It doesn’t take much to see how far cars have advanced over the past 40 years. Next time you’re cruising in your beloved classic, stomp on the brakes and see how long it takes to stop. Make sure the road is clear first because, unless you’ve upgraded the brakes, there’s no telling which lane you’ll end up in.
The simple fact is, classic car brakes are nowhere near as good as today’s modern systems. The majority of older vehicles were built with all-round drums, so an emergency stop is a case of push and hope. Fortunately though, it is possible to upgrade the brakes on almost every classic car. Even better, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
Why upgrade? There’s one very compelling reason for improving your braking system: It will make your ride much safer. Additionally, it will make it more enjoyable to drive, and will probably reduce the amount of time you spend on brake system maintenance.
A particular issue with older systems is corrosion. Rust builds up in the lines and master cylinder, gets into the brake calipers or wheel cylinders, and leads to spending the weekend on a brake repair job.
Why not upgrade? Many owners are concerned about originality. Now, if you’ve got a gorgeous original ‘64 GTO, swapping the old drums for discs might affect the value. For most owners, the ability to enjoy a car holds the most value. Besides, you can still make a substantial improvement without going over to drilled and slotted rotors and high-end ceramic brake pads.
You’ve got options. Achieving modern braking standards means upgrading to discs. That’s expensive but, for most classics, the price isn’t outrageous. Depending on the make and model, you might find front brake kits for $800 to $1,200. Add the cost of labor if you’re unwilling or unable to do it yourself. Then, you’ll want new brake pads.
If you already have discs, just replace worn brake pads. If you want the best performance, go with the latest generation of ceramic or semi-metallic brake pads. If you don’t know how to change brake pads, it’s time to learn!
However, you can’t stop at just the discs and brake calipers. Disc brake systems run at much higher pressures than the original drums so you’ll probably want to replace the master cylinder and every brake line on the vehicle. Don’t forget proportioning valves, needed on just about everything with a rear drum-front disc setup.
For a less expensive upgrade, consider replacing only the master cylinder. Prior to 1967, most cars had a single-cylinder design, but that year saw a switch to the safer dual design. Even if your ride is newer, a replacement might be in order — due to corrosion.
Another place where corrosion takes a toll is the brake lines. Most OE lines were tin-coated steel, but today stainless lines are available for most models. It’s a painstaking job to replace each and every brake line, but it does bring peace of mind.
You may also want to consider changing the brake fluid to prevent corrosion in the braking system.
Better than the original. For most classic car owners, safety trumps originality. Don’t put up with long stopping distances — upgrade to modern discs and pads, and enjoy your ride even more!
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