the 15-inch Welds currently on the car had seen better days, this wasn't an issue. Even though we needed a big-brake-friendly size, we still wanted a classic look, so we picked up a set of Vintage Wheel Works V40 rollers. The classic five-spoke design looked great, and the guys at Vintage Wheel Works helped us choose the right sizes, 17x8-inch (4.75-inch b.s.) front and 17x9-inch (5.75-inch b.s.) rear. A car's interface to the asphalt is its tires, so we didn't want to cheap out. Nitto 555s in 245/40/17 front and 555Rs in 275/40/17 in the rear will really help the new brakes do their thing. For a little extra launch grip, we went with Nitto's drag radials in the rear. Hey, it's not always about turning corners.

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For this install we chose CPP's big-brake front kit (PN 6472WBK-P13, $799) and its matching rear kit (PN 6869RWBK-P12, $699). It should be noted that if you buy both kits at the same time, CPP offers better pricing. Featuring twin-piston front calipers and single-piston rears, this should stop our Nova in a Bow Tie heartbeat and, as a bonus, look great doing it. Paired with these calipers are slotted and drilled 13-inch front rotors and matching 12-inch rear rotors. For power assist, we wanted to try something different, so we picked a Hydratech hydroboost system out of CPP's parts bin. These kits include all the hardware, hoses, and trinkets you need to get the install completed.

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When we saw the picture of the CPP calipers, we just thought they were factory Vette calipers with the CPP name on them. We were wrong. Turns out these PBR C15 front calipers are quite a bit better than the factory stuff. Jim Ries of CPP explained, "Our calipers use 52mm pistons as opposed to the 40mm units found in C5 Vette calipers. They also have larger pad surfaces that offer about 50 percent more stopping power than the C5 calipers, and they cost half as much. In addition, they have iron bodies that are far more rigid, resulting in a firmer pedal."

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Here you can see CPP's standard spindle alongside its two-inch drop unit (PN CP30100, $249). The dropped version lowers the car without affecting the steering or suspension geometry. Best of all, they accommodate a wide array of brake options, from CPP's 11-inch standard brake kit to the 13-inch big-brake kit we're installing. Made from 1050 forged steel with CNC-machined chrome-moly axle pins, these units work with the factory ball joints and stock steering arms. They also work with Wilwood and Baer disc brake systems.

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CPP offers its calipers in a wide selection of colors. Choices include red, black, gray, chrome, and even custom colors. We chose red because they would look great behind the new Vintage Wheel Works wheels and would hold up to the constant abuse heaped on brakes. The powder paint option ran us $50 per pair, and the chrome option would have set us back $200 per pair.

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