Consistent stopping power may be one of the most overlooked priorities when it comes to upgrading any street machine or hot rod. As car guys, we tend to focus on getting our steroid- injected projects to go faster, with nary a thought of bringing our big- horsepower speed machines to a tidy halt after a good mashing on the go-pedal.
With the abundance of aftermarket brake companies coming out with attractive disc brake packages that perform as good as, or in most cases better than stock drum brakes, there's no excuse to overlook your tired, old, ill-performing brake system.
The days of brake calipers being hidden by measly 15-inch wheels are long gone. In fact, the 20-inch wheel, at least in the rear, has found a comfortable home with many in the street performance market. Pro-Touring and G-Machine builders have embraced the larger wheel size in the last few years, and we don't see signs of that trend slowing anytime soon.
Stopping those big-inch wheels can become a huge task for obsolete drum brake components, and as mentioned earlier, the aftermarket is literally flooded with a plethora of colored calipers ready to bolt up to most any classic car application.
For this install, we used our '82 El Camino. It might not strike you as a highly sought after classic collector car, but it is over 25 years old, has 18-inch IROCs, and the rear brakes could use some modern stopping power. With that being said, there aren't too many companies offering disc brake conversion kits for late-'70s and '80s El Caminos and Chevelles, but the folks over at ABS Power Brake Inc. in Orange, California, saw the writing on the wall and got busy putting together such a package. ABS's '79-86 El Camino disc brake kit comes complete with everything you'll need to upgrade that tired-performing and tired-looking brake system.
There are a couple of reasons why we decided to upgrade to a disc brake system. One reason was to get rid of the unsightly brake drum. That rusty, dull bucket doesn't do anything to enhance the look of our shiny-type wheels. With the rear disc brake system installed, the car took on a much more clean and stealthy look.
The second reason was that the old rear drum brake system had a tendency to be somewhat inconsistent during our 60-0 brake tests. In a number of runs the braking numbers varied anywhere from 188 feet to 166 feet. Another area we were looking to improve was rear-wheel lockup. With the old system the rear brakes came in a little early during hard braking, and the rearend felt like it wanted to come around, certainly not a good thing in a high-traffic situation, or any other situation, for that matter.
With the ABS disc brake package installed, we were able to attain not only a more consistent 60-0 braking performance, but a shorter distance as well. After bolting up the ABS disc brake conversion kit, we kept the 60-0-mph stopping distance between 158 feet and 160 feet, quite an improvement over the 25-year-old system, and with no rearend lockup, we felt quite comfortable hammering the brakes at speed.
It's important to note that with more consistent, smooth stopping characteristics, the driver feels more comfortable and confident in sudden braking situations. Oh, and that pulling from one side to the other during braking is virtually nonexistent with the disc brake upgrade.
Safety is the number one issue when it comes to brakes. Be it a shorter distance, stiffer pedal, or better consistency, cutting corners with brakes just doesn't make any sense.