Jim’s Blog: The Best $1,500 Upgrade

Buying and selling is the core of American Car Collector magazine — but we’re also very much interested in things people can do to their own cars to make them more usable. Modern traffic isn’t always friendly to classic cars, and why own a classic if you don’t drive it? There is a time and a place for originality, and there are things you can do to your old car that make it a better driver without throwing away its original look or charm.

I’ve installed all kinds of upgrades on a bunch of different cars over the years — everything from roller camshafts, overdrive transmissions and complete fuel injection systems can totally change a classic’s personality and drivability. But of all the upgrades you can choose, by far the best bang for the buck? Disc brakes.

This isn’t any new science — most cars had discs by the early 1970s. But what is new is the simplicity of some of the kits out there today. Companies such as Right Stuff Detailing make conversions for a bunch of different cars using OE-style parts, and they’re not typically all that expensive considering the performance and ease of service that they offer — in most cases, you’ll be under $600 for a front disk system and the related hardware. $1,500 is four-wheel disc territory.

In the past, you’d have to know what OE parts to choose — specifically from what years and models — to convert your older car over to newer brakes. For example, when I put discs on my ’66 Caprice, I had to figure out what year spindles would work with my factory ball joints. I ended up swapping the complete front spindle assemblies from a 1969 Impala, which worked but also removed some of my turning radius in the process. Also, replacement ’69 Impala rotors are now hard to find, so I created a new problem for myself that I’ll eventually need to confront. Additionally, I had to add a dual master cylinder and change up some of the brake plumbing as well. Today’s kits come complete and solve most of these problems for you.

Most drum brake cars will only really need discs swapped in up front — but you can also find kits that will handle all four wheels and still fit under 14- or 15-inch stock wheels. Either setup will make a big difference in how your car rolls to a stop, and even the most pushy purist won’t ding you for the addition of safety in your driver-level classic.

Want to learn more about doing a swap? We swapped a ’67 Impala over to discs last summer. Here’s how we did it.

 

 

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  1. Mmmm, sexy brakes! Agree: best upgrade, mostly hidden, reversible if needed and nobody’s going to castigate you for it.

  2. Jim, I agree disk brakes are a must in today’s environment. I remember fondly my Mother banging my passenger floorboards in my 1967 Mustang when I was a kid, since it had drums. Disk was also a reason why I always leaned towards collecting 1972 Chevy trucks vs the earlier years. However, one of my current projects is a 61 LS powered Buick Le Sabre Bubble top. I was lucky to find it at Mecum a few years back with most of the heavy lifting already complete. However, I have had numerous issues with the passenger side suspension (even cracked a control arm) and oddly could not keep the hubcap on that side on or center cap now that I have rims. We figured out the the disks are some type of Chinese knockoff. So, I was able to find out that I can upgrade to Corvette C5 brakes with 13″ cross drilled sloted rotors and factory power coating saying corvette as well for around $1300.00 for that car, but no relief for the rear at this time. Of course for my 62 Impala I was able to get a 14″ kit from CPP for all corners for $1400.

  3. A Manual transmission is the only way to go. This gives one a true sense of driving, the true feeling of the car in your hands. Automatics are for lazy people who only want to get from point A to point B.

  4. Excellent suggestions. For many years, when I was young and poor, I drove a 1965 273/4 speed Dodge Dart during the summer months. Even though it wasn’t a highly desirable car, I loved it. A few Darts from ’66 to ’72 used Kelsey Hayes four piston calipers & discs in front.

    I remember the joy of finding a worn out disc assembly in a salvage yard. The find was better than my best Christmas, ever!! The spindle and hub assembly gave me what I needed to make the conversion. Like Mr. Pickering, I also installed dual master cylinder, but brake proportioning was a problem for a while. The great satisfaction of making some upgrades is in sorting out the details until it works. My favorite cars to this day are the ones with parts cars in the salvage yards.