Tech Corner: Disc Brake Conversion Kits for the Street and Track

Tech Corner - IntermediateDriving a muscle car is one of the greatest things you can experience in life. There’s nothing quite like feeling the rumble, smelling the gas, and hammering on the throttle. It’s all incredibly satisfying. That is, until you hit the brakes and nothing seems to happen. You might think something is broken, but that’s just how these cars roll.

“I’m very familiar with muscle, as I learned to drive on a 1970 Barracuda convertible with a 383 two-barrel carb. This car was equipped with a four-wheel drum and you never knew what way it was going to stop,” laughed Mike Jonas, President at Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation (SSBC).

With some exceptions, most American muscle cars from the golden era of power and performance came equipped with drum brakes. While Ford, GM, and Chrysler were concerned about increasing their performance cars’ capabilities to reach increasingly dangerous speeds, the brake systems were pretty much left alone as they already worked just well enough. I mean, who needs brakes? They only slow you down…

The Disc Brake Conversion Kit

For the longest time enthusiasts were pretty much left with factory parts unless they wanted to get creative. Nowadays we’re spoiled rotten— especially with what’s available to us in the way of disc brake conversion kits. Wilwood, Brembo, and SSBC are some of the biggest players in the game because they’ve made it possible for builders to swap out the dangerous drum brake setups for powerful disc brakes in just a few hours or so.

Naturally, in the world of muscle cars people are always trying to outdo one another when it comes to their builds. This leaves a lot of people feeling confused on what they actually need for their car when they first consider making a swap. Let’s take a look at the types of kits available, and hone in on what might be best for your ride.

For the Track

Racing applications are the easiest cars for which to pick out a brake setup. If you’re looking to hurdle your car down any type of raceway, then you need disc brakes. Muscle cars are big, period. They are also capable of hitting high speeds in short distances (obviously). If you don’t have a proper handle on that combination, things can get really ugly, really fast. Even if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a model with factory disc brakes, you should still swap out for a bigger, more powerful setup.

Most factory disc brakes used one-piston calipers with small rotors. Though a step above drums, they’re really not effective on a racing application. Wilwood and Brembo bring serious packages for both the front and rear with multiple piston options and massive rotors. The trick is to find the right balance that works for you. You may not need the top-shelf premium setup designed for the most extreme applications, but ultimately, it’s better to over-compensate then underestimate.

For the Street

On the street, it’s okay to cut some slack. While that may sound counter-intuitive, since the street is where your vehicle is more likely to encounter other people, the chances for extreme speed are much less. Additionally, the budget for a street car is likely to be more restrictive. So while you’ll want something better than drums, there’s no need to murder the wallet.

Consider the kind of power you’ll be making. If it’s a stock car that you’re simply looking to make safer and more reliable, check out SSBC’s inventory. You can easily find stock-style disc brake conversions that swap right into place. Whereas a racecar requires both front and rear conversions, most street cars can get away with only the front. Keep in mind though, that the more power you make, the more braking capability you’ll need. So if you intend to creep that street car up on 450-500 hp, don’t sell yourself short. Make the swap to the front and rear and consider using Wilwood or Brembo kits, as they’ll provide maximum stopping power.

Do Your Homework

Disc brake conversion kits are a relatively easy installation, especially if you already have experience with brake repair. Pricing can vary, so you’ll need to look into the kit you’re investing in. Also, consider any extra work you’ll need to do. Bigger brakes need a house to live in, and some won’t fit behind the stock wheel size. Additionally, some brake kits require modifications to ensure they will operate correctly. Do your homework and get advice from car owners who’ve been down this road before. And remember, there’s no such thing as being too safe. More stopping power is always better, so don’t be afraid to go a little over the top. After all, your life depends on it.

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