Why Do Basic Drum Brakes Need To Be Upgraded?
Many 60s and 70s cars were fashioned with drum-type braking systems (some were on the rear only, some were all four tires). While drums are still used today for rear wheels on some cars (because they are much cheaper to build), serious issues can arise. As a general rule, some of the issues drum braking systems have are,
- Drum brakes are more susceptible to fading (losing grip)
- More likely to go out of adjustment
- Have less gripping force than disc brakes
- Drum brakes require more maintenance
- Brake shoes are more prone to overheating or getting stuck open
- The brake pedal may lose pressure and become squishy when maintenance is needed.
Front disc brakes on older model cars are an excellent solution to braking needs because they self-adjust as they wear, require less maintenance, and have a firmer grip. Should you wish to upgrade the rear drums, you can (many classic car restorers do just that), but the front brakes are critically important. Most of the braking force from your car comes from the front wheels rather than the rear. (The brake bias from a rear-wheel drive car is about 70% front and 30% rear, whereas, on front-wheel drive cars, the ratio is closer to 80% front).
What Are The Options For Disc Brake Upgrades?
Although disc brakes were patented in 1902, they did not start being more widely produced until the 1950s. (Chrysler started using disc brakes on their 1949 Imperial). As engines increased in both size and power (and weight), there was a need for better braking systems. Unfortunately, automakers like Chrysler were not as interested in building cars with more expensive braking systems due to increased production costs.
Some models of muscle cars actually offered disc brakes as optional equipment (which the customer had to pay extra for - $64 according to the ‘71 salesman pricing guide). For example, the 1971 Plymouth Barracuda lists disc brakes as an option for all models, regardless of engine size. (Four-wheel drums were standard). If this is the case on your car, chances are good that there are complete stock kits that can be purchased.
If not, many aftermarket kits can be purchased, but you must be careful about the rotor and caliper size. Since disc brake rotors are more significant (with more stopping power), you should always double-check to ensure it will fit in your wheel. You may have to increase your rim size and will likely have to replace the master cylinder with a power brake booster so the system doesn’t overload. Many kits offer all you need to make the conversion. Rear wheel disc brake upgrades will need to remove the axles to install the mounting brackets, which means new axle seals and possibly some work on the bearings.
What Are The Best Mopar Brake Upgrades?
The kind of braking system you need for your vehicle will depend on your car's model year, the wheel's size, and the type of brakes that were originally installed. Here’s our list of the best brands of braking upgrades.
Any Mopar maniac will tell you that power comes with a price, which is true not just about engines but also brakes. Wildwood has kits for almost every muscle car out there, including hot rods, high-performance vehicles, and after-market suspension systems, but if you use them, expect to pay for the privilege.
They do have an excellent reputation for quality and durability. Wildwood sells kits that can convert your stock drum brakes to disc brakes without having to make modifications to the car, but there are also options for massive 14” rotors that fit only on 18” or larger tires. They also specialize is drag racing and hot rod applications if you are an aftermarket rear end or have made other adjustments.
This particular unit (which we sized for 70 -72 B & E Body vehicles) features an 11” rotor, fits a minimum wheel size of 14”, and forged aluminum hubs to keep the factory wheel position. The kit requires no modification of the original OEM and fits nicely in the popular 15-inch rim size. The kit includes rotors, calipers, hub assembly, and brackets and can be used with a manual or power boost master cylinder. You can even order custom-colored calipers should you wish.
Most Mopar forums rate Wildwood high in quality, although the kits aren’t cheap. (For example, a front brake kit for a 1970 Dodge Challenger costs over $1,072. If you do both front and rear brakes, the expense is usually well over $2k.
Wildwood has become a leading purveyor of aftermarket brake components since 1977. The company is based out of Camarillo, CA, and they have various braking systems for everything from cars, trucks, snowmobiles, quads, motorcycles, and even go-karts.
- High-quality braking systems
- High reviews on Mopar forums
- Wide availability of parts
- Sound technical pdfs and support
- US company that manufacturers inside the US
- No published return policy
- No warranty
For over twenty years, the folks at Baer Brakes have been an industry leader in innovative braking solutions for all types of vehicles. Baer focuses on innovative designs with already preassembled kits for you. (In most cases, all you have to do is bolt to the control arms). This preinstall helps lower the time it takes and ensures that everything is packed and sealed correctly for your specific make and model.
Baer machines their calipers out of extruded or forged aluminum, which allows for better heat dissipation and durability. Every braking system meets DOT standards for correct weather and dust seals to help the dirt from the brake pads build up on the calipers and affect their operation. Baer uses curved vane rotors, which make them longer and have more mass. A curved vane rotor will, by design, pull air into the center and disperse it toward the edges, resisting heat buildup and ensuring longer life of both rotors and pads. We love the way these looked behind the wheel, so they are perfect if you want to jazz up your classic a bit.
In our test vehicles (70-72 E Body), the cost for the front brake kit was $1,395 (with front drum spindles), while the ones with disc stock spindles ranged from $1,395 - $3,395. (The higher priced units are for larger diameter wheels 18” and up). The basic kit includes everything you need to do the job, including calipers, rotors, caliper brackets, stainless braided hoses, and all hardware.
Baer operates out of Phoenix, where it does all its manufacturing and sales. The company is American owned with a strong Mopar following, and they carry a one-year warranty against manufacturer’s defect.
- High-Quality aftermarket producer
- Strong Online reviews
- Excellent customer service with reasonable technical support
- USA Company
- Tons of Caliper colors
- One-year warranty
- Returns suffer from a 20% restocking fee
SSBC USA is the new kid on the block, forming a new company in 2019 from the remnants of the old Stainless Steel Brake Corporation. This company is based in Elma, NY, and specializes in conversion brake kits (drum to disc), caliper upgrades, performance brake pads, and even heavy-duty truck direct-fit applications.
SSBC is not as recognized as Wildwood or Baer, but they produce a quality brake kit and are priced about average compared to the competition. The front brake kit on our 1962 - ‘74 B/E body Mopar muscle car included all the parts, brackets, calipers, and the like for a little over $1,055.
SSBC has online solid reviews, with most comments focusing on the ease of installation, although a couple of reviews mentioned that installation instructions would have been nice to have. (Apparently the company forgot to include them). The parts have a one-year limited warranty against design failure and can usually ship within 1 - 2 days.
- Good Brake Kit
- Strong Online Reviews
- American Made
- 1-year limited warranty
- Be sure instructions are included when you purchase.
Don’t let the funky name throw you off. These guys know what they’re doing. Quality Body Shop (aka Doctor Diff) is an online purveyor of drivetrain components and any brake system that you can imagine. They operate out of Polson, MT, in some of the most beautiful counties anywhere. As far as their online business goes, they have grown since 1972 into one of the best Mopar resources with good service and quick shipping.
The best thing about Doctor Diff is the price. A front brake kit for our test vehicle (‘70 - 74 B/E body was priced at $600 for an 11.75-inch rotor and reproduction caliper brackets. The kit includes all needed hardware, along with DOT-approved stainless flex hoses. This kit meets original equipment specifications and is the most extensive brake kit for 15-inch wheels.
Dr. Diff has a strong Mopar following, and if you check out owners forums, they are constantly referencing them. While the kits don’t include boosters or brake lines if you need to replace them, we found the price reasonable. The company offers a fair return policy, which will refund the original price less than a 10% restocking fee.
- Quality conversion kits
- Fair Return Policy
- Less expensive than Baer or Wildwood
- No warranty
Speedway Motors offers a classic conversion kit for our 70 - 74 B/E body for one of the lowest prices we could find. The company is one of the oldest aftermarket retailers dating all the way back to 1952. They have a strong legacy for supporting racers and muscle car motorheads, so they understand the time, effort, and work it takes to do a quality restoration project. Speedway offers good online support with fast shipping.
Speedway is headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, but has stores scattered around the US. They offer a wide variety of aftermarket parts for many makes and models and a toolbox feature on their website that is filled with instructional videos about all kinds of rebuild issues. (We appreciated that they didn’t just put a bunch of old techie videos but that they are adding to the content every week in a clean, simple, straightforward manner). The company offers a 60-day return policy which is more than many of its competitors.
- Lots of racing support
- Company has been around since 1952
- Less Expensive
- No warranty