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Dialing in drum brakes - I want safe stopping. What have you done?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by J.P., Jan 10, 2014.

  1. J.P.
    Joined: Jun 10, 2008
    Posts: 20

    from Michigan

    I have a 51 chevy half ton with a stock front axle, 54 chev passenger car hubs (for 5 lug). I plan on working on some safety issues this winter and the brakes are at the top of the list. Right now I wouldn't want to have to panic stop.

    I've done some research and it looks like getting maximum performance from drums is to arc the shoes, and vent the drums.

    CH Topping is at the top of many of my searches for this, and Muscle Car Brakes shows up as well. I've seen some HAMBers offer the service as well.

    The truck is around 4000 lbs and I built a vintage style trailer (~1000 lbs) for camping I would like to tow with confidence.

    Have any of you done this? Did it give you the confidence to drive in traffic? I'm concerned about spending the money and not getting enough benefit to warrant it. I don't want to go disc, but I now have kids and that does change one's perspective. Now is the time, as I will be re-doing lines and M/C.

    Any cautions or advice for doing it / getting it done right?
  2. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,490

    Rusty O'Toole

    Chev brakes were no hell at the best of times. Adequate for the times and the stock motor and that is about it.

    I would be looking for a later model axle with bigger brakes then rebuild the brakes. 11 or 12 inch 2 1/2 or 3" wide on the front, 10 or 11" on the back. Use genuine Wagner or other name brand, American made parts.

    Or just put discs on the front.
  3. I've just gone thru this exact issue .

    I have spoken to some local race car people and the recommendation , from their experience on track , with lots of trials , is vented backing plates with an air scoop.

    That was too difficult for me on the day, so I have just renewed the existing brakes.

    My '40 pickup has '55 pickup brakes , these are 11" drums and 2" front linings and 1 3/4 rear linings , I think this may be the same as yours , it is about '51 - '52 when chev changed from Huck to Bendix brakes. Do a check on that.

    Result is , I am comfortable with the brakes , I drive the truck daily and I carry a camper often.

  4. Hackerbilt
    Joined: Aug 13, 2001
    Posts: 6,248


    In your situation I would do the discs.

    People are gonna say drums are fine...they will lock up the tires and skid just like anything else...but theres a hell of a lot more to brakes than locking up the wheels.
    Drums easily heat fade when compared to modern discs.
    Using drum brakes for an extended time downhill or for whatever reason will have you wishing for discs in short order.
    Even one, not so long stop from highway speeds can put them to their limits.

    You can use drums to get adequate braking, but your total enjoyment of driving will definately go down if you actually USE the truck on modern roads in typical traffic...and it sounds like you intend to do just that.

  5. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 48,277


    I've put a lot of miles on old Chevy trucks with drum brakes. They work well if you keep them maintained. Keep up on shoe replacement, and redo the hydraulics about every 5 years. Make sure the suspension and steering is all tight. They won't stop as well as power disc brakes. You do need to drive attention, and don't follow too close.
  6. chiro
    Joined: Jun 23, 2008
    Posts: 916


    ^^^"Pay attention…don't follow too close"

    I have a '54 Chevy 1/2 ton. It was my kids first project that we built together. I COMPLETELY rebuilt the stock brake system, arc'ed the shoes, etc.

    Those brakes just SUCK. I have three boys driving now and just couldn't handle it anymore. I won't let any of them drive the truck because I hate the way the brakes work so much. This sucks for them because they built the truck with me and want to drive it. Hell, even I won't drive it if the roads are wet.

    So, I broke down and ordered the Speedway kit to convert the front brakes to disc. I'm also putting on a '73 Nova rear that has 3.08:1 gears so I can go more than 50 MPH without the engine SCREAMING. I am in the process of this major update right now. The disc brake kit from Speedway was inexpensive, uses over the counter calipers and rotors for future maintenance/replacement and installed very easily. I used a '67-'73 Mustang master cylinder already set up for front disc/rear drum so no proportioning valve is needed. NO power booster at all. Just going manual. Got the master cylinder conversion/adapter kit from one of the AD truck suppliers so I can use the stock pedals with the new master. Brakes seem to work fine so far although I have only just moved the truck around the yard a bit. Pedal disappeared once and came back. I think I need a 2 lb. residual valve in the front line because the calipers are higher than the master under the floor but I can already tell that this is going to work out well.

    The only issue I have had so far, believe it or not, is finding early '70's era Chevy steel wheels at a decent price for the new bolt pattern (5 X 4 3/4"). It has been a little difficult and I am probably going to have to run some spacers front or rear (I'm still in the tire/wheel mock-up phase) to make it all work in regards to the stock steering arm and tie rod clearance in front and bedside clearance in the back. However, I am stoked that it is going to work out.

    Peace of mind for me. Fun for the boys now that they can actually drive it. Plus, I can actually take it places other than around town now that it's going to have better rear end gearing in it.

    The biggest issue of course is now the truck is going to be safer for my kids. Now to get on the other Chevy truck safety issues….like the door latches that pop open whenever they want to and some seat belts.

    BTW…I am running the stock driveline, 235 with a SM 420 4-speed.

    Last edited: Jan 11, 2014
  7. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 48,277

    Member son has been driving a 59 truck with stock rebuild drum brakes since he was 16, he's 22 now. No problems.

    Either you did something wrong with the brakes, or with driver training?
  8. flathead4d
    Joined: Oct 24, 2005
    Posts: 888


    Buy a disc conversion kit for the front. Your family is worth the cost. When I put discs on my 50 ford the difference was amazing and you don't need to have power assist either.
  9. J.P.
    Joined: Jun 10, 2008
    Posts: 20

    from Michigan

    Thanks for the quick responses.

    My recollection with drum-drum setups was that FADE was the biggest issue, stopping power and distance didn't seem scary (but that was back in the day). I could live with fade as I don't live in a metropolitan area.

    What is scary right now is that the truck lock the rears immediately. I was considering a manual proportioning valve for the rears as part of my upgrade.

    Looks like I've got some researching to do before I decide a route. I'm away from the truck right now so I can't measure the drums. I think the 54 pass fronts are 11x2. I have a 77 camaro rear and don't know that brake size.

    I've made the mistake of starting what I thought would be an inexpensive project and ending up spending as much as doing a beneficial major upgrade because I didn't cost out everything that would be impacted. I will create a spreadsheet and look at options.

    I wish someone had some 60-0 stop distance data for dialed in drums vs discs....
  10. J.P.
    Joined: Jun 10, 2008
    Posts: 20

    from Michigan

    Dusty-NZ what did you have to do to fit the '55 brakes on your truck? I'm assuming you still have the '40 axle, is that correct?
  11. crashbox
    Joined: Dec 21, 2006
    Posts: 148


    I think you have a couple of things to think about. 1977 camero rear? Camero's had disc brakes in front. Maybe there is a mismatch in components. You know, like you've the wrong parts to make the brake work correctly.
    At the shop I work in we do a lot of this kind of work and we take a "complete system" overview on these projects.
    I would recommend that if you're running Camero rears you find a disc brake kit that matches well with them. And get the complete set-up, duel master, prop/hold off valve, correct size hydraulic lines, new flex hoses...
    I know it's going to take a lot of work and more money than you want to spend but it beats crashing the truck!
  12. 327Eric
    Joined: May 9, 2008
    Posts: 1,528

    from Diablo Ca.

    Hot Rod magazine did an article in the January 1963 issue, "Drums along the highway" . I know its old, and outdated, but also very relevant to the cars and trucks we drive, and is a good read. It is a multi- part article,, but gives a good excuse to buy some old mags.
  13. Rich Wright
    Joined: Jan 9, 2008
    Posts: 3,922

    Rich Wright

    I have stock rebuilt and properly maintained drum brakes on my '51 Chevy pickup and they work fine, even descending down from 10,000 ft South Lake in the Eastern Sierras outside of Bishop, CA.
    For normal driving, even hard stops, they work well and I'm not at all nervous about them keeping me safe.
    However....If your pulling a trailer I'd upgrade to disc on the front. There is no question they are are better brakes and there's no sense temping fate on a long downhill.

    I still have 6 lug drums on my truck and while I'm satisfied with the brakes as they are now, If I ever swap the rear end for a 5 lug I'll upgrade to front discs.
  14. Old information, esp. regards brakes, is not to be relied upon. I, my daughter, and my wife all drive our 1961 Falcon. It's 100% stock. The brakes are fine. No, really fine, the car is driven daily, and often we go into Chicago to visit family. I drive 70-75 mph, in traffic, no worries.

    How is this, seemingly in spite of all our recollections?? Were we wrong all these years??

    No. We did not have modern brake linings. I have previously owned '64, '65, '67 V8 Mustangs, and a '64 Falcon V8. Note that the V8's in this era all had 10" brakes, where my '61 and all 6 cylinder small Fords used 9" drum brakes. And those brakes, back then, weren't that good. None were power, BTW.

    Well, toys and squirrels, the 9" brakes with modern linings work just fine. My wife is heading to LaGrange Park right now (60 some mile round trip), will be using the Eisenhower expressway, and will be just fine. Non-power brakes, it's a Falcon.

    For those who may have trouble believing this, come on over (PM first), we'll go on a ride.


    P.S. Bought shoes at Rock Auto, Raybestos brand.

    P.P.S. no fancy arc-ing of shoes, just a basic, complete, brake job (shoes, hardware, cylinders, fluid change and turn drums)
  15. I'm the guy who originally posted this one listed in the 1st post of this thread.

    Update: The shoes had a manufacturing defect to the extent that small pieces from the corners of the rear shoes had flaked off. Praise Dyno Brake replaced them free of charge with their latest formulation shoes, and not for just the rears but all 4 corners. He did this so they'd all have the same coefficient of friction.

    I had a leaking wheel cylinder and under inspection of that issue we noticed the flaking corner issue.

    As separate part of this same issue was a split front brake line. CH Topping sold me a set of braided lines for the front.

    So, latest formulation of friction material plus braided lines up front has made this car that much better in traffic and on the freeway. I will never try to convince anyone that this rivals or even approaches disc brakes but I drive this car much more now that ever as a result.
  16. And you are correct. However, there are a few 'modern' cars that have some issues with brakes as well.

    Hyundai Genesis, anyone?? Two recalls just this year...

    And I HAVE driven ABS-equipped cars who's brake pedal went to the floor for no discernable reason; once while I was just parking the SOB. New car, too, as it was at the stealership...

    Lastly, I just prefer my brakes uncomplicated by electronics and valves and switches. Hydraulics is good, keeps the pressures even, but no more, please.

  17. Oldbill51
    Joined: Jun 12, 2011
    Posts: 284


    It is a wonder that anyone who is 60 or more years old is still alive. Most all cars and trucks had drum and drum brakes until the mid 70s, and some of them were pretty fast. Can't believe I cheated death all those years.
  18. falcongeorge
    Joined: Aug 26, 2010
    Posts: 18,341

    from BC

    And bias ply tires to boot!! How the hell did we ever make it through the sixties alive??
  19. Jalopy Joker
    Joined: Sep 3, 2006
    Posts: 26,361

    Jalopy Joker

    there always is the option for adding power brakes to all drum set up. not as good as disc but, definitely makes a difference.
  20. You left out the part about drying out the shoes after they get wet driving through water. I had a '57 Bird with the original drum brakes. My driveway was on a hill. Every time it rained the water flowing in the gutter as I drove through it would get into the brakes and make it necessary to ride the brakes for a couple of blocks before they would work properly.

    Charlie Stephens
  21. YEP! No matter how good you get it to stop, it won't out stop a late model anything with 4 wheel anti loc discs
  22. if you have; all good hardware, matched hydraulics, arched shoes and proper adjustment and still don't have good braking the linings are wrong, i have changed out shoes/pads when i was not happy with how it stopped, on both new and old cars. recently on an s-10, the pads just sucked, changed to a different pad and stopped fine.
    standard shift on the older vehicles help due to the ability to downshift, matter of fact, i drove a '54 chevy parts car on a 40 mile drive home that started with a little brakes but after a few miles had none....i just paid attention and didn't follow too close...
  23. Most of the older cars with drum brakes did not have self adjusters on them, brake adjustments were part of normal maintenance, When new brakes were installed we turned the drums if needed, fit the shoes to them and did a major adjustment to center the shoes in the drums, the factory service manuals outlined this procedure in detail. After that minor adjustments on a regular schedule were all that was needed . If you short cut these procedures or ignore them then your probably going to have trouble, granted they don't work as well as disks but a car with drum brakes on all four if properly maintained and driven responsibly is not a death trap.
  24. BigChief
    Joined: Jan 14, 2003
    Posts: 2,084


    Call these guys and tell them what you have and what you want to do. They'll set you straight and have alternative friction materials for old shoes that'll have them stopping on a dime.

  25. jetnow1
    Joined: Jan 30, 2008
    Posts: 1,776

    from CT
    1. A-D Truckers

    In the 60's we did not have people on cell phones talking and texting, and everyone had
    similar stopping ability so we tended to leave a little more room. Most people under 35
    today have never driven a vehicle without power disc brakes, many have only driven abs
    brakes and they all seem to spend more time looking at their phone than the road. Get the best braking you can and pray!
  26. I changed my 66 Chevy over to discs years ago. It wasn't just that the performance was lacking it was also that drums squeaked like crazy.

    I sometimes miss the nostalgia of a totally stock truck but I don't miss the noise.

    Besides, the funny thing about disc brakes is that they tend to work like disc brakes.
  27. daily_driver
    Joined: Jan 5, 2009
    Posts: 152


    I've driven my 58 f100 for years with all stock drum brakes. Never had any real issues, and I have driven it through all sorts of traffic and dumb inattentive drivers.
    An upgrade of the master to a dual setup with a booster is good way to go. When I did the upgrade, I went with braided lines and the thing stops great.
    I've never arched the shoes to the drum, only given them both a light sanding before install. New hardware and hydraulic's, good bleed job and away you go.
    The most important thing to remember is that you are driving a drum brake vehicle. Know your stopping distance and keep it between you and the car in front. Water fade can be an issue, just be careful and half apply the brakes before going into a big puddle. Drum brakes work great as long as they are all adjusted evenly and maintained consistently. -dd

    Posted using the Full Custom H.A.M.B. App!
  28. JP, I used a standard '54 pickup front axle (because I had it in the yard) and , because the original '40 torque tube was a ball of rust , have a standard '55 pickup rear axle, so open drive line (and a much better gear ratio).

    I did the change about 16 yrs ago , but If I remember correctly , the mods I had to do were small.
    I think I drilled out one of the steering arm bolt holes from 7/16 to 1/2" and it all fitted , bonus was bigger king pin.
    There is a seal retainer at the rear of the original 4spd trans and a new drive shaft to correct length. I think that was all for that mod.

    Oh, and shifted the spring pads on the diff.

  29. Hackerbilt
    Joined: Aug 13, 2001
    Posts: 6,248


    I just want to add to this a bit. Add whats going on around you as you correctly, with common sense, drive a vehicle with drums.

    We aren't just on 2 lanes for the most part, so as you drive along and keep your required braking distance suddenly someone pulls in front of you...and there goes your space. Pucker time!

    To allow for the extra stopping distance required or downshifting, you develop a larger gap between yourself and the car in front...pissing off those behind you and pissed off drivers do erratic things to "teach you a lesson". Usually that will put TWO modern cars into the gap previously mentioned in example 1.
    Pucker time!

    Things were much better when it was a level playing field and everyone had the same brake concerns so they knew how to play safe.

    Add to this everyone is gawking at your ride rather than watching the road.
    Things happen fast and require a very fast slowdown at times.
    People have no problem stopping cars in half the distance of the old days and they make use of those modern brakes continuously!

    I'm all for drums IF they are an essential styling part of the vehicle, as they would be in a Roadster...and yes they can offer good performance, especially on a light car.
    I've had lots of drum cars and most offered good performance.

    With a 4000lb vehicle, a 1000lb camping trailer in tow, who knows how much supplies in the bed, daily driving AND a hidden brake system anyway?

    Well...I'm just not "Traditional" enough to turn a blind eye to the improvement a disc brake setup would be to the driving experience of such a combo I guess.
  30. BamaMav
    Joined: Jun 19, 2011
    Posts: 4,806

    from Berry, AL

    I stop 80,000 lbs several times each day with drum brakes. Sure they are activated by air instead of hydraulic fluid, but the principal is the same. And yes, I have more brakes than a car in total, but since I have brakes on each axle, it works out to be the same thing.

    I'm just saying drum brakes can be safe. If they weren't, those 3 million trucks you see on the roadways would all have discs. Discs tend to be better due to the fact that they aren't as affected by water and overheating. But either one will stop you if they are in good shape.

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