Tom Wilson
March 1, 2003

Horse Sense:
Brakes really are impressive. Engines take the chemical energy in gasoline, convert it to heat energy, then mechanical energy via a bunch of monkey motion, and finally kinetic energy, which is what we all show up for in the first place. Brakes convert kinetic energy directly into heat. This streamlined energy path is a big reason brakes are about four times more powerful than an engine. If you don't think so, compare acceleration versus stopping times.

Braking has gone from ignored to celebrated in little more than a decade. From the pitiful '80s-era Fox-chassis brakes that had one good stop in them before fading and warping into uselessness, to the prized six-piston, 14-inch IndyCar brakes available in Mustang bolt-on kits today, braking power has finally been recognized as an integral part of automotive performance.

Part of the rush to better braking has brought brake pads to the fore. Perhaps still not the stuff of enthusiasts' dreams, selecting the right brake pad is at least acceptable banter among gearheads these days. After all, those huge-and hugely expensive-multipiston calipers and pizza pan-sized discs may have big-buck sex appeal, but everyone can at least afford performance brake pads. And, as we've found out, a performance brake pad can make a real difference.

To report on what is available in Mustang brakes, we took our open-track project car to Baer Brakes to sample a cross section of brake pads. Our "stripe car" wears Baer's Track Kit Plus brakes featuring PBR dual-piston sliding calipers essentially identical to those on a Mustang Cobra, and Baer's thick, massive Eradispeed rotors. This definitely gives us performance braking, but as the system fits inside a 17-inch wheel and shares its caliper design with most Mustang Cobras, it's also obtainable by us working-class folk and is thus found on many Mustangs.

The PBR caliper is one of the most popular performance calipers in the world. Its use by Chevy on the Corvette and Ford on the Mustang Cobras has engendered a wide range of brake pads, from all-around stockers to hot-shot track-only part numbers. This means there is a wide variety of pads available to try.

Furthermore, when we say sampled, we mean we ran through the bakery and barely smelled the stuff. Brake pads are a surprisingly complex subject. There are so many variables in the materials, usage, desired results, and drivers that the subject can become a morass of subjective claims and counterclaims. Our goal here is simply to raise awareness that there is more to selecting a brake pad than giving the counterman the make, model, and year. In addition, we want to give you some direction on what is available for and possible from current brakes.