Our "ready-for-the-grave" patient at the start of these installations was a factory-stock '66 Chevelle begging for much-needed upgrades. You could tell that no one had rolled under this car, as the stock bushings were still in place, as were the factory springs, and four-wheel drum brakes. An unsightly and hazardous combination, ABS Power Brake had in the answer to our failing drums in the form of their complete front and rear disc brake package for A-body cars.
Joe Juliano, the owner, loves the look of his 15-inch Cragar wheels and made only one stipulation through all this, and that was to keep them on the car. Luckily, ABS has a kit matched specifically to our needs. Its kit supplies everything you need to complete the project from 11 and 10 3/4-inch rotors, calipers, mounting brackets, dust shields, power brake booster, and accessories designed specifically for a small wheel combination. Because of bracket fitment issues, the fronts are actually the smaller of the rotors by 1/4-inch.
Our before and after testing proved that this Chevelle was now a much safer, more fun automobile to drive, and that was our one and only concern. Joe is not going to be digging this Chevelle deep into corners or going fender-to-fender on the road course (although it was enjoyable to beat up). Our mission was to stop this Chevelle safely on the street and put the days of braking for 400 feet behind us. Best of all, when Joe finally does eat up a set of rotors and pads, a simple run to the local parts store will supply all he needs to do the swap in his driveway.
The disc setup was also going to help us cosmetically. Looking through a five-spoke and getting a face full of rusty drums isn't anyone's idea of a gorgeous setup. It just so happened that our gold calipers matched the paint so much so that the final look of the car was absolutely phenomenal.
The caliper/pad assembly followed. Installation of the caliper is completed using two bolts from the backside. Shims are provided in case the rotor does not align with the center of the caliper. Luckily, we did not need any shims and were ready to start working on the brake lines.
Up front, we made all lines as our connections on the calipers were in different locations, as were the connections on the new booster. Steve Ficacci of Hillcrest Exxon made quick work of the brake lines going to the calipers and mounted them out of the way using a factory bracket.
Like the front, the rear brake kit provides us with versatility to use a small-diameter wheel. It comes with 11-inch rotors, calipers, brackets, emergency brake provisions, and flexible brake tubing. Relatively easy to install, this is definitely a good project for the may-chanics among us to tackle on a free weekend. With a set of jack stands and some patience, you'll be drum free in no time.
The installation begins by removing the old drum brake assembly and pumpkin cover as you will need access to the C-clips to remove the axles. This is necessary to remove as our caliper bracket mounts to axle flange.
As was the case up front, make sure there in no binding while evenly tightening both the top and bottom caliper bolts. Once completed, check that the rotor is centered between the brake pads and is not rubbing on either of them.
We then tackled the flexible connections running from the calipers to the braking system. Take your time when installing these as you need to ensure a good connection between the line and caliper so it won't leak. Welding a bracket to the rear end housing provided a simple mounting location on the rear.
At this point, our front and rear disc brake swap was complete. Last but not least, we set the wheels on the studs, crossed our fingers, and torqued them down. We had plenty of clearance on both as our 15-inchers can be swapped for 14s if wanted.
Our installation continued in the engine bay as we plucked the factory manual brake booter. Check out the size of the new unit next to the factory one. ABS Power Brakes's 8-inch, 1,400 psi Super Stopper brake system provides stopping power like this car has never seen thanks of a double-diaphragm design with proportioning valves attached. Can it get any easier? The Super Stopper brake system is "powered" by the vacuum of the engine and stores pressure to assist in braking and thus providing power brakes. Note: Be certain that your engine creates enough vacuum to supply such a unit. ABS recommends this unit only if the engine makes over 16 psi of vacuum at idle. We were making 16-17psi.
We were worried that this larger unit would give us clearance issues so we test fit it into place. The only area of concern was the inner fenderwell, as the proportioning valve was sitting awfully close. Luckily, with some creative brake line construction, we were able to ease our worries.
The booster kit installs using four bolts to the firewall and ABS provided all new hardware to do so. It took some time running all the brake lines and making the correct bends, but it's well worth the time, as we knew the kit would be leak-free afterwards.
The real test was out on the road. "It was like a sensory overload. I drive the car if its not raining or snowing so needless to say, I am in the car a lot. When we went for a test drive afterwards, I didn't know what to do other than enjoy the car. Between the DSE suspension components and ABS power brakes, the car now turned, stopped, and rode like a champ. I no longer had to prepare for a stop light some 500 feet ahead of time and pray that the brakes will work," said car owner Joe Juliano.
Check out the finished product through the wheel. What a drastic improvement over the factory drums. We performed some before and after brake testing at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park and as we expected, the results were dramatic. There was a 37-foot differece in braking from 60 mph, from 169 feet to 132. You couldn't really ask for much more.