While you’ve all been waiting for the epic conclusion of the Studebaker rebuild…so have I! With Speedweek and busy schedules, there wasn’t much going on in the garage the past couple of weeks – but this weekend we were back at it. There’s been some headway on the gremlins I mentioned in my last article, although I won’t say they’re verifiably fixed yet. With those seen to, it was finally time to have a look at the brakes.

Since Operation Stude BEGAN Ethan has been telling me that it won’t be complete until we look at the brakes, but I’ve been avoiding the issue. Unsure why I’ve avoided them so much – did I just want to do one thing at a time or was I trying to convince myself they’d be okay. Stude’s brakes have never been 100% fantastic, even though I did an overhaul on the hydraulic system a few years ago… perhaps I’ve lost sight of exactly how a car should be expected to stop! The test drives I’ve been doing recently reveal that the brakes have seemed to decline even further since I parked her, or maybe it’s just my memory playing with me. I just haven’t been in a hurry to open this bag of worms.

Studebaker Drum Brake Problems

If I want to get Stude finished though, the brakes MUST be seen to. Which is why this weekend I finally pulled off the wheels and drums to take a gander. And Houston, we have a problem….

I’ve had my brake pads/shoes changed once since I started driving Stude. It was around four or so years ago – so roughly 30,000 miles have been put on since, which made me think my brake pads would be just fine. At the time the shoes were changed I didn’t feel comfortable doing the job so I watched on as my mechanic did the work. Since then I’ve taken a hand in a few brake jobs and rebuilt the Falcon’s brakes…which is why I was confused when I pulled off the front tires and the drivers side drum came off but the passenger side wouldn’t (even with a few healthy hits).

front-brake-hubs-Studebaker

I vaguely remembered my mechanic taking out the pin and hub when he did the brakes, so I took to the Internet where I readily found that Studebaker front drums are riveted solid with the hub. In order to get the drum off, you have to remove the hub. Why only my passenger side brakes are like this? I couldn’t tell you…perhaps once upon a time the driver side drum needed replacing and a different part was substituted. The rear axle is a Ford 9″, so that means the brakes are Ford also…so whereas Studebakers require a special pulley tool to remove the rear brakes, mine just pull off after the tire is removed.

brake-drum-wear

Once I got a peek inside my drum brakes, I did not like what I saw. The inside surface of the drivers side drum is badly grooved. The pad has sufficient depth but is cracked and very glazed.

worn-brake-shoes-drum-brakes

If you’ve not done brakes before, or haven’t seen bad examples, you want to look out for:

Brake Drum

  • Grooves
  • Discoloration

Brake Shoes/Pads

  • Thickness
  • Glazing (surface is shiny and sleek)
  • Cracks
  • Excessively uneven wear

over-worn-brake-pad

On the passenger side, the drum didn’t look totally awful but the the pad was paper thin (literally!) Yikes! As the front brakes provide the grunt of a car’s stopping power, it’s no wonder I felt like I was merely rolling to a stop! Years of driving in heavy traffic, a couple of scary trips down mountainsides, and more than a few hard stops on the LA freeways must have contributed to my brake’s shortened lifespan.

Now to the issue of what to do. As Studebaker parts aren’t widely used, like Ford or Chevy parts are, it means they’re expensive. To replace a single drum is $200. Add to that $65 shoes and you’ve got yourself almost a $500 front brake job. If that money has to be shelled out, why don’t I use it to improve my car’s braking? Converting the front brakes from drum to disc means increased stopping power and ease when replacing parts for maintenance.

So far research has turned up a couple of companies that make Studebaker brake conversion kits (Turner Brakes and Hot Rods & Brakes). Along with their adapters, late-model Ford and Chevy calipers and rotors are used. The kits are each roughly around $200 and I can source the other parts separately. Has anyone had experience with these kits or are there other solutions that ya’ll have tried out there? I’d love to hear!

6 Responses

  1. Arielle

    I’ve spoken to the guy whom owns Turner brakes at the Co Springs Int’l meet, and I think I still have photos of the setup. One of the things which is custom to his kit are mounting brackets. Otherwise almost everything else can be ordered at an auto parts store, although you’ll have a little fun ordering parts for 4 different cars because he pieces them together to fit. I think the total conversion per axle is around $600. Here’s the MC bracket http://www.turnerbrake.com/mcbrackets.html

    Here’s the page on Turner’s rear disc kit. http://www.turnerbrake.com/reardisckits.html

    I can also imagine that the previous owner decided to go with Ford parts as they fit and probably didn’t have access to Studebaker parts because the internet wasn’t nearly as nice as today. My dad did the same with his. Certain things were never replaced because the parts weren’t available for a long time. It also depends on how much of a purist you are, or your bank account allows for. My thought is, $500 for OEM replacements, or another $100 for a complete upgrade to a modern, and much, much better system where parts are readily available from nearly any auto parts store. My Subaru cost $200 something per “axle” to have rotors and pads replaced. Think about how much “fun” you’d be having if you still had the Studebaker engine in yours. Oh the fun in finding really expensive, rare, and proprietary parts.

    My opinion is if your system is giving you problems (and I’m anticipating the same from mine) and you have the money, it’s well worth it to make your car stop faster and with almost no pulling to either side that is unless you want to constantly adjust your drum system and possibly install a per portioning valve to favour one side over the other. That’s not a super healthy thing to do because it will simply mask the problem whilst you wear one side. It’s done in racing, but that’s because the type of racing such as drifting you actually want to lock certain wheels less to have the correct weight and transfer (from what I recall anyway).

    Reply
  2. Fred

    The disk upgrade is the way to go. I’ve heard really good things about the Turner kit. It’s the way I’ll go when I put mine on the road. I especially like the idea of a dual resirvour master as opposed to the original single those cars came with!

    Reply
    • Kristin Cline

      Yes, I already have a dual-reservoir master and steel flex lines – that was the big part of my hydraulic-portion upgrade a few years ago! I won’t keep single-cylinders in any of my cars anymore, I also upgraded my Ford Falcon’s to dual.

      Reply
  3. Darren

    I have a Turner front disk kit on my 1963 Studebaker Avanti. The Avanti already had front disks, and they were great in 1963, but better ones have come along since then. The rotors were non-vented and the brake pads were half the size of those on most modern disk brake systems. Another consideration was that replacement parts were more expensive for this vintage disk setup. Now, not only does my car stop much better, but almost all the replacement parts I would ever need are available at the local auto parts store, at a fraction of the cost of the parts I’d have had to order for the original system. I heartily recommend the Turner kit. It’s well engineered, and very easy to put on — should need just a couple of hours. The car showed a dramatic increase in stopping ability once I put the Turner kit on. If this is the difference between a better front disk setup, and an inferior older one, I can only imagine what the difference would be between the Turner front disk setup, and drum brakes (worn out ones at that)!

    Turner sells a rear disk kit too, but be warned, it won’t work with your stock wheels, and while it’s a good kit too, and Turner’s customer support is second to none, I’ve heard a some people tell me that they wouldn’t do the rear disk conversion if they had it to do over again. For starters it’s much more difficult to install, and then you’ll have to install a new proportioning valve, and play with it endlessly to get it to where your rear brakes don’t lock up first (which is dangerous), and then, when all is said and done, you may notice little to no improvement in stopping ability, since the front disks do much more of the car’s stopping anyway. It’s a well engineered setup, but the degree of improvement, some feel, just isn’t enough to make the considerable expense and time worth it for rear brakes. I’ve decided to leave the rear drums on my car.

    Reply
    • Kristin Cline

      Thanks for the input Darren, all good points! Since writing this I have upgraded my brakes and it couldn’t have been a better choice! I’m due to get back to writing here on GreaseGirl, I’ve got a lot to share!

      Reply

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