Give Buford A Brake!
Disc brakes for a big Buick
Jefferson Bryant - February 02, 2012 10:00 AM
1 We pulled the wheels, popped off the spindle nut cover and removed the cotter pin. Most of these cars have the hubs riveted onto the drum, especially the aluminum drums like these.
2 You are looking at the inner drum workings and the hub. These shoes are not in good shape. One is worn past the rivets and the other is cracked. The hub comes off nice and easy. Keep the castle nut; you will need it.
3 Next, we removed the brake line. The steel line will be re-used, the rubber one will not.
4 There are three bolts holding the backing plates to the spindle, each is a different size. You will need ¾-, 11/16-, 5/8- and 7/8-inch wrenches and sockets. The lower bolts will be reused, keep them in the steering arm. The upper 9/16-inch, fine-thread bolt must be replaced with a shorter one.
5 The suspension on this 80,000-mile wagon has never been apart, so there is a ton of nasty, caked-on grease and grime. We used some Justice Brothers brake cleaner to get it clean.
6 Scarebird’s caliper bracket fits behind the lower spindle mounts and in front of the upper mount. The steering arm now bolts through the caliper bracket to the spindle. The lower bolts should be torqued to 75 lbs-ft, the upper bolt to 90.
7 We installed a new bearing and seal in the rotor. The rotors have a reluctor wheel for ABS, but it does not interfere with anything.
8 Installing a rotor requires a proper procedure. Use one hand to rotate the rotor and the other hand to tighten the spindle nut. Tighten the nut until there is tension on the rotor, and then back it off just slightly. Then install the cotter pin and the spindle cover.
9 We opted for a set of Summit Racing’s ceramic brake pads for worry-free stopping. The pads drop right into the calipers and are ALMOST ready to slide over the rotor.
10 The main issue here is that the pads are designed for a Cadillac with a different rotor. The rotor has a larger hub diameter, and there is a clearance issue.
11 We took the outer pads to the grinder and added some clearance in the locating tab. This won’t affect drivability or safety. You only need to grind off enough material so that the pad does not drag on the rotor.
12 Finally, the calipers were bolted to the bracket using hardware from Summit Racing.
13 There are several rubber lines that will work for this application, but the best fit is a ’77 Buick Riviera.
14 You can use the stock master cylinder, but disc brake calipers need a lot of fluid, and will eventually drain the single-bowl master cylinder. We opted for a new master cylinder with dual reservoirs. Since we had to remove the power booster (the turbo downpipes are in the way), we went with a manual disc brake master cylinder from a ’60s Nova.
15 The single bowl master cylinder runs one line to a distribution block on the frame. We blocked off the backside of the block and bent new lines to couple with the now separate front and rear lines. We made a template with wire and bent up the new line.
16 With everything plumbed and bled, the wagon is ready for a test drive. Because the steering arms have been moved inboard about ¾-inch, the car must be aligned. Also, the brakes were bedded in with (30) 30-to-0 mph stops and then driven for 30 minutes to let the brakes cool.
The “more popular” cars out there — Chevelle, Camaro, Mustang — all have high-performance brake options.
While some of these cars share parts with others, many of the big cars, specifically the older (pre-1964) cars don’t share much in the way of detail parts with their corporate brethren. Take for instance a 1963 Buick LeSabre. The B-body Buick shares the GM X-frame, and while many of the suspension components are similar, they don’t interchange with the Chevy B-body (Biscayne, Impala). You can buy drop spindles and disc brake conversion kits for the Chevy, but if you have a B-O-P (Buick, Olds, Pontiac), you are out of luck; the Chevy parts don’t fit. This was before GM went “corporate”, sharing parts internally. This leaves the rest of us hoping the stock brakes will be enough. Not quite.
After adding a few extra ponies under the hood of a 1963 Buick LeSabre, the stock drums were far from sufficient. Stopping a small car with 400 rear wheel horsepower is hard enough, but with 5,200 pounds of true Detroit iron behind it, it is far beyond hair-raising. We have wanted to add disc brakes to the Buick for a while, but the lack of aftermarket parts makes that quite tough. We scoured the Internet for information and came up with a few options — hit the salvage yards for late ’70s big Buick factory disc brake spindles and components was the consensus opinion on most of the forums.
Then we found Scarebird. Scarebird is a small manufacturer that specializes in building disc brake conversions for the forgotten relics of the ’60s. They offer conversions for Buick, Cadillac, Olds, Pontiac, even AMC and MGBs. Scarebird has carved out a nice little niche for themselves where all the big-name brands have left off. They don’t sell all the components; in fact, all they offer for most conversions is the caliper bracket, which is the single most important component of the build. Along with the bracket, they provide a list of parts you can find at your local parts store to complete the build, right down to the bearings and hoses. The brackets are affordable and because the rest of the system uses OEM parts, they are easy to find. We opted to order all of the other components from Summit Racing, where we were able to upgrade a few parts as well.
For the ‘63 Buick (which is a wagon by the way), the conversion requires parts from several different models. Here is a quick breakdown:
• ’95-’99 GM ½-ton truck rotors
• ’71-’76 Cadillac Deville calipers
• ’77 Buick Riviera front brake hose
You will also need inner and outer bearings (part numbers are included in the instructions), wheel seals and outer bearing caps. The rotors are late-model truck and they use 14mm wheel studs. You can knock them out and replace them with the smaller lugs, but we found it was cheaper to simply buy new lug nuts. A side benefit is getting rid of those frustrating left-hand lug nuts on the driver side. Since we bought our parts from Summit Racing, we had the option to upgrade the front rotors to drilled and slotted units for better cooling. We also went with Summit’s ceramic brake pads for quiet, dust-free, high-performance braking. The calipers were less than $20 each. In all, we had less than $500 in the entire conversion.
One side note is that the factory master cylinder is a single-bowl reservoir and should be replaced when doing this swap. We had a spare dual master cylinder on hand that was used for the swap, but it turned out to be a power master cylinder, which resulted in a massively heavy pedal, which is no good. The Buick was originally a power-brake car, but the power adder under the hood (twin turbos) negated the use of the power booster. In any other situation, switching to a later-model Buick dual-reservoir would solve that issue.
The entire swap took less than an hour per side and the results are incredible. The car stops so much better than before and the original wheels still fit over the new discs. After months of fretting over how to stop the behemoth Buick, those worries are over.
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