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How To Improve Your Classic’s Breaks

How To Improve Your Classic's Breaks Published: 10th Aug 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

How To Improve Your Classic’s Breaks
How To Improve Your Classic’s Breaks
How To Improve Your Classic’s Breaks
How To Improve Your Classic’s Breaks
How To Improve Your Classic’s Breaks
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One of the simplest and cheapest ways to improve your classic's brakes is to fit uprated linings. But do you really need to and how do you best go about it?

We’re all for originality here at Classic Motoring, but if there’s one area that many owners like to see brought into today’s times, it’s their vehicle’s brakes. It’s perfectly understandable considering the safety aspect, ably highlighted when you step out of your daily driver with its ABS and EBF etc that stops not only on a sixpence but on a pin head!

Uprated brake linings – pads for discs, shoes for drum brakes – are the obvious first step not least because they wear out and are easily, cheaply replaceable items. But make the wrong choice and you could make your brakes worse than before. Here’s how to do it right…

Why do you want better brakes?

It could, for a variety of reasons, such as faster driving, towing, track day or perhaps you simply feel your brakes could do with some uprating because they start to deteriorate when driving hard.


And do you drive fast enough?

Well, do you – because if you don’t then uprated linings could be a waste of time and money. A typical brake pad or shoe is, like most components on a car, a fair compromise to suit all types of driver and driving conditions, temperatures and driving style, providing optimum performance with minimal noise and refinement issues. With an uprated material, you’re trading one against the others, which is fine.

But if your driving style isn’t particularly hard and you don’t press the brake pedal with the greater effort it may demand, then the harder material never reaches its best working temperature and so gives the impression that the brakes are now actually inferior. So if you fit bEtter brakes, then you have to use them as such! Andrew Bartosiak EBC Brakes’ Automotive Data & Technical Manager says he would only consider fitting uprated brake pads if you feel you need more braking force on a road car, or if you are towing heavy loads or contemplating a track day event.


Fade away

The common misconception is that harder brake linings mean you stop better because they reduce fading. To a point this is true – but are your brakes fading or are simply deteriorating? There is a difference.

If the brake pedal becomes soft and mushy then this isn’t fading but more likely that the old brake fluid has boiled due to water in the system (it’s hydro-scopic). Fading is a completely different experience because the pedal pressure remains the same but the stopping effect has gone. This is because the lining material has become so hot that it has become a gaseous combination instead.

If the brakes are in good order and correctly serviced with quality parts, fade is rarely a problem (unless you have hard worked drum brakes where heat dissipation is reduced) on normal roads, so before you fit performance brakes, you must ensure the entire brake system is top notch and filled with fresh brake fluid.

Where a problem may lie, giving similar symptoms, are aged flexible brake hoses, ‘ballooning’ under pressure so giving a soft brake pedal. Replacing them either with standard or uprated types from the likes of Goodrich, makes for a more confidence-inspiring brake pedal feel. As brake improvements go, they are also one of the cheapest and easiest mods, too.


Becoming material-istic

This is where it can get complicated and the wrong choices made. And yet, it could be that the solution is easier than you’d think. Leaving aftermarket products aside for a moment, is there a higher performance brake material, such as a type fitted to a higher performance derivative, such as MGB GT V8 pads in a regular 1.8?

If so, and you can still obtain them, perhaps they are an ideal choice – check with a marque expert or owners club first to be on the safe side. Incidentally, front pads on a Rolls Silver Shadow are ‘interchangeable’ with those fitted to some 70’s Fords. Make of that what you will but we wouldn’t like to do it the other way round!

Did you know that there’s some 60 different brands of brakes on sale in the aftermarket – and as you rightly conclude, they are not all the same standards! ECE 90 was introduced more than a quarter of a century ago to police quality and while it’s largely been successful to weed out the dangerous ones (some reputedly made out of nothing more exotic than compressed chicken manure!), they do vary and you can’t determine how good they are just by looking at them.

As in most walks of life, you get what you pay for and if you go for a well known brand, sourced from a well known stockist they will be of top performance in terms of stopping power, noise and longevity. ECP (Euro Car Parts), for example, operates a ‘Good, Better Best’ policy and can advise what’s best for your vehicle.


What’s available in the aftermarket

Older readers may well remember the famous Ferodo DS11 pad compound that (along with VG95 brake shoes) was the default choice for hard linings back in the 60s and 70s because this material was good enough for Formula 1. Fade-free certainly, but a pain to use on the road. Thankfully, these days there’s better alternatives and one of the most popular providers is EBC Brakes who markets its best known ‘Stuff’ brake pads in Green, Yellow and Red tones.

GreenStuff suits the vast majority of enthusiasts as it is tailored essentially for fast road use. Red is the next step up that can be used successfully on road and track while YellowStuff is competition-orientated. Having said that, EBC only recommends RedStuff pads for normal road applications on very high and heavy performance cars such as a BMW M3/M5, for example.

You can still obtain DS11 pads and another well known name is Mintex, who at last year’s Goodwood Revival, relaunched its classic range of braking materials for road and competition work and says what it hasn’t got off the shelf can be made specifically for the classic car and purpose. “Our new Mintex Classic collection builds on our already recognised reputation in the classic racing industry, and will offer a complete service to the classic race market,” says the company


Bedtime stories

New brakes should always be bedded in but it’s particularly important with uprated linings otherwise their performance will be impaired before you even get going. EBC simply says that for the first 200 miles, heavy braking should be avoided but on some compounds, like the old DS11, a specific technique was advised where heavy braking, to the point of inducing fade, was recommended – but that was an awful long time ago so it’s best to speak with the pad suppliers for expert advice.

You’ll notice that our pic strip shows the EBC brake pad coated with a special red abrasive surface; this is to speed up the bedding in process plus clean up the disc.


Use it or lose it!

Finally, if you have fitted uprated brake pads and shoes, then you have to really use the brakes harder, not only to take advantage of the new-found stopping power but also prevent screwing up the new brake linings!

Because they are meant to work harder, and at higher temperatures, they need to be regularly extended to keep those properties otherwise there’s a strong chance that the pad’s contact surface will glaze over, resulting in poor performance and usually some operating noise. Using the brakes hard usually rubs off the glaze, but if not then, you’ll probably need to remove them and, with the aid of some medium rubbing down paper and a flat block of wood, run the pad against it until the glazing has been removed. The good news however, is that modern performance pads don’t suffer from this trait as much as the old DS11-type of pad although ‘its still wise, after a period of light braking, to give them a work out.



If you’re fitting uprated brakes, be it pads or shoes, then do it at the front first because there’s where most of the braking comes from. And if you also uprate the rears remember that, if you revert back to standard fronts, you need to de-rate the rears as well otherwise you could get into imbalance issues.

And whatever you do, make a note of it so if you sell your vehicle the new owner knows the score. For many, just a simple change of friction material improves their brakes although they can only do so much and if you feel that the anchors are still left wanting then you next need to look at other areas to tweak, such as performance discs and drums, larger callipers and so on. We’ve tried a variety of performance pads over the years and, by and large, can vouch for them – but your driving style needs to justify them.


Home comforts

If you like the idea of better brakes but don’t fancy uprated pads and linings for whatever reason, the only other alternative is to go for bigger ones. Aftermarket types are great and plentiful but can be costly and perhaps of little benefit. For example, fancy slotted and drilled brakes look the part, but their sexy designs are chiefly to improve cooling and reduce the chance of fading rather than give a better general performance.

If you simply want better anchors in normal road motoring, the answer may well come for the manufacturer who made your classic! With an eye on costs, carmakers would regularly utilise brakes from a larger, posher model to halt the progress of a smaller hotter version – Ford was a past master at it and Police used Granada brakes on Sierras as another example.

See what can be successfully fitted to your car; Vitesse/GT6 brakes on Heralds and Spitfires, Ventora brakes on Victors and Vivas, MGB GT V8 discs and pads on the normal MGB, for instance. These cost-effective upgrades may be all you require and keep the car more or less standard at the same time.

Have a word with a marque specialist or owners’ club though because, apart from if they can fit successfully without the need for bigger wheels etc, you may need to alter the rear brake performance with different wheel cylinders or you’ll potentially suffer from an imbalance under hard use and that’s nasty; one Ford specialist told us it’s the biggest error of the majority of DIY conversions, ditto when swapping drums for discs.

If you have drum brakes, similar rules apply. One popular Morris Minor mod of yore was to fit the larger Riley 1.5 drum set up but these are now particularly scarce. Other options are beefier brakes from the van ranges.


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