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mechanical brakes and the long haul

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by SUHRsc, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. SUHRsc
    Joined: Sep 27, 2005
    Posts: 5,077


    ive been back and forth with my feelings on the subject of mechanical brakes
    i want to build a car that is exactly how one would have been before WWII, probably mid 30's would be the time frame that i would stick to
    the thing is...that means mechanical brakes!
    as ive studied the workings and design and read different reports. i dont see a disadvantage to them?

    i guess friction in all joints through out the system is eliminated by a flow of fluid
    but the risk of brake failure seems to greatly increase with the use of a single 39-48 master cylinder
    i would be using 32-36 type rod actuated brakes and it seems that if its a well maintained system there should be no problems and not much chance of brake loss such as with a broken hydraulic line
    does anyone have any good experience with mechanicals
    any advice, tips, warnings, etc

    i may consider driving this car cross country and see the united states in my 30's time machine.....

    ROCKER77 likes this.
  2. flathead okie
    Joined: May 22, 2005
    Posts: 1,480

    flathead okie

    A friend of mine let me drive his stock 29 ford sedan. I was going @ 25 mph, about a 1/3 of a block from the stopsign I hit the brakes. I had the seat covers sucked up by the time I stopped in the middle of the intersection. Another friend drove his car also going 45 mph. About a half a block before he was to turn he started hittin the brakes. He had to go around the block. Get used to em before you do any serious driving.
  3. alchemy
    Joined: Sep 27, 2002
    Posts: 14,580


    A local guy has a 32 5-window he restored 20 years ago, and has now driven it so much that it looks like an unrestored original again. Was his daily for years, all on mechanical brakes. He said they are just as good as Ford hydraulics if you keep them adjusted correctly.
  4. Bruce Lancaster
    Joined: Oct 9, 2001
    Posts: 21,683

    Bruce Lancaster
    Member Emeritus

    Main long haul consideration is frequent adjustment to keep everything snug; building consideration is finding decent parts or restoring worn bits that don't exist in trustworthy replacment. NOS is getting hard to find. Some repro is utter crap--you can buy CAST clevises, for instance--some may be all right or usable but too soft for long term durability. Some parts of the mechanism get a LOT of pressure on a very small surface. Many people weld and reshape clevises and pushrods to avoid repro parts. Some things like the triangular widget riveted to backing plate always need welding to get shoes back to right place...I've got an old brake repair manual with a lot of tips on these things, and a lengthy study of the A sites would get a lot of info applicable to '32-4 brakes. It would be worth studying '35-6 brakes as a possible '30's update and see if there any worthwhile points of superiority.
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  5. mustangsix
    Joined: Mar 7, 2005
    Posts: 1,296


    Many, many years ago, when I was a college freshman, my daily driver for a time was a 1932 MG J2 Midget roadster. It was a tiny, beautiful car- the first with the classic MG lines. A small 900 cc OHC engine, twin sidedrafts, four speed, and a complex system of cable operated mechanical brakes activating four little drums inside the tall, spindly wire wheels.

    For what they were, they worked fine, and were capable of stopping that lightweight car easily from moderate speeds, especially if braking coincided with a well executed downshift.

    But they constantly required attention, as many older mechanical devices do. Keeping the brakes balanced and adjusted was a weekly ritual. And it became second nature to tentatively test the brakes at the beginning of each drive. I can only imagine how racing drivers in the 30's must have felt using them!

    I've also driven several Model A's with original, well-restored mechanical brakes and others with juice conversions. I'd have to say that I would prefer to go with the hydraulics. Not only is the braking more balanced, it's more powerful and probably more reliable.

    I think you need to gauge how powerful, fast, and heavy your car may be and weigh the tradeoffs of a mechanical vs. hydraulic system.
  6. Bruce Lancaster
    Joined: Oct 9, 2001
    Posts: 21,683

    Bruce Lancaster
    Member Emeritus

    A and early V8 brakes are actually quite good, though most restored A's are pretty dangerous--mechanical restoration is the weak end of that field! Vibrator motors, no brakes, no alignment folks.
    Original A steel drums are all shot now, iron late A-34 drums are usually OK for use. Replacing parts with repro stuff, which is all most people do, can't get them working right because of worn tracks and guides, so it is necessary to figgerout how they work and actually fix the basics before throwing in replacement widgits. An A that won't stop is just a car in dangerous disrepair, not the way it was built.
  7. Bruce Lancaster
    Joined: Oct 9, 2001
    Posts: 21,683

    Bruce Lancaster
    Member Emeritus

    Balanced pressure and a considerable ability to take up slack are indeed BIG advantages of hydraulics, and there are far fewer parts with high surface loading and rapid wear. Mechanical brakes are a permanent labor commitment.
  8. Flat Ernie
    Joined: Jun 5, 2002
    Posts: 8,410

    Flat Ernie
    Tech Editor

    I had mechs in my '34, put in some floaters - it was somewhat nerve-wracking in modern driving situations.

    I also had a little Model-Y with mech brakes that were just fine - could've been a weight thing, could've been maintenance. It also wouldn't go any faster than 45 or so! ;)

    I'm also considering mechs for a banger-powered modified I'm building in my head. I think the '35-36 floaters seem to work better than the earlier & a well maintained system should be adequate for a very light car like I plan. Adequate. No wear, proper adjustment, floaters, & soft, woven linings will all help bring the brakes up a bit.

    I expect nothing other than adequate.
  9. 3Mike6
    Joined: Jan 2, 2007
    Posts: 704


    Dodge (other I guess too) was using juice brakes in the late 20's...early 30's for sure.

    Considering Ford switched over before WW2, I don't think it wouldn't be "period" correct, to use '40car or 40/41 comercial setups and switch over to 5 on 5.5.

    Still using parts manufactured before WW2, just my thoughts.
  10. headsoff
    Joined: May 30, 2006
    Posts: 19

    from Ely UK

    I run a 32 Ford Panel Van, all stock other than 16 inch wires and fenton headers. The brakes scare the crap out of me! Stops are fine when you have planed them, its the OMYGODDDD!!!! ones that raise your heart rate.
    I'm over in England and the traffic is a little heavier than in the US though.
  11. brawler500
    Joined: Jun 2, 2005
    Posts: 82

    from Roxbury NJ

    I am building a Model a Speedster and am planning on keeping the mechanical brakes. Does anyone have experience with "Flathead Teds" brake energizer kits for mechanical brakes? He has a video of the conversion on youtube and I have found some info about them through this link

  12. J'st Wandering
    Joined: Jan 28, 2004
    Posts: 1,621

    J'st Wandering

    I have some A's (stock) with mechanical brakes. They stop good if adjusted. I think that with the A's being a light car helps alot. I live out in the sticks so brake fade isn't a big deal for me but use cast instead of steel drums to help that problem.

    A light car with narrow tires doesn't need alot of brake, just so all 4 corners are working.

  13. SUHRsc
    Joined: Sep 27, 2005
    Posts: 5,077


    thanks everyone
    i would like to not use parts newer then the mid 30's....the car could be styled to the early 40's but hydraulics are somewhat out of the question

    basically it would be a stock restored car with a hotter motor and little odds and ends that the average Joe Hotrodder may have done
    when did people start adapting the juice brakes?
    Manny Betes and John Athens both have them on their cars which were build around 38/39?

    flathead ted's stuff has looked interesting...anyone have any experience?

  14. I Built A 35 Ford Sedan With Mech Brakes You Can Forget Them In An Emergency Or Panic Stop No More For Me Tim
  15. SinisterCustom
    Joined: Feb 18, 2004
    Posts: 8,265


    The only problem I see is that the roads and TRAFFIC today are not as it was in the late 30's.......people weren't doing 75-80 on freeways and cutting you off to get to the offramp.......
  16. Flathead Youngin'
    Joined: Jan 10, 2005
    Posts: 3,657

    Flathead Youngin'

    did you see the video of the guy over in the UK that developed his own "floaters"- like ole' timers used back in the day and my grandpa uses now-.........he could litterally lock all 4 up on asphalt in a 34 sedan....

    i'll see if i can find the link

    edit: i know that locking them up and driving in stop and go traffic is two different things....also, i'm sure he about pulled out the bolts holding the seat to the floor....

    edit 2: e=DEADSTOP
  17. bobw
    Joined: Mar 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,364


    I drove a '35 Ford 2 door during high school, in 1955-1959. Every Sat. I adjusted the brakes. I had a hot flathead in it. Bad combination, more horsepower and poor brakes. I did put floaters in it from Montgomery Wards but the rest of the brake system was unrestored and had about 40,000 miles on it. The floaters helped some. Lots of downshifting though. In 2-3 years I probably hit 10 cars in the back bumper at stop lights. Don't know if I'd try it in today's city traffic with my 65 year old reflexes.
  18. Elmo Rodge
    Joined: May 12, 2002
    Posts: 2,034

    Elmo Rodge

    Zach, I ran my '36 for about 14,000 miles with mechanicals and never hit anything. I then installed Lincolns and on my test drive some stupid bitch turned in front of me and made me a fan of the Lincolns. The "Safety of Steel From Pedal to Wheel" is fine if you can plan ahead on stopping distance. Wayno
  19. Muttley
    Joined: Nov 30, 2003
    Posts: 18,340


    Probably about five minutes after the first '39 hit the junkyard.
  20. Flathead Youngin'
    Joined: Jan 10, 2005
    Posts: 3,657

    Flathead Youngin'

    i agree mutt, and i certainly see where you are coming from.....about keeping things period......i like that...

    however, even if the car was built in 34, i'll guess that if the ole' boy was still driving it by would get the hyd. treatment.......styling of early 30's with 39 brakes.......but, again, i know where you are coming from.....

    i know grandpa had hyd. on some cars and not on others......AND grandpa didn't have any money to build very many hot rod until after the war.....before the war, he mostly had stockers.......just after the depression.......eating was more important.......BUT while he was dug in, in the pacific.....he was dreaming of 36 fords....

  21. Dakota
    Joined: Jan 21, 2004
    Posts: 1,535

    from Beulah, ND

    if it was 1935 again, Sure... but now in the 60mph + highway, and faster side street speeds, i think youd regret it the second you started driving it.

    higher speeds, and more horsepower....

    one more thing, you gotta realize that almost every other car company had juice before Ford. Ol henry was a stubborn old bugger, and just wouldent change it. The only reason he dd, is because he had to to keep up with everyone else.
  22. Bigcheese327
    Joined: Sep 16, 2001
    Posts: 6,660


    In the AHRF interview with Isky he talks about the brake system in his T (which is a prewar car, 1939, I think) and he had used I think maybe Plymouth brakes or at least the wheel cylinders - in any case, he had hydraulic brakes. His buddy John Athan too. I've also heard of Ford guys using Chevy pieces to make the juice conversion in the '30s.

    Significantly, they both built their cars from the ground up - which was rare in that era, I suspect, as even a Model T was basically a used car. It makes sense to do stuff better than the factory when you aren't starting with a complete car.

    About a decade ago, when the only people doing the nostalgia thing were in Europe, I saw a British car covered that had used VW wheel cylinders on '32 backing plates so maybe you could fake it. Seems like if you go about lowering the suspension at all, it's not worth reengineering the brake rods.

    Another thought, aren't the mechanical brake drums narrower than the hydraulic brake drums? That would mean that all other factors being alike, they still wouldn't stop as well.

  23. crashbox
    Joined: Dec 21, 2006
    Posts: 148


    Hey, Zach.
    My Model A had the mechanicals on it when I bought it. The previous owner had them serviced, new woven lining, all the linkage adjusted or repaired as needed. The coupe weighs about 2200 lbs, so those brakes seemed to work well as long as you are ready to STAND on the brake pedal in todays traffic. My brakes worked better than most other A's I've driven. Still, stops were well planned. In their day they were ok but today they're a little iffy. If I have enough space, If the car with ABS doesn't stop too short, If a little kid doesn't rides his bike in front of you, If, If, If.
    Make freinds with a geezer in the Model A club who can show you what you need to know. Some of those guys really know their stuff.
  24. buschandbusch
    Joined: Jan 11, 2006
    Posts: 1,260

    from Reno, NV

    I don't see anything wrong with mechanicals- get the front "floaters", upgrade to thicker tubes instead of the stock rods (I've bent several with hard braking), and make sure they are all properly adjusted with high quality pads and cast iron drums. You're done. I can lock up my wheels if they're all adjusted. You lose one rod, you've still got three more.
    Reduce your weight and keep your speeds down (not a problem in a pre war rod, correct?) and you're done

    I noticed a big improvement as well without fenders, I think the brakes cool much better now (and I'm running steel drums)
  25. SinisterCustom
    Joined: Feb 18, 2004
    Posts: 8,265


    What about alot of constant travelling down a hill and dragging the brakes, heat 'em up and the brakes will fade.....can't 'pump' mechanicals.
    Locking up your wheels is not the same as's sliding.

    It's how fast you can stop WITHOUT locking up the tires that's important.
  26. HotRodFreak
    Joined: Mar 25, 2005
    Posts: 1,935


    They work well as designed but freeways didn't exist then. The best advice is not to follow closely.
    Joined: Nov 22, 2005
    Posts: 7,592

    from SIDNEY, NY

    I've personally seen two As that were converted to hydraulic action using early Chevy cylinders, and they became available in '36--is that old enough for you?
  28. buschandbusch
    Joined: Jan 11, 2006
    Posts: 1,260

    from Reno, NV

    well, of course, I was using that as an example that they're not all fade, they still have bite in normal driving. The reason they fade so bad is the drum material- with cast iron drums that's no longer an issue
  29. Bruce Lancaster
    Joined: Oct 9, 2001
    Posts: 21,683

    Bruce Lancaster
    Member Emeritus

    Those are most likely commercial Ansen conversions.
  30. tommy
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 14,758

    Member Emeritus

    I almost didn't go look at my old 36 sedan because the restorer took the hydraulics off and replaced them with totally rebuild Mech.s. He said I can put 4 black marks on any road in the county. He took me for a ride and damn near threw me through the windshield.

    If you rebuild them right, adjust and lubricate them properly, they are just as affective as 39-48 with comparable linings. 99% of us have never driven one that was set up properly.

    Drum brakes are drum brakes. You can't ride them no matter how they are applied. Heat is the enemy. Nobody should drive old drum brakes the same way they drive a modern disc system...hydraulic or mechanical.

    They require more maintenance than hydraulics.

    I'd hunt down NOS Ford parts for the wear items...wedges etc. When lubed (there are a lot of places to lube on a mech. syst.)and adjusted correctly the leverage is built in to work pretty well. As the mechanical parts wore, the shoes got out of adjustment and the grease dried up they became very scary. We aren't talking a daily driver here.

    My 36 had a 283 with an adapter to the original 36 drive line. I drove it half way across the country to the 1980 Nats in Memphis and back with no problems.

    I don't tailgate with disc brakes either.:D

    I know you won't slap together mismatched worn parts so I think yopu will be surprised at how affective mechanicals can wheel cyls to leak or brake hoses to rupture.:eek::D:D:D oh don't need a dual resevoir m/cyl. egads!!!:D

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