Gimme a Brake
Front Brake Conversion and Brake Line Replacement
Larry Weiner - September 02, 2011 09:00 AM
Owning a vehicle with blazing acceleration was a top priority for enthusiasts in the ’60s. few gave much thought to stopping. Although brake options, such as front discs or drums with metallic linings, were often available, they were generally not at the top of the shopping list.
Many drag racers were convinced that muscle cars equipped with disc brakes weighed more, making them slower. Unlike the bright orange Turbo Jet engines that were accented with chrome valve covers and large open element air cleaners, brakes did not have eye appeal. While they were functional, the disc brakes of the era featured plain cast iron calipers and rotors that were often already rusting when the vehicle was delivered new. The designers at GM, Ford and Chrysler all knew this and cleverly designed their wheels, including the optional rally and mag styles, so that they hid the brakes.
Needless to say, most muscle cars were equipped with basic drum brakes. The brakes on the average and even many extreme muscle cars in the 1960s employed the same small four-wheel hydraulically actuated internal expanding drum brakes that had been the industry standard on nearly all vehicles built for several decades. They were marginal at best when these vehicles were new.
Four decades later, they’re really not up to the task. Speeds on most roads and highways are now higher. People drive less defensively than they did back in the 1960s when the biggest distraction was an AM radio. Today, many drivers are talking on cell phones and text messaging while they are driving, instead of paying attention to the road.
With those thoughts in mind, and in the spirit of survival in the asphalt jungle, it seemed appropriate to upgrade this Camaro to front disc brakes. With the inherent benefits of shorter stopping distances and resistance to fade, disc brakes offer superior performance to drum brakes, especially since the front brakes do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to stopping a vehicle, even one as light as a small block-powered first-gen Camaro.
The disc brake kit we chose is from Stainless Steel Brakes Corp., better known as SSBC. They offer numerous drum-to-disc brake conversion kits, in addition to a comprehensive range of disc brake upgrade kits that go from mild to wild. These include a signature line of lightweight aluminum calipers that are available in single, two-, three-, four-, six- and eight-piston configurations. According to SSBC, they produce bolt-on disc brake kits for over 3,500 different vehicle applications and in excess of 5,000 unique applications.
This particular drum-to-disc brake conversion kit is very affordable, easy to install, and includes every part needed, including a new master cylinder. The single piston calipers are complemented by ventilated rotors, and look very similar to the optional disc brakes on the 1969 Camaro. Likewise, the master cylinder is nearly identical to the one used by Chevrolet on first-gen Camaros that were equipped with disc brakes. Once installed, the SSBC disc brakes have a factory-like appearance and are designed to accommodate stock wheels as small as original equipment 14x6 Camaro Rally wheels.
In preparation for the drum-to-disc conversion, we took a good look at the brake lines on the Camaro. After 44 years of service, they were in serious need of replacement. Because conventional brake fluid is hygroscopic, it absorbs moisture. In essence, the brake lines have been rusting from the inside out for over four decades, to say nothing of the aged and cracked rubber flex lines at the front and rear. One look at the rusty brake fluid in the master cylinder confirmed our fears. Since we were going to upgrade the front drums to disc and install a new master cylinder, it made perfect sense to replace all of the brake lines at the same time.
For the brake lines, we contacted Inline Tube. Their brake line kits are made in the U.S.A. using state-of-the-art CNC benders, and are exact replacements for the factory originals, right down to the correct OEM tin-coated steel, color-coded fittings and spring wraps in the correct locations. We compared the original brake lines from the Camaro with the replacements from Inline Tube and found that they were an exact match. The brake lines fit perfectly and are indistinguishable from the tired originals, except they look new and are far safer than the ones they replaced. Inline Tube also supplied the rubber flex line at the differential.
Follow along with us as we upgrade the Camaro with disc brakes that will make it a more modern vehicle to drive, along with all new brake lines. The combination of both will make it a safer vehicle, and prepare it for many for years of trouble-free cruising.