Restoring a car is a big decision, it’s a huge financial and time-intensive project. Even after the decision to restore a car has been made, there are still a ton of decisions to make: what color to paint the vehicle, what size motor, what wheels, and the list goes on and on. For some of the parts, the only decision is whether to restore the original or buy new. On some parts of the car, there are numerous variations, sizes, colors, and most importantly, price ranges.
One of those parts with lots of options is brakes. Most people would agree that upgrading to disc brakes is a great idea, almost a necessity when restoring a car. Generally, only purists will stick with a drum brake set up. With an endless amount of options on the market for brakes, bad decisions can be made. When it came to this 1967 Nova, the owner decided that price was the most important factor. The old saying, “You get what you pay for” soon bit him in the behind.
Jeff King, the owner of this blue ’67 went with a four-wheel disc brake setup, but the cheapest he could find. Everything showed up and looked great, but that’s when the nightmare began. The installation was fairly straight forward, but the kit was semi-universal. The rear brake lines didn’t fit the best and the emergency brake cables wouldn’t connect. After everything was installed, that’s when the nightmare was in full effect. The brakes wouldn’t bleed. Hours of time and countless bottles of fluid were spent on the system. The brand new booster didn’t even work. Lines, boosters, master cylinders and just about everything else were replaced again, but to no avail.
Making The Call
Fed up with wasting too much time and money, Jeff gave a call to Tom Tiernan of Ground Up to see what options they had for him. Tiernan recommended their line of The Right Stuff Detailing brakes. “This line of brake kits applies to the everyday muscle car enthusiast who makes up the majority of our audience. These are for the weekend wrencher that wants something better looking and better performing than stock disc brakes, but doesn’t necessarily need a super high end (and very expensive) road racing disc brake setup,” said Tiernan. A brake kit that would perform great for a daily driver, is ample enough for a little Pro Touring but doesn’t break the bank is exactly what he was looking for.
What Tiernan had for Jeff was a set of Signature Series brakes from The Right Stuff. “These brakes are special for the early Nova’s because they don’t increase the track width, like most other kits on the market,” said Todd McClure of The Right Stuff Detailing. Since we already had a set of wheels and tires on this car, we couldn’t afford to increase the track width.
This is accomplished with their machined aluminum hubs, which hold massive 13-inch rotors in the front and 11.65-inch in the rear. “The front calipers are dual-piston and made from cast aluminum, which is modeled after a 1994-2004 Mustang Cobra,” continued McClure. This means that not only are the brakes a proven and well-designed system, but we can easily go to the local auto parts store for rotors and pads in the future.
The pads themselves are a low-dust compound semi-metallic pad chosen specifically for this kit. The last component was the master cylinder – this one sported a one-inch bore size. “The smaller the bore, the more pressure to the wheels, but further travel on the pedal. The trick is to get a balance between the pressure at the wheels and good feel at the pedal,” explained McClure.
When the brakes showed up at our door, we were really impressed. Everything was in the kit from Ground Up and The Right Stuff including all new stainless brake lines, clips, and bolts. We didn’t have to get the brakes from them, and lines from another company, etc. The kit features black powdercoated dual-piston calipers, drilled and slotted rotors, braided lines, and stainless steel hard lines. “On the performance side, the drilled and slotted rotors cool off faster and decrease brake fade to decrease stopping distances. The dual-piston calipers are stout enough to slow down high horsepower vehicles,” said Tiernan.
Setting The Mark
Before we grabbed a wrench to start the removal of the old brakes we wanted to get some real-world numbers for the improvements of the kit. On a deserted road, we did three 60 mph to zero mph brake tests, all back to back. This would give us not only an average stopping distance, but also stopping distance once the brakes start to get hot as well.
Heading down the road we sped up to hit 60 mph. At a pre-marked chalk line, we hit the brakes. These cheap imported brakes lacked any stopping power. We had to pump the brakes to get the car to slow down at a reasonable rate. If this was an emergency panic stop, the car would rear-end the next car. Not a confidence-inspiring brake setup.
“On the performance side, the drilled and slotted rotors cool off faster and decrease brake fade to decrease stopping distances. The dual-piston calipers are stout enough to slow down high horsepower vehicles” – Tom Tiernan, Ground Up
Test Two: After getting the car turned around we got the Nova back up to 60 mph and hit the brakes again. This time we didn’t put the brake pedal to the floor in order to stop the lock up and the results improved slightly to 125-feet.
Test Three: Our final test showed that the brakes were starting to get heat soaked as the test resulted in a 130-foot result. There was no lock-up like in the first test, but the numbers weren’t great.
All three tests averaged out to 129.6-foot stopping distance. Besides having the brake pedal almost going to the floor, we noticed that the rear brakes weren’t even grabbing. In each test the car nose dove and we had to fight to keep it within the lane. This brake kit wasn’t up to par, even for casual cruising. With the brake dust settled, we headed to the garage to rip off the old braking system.
Breaking Down The Brakes
To start with the disassembly, the car was put up on jackstands. As a safety precaution, always disconnect the battery as well. With all four wheels off, we tackled the front brakes first. A few Allen head bolts allow the caliper to pop off the rotor, then the big castle nut was removed to allow the rotor to be freed from the spindle. The spindles on the car are factory and we were able to reuse them. If we were going with a 2-inch drop spindle, now is when we would have removed the castle nuts holding the spindle to the ball joints, along with the tie rods.
Moving to the rear of the car, we started by removing the Allen bolts that held the caliper on. Since the emergency brake cables didn’t hook up with the original kit, we didn’t have to worry about removing those. Once the caliper was off, the rotor simply slid off the axle studs. From here, we removed the mounting brackets that bolted to the factory rearend flange. With all the calipers and rotors off the car, we turned our focus to the brake lines.
Since we had no plans of reusing 45-year-old brake lines, we cut and pulled the original lines out of place, but being careful to keep the retainers in good shape so we could reuse them. The last part to take off the car was the booster and master cylinder setup. Contorting ourselves under the dash, we removed the cotter pin and clevis pin attached to the brake pedal. All that was left was to remove the three nuts that held the booster and master combo to the firewall. For the sake of uninstallation and installation, we unbolted the fuse panel from the firewall which gave us more room to get the booster.
The Halfway Point, Re-Assembly
With all the bargain brakes off the car, the time came to start installing new brakes from Ground Up. We started by laying all the parts out to keep things organized. Everything was well marked in their respective boxes, making it easy to see that we had all the parts needed. We started by installing the front disc brake assemblies, then we moved to the rear, and finally the lines and master cylinder.
The front brakes were easy as pie to install. The directions were well written and included great descriptions and photos. Right off the bat, we noticed how much larger the discs were compared to the old set up, which the larger diameter will help with overheating the brakes.
The first step was to bolt the adapter bracket to the spindle. Note that there might be a spacer needed for the top bolt, this is provided. The next step was to assemble the machined hubs. This required installing either 7/16-inch or 1/2-inch studs, both of which were provided. After that we had to pack the bearings and install the hub onto the spindle, being sure to torque the castle nut just right.
With the hub installed, we slid the rotor on and hand tightened a lug nut to keep it in place and from smashing our toes. Two Allen head bolts attached the caliper bracket to the adapter bracket. We then loaded the caliper with brake pads, making sure to use the magical grease that keeps them quiet. With the caliper loaded, we slid it over the rotor, locking the bottom in first then the top. There are no bolts that hold the caliper on. A simple rod slides through at the top with a C-clip keeping everything in place. The last step was to bolt the new braided lines onto the caliper. From here we moved to the back of the car.
A word of caution for the rears is that swapping to disc brakes will require you to remove the axles in order to remove the backing plates. Since this Nova already had rear disc brakes, we didn’t have any drum brake backing plates to remove, just the old caliper mounting brackets. We still pulled the axles in order to install the new brackets that bolt to the rearend.
To start, we removed the rearend cover with a pan underneath to catch all the gear oil. With the cover set aside, we rotated the axles until the small bolt was visible that secures the large metal pin inside the differential. The bolt removed easily and the pin slid out, allowing us to access the C-clips. Pushing the axles towards the center of the car, we grabbed the C-clips with a magnet and set them aside for reassembly. From here, the axles simply slid out allowing us to start on the rear disc brakes.
The rear brakes were straight forward to install as well, thanks to the provided instructions. The process began by bolting the caliper adapter bracket to the rearend using the supplied T-bolts and ring. With both sides done, we popped the axles back in and buttoned up the rearend. From there we slid the rotors over the axle studs, holding them in place with a lug nut.
The next step was crucial, because where you mount the caliper bracket has to be perfectly centered over the rotor. The Right Stuff provides four different sets of washers with varying thicknesses to get the caliper centered just right. We noticed that on this Nova, both sides required different washers as the spacing wasn’t the same left to right.
With the caliper bracket bolted to the adapter bracket, we loaded up the pads and slid the caliper on. Unlike the front caliper that attaches with a pin, the rear attaches with two bolts. We attached the braided lines onto the caliper and set off to install all the new hard brake lines.
Lining Up The Brake Lines
We decided to get each corner’s lines installed, then get the front to rear brake line installed. In the front, we installed the new lines that go from the distribution block to the tab that holds the braided lines. From there, we tackled installing the line that runs from the proportioning valve over to the passenger front brake. Since this Nova has the motor and all suspension installed, it was a little more difficult. However, with the lines being pre-bent, all we had to do was tweak the lines a small amount to get them to fit perfectly.
The rear brake lines were a little more difficult. Since the rears were now disc brakes with braided lines, the hard lines needed to be shorter. Luckily, The Right Stuff has pre-bent lines that are shorter, making the job easier. The hardest part was that we had to weld supplied tabs onto the axle tubes to hold the metal lines and braided lines in place. We slowly tacked them and didn’t weld them all at once to avoid any warping. Once they cooled off, we installed the new hard lines and rubber flex hose that mounts to the top of the housing.
The last line to run was the line that went from the proportioning valve all the way to the rear of the car. Laying out the line on the floor we noticed it was quite a bit different than the old line that ran back. The reason for this was our factory line ran down the driver’s side then crossed over while the new line crosses over upfront then runs back. On 1967 models, the line runs down the driver’s side, while on the 1962-1966 Nova’s it runs down the passenger side. Again, since the line was pre-bent it fit perfectly and hugged the floor nicely. We did use a few of the supplied metal clips with self-tapping fasteners to help keep the line in place where a factory mount wasn’t available.
We started the installation of the power booster and master cylinder by installing the combination onto the car. Since this car already had a booster on it, the third hole for the booster was already drilled in the firewall. If your Nova doesn’t have a booster, you might have to drill the bottom hole in the firewall. With the three nuts attached, we installed the clevis onto the brake pedal itself. It’s important to note that there must be a small amount of play in the pedal or the booster can self activate and apply the brakes.
With the booster and master installed, we set out to bleed the master cylinder before attaching the new brake lines. The Right Stuff supplies a set of plastic hoses that allows the master cylinder to loop back into itself making the job of bleeding quick and less messy. With the master cylinder bled, we attached all the lines onto the proportioning valve using a brake line wrench. From here, we bled the rest of the brake system with a vacuum bleeder. You could do the manual method as well, but a vacuum bleeder is quicker, there’s no mess, and it only requires one set of hands. With a firm pedal, we were almost ready to hit the road.
One Final Step
The very last step in swapping over to The Right Stuff brakes was to install the cable to get the parking brakes to work. The old kit didn’t even have the right lines to make this possible, but The Right Stuff had the exact cable needed to make the parking brake work. We started by removing the original single line that loops from the left to the right side. There is only one clip that holds this, directly above the differential. With the new cable in place, we tested the parking brake and tightened it up until the brake lever was firm and the brakes were engaging.
The wheels were installed and the lug nuts were torqued down. The Nova was set back on the ground, ready to stop in an instant. After double-checking for any leaks, we hit the streets to seat the pads and rotors. This requires the car to get up to roughly 45 mph, then come to a stop a half a dozen times. With the brakes nice and hot, we went on a 50-mile cruise to cool them down and really get the pads and rotors to seat against each other. We noticed that the brakes were stopping much better after putting some miles on the car.
Stop! Can’t Touch This
The time had come to really see what these brakes could do! After tossing the junk brakes and installing 100-percent new brakes, we were feeling great. The pedal was nice and firm and no longer went to the floor, or required pumping. The larger rotors meant the brakes would cool off faster and the rear brakes were actually working. Going down a deserted road, we reached 60 miles per hour and hit the brake pedal.
The first brake test resulted in 107 feet for the stopping distance. Right off the bat, we noticed that it was a very confidence-inspiring brake stop, without having to turn to keep the Nova in the lane. We actually weren’t expecting them to stop as well as they did, which resulted in our heads almost going through the windshield! This was our first indication of how well these puppies will stop in an emergency.
Getting the car turned around, we got up to 60 miles per hour and stopped in 108 feet. We were a bit hesitant on the brakes this time and could have been more aggressive with the pedal. The third test resulted in a stopping distance of 94 feet, showing that we were getting used to the new brakes. The decreased stopping distance also shows us how the larger rotors keep cool and don’t get heat soaked as easily. The average stopping distance was 103 feet, which shows an improvement over 26 feet over the old set up! That distance alone is almost two car lengths, and we know that we could have stopped sooner with more practice.
Not only can we stop quicker, but it also has a much more confident feel as it doesn’t pull to the side or nose dive. The brake tests were uneventful, which is exactly what we would want in an emergency stop. The brakes have a modern feel to them, where you don’t have to worry about them or put excessive force on the pedal.
Swapping to a set of The Right Stuff Detailing brakes was a relatively simple job, one that any weekend mechanic could accomplish. With the kit marked so well and having clear instructions, we knocked this job out, hardly breaking a sweat. If you want a great set of brakes, give Ground Up a call at (866) 358-2277 or hop on the site at SS396.com