DIY Big Brakes

First, thanks go out to Jim Nichols “MGB260” who was the inspiration for putting this all down. Second, the idea here is to offer a DIY alternative to the very fine brake kits that are available through a number of MG specialty retailers including Fast Cars and Classic Conversions to name a couple. Not to take anything away from the considerable engineering and work they have put in to their products. This is just another option for those who want to see what they can do.

Introduction—To me, the essence of hot rodding is making due with parts you can find cheaply and easily in what amounts to, in the now popular term, ‘repurposing’. Early rods were built mostly by folks with limited funds in a time when speed parts weren’t the huge aftermarket business they are today. So, to put fine point on it, this article is for those who would like to exercise their ingenuity rather than their wallet. In the spirit of DIY, I’ve tried to keep the machine shop work to a minimum, opting instead for things that an average guy could accomplish in his garage with a decent set of hand tools (and some muscle).

So, if you want to run 5-lug hubs (Ford in this case), are planning to run a 15” or larger wheel, and are looking to upgrade your front brakes, read on. And, for all of the attorneys out there, here’s the disclaimer. Neither I, nor anyone mentioned in this article, anyone who supplied parts or advice or anyone who contributed knowledge in any way, anyone I know, anyone you know, anyone you or I may know in the future, your children, my children, any animals living or dead, any persons living or dead, or any other intelligent or semi-intelligent life forms bear any responsibility for any outcome arising from the assembly and/or installation of these parts. No one’s making you do this. You’re on your own.

The Parts—Most of the following parts are readily available from salvage yards. In my case, I’m in central Vermont where it is white a good part of the year so the salvage option isn’t always convenient. As a result I do most of my car parts shopping on the Internet or from my local parts supplier (who also happens to my neighbor). In most cases I’ve tried to list a couple of choices for those who want to upgrade.

[Image of parts group goes here]

  • Hubs – 1965-67 Ford Mustang w/front drum brakes (2 required)
  • Rotors – 1999 Dodge Intrepid vented disks for 15” wheels -11.1” rotor (2 required), you can also use the 11.7” version if you want run 16” or 17” wheels (you would need a wider caliper adapter bracket).
  • Calipers – 1993 Toyota T-100 4×4 front, 4-pot calipers (2 required)
  • Pads – Up-rated ceramic (1 set)
  • Wheel studs – 12mm Dodge Intrepid to match wheels (10)
  • Wheel studs — to match the Intrepid studs (10)
  • Wheel seals – Stock MGB (2 required) (comes with wheel bearings if you buy the kit)
  • Wheel bearings/races – Stock MGB for steel wheel cars (2 sets). (65 Mustang bearings and  races are the same)
  • Dust caps–’65 Mustang for V8 cars (2 required)
  • Brake fitting adapters–10mm to -3AN (2 required)
  • 11/16” – 18 jam nuts (2 required) (see Options)
  • 24mm Spindle nut retainers (2 required) (see Options)
  • Spindle nut washers (2 required)
  • Caliper adapters to get you from the stock 3.25” spacing on the MG spindles to the 3.5” spacing of the Toyota calipers. More on these later (see Modifications).
  • Five-on-five wheel adapters – optional (see Modifications).

[Excel parts chart goes here]

 Options:

  • The MGB wheel bearings, seals, cotter keys, etc. are conveniently sold as a kit by nearly all of the MGB parts sources. I tend to favor Bob at Brit-Tek because he’s the local guy for me (local being over the border and only 2 hours away in New Hampshire).
  • If you decide to buy any one of a number of the up-rated rotor options, most come with a free set of pads…pads that you can’t use (but could probably sell on eBay for a couple of bucks).
  • Dust caps for ’65 Mustangs are apparently one of the scarcer items out there (plenty available for 6 cylinder cars, none for the V-8). My local part store had a handy reference book where I simply picked the correct diameter for the hub. Cost me a couple of bucks each. Cheap. Same goes for the spindle nuts and nut retainers. Dorman Products seems to have most of this kind of small stuff in their catalogue.
  • Remember to keep the castle nuts from your MGB hubs. You will need them if you decide to re-use the ‘B’ parts instead of sourcing new (or will need to source them at any one of the fine MGB parts suppliers). That include the larger washer with the keyway (goes under castle nut.
  • If you’re in favor of painted calipers (I am), now’s the time while they’re fresh, clean, and off the car. Same goes for your hubs and spindles. Just sayin’…

It’s worth noting that this set-up will result in about 3/4’ narrower track than stock…great for those who will be running some wider treads on the front. In my case, I have a body kit that widens the car by about 8” so I’ll be using a set of 1” wheel adapters to get the spacing I’m looking for. You could also accomplish this by sourcing wheels with a back spacing and offset to suit you need.

Hubs—This is one of the places where a machine shop will come in handy. You may need to reduce the diameter of the outside of the stock Mustang hub (depending on whether you source OEM or aftermarket hubs) by 3/16” so the Intrepid rotor will slide over and center correctly on the studs. You could (but don’t have to) also machine the inside of the outside race 3/16” deeper and trim the outside of the hub by the 1/8”. This will allow the MGB castle nut to line up correctly with the cotter hole in the spindle. Alternatively, you can modify the castle nut or, as I did, source a jam nut, spindle nut retainer, and new keyway washers similar to what the original Mustang II set up was. Jim would say that grinding down the castle nut isn’t the “proper” way to go but it’s the way he did his, it works and it’s something you can do yourself. For all of the safety nuts out there, the castle nut still fully threads on to the spindle. Even though I didn’t have the outer race machined, I did have the shop take 1/8” of the end of the hub so my dust caps would clear my wheel caps.

[Hub image goes here]

Caliper brackets—Another occasion to get to know your local machinist but…you can actually make a pretty credible pair of these on your own. I chose to go with the machine shop because they offered to make them for free (it’s good to have friends). I live in a small town and the car I’m working on is common knowledge among the hot rod group here, so when I when the shop asked me what the hubs were going on, they offered to make my caliper brackets…tough to say “no” to that. I’ve included a drawing of the bracket.

[Caliper adapter drawing goes here]

Caliper Mounting Bolts—Most caliper bolts use a tabbed keeper to prevent the bolts from backing out. You can make a set (see the drawing) out of a piece of scrap steel sheet stock or, as I am going to do, drill the heads and safety-wire them (my tabs looked like crap).

[Caliper keeper drawing goes here]

Putting it All Together/Getting Started—Make sure you have all of your parts, tools, and really good wheel bearing grease ready to go. I’d include some Loc-tite on that list. I’m going to skip a few of the basics here—packing the wheel bearings, shimming the hubs correctly (consult your MGB manual), painting, and prettifying things. If you’re willing to put this ‘kit’ together, I’m figuring you’re at least a few steps beyond the rookie status and have worked on a few cars in your day so you know what to do.

Installing the Wheel Studs—You’ll need to install your Intrepid wheel studs into the hubs. Again, you can have your local machine shop do this for you or, if you want to do it the DIY way, you’ll need a stack of washers (I used a couple of crank washers I had in my spares), a socket to fit your wheel nuts, and a 3/4” drive socket wrench (preferably with a handle extension). Place the hub in a bench vise, push one of the studs in from behind, place your spacers over it, thread the nut down, and tighten it down using the socket and handle extension. Do this carefully so you pull the stud in square to the hub. Repeat nine more times (you can skip the gym the night you do this). It’s going to take some muscle to do it this way but it’s free and kind of a typical “rodder’s way” to install wheel studs.

Assembling the Hubs—Place your bearing races in the freezer (no kidding) about an hour or so before you want to assemble your hubs. This isn’t absolutely necessary but I find it makes the installation easier. No tapping the races…just slide them in and let them expand as they warm up.

  • Pack your wheel bearings with grease. If you buy the kits, they typically come with decent quality grease. I’m a grease snob though, so I tossed my free grease in favor of some stuff that is designed to lube rockets it’s so tough. I don’t think it actually matters. Just do it right.
  • Carefully install the inner and outer races, making sure they seat properly and are square to the shoulders. If you find you need to tap on them a little to help them in, fine, but to it with a plastic mallet. Grease the race liberally, and install your bearings.
  • To install the inner grease seal, you’ll need to ‘modify’ it slightly (to ensure a tight fit) by flaring the outside edge. I did this by tapping (not pounding) on it with a fairly large hammer until I spread the lip enough to make it snug. Just to be sure it didn’t move around, I also applied a thin bead of high temperature silicone adhesive to the seal seat before I installed it.
  • Slide the assembled hub over the spindle, insert the large washer w/keyway, thread on your castle nut and tighten. If you re-using cut-down MGB spindle nuts, you’re done with the hub assembly. If you’re using the Mustang II style jam nuts, remember to install the retainer before you put the cotter pin in, otherwise it won’t be able to do its job.

[Assembled hub image goes here]

Adjusting the Hubs—Okay, this is where you’re on your own. The MGB book is pretty specific on how to do this, which shims you’ll need, etc. The way I did mine is the way I’ve done every hub I’ve installed on every car I’ve built (about 20 cars or so not including the wrecks I drove in college)—run the castle nut down until the hub will no longer spin freely (not so tight it binds up), then back it off a quarter turn at a time until you feel some play, then tighten 1/4 turn. I know there are some very qualified wrenches out there who may be reading this and who will be absolutely horrified but I’ve never had a hub fail using this method. So, I’d recommend you install them they way you’re most comfortable with.

Installing the Rotors—This will be short—slide them over the hubs and run down three or four of the wheel nuts to keep them in place while you fit up the caliper bracket and caliper. The Intrepid studs are self-centering so they should slide right on and center up nicely.

Installing the Calipers—The T-100 calipers have a left and right so make sure you’re installing the correct side on the correct hub.  When in doubt, the bleeder goes up. Before you bolt the caliper bracket to the spindle, now is a good time to install the line adapters (remember to use a crush washer).

Bolt the caliper bracket to the spindle using the correct size bolts. If you’re using a locking tab, it goes on before the bolts. I generally use Loc-tite when I install brake bolts and would suggest you do the same. Torque to same spec as listed in MGB manual for the brake caliper bolts. If you’re safety wiring your bolts instead of using the lock tab, wire the caliper bracket bolts now. If you’re using tabs, carefully bend them against the flats on the bolts.

Load your calipers with the pads of your choice (if you bought them pre-loaded, skip this), slide them over the rotors and align with the mounting holes on the caliper mounting bracket. Remember to install the pad retainers. Again, if you’re using locking tabs, install them first. Torque the bolts to spec, bend the lock tabs into place (or safety wire). Now, stand back and admire your work (preferably with a cold adult beverage in your hand). You just sourced and installed you very own “big brake” kit. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

[Completed brake assembly image goes here]

Aftermath—While perusing the MG forums on the topics of DIY brake ideas, one of the things that seems to always come up is the ‘heft’ of the assembled parts. It’s true, the T-100 calipers and Intrepid rotors aren’t the lightest pieces out there but here’s my argument—this upgrade is something that someone is going to do because they want to safely stop a very light car that has a ridiculous amount of horsepower. Giving up a few pounds isn’t really going to slow down your 300HP-400HP monster and the ‘big brake’ DIY option is one way to provide ample stopping power for a small amount of money, time, and effort.

That said, if you just absolutely, positively have to have a lighter system, here are some options:

  • Calipers—The Outlaw 2800 calipers designed for IMCA and circle track cars are all aluminum, 4-pot stoppers that weigh in about 3.2 lbs/each. They have the same mounting pattern as the T-100 units so you can always upgrade at some point but you may need to use thicker caliper adapter brackets. The 2800 is a very popular caliper among builders of every kind so shop around. I was able to find them through several race parts suppliers for $130/each.  Pretty reasonable for a performance caliper.
  • Rotors—This is another place where you can reach into the race parts bin and pull out some nice alternatives to the Intrepid rotors. A set of spun steel hats (or aluminum if you want to go full-on gonzo) can be sourced in the correct off-set for about $80/pair. You can find rotors of very type—slotted, dimpled, cross-drilled, and every combination thereof—for about $150/pair (or less). Weight will vary with your rotor and hat combination but 8-12 lbs/each is pretty typical.
  • Aftermarket Billet Hubs—If you’re going for lightness, might as well go all of the way. Just about every Mustang parts supplier offers these as a disc brake upgrade for the early

V-8 Mustangs that originally came with drum brakes. Prices vary as do the combinations available (some come as complete kits with rotors, calipers, etc.) but a set of hubs will typically set you back about $450. Complete kits (hubs, bearings, rotors, etc.) are in the $900-$1800 range depending on how light you want to go or whether you have an affinity for stainless steel. Like most kind of hot rod stuff, there’s no shortage of ways to spend more money.

Really the End—I had a lot of fun writing this and exploring, in a small way, the real roots of hot-rodding—making due with parts you can find easily and cheaply, then using your ingenuity to make the whole thing work. I was surprised by how long it took to get everything down on paper and really surprised by the amount of time and research that went in to figuring out the whole spindle/jam nut/spindle nut retainer thing.

It seemed like just when I though I couldn’t think of anything I’d forgotten…something came up and it was back to the editing. One thing is for sure, I have profound admiration and respect for Jim Nichols’ knowledge and skill. He’s just crazy.

[Upgrade parts options chart goes here]

 

 

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