Prolific CC Commenter Bryce posted this shot of his Hillman Minx titled “Drums out; discs in”. Well, that and a whole new front suspension and cross member, thanks to a more recent Hillman parts car he picked up a while back. So the question today is all about drum brakes: are they a dangerous nightmare to be avoided or are their limitations exaggerated?
Of course any car can benefit from disc brakes, but the issue about drums is not exactly black and white. A drum brake can be quite powerful, but the biggest issue is fade from /heavy/repeated use, as well as from being over-stressed. My first several cars were a Corvair and VW Beetles. With their rear engines, braking power was much better balanced between front and rear axles due to the rear engines. I never felt under-braked in them.
It’s also the reason why the original Toronado and Eldorado were so under-braked. With their front weight bias and lightly loaded rear axles, they simply overpowered their front drum brakes.
Size is of course a big factor too, in drum brakes, and some of the better American cars had quite massive front brakes, and finned too. I had a Peugeot 404 sedan and wagon at the same time. The sedan had discs; the wagon drums. But the drums on the wagon were huge and wide, and had double-leading shoes (meaning two wheel cylinders per brake). These were the best drum brakes I’ve ever used, and I liked them better than the discs in sedan, which also were unassisted. Ironically, I was tempted to swap out the sedan’s discs for the drums from a wagon.
The wagon’s brakes were also unassisted, but drums really don’t need assist, as they are self-energizing. The 404 wagon’s brakes had the most progressive and sensitive response of any brakes I’ve ever driven; the equivalent of a manual rack and pinion steering on a light car. A dream to use, and I’ve missed them ever since.
The drums on my ’66 F100 are modest, at best. They’re the same size as on a Ford passenger car, which is pretty pathetic. I made several trips up I-5 from Los Gatos to Eugene hauling our massive amount of stuff/junk, towing an un-braked (but pretty light) trailer). Getting out of the Bay Area during morning rush hour was more than a bit hairy, because if I left extra space in front of me, other driver constantly filled it in. I had one or two scary moments. But once out of the metro area, the roll up I-5 was fine, as long as I stayed on the right lane with the other big truckers. And I shifted down on the grades.
One time I had a transmission problem, and it kept popping out of second right on the longest and steepest grade of the trip, the Siskiyou Pass, and I only barely got the rig stopped, with all the pedal pressure I could summon! One stop, on cold brakes, and it almost didn’t fully stop at the end, the brakes useless.
Except for that hairy moment, which wouldn’t have happened if my transmission had stayed in gear, I’ve managed to get by ok with the drums on the Ford, even pulling very heavy loads, since I just keep my speed down and always am very cognizant of what gear I’m in on any grade. But Ford really could have put some larger brakes in these, like the ones used in the 3/4 ton F250.
So what are your experiences with drums? Live with them, or swap them out?
I hate drum brakes. I have serviced enough of them to last a lifetime. Not to mention the grabbing and the pulling. I converted my ’75 Chevy LUV to front disc brakes from a ’77. It was a bolt on, no spindle changes needed. My ’83 Ford Ranger 4X4 that I drive, I have 4 wheel disc’s on it. Rears are Ford Explorer, on my Currie built 9 inch axle.
I have recently acquired a 1970 Ford Maverick with all drum brakes. It has a 289 cid engine, and a lot of power. The existing brakes might be a little too puny for such a car and I would like to upgrade to front-wheel power-assisted disc brakes for that reason.
I’m still getting used to the hydraboost brakes on my Suburban. They’re firm, but without a whole lot of feel. Of course, new pads and rotors should help that a bit.
Having recently driven a 26-foot, heavily-laden (but fully functional) F-650 rental truck over both the Tejon and Siskiyou Passes, I have to say, Paul, you’re braver than I am.
I used to help my dad change brake shoes on all his older, drum-equipped cars, and at the time, I don’t think I grasped how they could fail…now that I understand how brakes work, I don’t know that I’d ever want another vehicle with drums. I think the last car I had with them was our 1987 Caprice wagon with front discs/rear drums. (I may be wrong about that setup, feel free to correct me.)
I’ll take discs up front but drums in the rear.
I converted one of my big old Chryslers to front discs from a 1973 Chrysler. The other one I’m not inclined to bother. The front drums on C-body Mopars are large and I’ve never experienced brake fade with them. On long hills I downshift to second to provide engine braking (that’s what it’s there for!) and/or modulate the brakes to allow them to cool off. When servicing, front discs are easier than drums, unless you’re replacing the discs and the hub with wheel bearing assembly is integral to the disc.
As for rear brakes, I see nothing wrong with drums, and I wish auto manufacturers hadn’t all switched to rear discs. Once there’s a parking brake involved, drums seem easier to maintain and safer in my opinion. With rear discs, you either get a parking brake which uses the disc brakes but it uses a screw mechanism to keep the pad close to the disc as it wears, or a separate drum-style parking brake mounted behind the middle of the disc. Both systems are a pain when it comes time to service them. If needed as an emergency brake, the disc-type don’t benefit from self-energizing, and the drum brake in the hub system has such small shoes that I doubt its effectiveness as an emergency brake.
Agreed. There is an obsession with younger drivers that rear disks are essential. Front wheel drive cars, especially light ones like the Fit or Fiesta hardly use the rear brakes at all, except for parking.
My K2500 Chevy truck has massive drums in the rear and they do the job even with a full load in the bed.
I’m old so I well remember driving a drum braked vehicle through deep water then having to ride the brake pedal lightly a few miles before they’d stop normally again .
I *do* like dual leading shoe brakes in spite of the horrible ones on my old 1971 (?) Datsun PL620 pickup truck ~ I replaced everything but never really got them to work right ~ no pulling but little stopping power .
My 1959 Metropolitan Nash has tiny , narrow dual leading shoe brakes that are _fantastic_ ~ is my rally car with a massaged engine so it scoots right along , they’re slow to over heat but 300 miles of hard use and they need adjusting again .
I had the same issue with most of my old VW Beetles ~ they stop great but if you need to slow or stop a bunch of times in a row , they fade from the heat buildup .
In the end , disc brakes are prolly better .
Definitely easier to service .
BTW : cute Hillman ! .
I was going to add that the main disadvantage a person would see with drum brakes up front is how horrible the are when they get wet.
All in all disc brakes are superior to drums in performance ease of maintenance and simplicity.
In the time it takes to swap one set of shoes on a drum braked car I could have swapped three sets of pads on a disc braked one.
Yeah I like it Nate, I watched one as a small child arrive home across the street and I guess I fell in love with them then,
I drove a drum braked EH Holden on and off for 8 years after I rebuilt it, with single leading shoes up front the same weight as my Minx and twice the horsepower, they were severely underbraked it was ok on the main island in OZ its flat with nice straight roads and few corners so no car is really tested there, however I emigrated to Tasmania with its mountainous terrain and great challenging roads around the Huon and Channel districts the poor old Holden was well out of its depth especially towing a trailer thankfully it had automatic transmission and i coul pull the THM 180 down a slot to assist the overheated drums when required, I replaced the 3 stage hydramatic(the only modification it had)
I’m old so I well remember driving a drum braked vehicle through deep water then having to ride the brake pedal lightly a few miles before they’d stop normally again.
Maybe this is why I was taught to use engine braking to assist with stopping duties. I still practice this skill subconsciously whenever driving down a steep incline.
I’m okay with drum brakes, as I was also taught how to properly and constantly maintain them. The “self-adjusting” feature on many drum brakes never functioned consistently on the old beaters I grew up with.
I have owned two cars in my life with drum brakes all around.
1st was a 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass. This was back in high school during the mid 90s and brake shoe material was garbage tier during those days. The brakes were good for one sure stop from 70+mph but after that they faded into oblivion.
Not exactly drum brake related but I did have a brake line suddenly fail one time while on the way to school. My car was equipped with a single reservoir so I completely lost all braking. I did not panic I actually managed to drive about two miles to get as close as possible to my school so that I could get my little brother there reasonably on time.
There was a lot of pressure because we had skipped the first two periods :). I slowed the car using whatever engine braking provided by the two speed ‘Jetaway’ transmission was capable of achieving.
The 2nd car I owned with drums all around is my current car a 1968 Buick Electra. The front drums are 12″ aluminum bad boys and are capable of at least three 70+ mph stops before fade seriously kicks in. Using modern shoe material I am able to lock all four wheels up at speed.
My Electra stops straight not quite as straight as a modern car mind you. A stop from 50mph (city speeds) does not pull me into another lane but might get a tire to rub the line. I have found that keeping the backing plates clean and lubricated on the pads makes a world of difference.
While discs all around would be ideal I do not think the brakes on my Electra will be much of a liability if I drive it according to its purpose ie a moderately powered “cruiser”.
I recently had to replace brake shoes on the ’87 Jetta I recently bought, along with wheel cylinders and inner and outer rear wheel bearings. The guy I bought it from managed to strip out both rear brake lines and reassembled the one side he tried to repair with the shoes on backwards and missing the steel bar and adjuster assemblies. On VW’s you need 3 hands to reattach the parking brake cable, as well. So a simple brake job got complicated requiring 2 trips to u-pull to find the missing pieces and unstripped brake tubes. Disc brakes are so much nicer to work on. I once posted my own near death experience going down the Sisku’s in my drum brake ’70 C10 with a 32ft 5th wheel trailer after my rear tire rubbed through the wiring that was routed too close to the rear tire by the RV shop I used to install the electric brake controller. 4 speed trans in second, engine revving madly, smoke rolling off all 4 wheels with both feet on the brake pedal. The biggest problem with the truck, and the ’70’s white spoke steel wheels (allowing too much water to cover the brake drums) I was running may have contributed to this. After going through deep water the brakes would not work at all until the water on the shoes boiled off. I would automatically ride the pedal after going through deep water until the brakes would start to grab so they would work when I needed them. Unloaded or with rated capacity load the drums actually worked well under normal conditions. The backs would lock up in a panic stop. The truck I have now, with 4 wheel disc, ABS and EBD work fantastic loaded or unloaded. The first panic stop in my current truck put a smile on my face, I knew in my old truck I would have been heading for the shoulder rears locked to avoid a collision. In my old air cooled VW drum brake cars and buses, they didn’t lock if they were in good condition and stopped well. Deep water didn’t seem to affect these cars nearly as much, as well.
Drum brakes are not my preference but I don’t dislike them enough to change them out with discs, such as on the Galaxie. Only once have I had issues getting the old girl stopped with drums, and that was coming down a very steep hill on a 95 degree day when there was stop sign at the bottom of the hill. She stopped just fine, but it took more pedal effort than it should have.
I figure if many over the road trucks still have drums on all wheels they can’t be all bad.
Over the road truckies virtually never use the service brakes at least I dont the engine brakes are used all the time with foot brake only used to actually stop once speed has been brushed off, many heavy trucks are fitted with disc brakes now days and electromagnetic retarders which will slam you into the windscreen when actvated.
Like Paul says, it’s depends upon the brakes you were given by the car-maker. Just try stopping any ’47-’53 Studebaker with the original drums, on a downhill road. Especially if you’ve got a ’51 Landcruiser V8. Or worse, a ’53 Starliner Coupe with automatic. Those cars had the same brake shoes as on the ’47 Champion Six, a much lighter car. These systems were entirely too small for the cars they were put on. This system’s benefit was the industry’s first application of an automatic-adjusting brake, but the device was a metal plunger that poked through the center of the shoe, inevitably gouging a deep (1/8″-1/4″ ) rut around the drum by the time you wore the shoes out. How many thousands of drums were prematurely worn out by that damned lead plunger?! And if you didn’t put it in, it seemed like your foot went to the floor after perhaps 300 miles.
In ’54 they switched to a more modern drum/shoe set up, with finned drums in later, heavier cars. I never had a problem with them. The Avanti had America’s first disc-brake system, by Bendix. They worked fine, but finding parts now is expensive. Turner Brake sells kits to update them to more modern pads and calipers, and the benefit is larger pads and faster stop times.
On the numerous Mopar A-bodies I’ve driven, I’ve not been temped to switch away from the drums. Even the smaller brakes on the earlier cars seemed to stop the cars well, even on long downhill grades. For the first time, I’ve put 14-inch wheels and tires on my ’63 Valiant, which seems to have been a more effective way to control sliding tires. Anyway, you can’t get large 13-inch passenger tires anymore. At least not from anyone besides Coker tires at $300/each.
One problem with changing systems is maintaining the stock appearance, if you want that — disc-brakes usually need extra-space in the wheel to provide clearance for the caliper. You might not be able to use your original wheel covers if you change your wheel to accept the calipers… or you just might not want to see that extra ridge.
“The Avanti had America’s first disc-brake system, by Bendix.”
The 1949 Crosley had 4-wheel disc brakes.
As well as the Imperial system explained recently here on CC.
Hey, that Husky is the same color as the one I saw in Fremont, California a few days ago! Anyway, I started driving in my parents’ Volvo 122S wagon with drums. Like Paul’s 404’s, Volvo installed larger 4 wheel drums on the wagons long after the sedan had switched to front discs. They were pretty bad; not so much fade, as grabby and generally pulling to one side or the other. When I bought my first car, a 122S 2-door, the brakes were phenomenally better. In our current three-car fleet, we still have two cars with rear drums, our Prius and T100. They’re fine, but honestly I’d rather change pads than mess with shoes and springs. Interestingly, a hugely controversial issue among Toyota truck fans on the Internet is that the newly announced 2016 Tacoma pickup still has rear drums. Toyota pre-emptively defended this by stating they’re more suitable off-road. I believe the rest-of-world Hilux is similar.
What happens when a wheel cylinder takes a dump. Thankfully this was on the rear and happened very near my house. Still not as fun as the time rear axle bearing seized up while I was driving to work LOL
If the wheel cylinder leaks onto the shoe but still holds pressure , the brake fluid soaked shoe will grab terribly when cold then loose all friction as soon as it heats up .
I neglected to mention : when driving drum braked vehicles through water , you’re supposed to ever so lightly ride the brake pedal _before_ you drive through the water , this allows the brakes shoes to squeegee the water off instead of it wetting the shoes .
My 1969 Chevy C/10 shop truck still has it’s 2″ drum brakes , I added a vacuum booster and it stops with 1/3 the pedal pressure it used to , I’m not sure if I’ll up grade to disc front brakes from a ’72 or the wider 2-1/2″ Suburban/heavy duty brakes as so far it stops fine in my usage .
Back in the day it was a regular thing to swap Station Wagon brakes onto your Coupe or Sedan , it was cheap and easy before the advent of disc brakes and reduced both pedal effort and fading when driving too fast or in the hills .
There was lots of smoke and the car just felt off. Very soon after this happened is when I had the wheel bearing seize up.
One of these days I might install the scarebird disc brake kit that uses mid 70s rotors and astro van calipers but for now they brakes were fine and its cool seeing those big ol aluminum drums doing their thing.
I have them on all four wheels of my 68 Ford. They stop the truck well enough when they’re warmed up. It has huge drums for stopping heavy loads so when they’re cold it feels like hitting a wall if I’m not careful. I know drums are notorious for that but I don’t remember my old VWs being so touchy when cold.
The way people drive now scares me in that old thing; I feel like I won’t be able to stop in time if some jerk cuts me off so I plan to install discs up front.
I swapped a set of mid 70’s front suspension components on my 72 F100 for the disc brakes. Man I wish I had done it sooner!!! It’s a pretty easy swap… just grab everything… I beams, springs, radius arms, master cylinder, and proportioning valve. You won’t regret it.
You can find more info at Fordification.com or on the Facebook group Fixem Your Way 67-72 Ford F100. Great people on both site with lots of good information.
My 71 F250 has factory power discs. That thing will put you through the windshield if you’re not careful. Lots of stopping power there.
I had an ’89 W-body Buick Regal GS. Four wheel disks standard! Yipee. those were god-awful rear disk brakes and they soured me on rear disk brakes until I bought my first Dodge Grand Caravan.
The rear disks *ALWAYS* froze-up so they weren’t doing anything anyway, they were pain in the ass to change. I’m told that religious use of the parking brake helped prevent the freeze-up but I wasn’t driving the car at the time – only taking care of it.
How much work were the rear brakes doing on this car anyhow? Was truly thrilled when I found that my ’94 Bonneville SSE had rear drums.
I’m all for front disks, but I’m in the camp that things rear disks are overkill.
Ok I should clarify its not quite all about a brake upgrade my car had a sporting cousin in its whanau back in the day, the Sunbeam Rapier, Sunbeam being the development brand and it a wider track, disc brakes and a thicker sway bar and all ball joints no trunions to go with an aluminium cylinder head overdrive twin carbs and other enhancments, slowly these developments filtered down to the bread and butter Hillman range and the replacement front assembly was harvested from a MK4 Superminx that featured discs and a slightly wider track and thicker swaybar and could be optioned with alloy cylinder head twin choke carb and split header exhaust.
The braking is improved I’m happy to report and even unboosted is very strong with little extra pedal effort but more important the cars feels more planted on the road with the wider track and corners flatter, The original brakes were twin leading shoes and quite effective except for repeated stops from highway speed,
Amongst my parts stock I also have a 1725cc iron head engine and brake booster from a 73 Hunter wagon that are destined to be fitted after the engine gets a freshen thought the booster is really un required, series 5 Minxs were fitted with unboosted discs and they drive just fine, infact thats the spec my car is now at, 1600 engine, full syncro gearbox(both ex 66 Super minx) it has a 3.89 rear axle from a 75 hunter sedan and discs up front, I happen to like the 3a,b,c, Audax shape and all the later mechanicals fit.The wide wheels are Michelin from a Peugeot and now I can fit the Peugeot mag wheels currently on my Citroen
Lol, the factory alloys on our Peugeot fit my Sierra too – yay for the old 4×108 PCD!
That might be yur problem right dere.
I have had 4-wheel drums on a 63 Plymouth Valiant, 65 Ford Galaxie, 70 VW Camper, 72 Ford F100 and have had rear drums on 97 4Runner and 06 Tacoma Prerunner. Our 03 BMW 325i has 4 wheel discs.
I drove the Valiant for many years with the drums and, although I was young and didn’t really know much different, I recall them working just fine as long as they weren’t wet. Driving through a puddle with the right hand wheel would cause the car to pull HARD left on next stop–so as the other guys said, you learned to ride them a bit to dry them out. This was true of all of the ones with front drums. The galaxie had 4 wheel power drums and they stopped fine, but were really touchy–hard to modulate for a smooth stop. I don’t recall them fading, but its pretty flat here in FL and I never tow with that car. The 72 F100 had power drums as well and they always seemed to work fine–I towed a little with it and would haul heavy loads short distances so probably didn’t tax them in the same way that Paul has with his 66 F100.
I tow long distances with my 4Runner and Tacoma and have sometimes wished for better brakes on both, but with the front bias on those that is much more about the size of the front discs than it is about the rear drums. The VW had pretty well used up and on its last legs and it was used more for stationary entertainment than it was for driving 🙂
maintenance with modern discs is a snap, so I prefer them for that reason. I would not worry about drum brakes on a small, light car or one like my F100 that gets very occasional use, but on my Galaxie that is heavy and pretty fast and that I drive quite a bit in traffic and rain it was one of the best upgrades to put the 1978 Tbird front brakes on it–this is a popular upgrade on 1960s full size FOMOCO vehicles since it is a bolt on replacement for the spindle and everything outboard.
This is the 65 Galaxie
That’s a handsome car, but then I always did like the ’65 Galaxie even when new.
Same experience with my 63 Valiant. And it was part of your driver’s ed class what one does when the car goes through a puddle: pump them a few times to dry them off.
All inputs are greater on it than on modern cars I have driven: no power steering, non power brakes, huge steering wheel. It takes involvement to drive it. But I’ve had it since 1980 and never had a problem in LA traffic for 30 years nor today in Tucson traffic.
Not out-driving a car this old, making sure the system is well maintained, know it’s limitations is probably the best choice in keeping rather than converting to discs I think.
I swapped a set of mid 70’s front suspension components on my 72 F100 for the disc brakes. Man I wish I had done it sooner!!! It’s a pretty easy swap… just grab everything… I beams, springs, radius arms, master cylinder, and proportioning valve. You won’t regret it.
You can find more info at Fordification.com or on the Facebook group Fixem Your Way 67-72 Ford F100. Great people on both site with lots of good information.
My 71 F250 has factory power discs. That thing will put you through the windshield if you’re not careful. Lots of stopping power there.
I had planned on that swap for my 72 F100 but I ended up selling it before I did it–quite convenient that the parts are largely carryover. It was much the same with the Galaxie disc swap–all FOMOCO full-frame intermediates (think Tbird, Cougar, Elite, Torino, Ranchero, etc) from the ’70s use the same basic front suspension as the ’65-newer galaxies.
I had a clapped out ’48 Chevy panel when I was a young man. Oh. My. God. I can’t tell you how many times I had to rebuild wheel cylinders on that vehicle. I never had to worry about brake fade–I was just worried about them working the first time.
Give me disc brakes any time.
That’s because between 1937 and 1950 Chevrolet used ” HUCK ” brakes , they were barely adequate in an unladen 1937 Business Coupe and worthless for anything else .
Luckily the improved Bendix brakes fitted in 1951 , are a simple up grade no one notices except the damn truck now STOPS .
There have been 3 drum braked cars I had an issue with. The 29 Model A, but that doesn’t really count due to its era. Also, the 71 Scamp with 9 inch drums did a little side-to-side dance every time I got on the brakes hard at high speed. Then there was the 67 Galaxie 500 that faded to nothing several times, although as a result of teenaged hooning.
I have owned quite a few drum braked cars that braked just fine. For someone like me who lives in the flat midwest, I have never had a problem with a car with good drum brakes that I didn’t cause myself. Discs are objectively better, of course, for fade resistance, wet performance, and eliminating the need for adjustments. But there is nothing wrong with drum brakes that are well designed, of adequate size and in good shape.
Adding ‘ floaters ‘ to ‘A’ Model Fords really helps as does adjusting the various linkages to they all reach 90° angle *just* as they take up .
Then the stopping power goes from crappy brakes to the skinny 2″ tires…
Ford was the last of the big three to use hydraulics, Chrysler being first. I drove a ’29 Chevy truck with mechanical linkage and it was constant lurching no matter how we adjusted them.
Adequate is the keyword JP, the drums on the Hillman are 9 inch and being twin leading shoe are quite good however the car has 60 hp and weighs 1011kgs dry those size brakes on a Scamp I would call well under spec.Or were Rootes cars simply over engineered? quite possibly
My ’67 Galaxie 390 coupe was my first car with all drums and no power. My very first stop was a bit alarming as it took a different kind of effort than I was used to. I never drove the car hard, and only had it for a summer. It seemed to work fine the way I drove it.
But, the upgrade jkengle above mentions would be very tempting as it sounds easy and uses very accessible parts. After watching some old car reviews on YouTube, I’m quite convinced brake fade could be a pretty serious problem on these cars.
My ’65 Riviera with power drums was essentially indistinguishable from cars I had such as my ’82 Olds with power discs/drums. I drove that old girl with the respect due to her as I understood her as only a man could……
My experience with drum brakes has been just fine so far.
Did you know you can still buy a car with rear drum brakes? My 13 Focus has drums in the back and it stops just fine. I’ve driven other Foci with four wheel discs back-to-back with others that had the same setup as mine and the difference is minimal, so I don’t consider it a downgrade at all.
Cheaper Honda Civics still have drum brakes. As mentioned by other posts, I see little point in rear discs on FWD cars, as most of the work stopping a front-heavy car is borne by the front discs.
BTW, from casual inspection, I see that German cars tend to have more disc area than others.
The last vehicle I owned with drums all around was a 1973 VW Super Beetle; it would hardly go fast enough for braking to be much of an issue. As others have mentioned the worst things about drums is that they are pretty useless when they get wet and they tend to retain heat much longer than discs. My (youthful) experience with drum braked cars is that you could usually make one stop from high speed without too much drama but the brakes would need time to cool down before you could really jump on them again. Back in the early seventies a friend of mine had a Hemi Roadrunner (back when they were just raggedy used cars) that had four wheel drums. Apparently the original owner was just interested in going, stopping not so much.
The ’71 Super Beetle (Typ 131) used the rear brakes from the 1965 Typ III for it’s front brakes ~ they were HUGE compared to the normal Beetle shoes .
I didn’t know that! The ’71 Super was my first car; I was given a new one when I was 18, and it always stopped on a dime. Every Super I knew did. I didn’t miss the disc brakes fitted on the European versions at all.
I had a Euro ’67 bug and now a ’69 Ghia, both with front disks. Compared to the ’74 Thing with all drums, there is not much difference. Rear engined cars have so little weight on the front axle that front brakes do not work very hard compared to “normal” vehicles.
This is called ‘ fanning ‘ the brakes and works very well indeed .
My 1967 Mustang still has manual drums all the way around. Works well enough for my purposes as a Sunday cruiser. If I was to up the HP to around the 275 that the HI PO 289 V8 pumped out, I’d consider brake upgrades.
I was going to say my ’68 Mustang had drums, but it had the 170 cubic inch Six so it’s never went fast enough to need discs.
It all depends on the application.
I ride motorcycles and snowmobiles like a maniac. In them I am glad for the strong, well modulated, easy application pressure, well-cooled fade resistant disc(s).
Also on a very heavy rig like an RV or truck pulling a heavy trailer I suppose discs in front are a good thing but then again I haven’t been in that situation with all-wheel drums so who knows? The Midwestern Flatlands aren’t very demanding of brakes if one is a conservative driver. In fact, my ’94 F150 with 130,000 miles is sporting all of it’s original brake hardware- pads, shoes, and everything- except for a hard line that I replaced due to corrosion from the outside (road salt for the fail boo). Oh yeah, and I put new seals on the caliper pistons once.
I wish the vehicles I ride/drive in a sedate manner including bicycles, scooters, slow motorcycles, and all my cars had no discs whatsoever; just drums. Why? Because drums have return springs and don’t drag. I don’t care if discs only drag “a little” I WANT ZERO DRAG. I don’t want to burn fuel creating brake heat. Also I don’t like the brake dust mess on the wheels with disc brakes.
I don’t mind working on drums vs discs. In fact, I find rear disc brake setups to be a bigger pain to service than rear drums. More expensive parts too.
I must have extra easy driving conditions compared to many. I have to think way, way back to recall any instance of drum brake fade or drum brake weakness when wet. Those “issues” simply aren’t a factor in normal driving here. I might have a different opinion if I lived in the mountains.
Disks have return springs – they also serve as piston/caliper seals. Since you mentioned motorcycles, I started riding in the drum ETA and even the early Honda single piston swiveling caliper disk brakes were an improvement, unless perhaps you had a Grimeca racing double leading show brake. I recently rode my daughters old CL175, first drum brake experience in decades, and whether it was the front brake itself or just the friction in the old front cable, it wasn’t fun.
I’m aware of disc seal “return spring” action; it isn’t very good or positive though. This is easily demonstrated by jacking up that wheel and giving it a whirl.
I believe my Dad’s first car, a ’67 Ford Fairlane 4-dr had all drum brakes. He bought it when I was about 7 and I remember him shifting the 3-on-the-tree tranny while driving. Was glad when he upgraded to the ’69 Galaxie with automatic.
I have never driven a car with 4 drums, and don’t want to. Had an ’82 AMC Concord once that had discs/drums with no power assist. One of my Dad’s friends, an engineer by trade, helped me to add a power booster. Took several hours as he had to custom-fabricate some brake lines and we had to change the pedal mount. What a huge difference it made! The car “felt” larger, more powerful and more luxurious. I couldn’t believe AMC was still building these cars with non-assisted brakes as standard equipment at that late date.
My ’87 VW Jetta had 4-wheel discs and could stop on a dime. Had to replace the rear discs once and it was pretty easy swapping out the old parts for re-manufactured ones wilth new pads. Those discs were one of the best things on that regrettable car.
You pretty much answered your own question, Paul. Depends on the application. If drums are adequate on that particular vehicle, then don’t fix what aint broke. And itd take a brassy pair to drive that overloaded Ford like that…do you clank when you walk?!!?!? I cant comment on how bad that section of I5 is… I only vaguely remember it when I moved up here.
My own all drums experience was with a ’71-ish Bronco I came VERY close to buying back in ’95. It was a full pop model with the steel roof bolted up, 302/auto so all the weight possible. It wasn’t ‘unsafe’ IMHO but you definitely had to allow plenty of stopping room. In a panic situation….I dunno. I was about to commit to buy it but a nasty grinding going into reverse showed up on the test drive. That, as they say was that. I hated servicing the rear drums on my Jeeps though. The were quick to gunk up with mud, and trying to keep the bits from exploding out of there while reassembling just sucked.
I hate it when classic car shopping the bulk of sellers brag about converting the fronts to discs- as if that’s a good thing. For the most part classic cars are for cruising and stylin’ so no, it doesn’t need superior fade resistance.
Depends on the car. In ’95, a ’71 Bronco was still pretty affordable…perfect rig for a 21 y/o college kid who wanted to bash a few trails and have a stylish rig. If your classic is a ’65 Mustang convertible then youre absolutely right.
A worked up 340 Duster, or any 4×4 with any kind of lift and larger tires….NO WAY.
One of the best tool purchases I ever made was a set of brake spring pliers.
I have a pair of those, along with a wheel cylinder hone. They don’t get much use anymore. Same with my UniSyn.
My ’69 F-100 was drums all around, and I hauled 40 bales of hay in the bed plus pulled a hay rack with ~125 bales (3-4 tons total load) a good 30 miles to the sale barn a good half dozen times each winter. I learned to take it gently on the downhill runs, but as my rack oscillated over 35mph, that was pretty much my limit anyway. I now use my ’99 F-250 Powerstroke with an 18′ car hauler trailer to carry the same load, and feel safe with it at State highway speeds (55).
I never felt unsafe with the front discs/rear drums on my ’71 Vega (it’s a wonder the rears worked at all given all the power-braking I did after the V6 swap).
My ’71 VW ‘bus was the first year for front discs on the Type II, and it felt fine, even loaded down.
My ’64 VW Sedan had drums all around, and they were more than plenty for the lightweight car (still 40hp).
I don’t remember if our ’68 Country Squire LTD (380/4bbl) and ’71 Catalina 4-door (400/2bbl) had discs at all, but I do remember both needing some planning on quicker stops (the Pontiac in particular).
My ’15 Honda Fit/Jazz has drum rears, and I’ve thought about sourcing the JDM rear discs used on the RS trim in that market. It would be a hefty spend for really little benefit, other than looks.
I do plan to put discs on the front of my ’62 VW Sunroof, but it has an upgraded engine and will be a Herbie replica. My ’62 Sedan will stay stock with drums all around.
My most memorable experience involves some neighbors of my parents and my Mother’s 1970 Dodge Dart with 4 Drums in the mid-1990s. These neighbors own hoopties because they are poor and this one hoopty of theirs had no rear lights. Anyway, they slow down and turn into their driveway, my mother panic brakes and I guess did a bit of a power slide onto a nearby bridge. The Dart is now facing the guard rail and the taillights are facing the other guardrail so she had to do some work to get the Dart back in the correct lane and there was no power steering to help.
I look forward to seeing Paul write up his family’s adventure from the Bay Area to the Willamette Valley. Your truck looked kinda different.
My 1967 Camaro…a stripper, bare bones one with the base V8 and Powerglide and the cheap AM radio the only options…had 9″ drum brakes. As the brake linings wore, the front brakes would grab and pull abruptly in one direction or the other, and you never knew which. In the then-narrow lanes of the bridges in San Francisco, sudden, unanticipated braking at a mere 40 to 50mph was a risky guessing-game. The same Camaro had repeated left-side rear axle seal failures, oil-soaking the left rear brake shoes. The first stop from cold would lock up the left rear wheel. This, of course, was not the brakes’ fault. Finally we took it to a different Chevrolet dealer after the first one simply put on a new seal, which then failed a few thousand miles later; it was finally discovered that the axle was a fraction of an inch too long! Between those failures, carburetor problems, and burned clutches in the Powerglide, which were replaced once at 20,000 miles and were slipping again at 40,000, I got a much less sexy 1968 Plymouth Valiant Slant Six, a better-equipped Signet sedan with air conditioning, better handling, and an upgraded interior with seats whose foam didn’t bottom out like the Camaro’s did…and drum brakes that DIDN’T feel inadequate. The discs on my next Chrysler A-body were certainly better but the drums on the ’68 Valiant were OK and didn’t make you wish for discs; and unlike the Camaro, the Valiant didn’t make you want a better car.
1971 Scout 800 V8 – Terrifying puny little brakes. Standard grade raybestos melted the glue that held the linings on. Put the Professional grade shoes on and they held together, but was still way too underbraked.
1972 Coronet – Much better, but still uneven on hard stops.
I’ve only dealt with rear drums. I had them fail on my 1987 Chevrolet truck, and didn’t really notice much difference in stopping with the front discs only. Disc brakes are easy for me to change in most cases. I understand them, and like them.
My 72 Honda CB350 has front and rear drums. Treacherous…
Bull, I have ridden same bike, have similar model Hondas and they’re more than adequate.
Keep in mind that many people lay a blanket condemnation on systems/things that aren’t in working order.
True, the twin leading shoe front setup on these Hondas does need to be properly adjusted and have good shoes to work, but when they do they are a very good brake, and are often fitted to other bikes as an upgrade.
The primary fault of these old Motos is failure to ever disassemble and lubricate the operating pins where they pass through the hubs ~ I always find them bone dry and lightly corroded .
A simple wire brushing and coat if lithium grease before re assembly and proper hub adjustment of the linkages makes them top notch in all cases ~ easy to do ‘ stoppies ‘ in old Honda Motos that have properly maintained drum brakes , even the single ones .
I had drums all around in my ’65 Mustang six convertible. The only time I ever really worried about them was in the Rockies when the car was heavily laden with two people and enough gear for a six-month camping expedition. It was second gear or occasionally even first gear on the three-on-the-floor tranny on the downhill slopes.
Ah, drum brakes….The 64 Rambler’s brakes had their idiosyncrasies. If the car was parked overnight, outdoors, in a humid Michigan summer, enough rust would form on the drums by morning for the brakes to grab on the first few applications, before the rust was cleaned off. Then there was the time that blasting through half a dozen snow drifts froze the brakes so they would not brake at all.
The best brakes were on a 66 Plymouth Belvedere II. Non-power, single circuit, and, according to classiccardatabase, were 10″ fore and aft. Light pedal effort, easy to modulate and that car stopped *right now*. The drums were not finned, but I never experienced any fade, nor did I do any driving that would provoke fade. I did a lot of driving in that car in west Michigan lake effect belt conditions and that was the best setup ever for controlability in snow and ice conditions.
The Fords of the same vintage that I had, 67 Thunderbird and 70 Cougar, with power disc/drum setups were the worst: difficult to modulate and impossible to pump due to their sluggish response.
So here is another vote for “drum brakes are perfectly fine, if properly designed and maintained, in reasonable driving conditions”
A car I saw yesterday pointed out how big of a deal disc brakes were in the US in the late 60s, I found a parked 67 Chrysler 3 row wagon parked at a tyre shop and pressed into the hubcaps are the words Disc brakes it must have been a big selling point for them to go to that much effort to make the feature so obvious, more pics on the cohort its a mint car recent import at a guess.
Bryce, American auto manufacturers have always been eager to tout new and optional features. In the ’50’s steering wheels proclaimed “Power Steering”, brake pedals “Power Brake” and window decals heralded the presence of A/C.
“Powerglide”, “Dynaflow”, “Fordomatic” and other automatic transmissions were all proudly identified with chrome badges. Optional engines also got their due, identified by assorted “V-8” emblems, crossed flags and CID callouts. As a 15 year old I was mighty impressed with the “Turbo Jet 396” flags on a neighbors new Impala and well as the “390” callout on Dad’s Ford LTD.
I have ’72 IH 1110 Travelall. 11″ X 3″ drums up front, 11″ X 2 1/2″ drums in back. 392 mill & 727 tranny. I have driven it extensively in the Western mountains, driven aggressively, brake fade will eventually set in. Back off a couple of notches, and you’ve got at least two max load high speed panic stops to use. Its vacuum boosted, and can be a little grabby in the morning. On the other hand the 71′ Mercury Marquis with front discs I drove in H.S. is the only vehicle I ever experienced water saturation failure on, and had a terribly spongy brake pedal because they required a “pressure bleed” which couldn’t be done in my driveway.
My dad’s Renault 4TL and my own VW 1300 had drums all around.
The Renault 4 TL needed brake jobs very frequently. This was mostly because the wheels are so tiny and thus limiting the size of the drums: double whammy: little drums supposed to stop fast spinning little wheels. It worked because the whole car was light weight. But it worked at a cost.
The VW was a different animal: 15″ wheels provided room for big drums and reduced wheel rotation at the same time. These brakes worked well when they were adjusted properly. Once I tried my hand in doing my own brake job. Having no experience I did two things wrong: I had all brakes badly adjusted, and I had air bubbles in the brake lines. The inspector at the TuV grimaced when he saw the uneven brake power and gave it a big fat red fail mark on the report.
I then took it to a mechanic to do it right. He did. I passed the TuV. Shortly after I made a trip, maybe 100km away. On this trip the brakes began to clamp down and slow the car on their own. The mechanic adjusted the brakes a little too close so they rubbed the drum a tiny bit. On the autobahn they heated up and boiled the fluid which expanded the cylinders and applied brake force. I had to stop and call the wrecker.
When we got our ’98 Mazda Protege in 2008 the rear drum brakes did not work at all: the E-brake lever at the drums was frozen to the adjuster plate. I had to use drastic methods to free them up. With this car I realized that the automatic adjusters represented a major advance compared to the VW’s manual adjusters. Not even a mechanic could do these wrongly.
On the Windstar I had the rear drums machined by the guys at O’Reilly’s. About a year later I had a severe vibration at the rear axle. My preferred shop found that the boys at O’Reilly’s did not center the drum on the lathe. Why it took so long for the vibration to occur I do not understand…
I definitely prefer disks. Not that they are completely free of flaws.
In my Mazda 323 sliders developed a bit of corrosion and kept the piston from returning all the way. it caused a little noise and was easily remedied by cleaning the pins.
The same thing happened with the Protege.
They also developed Thickness Variation, something often misnamed as warping. It causes that famous pulsation of the pedal. I think it happens when moisture gets between the rotor and the pad as the car is parked. It is corroding away just a little bit of material on the rotor and this starts the development of thickness variation.
The rotors of the 2WD Aerostar and Ford Ranger include the outer race of the wheel bearing. This makes the job just a little more involved.
If you do get new rotors or have your existing rotors machined it is best to wash them with soap and water prior to installation to remove tiny loose metal parts from the braking surface. Brake cleaner will not be as effective at this. If you don’t remove the particles they will embed themselves in the pads and cause squealing.
My ’67 Mustang w/289 auto and (as far as I know) standard drums was horrible. So much pedal effort that I would warn anyone who wanted to borrow the car “you’ll think the brakes aren’t working; just push harder”. By contrast I had a ’65 Barracuda (225, auto) and those drums were fine. Much less pedal effort and pretty good fade resistance relative to the ‘Stang. I recall that the shoes looked a little wider but not dramatically so. Why did they feel so much better? An Aunt had a ’71 Galaxy and as mentioned previously, it was almost impossible to stop smoothly (especially if you jumped in after driving the Mustang). But before you all cry in your drum brake Wheaties, how about the old Dodge (’25) with rear wheels only external contracting mechanical brakes? They aren’t as bad as you might expect when properly adjusted but panic stops do not exist…
Is it just me or does that Hillman Minx have more than a hint of ’54 Studebaker in the front end?
I had a ’65 Barracuda (225, auto) and those drums were fine. Much less pedal effort and pretty good fade resistance relative to the ‘Stang. I recall that the shoes looked a little wider but not dramatically so. Why did they feel so much better?
For those scoring at home….by my count, that’s at least the third thumbs up for mid 60s Mopar drums, the others being my 66 Belvedere and a 68 Valiant mentioned above.
4th would be BigOldChrysler with his ’66 and my ’65 Chrysler makes five.
The front drums are good enough that at one point the rears weren’t working at all & I didn’t realise it until it rained and the fronts started locking up every stop on the wet pavement.
In about 60,000 miles I have experienced fade exactly once, and that involved some serious driver error!
I have owned several 4 wheel drum braked cars and the systems were definitely adequate for the cars as engineered from the factory. Disks provide an added measure of control and any car can benefit from a conversion. The question is would the increase in stopping power be worth the expense of the conversion. It looks like Bryce scored a parts car which will provide most of the necessary parts in one big lump where all of the engineering is done. Scrounging or having to make custom parts can get expensive and results could be a crapshoot. The conversion kits that I have looked at for my 55 Plymouth would be close to $2K versus $500 for a complete drum system rebuild kit. Being that the car is a stock 259 poly with manual transmission, with no plans to increase power output, rebuilding the drums makes more sense in my case.
I owned an all-original ’68 Fury III sedan a couple of years back that I believe was one of Lynn’s Sales Bank machines. Lighting package, all-vinyl split-bench interior, power steering, manual drum brakes. Never any trouble and felt like disks on a modern car… usually. But in panic situations? Scared this Gen Y kid to death. Never wrecked, though. I sold it when I moved up north. Really miss it.
I had drums all round (ha!) on my first car back in 1992, a 1971 MkI Ford Escort. No vacuum booster either, and they were hideous!! The pedal was phenomenally heavy and didn’t stop the car so much as reduce the rate of acceleration… Of course with only 1300cc, ‘acceleration’ was debatable terminology anyway… I fitted a remote vacuum booster (from a Hillman Hunter) and that improved things somewhat, but the brakes were still dismal – and seemed to need constant adjustment. I vote discs!
That could be just a Escort thing the Aussie MK2 I had wasnt great either in fact the brakes were rubbish It had front discs I replaced the front pads with a really good set from the Margate dump from a van I was harvesting but the brakes were still no good anybody whos been to Queenstown would have seen Gormanston hill all 110 hairpin bends of it we did the hole thing without any real brakes in the Escort just downshifting and sliding the back end on compression, an eventful trip.
I had lots of experience with all drum brakes back in the day, that is the seventies. Sure they faded, especially when wet. But I lived in Alaska at that time, and you could plan to have the potential of winter driving eight months out of the year. So you learned to take advantage of other ways to slow down besides brakes. Plus, that was the standard then, so everybody was in the same boat.
Many have mentioned early sixties VW Beetle’s. I owned a ’64 for a short time, but had lot’s of short distance driving time on many others while working at various used car lots. My recollection is that few of them had working brakes, but it did not matter because downshifting worked so effectively.
Today I live in the flat lands of central Texas. My ’70 Chevy C10 was the last year for all drums on a full sized Chevy truck. Overall they work fine, but I don’t drive it often, nor aggressively. The biggest difference is the pedal effort. I feel like I need to use both feet to get it stopped sometimes. On the other hand, my ’94 Cutlass Supreme has 4 wheel discs, and they never have worked correctly. The fronts do fine but the rear pads have always worn unevenly and too quickly. I have replaced the calipers a couple of times but no change. I have learned to live with it and just replace the pads when they need it And as someone mentioned earlier rear discs don’t work to well with an emergency brake.
I am a purist, so I won’t upgrade my truck. Put me down for front disc/rear drum. In my experience that is the best combination of effective, reliable and simple.
I have driven pretty much all combinations and really just work with what the car has. I have good luck with brakes because my dad trained me to read the traffic and lights ahead so I don’t have to hammer my brakes that often. truth be told I have friends that refuse to follow me anywhere as I drive them nuts with the coasting I do coming up to stop signs and intersections.
one thing I will never own again tho is an older car with a single reservoir for the brakes. I had an old valiant blow a line going down a very steep hill and got left with nothing but the old Chrysler hand pull parking brake. not fun! anything old I ever have again gets switched to dual reservoirs, the heck with originality!
amen to dual master cylinders–truly the weakest link and an automatic upgrade on cars that don’t have them, even if you don’t change anything else.
On a motorcycle, I prefer drum brakes and wire spoke wheels
On a car, I prefer drum rear brakes and disk front brakes and aluminum rims.
What I remember most about 4wheel drum brakes is that you had to use them very sparingly because you needed all the reserve braking capacity possible for a potential panic stop. If you used you brakes for non-emergencies like just slowing your speed down a little bit, then you would have elevated brake temperature and you would have a problem when you had to stop very quickly in an emergency…BRAKE FADE.
You never ever ever rode your brakes down hills to keep your speed constant. You either let your car speed up or you down shifted for engine braking.
You never ever ever sped up rapidly in traffic if there was little chance of maintaining that speed for a long distance because you did not want to force yourself to have to used your brakes anymore than necessary.
The phrase “stand on the brake” was not simply a silly expression…IT WAS ACTUALLY DONE-PEOPLE REALLY DID HAVE TO STAND ON THEIR BRAKES WITH BOTH FEET!
My last mini was all drums, and they were fine for such a slow, light car. The current one is a lot quicker and has front disks – I flog the wee thing everywhere I go, and I’m pretty glad of the brake upgrade!
I rode 1960s BSAs for a while, with Single Leading Shoes. With good roadcraft, they were more than adequate.
In terms of bad brakes, I very much remember my brother’s Mk 1 VW Golf, and the buttock-clenching as you pushed harder and harder on the pedal… And I remember the smell of my old Toyota TownAce’s brakes as I came down Mt Ruapehu with a full load of people, even with careful use of engine-braking.
Discs. My first car, Fiat 125S had power 4 wheel discs. Never noticed anyfade at all, even when I once had them smoking.
I’ve had 4 all drum cars, 2 I converted to front discs. The others were ’63 & ’67 Chevrolets, back in the days before disc conversions were easily available ( think Australia in the 1980s)
I thought I could live with the power drums in my ’69 Skylark. Wrong. Gave up after a couple of years, bit the bullet & did a front disc conversion. Glad I did.
So front discs at least, ideally 4 wheel discs.
HQ Holden disc brakes fit early Chevrolets in fact they bolt right on even the bolt pattern is correct.
My advice is that if you live in the rust belt, get rear drum brakes or you’ll get really good at changing pads, rotors, & sand blasting the brackets. Sometimes its tough to keep the fronts in unseized condition.
When I was in college I had a ’74 Matador that I bought cheap from a neighbor. It was a great urban assault vehicle due to its size and suspension. It had a 304 V8, automatic, and unpowered 4 wheel drum brakes. Sometimes I had to stand on the pedal to stop the beast. The car is long gone, but I still have the brake adjustment tool in my toolbox. Adjustment was almost a weekly chore because one side or another would start grabbing.
I have a 1968 Cadillac with all-round drums. What I find a bit amusing is that this car has many features that were truly advanced for its time: The new 472 engine mated to THM 400, Automatic air conditioning, AM/FM Stereo, power everything, tilt and telescope steering…but a Neanderthal brake system!
That said, the drum brakes deliver well enough under most conditions and one just has to be mindful of their inherent differences vs discs, such as under wet conditions.
I had a 1972 Valiant with 4-wheel manual drums in grad school. The brakes were generally fine, since the car had 150,000 miles and I drove it gently. However, a panic stop required two feet on the brake pedal. It seemed to need new front brake shoes every 20,000 miles, likely due to driving in Boston traffic and the low quality of mid-1980’s brake shoes.
While of course discs are superior, my usual “thou shalt not modify an antique car” attitude comes to the fore. If you own a car that came with drums all around, you modify your driving habits to compensate. Period. Besides, who really puts 15k a year on a 25+ year old antique?
Me for one and I know many others although few do the 800 miles every seven days as I do .
My’ new ‘ car is 30 + years old , by choice .
My 68 Electra has been my daily driver ever since my motorcycle was stolen. This year I will have put on about 13k miles on it.
If I had more time and money I would install discs all around but to be perfectly honest those aluminum drums do a very good job in regular everyday type driving. I have done full throttle 0-70 then back to 0mph runs with my car and only start feeling fade after the third consecutive run. I took temperature readings on all four drums using my ir gun and the temps all around were about 300* If I remember correctly. I’m positive if I had iron drums up front the temps would have been much higher.
I have done this same testing with my 95 Pathfinder which has discs all around and had ZERO fade. Its not a fair example though because The electra gets up to 70mph significantly faster and the brakes haul it down (Pathfinders have weak calipers) significantly faster as well so there is less time spent cooling the brakes.
Hell If I was rich I would have some custom 18″ wheels made using the original style wheel covers and have a big brake kit along with some custom aluminum frame and body components to tighten things up…….ahh such a nice dream
I grew up with a ’63 and ’69 VW beetle (drums all around) and learned to pump the bakes to keep them from fading down a hill or the exit ramp from the elevated highway.
All the remaining cars that I have owned had front disc and the 2005 Escape had disc front and rear.
Still to this day, I will pump the brakes as a reflex when exiting the highway or down an incline.
My first all drum braked car was a ’68 Mustang coupe. It had a 302 4bbl w/ manual steering and brakes. Very scary in rain or snow! I also drove a 75 Valiant for a time w/ four wheel drums. If you knew it had them, it stopped fine. Unfortunately a mechanic’s employee didn’t and wrecked it! If you kept the brakes dry and downshifted on hills both of my cars stopped no problem.
Senior Buicks like the Electra and Riviera of the late 60s had beautiful big finned aluminum drums up front and big cast iron finned drums in back. They were known to be good stoppers.Back in the day -you remember how in driver’s training class you were admonished to leave one car length distance for each multiple of ten miles per hour as a safe following distance.If you figure 15 ft. as a car length then at 60mph.that would be 90ft, as a safe following distance. Try to maintain that in modern commute traffic! That formula wasn’t just chosen to be arbitrary, it reflected the braking power of the cars of that period.
Cars from this era have to be operated within their performance limits, which are really very low. I grew up driving drum brake cars, usually unassisted. The power booster just made it easier to lock up the brakes until you learned how to modulate the pressure on the brake pedal properly. Do you remember going to the dealer and seeing a big red tag on the dash that read ‘Warning! Power brakes!” on the new cars? It’s actually easier to modulate the brakes without the booster but you’ve got to have a strong leg.
I’ve been daily driving my 70 mustang coupe with unassisted drums all round for about a year and five thousand miles.Since it has the optional 250 cid motor it came with five lug axles and 10in. by 2in. drums front and back. These are the same brakes that came with the base 302 V8. There are a couple of things that you can do to improve stopping power before changing to discs. First, rebuild the entire system. I found that I had two partially seized wheel cylinders, one in front and one in back. Surprisingly I was able to lock up the wheels anyway. Second, do not use organic brake linings. Use the semi-metallic linings. These have a higher co efficent of friction. and resistance to fade. Third, use better tires. You can usually find larger, wider steel wheels from a newer model that will fit and allow you to use a larger radial tire. The stock wheel on my car was a 14 in. 4i/2 or 5in. wide wheel with some whimpy 165 width tire. I’m running 15 x7in. Ford Ranger steel wheels with 215/60 touring rated tires. It all comes down to the tire at the roadway. After I got it together I took it out to a lightly used country highway with a 50 mph speed limit. Keeping an eye out for any approaching traffic I executed a few panic stops from 35, then 45, then 50 mph. I wanted to get an idea of how well it would stop and how it would behave in an emergency. It only pulled a little to one side and further adjustments improved on that. I felt a lot better knowing what to expect in that situation.
When driving in heavy traffic on the freeway I pay close attention to maintain a safe following distance and monitor traffic far ahead. My car will start losing speed as soon as I take my foot off the gas pedal. Much more than my fuel injected, overdrive transmission late model cars do. I don’t have to ride the brake to maintain my speed and following distance. If I was going to modify my car with greater power I would definitely want to add disc brakes up front. Right now I just take it easy and drive sensibly.
I would actually like to write up a full post on this subject and am getting my info together. I don’t know if that would be an appropriate subject to submit.
Sure; it’s a good subject. Send it to us via the Contact form when it’s ready.
My 66 Galaxie ‘vert (390, auto) stopped incredibly well and totally straight with its 4 drums…however, the power brakes were so intense it just took less than a toe’s worth of pressure. That, and the lack of a proportioning valve on the single-master brakes, made for a couple of memorable spinouts. The brake adjusters never worked right, though, and I always had to put a toe UNDER the brake pedal to pull it back up…it even left my auto shop teacher scratching his head.
My girlfriend had an 88 Tracer with the most pathetic drums in the back…they were so rusted that I couldn’t fix them. Ran on the front discs…
When one learns to drive, one *should* learn the art of engine braking (especially with standard-shift vehicles) in lieu of of in addition to pedal braking, which is of great assistance when anyone under the age of 60 hops into a 50+ year old car. In fact, when I drive my ’53 Ford F100, its short gears and flathead V8 do most of the braking. That works better in rural better than city driving, though!
No one learns on standard shift cars anymore because almost no standard shift cars are sold new in the US/Canada. Still, there are selectable gears on most automatics. “Select Shift” or “Sport Shift” automatics allow total control, once you learn to use them. CVT’s, however, seem to offer little manual override. I base this on recent rental car experiences.
I do a lot of mountain driving and even modern discs will overheat on trucks if lower gears are not used. The California Commercial Driver Handbook recommends not applying the brakes lightly all the way down a grade, but firmly applying them for a few seconds and letting off to allow them to cool. Great advice that has served me well, even in passenger cars.