Braking Boundaries: Modernizing Classic Cars for Safety and Performance

Stop right there!

If you have a typical high-performance dinosaur with factory brakes in it, the chances are good that you aren’t, in fact, going to stop right there but will instead stop somewhere much further down the street. It is just a reality that the brake systems on these classic cars were not really engineered in sync with the ever-increasing power produced during the fabled Horsepower Wars of the 1960s and early 1970s.

These ancient brake systems represent one of the weakest links when it comes to making a classic vehicle not just roadworthy but also safe. In the oldest of these, there is only a single reservoir for the master cylinder. Any fault anywhere in the lines or slave cylinders renders the entire brake system, both front and back, inoperable.

Modern technology offers a better answer to this always problematic ratio of acceleration and stopping power. The idea of putting a lot of time and effort into building a 700-horsepower engine and then relying on a set of 50-year-old drum brakes to save your bacon is not the best bet to make. You have alternatives.

Avoiding this sort of trouble starts with a careful examination of the existing system. In many cases, parts that appear perfectly functional on the outside can actually be dangerous. Steel brake lines can rust on the inside and produce flakes that can jam up in drum brake slave cylinders or disc brake calipers. Rubber lines can lose their rigidity and flex. When the brakes are applied, the pressure simply causes the lines to balloon out rather than transfer hydraulic force to the brakes themselves. Even an apparently useful brake system can thus represent a hidden hazard before the issue of modernization is considered.

Just as changes in engine design over the years offer vast performance improvements, so too do modern brake systems provide much greater stopping power than ever before. New materials, such as ceramics, and new designs, such as anti-lock master cylinders, can be added to even the oldest cars and provide amazing upgrades over the original designs.

Going fast is sexy, and the quest for performance often takes up a large chunk of any hot rod budget. Stopping fast is much less sexy, but it can be a whole lot smarter. With a proper set of new all-around disc brakes and an anti-lock brake controller, it is indeed possible to stop on a dime and get five cents in change.