Larry Jewett
September 1, 2001

There are few elements in automotive development that haven't been subjected to technological advance. Often, this "new and improved" way is truly better. It is probably best realized when one takes a look at brakes.

We've discussed many elements of modernizing the braking components throughout the years. Each year, the industry trade shows offer these new and better ways to help braking power. It's an ongoing area where there appears to be no end in improvement.

New materials and chemical compounds have been at the forefront. Better understanding of the physics involved have played a key role along the line.

There are many ways you can improve upon what was once a good idea. Many good ideas can be made better.

Some of the changes you'll need to make in a braking system can be brought about by parts that are simply beyond their expected usefulness. Other changes may be necessitated by a change in use, i.e., going from a sedate street car to a mean racing machine. It's important to understand the best formula to get the stopping power you require.

Disc-Brake Conversion
One of the most common moves by car owners is the switch from drum brakes to disc. This conversion has a number of advantages, with safety being right in the forefront.

Since the front brakes tend to do as much as three times the work of the rear brakes, the front end gets plenty of attention. Today, cars still come with front discs and rear drums, but you can make the move to four-wheel disc brakes with ease.

Front conversion kits are offered as complete units. In most cases, you can remove the old drum-brake setup and bolt on the material provided. Most will have superior calipers to provide greater clamping force. This is easily one of the best improvements to be considered.

Drum Brakes
If you have no desire to put disc brakes on the rear, you can always upgrade the drums. "We have bolt-on kits to give you bigger stopping power in the rear," says Jim Inglése of Cobra Automotive. Sizes of the kits are 10x1 3/4 or 10x2 inches. There is also a 10x2 1/2 kit that has recently become available. An 11x 2 1/4-inch option for the stock 9-inch Ford with the standard axle is being developed. This kit will not require changing tube ends and should provide greater stopping power.

Master Cylinders
This is an area that invites trouble today. While satisfactory in the '60s, the single master cylinder just doesn't hold up. "If you want to drive your car, you need to change the master cylinder," says Carmen Anastasio of Master Power Brakes. "They may be good enough for around town, but not for the highway. It's a step to better safety if you upgrade to a dual master cylinder with power brakes."

"These were suicide cylinders," echoes Inglése. "When they failed, you could lose the entire system."

The dual-reservoir master cylinder nearly eliminates the threat of total failure. One reservoir handles the rear brakes and, should it fail, the other, which services the front brakes, will be functional.

Power Boosters
Once an option on the cars of the mid-'60s, it's tough to imagine life without it. Power boosters have become a "must" for most interested in braking upgrades.

A potential downside to a power booster comes in mounting, since it often pushes the master cylinder precariously close to the shock tower. Bracketry developed by some of the companies has eliminated that problem.

Master Power manufactures its own power boosters for many different types of Fords. The booster uses atmospheric pressure to assist in pushing the master cylinder piston. Inside the power booster are two chambers separated by a rubber diaphragm. With no force, there is vacuum on each side. When the brake pedal is applied, the rod opens a valve to admit atmospheric pressure on the firewall side, causing the diaphragm to push a piston and apply power assistance to the master cylinder.

Proper installation of a power booster can lead to greater braking efficiency.