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Well I'm stuck inside my house so I'm up to no good, of course... once again pondering Jane's braking situation! I've been eyeballing this off and on since 2016, apparently, but now I'm really bored so it seems like a good time to start eyeballing this again. This is going to be a very long post with a lot of different ideas in it. I welcome (informed) opinions on any/all aspects! I tried to bold the most important questions/points.

Here's the deal: I currently have 15x6 Wheel Vintiques Styled Steel wheels with 4" backspacing. 215/65/15 white letter tires (Indy 500 Firehawk, 6 years old but only 20,000 miles), no rubbing to speak of. Stock KH brakes in front with EBC Red pads, 11x2" drums in the rear with whatever pads. The rear end is a 1956 big bearing 9" and I suspect that the drums go with the rear end, but who knows.

I have three problems:
1) The rear brakes periodically seem to lose brake fluid.
Frequently I have no idea where it goes. In the past, the wheel cylinders have leaked. I've replaced them multiple times due to manufacturing tolerance issues (improperly machined bleeder screw holes causing weeps) and I suspect this is still the problem. Either that, or the master cylinder is letting it go somehow. It does leak around the top seal which annoys me. I have checked the entire length of the brake lines and can find no other place where they could be/are leaking.
2) Pedal feel is not as solid as it should be. It's not super spongy, but it does not feel nearly as stiff as other cars I've driven. I suspect this is related to problem #1 (duh).
3) I can lock up the tires but I can't stop. If I stomp the brake pedal hard, mostly I just slide which doesn't actually cause me to shed speed at all though it does look very entertaining as I slide towards the imminent wreck I am about to be in. Either my tires are hard as all hell, or I need to figure out how to adjust my brake setup to be less "grabby"?

Traditionally, I have stayed away from aftermarket-only specialty parts as much as I can, because I'd prefer to be able to repair my car on the road if need be. But as of late it seems that auto parts store part quality is TERRIBLE (see: badly machined wheel cylinders) so I'm considering going aftermarket. I've had this discussion over and over on this board but I think that a rear disc brake swap is in order, in part to get me away from the garbage parts store parts, and in part because drums just drive me up the wall. One of the drum backing plates is for the wrong side for some reason (I have two right side backing plates) and the pads have been slowly rubbing away at the plate, which I'm sure doesn't help function. It drives me nuts that the wheel cylinders leak, and that fluid seems to go missing in the rear circuit with no clues as to where it has gone. And I hate that they get all full of water in the rain and leave you without rear brakes! I'd rather have something that stops consistently front to rear in any weather type. I'm aware that rear discs are largely overkill for our cars in average driving and have to be dialed back significantly to keep the bias right, but the consistency of performance seems like it should be worth it since I've got money burning a hole in my pocket and problem-child drums anyways. At least I'd be able to see properly if the dang things started leaking for some reason.

Towards that end, I have been looking at the Wilwood Forged Dynapro disc brake kit (140-11387) which features a small 11" rotor with an internal drum parking brake. This would allow me to avoid problems that people seem to have with fussiness of calipers with integrated parking brakes (Versailles), and it doesn't require any silly business like pulling off axle bearings (North Race brackets). It's pricey, coming in at $740, but I'd rather go with something name brand or OEM rather than something cobbled together from various unknown parts. The other contender was the Master Power DB1516BR, but I've ruled it out because of a report that it doesn't work with the styled steel wheels, and it doesn't have the internal drum parking brake. Anyone have any opinions (yea or nay) for this kit?

Theoretically, swapping the rear to discs and swapping out the master cylinder to accommodate that SHOULD take care of my disappearing fluid + pedal feel problem. That leaves the braking performance and sliding issue.

I've considered a few different things, and would like good informed opinions on my line of thinking as braking is a little confusing. Provided that I can lock up the tires, bigger brakes will not solve any issue - as the larger surface area is mostly useful for dissipating heat in repeated heavy braking in track use. But then people say that the Tbird Trans Am brakes (SoT version) are a LOT better than the Kelsey Hayes brakes - why is that? Shouldn't they both be about the same? Or can you really only tell a difference if you have really sticky tires that the KH maybe can't lock up for some reason, but the Trans Am can? How does that work?

Net braking power aside, my problem seems to be either tires or brake grabby-ness (?). Possibly the latter could be improved with more reliable brakes with a consistent pedal (see: no weird leaks or crazy drum business), but I'm not sure. That kind of leaves the former (tires) as the biggest likely problem. Is this thought process right?

As we all know, good 15" tires are getting hard to come by. I'm pretty set on the RWL look. I can pick up a new set of Cooper Cobra CS5s in 215/60/15, which is not quite my size but the closest I'm likely to get in a tire that is reported to be pretty good. The other option that I am considering, mostly out of frustration, is the Legendary Wheels Styled Steel 17x7" wheels (link here) with 225/50/17 tires. I've photoshopped around and determined that the styled steel wheels are the only wheels that make Jane look like... well, Jane. So here's a comparison between the two showing how the updated Legendary styled steel 17" wheel would look vs the current stock style 15" wheel.

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Opinions on if changing wheel size and tires completely is a good idea or not, both in terms of tire performance and cosmetics? How much better would a 17" tire be as far as braking performance/stopping distance goes? What about handling and ride quality? Swapping up to a 17x7 wheel would cost me $750 for the wheels, and tires would cost me another $550, plus whatever for the silly white letter stickers. Pricey, but considering that I'm thinking about putting on $740 rear disc brakes just because the drums annoy me and are a PITA to keep serviced... probably the price is not a consideration. Then I'm back in the boat of wondering if bigger brakes would complement the stickier tires for better stopping power, or if just the tires alone would fix my stopping distance issues with no bigger brakes required.

I appreciate any thoughts you guys might have on my impending future directions with Jane! It would be nice to get my braking issues sorted once and for all and to improve my stopping distance significantly while I'm at it. I'm always a defensive driver, but I know that in the future there may be a situation that I can't plan for... and that's what scares me most.
 

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On the rear discs: Have you looked at 96-01 Explorer rear discs? They should bolt right up to your 9" (might need a spacer) and have the parking drum integrated in the rotor hat.
 

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What do you really want to know?

Tape or rubber band some news print around all the brake line connections you can. its great to spot minuscule leaks. A tiny leak might not really make a drop but the huff and suck seems to let more air in than fluid out.
i seam to have a problem about every 18 mos with wheel cylinders too. The last two were inner leaks I couldn't find until the drums were off. Not enough of a leak to run out and leave a trail. I tried a couple of Wagners I got from Amazn but after one went bad I'm back to AtoZone where at least I can get another one for free.

Bigger tires and wheels will make your brakes work harder and the car overall slower for the same reasons. Im of the opinion that the lightness of the car is the greatest barrier to optimum road friction so that lesser brakes should stop just as well overall.
As for feel and finesse you should be able to tune that with the MC but it seems like you are chasing a moving target still and might want to change the game altogether. Might be to many hankey things going on at once so that a new everything fixes it without knowing what the problems were.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I thought that the Explorer discs are only compatible with the Torino/new style big bearing rear ends? I should have clarified - I have the old style big bearing rear (1956).

1ofaMillion - if you are also having problems with wheel cylinders that frequently, then that is definitely a sign to me that I should be getting out of drums. I've had 2 Wagners with inner leaks in the past few years. My favorite is when they start leaking but all of the fluid stays inside the seal, leaving the inside of the drum dry and you really scratching your head until you touch the wheel cylinder seal and it feels suspiciously like a water bed.

Not clear on what you were saying about the tires/wheels.
 

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It sounds like you're at a crossroads now. For a lot of the issues you have stayed about poor quality is a good reason to look at aftermarket purpose built parts vs stock replacement. You're using your car more as a DD, I'd say splurge for some new aftermarket parts.

As far as the tires skidding, that's more of a problem with a hard tire. As you stated 15" tire choice is limited. I would say go for 17's. Let's face it, they're the new 15's. This is a very common size, tons of choices at reasonable prices you can get anywhere on the road. Personally I like the 17" American Racing version of the TTD. you can even get it in the ideal 4.75" BS for a 8" wide wheel.

I totally understand your choice for rear disc choice. I think it's the right choice in your case. I couldn't agree more.

Front brakes, well the stock KH is a good set up. Maybe try a different pad. However the big 12" TA brake kit SoT is a awesome set up! With a stickier tire then your current tires, maybe with a 17" tire that's wider you may not be able to lock them up. Anyway with the SoT TA brakes, you'll NEVER have to worry about brake fade or anything else. Not to mention they weigh less then your current set up.

I'm not trying to spend your money but if your proposed upgrades are what you want and in your budget, go fo
 

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New TIRES probably fix the sliding issue--I`m assuming you can lock up each wheel but then the tires just slide.
I`ve said it before but I have no, none , zero issues with my Versailles disc brakes---Park brake also works just fine.

It will take a little more thought on the disappearing brake fluid issue.
 

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225/50/17 is kinda tall IMO but so is 215/65/15 ,,, But your close in overall diameter with those sizes . I'd go more like 225/45/17
No matter what you have if your wheels are locked your not stopping as fast as possible
especially if your tires UTQG treadware number is rather high
 

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Unless you're going a zillion miles an hour or on the track, you wouldn't need rear disc.

"I've considered a few different things, and would like good informed opinions on my line of thinking as braking is a little confusing. Provided that I can lock up the tires, bigger brakes will not solve any issue - as the larger surface area is mostly useful for dissipating heat in repeated heavy braking in track use. But then people say that the Tbird Trans Am brakes (SoT version) are a LOT better than the Kelsey Hayes brakes - why is that? Shouldn't they both be about the same? Or can you really only tell a difference if you have really sticky tires that the KH maybe can't lock up for some reason, but the Trans Am can? How does that work? "

Bigger front brakes do solve an issue. Locked tires are not the quick way to stop and bigger front brakes stop easier, more consistently and tend not to fade.
It isn't really the larger surface area / swept area..... it's the mass of the rotor and the grip of the calipers that ultimately determine how fast and easily you're
going to stop. (assuming you have a tire that isn't locked up and has good grip, etc)
In a lot of ways on a street vehicle, bigger front brakes are like a racing harness & racing seat in a competition vehicle..... they keep you in place and more
confident and in control.

ex-Global West GM
1991-1995
 

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I`ve said it before but I have no, none , zero issues with my Versailles disc brakes---Park brake also works just fine.
Consider yourself fortunate you have a working parking brake system because the Versailles uses a horrible caliper
design for that function.

ex-Global West GM
1991-1995
 

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Hi Kelly....well first thing is do you really have a 1956 9 inch rear? Ford started making them in 1957. Do you happen to know what it's out of? The big bearing rear is found in the larger Ford cars of that era like a Ford Ranch station wagon. I have one out of a 1958 Fairlane and it's a small bearing rear. The brakes on mine were 11x2" and the actual shoes if I remember right were only about 1 3/4" wide. BTW.. those drums are really rare and hard to find. I changed out mine to a F150 size..by using a backing plate from a early 70's F100 and the rest from an F150. The early 9 inch rear that fits in a Mustang is the same width as a 65 Mustang but has 3 inch tubes and no taper at the ends. An early 9 inch is actually a about an 8 3/4 inch gear but a late 9 inch fits in it. That's what I did... put in a late model chunk.
The housing should have 2 dimples and most also had a factory drain plug underneath. My 58 does. Here's a couple of pics. Got any of yours?

747499
747500
747501
 

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do you really have a 1956 9 inch rear? Ford started making them in 1957. Do you happen to know what it's out of?

View attachment 747499 View attachment 747500 View attachment 747501
Yes, she has one of the early Station Wagon/Ranchero 9" rear ends. The wheel cylinders and bearings for it are listed in the major parts house (AA, AZ, OR) computer catalogs under "1956 Station Wagon". Maybe Ford started putting the new 9" in the last of the '56 model station wagons shortly before the changeover to the '57 model.
 

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I have an Explorer rear end with discs. Before the swap, my stock rear drums worked just fine. I can honestly say that after the swap, I can’t really tell a difference in stopping power. Worked well before, works well now.

I’m sure you’re right about fade and weather as far as disc superiority, but I don’t track my car or drive it much in bad weather so that’s not much of a factor.

I did have to go to larger wheels to clear the Explorer rear discs. They too have an internal drum parking brake and that pushes the swept area of the rotor and the caliper out so that my old 14’s wouldn’t fit, and I question if 15’s would clear.

Regarding the larger wheels and new tires, I’m very pleased with that update. The 17” tire selection is great, and my butt dyno tells me I have no negative effects of heavier wheels or lower tire sidewalls. The ride isn’t harsh and the handling is spectacular.

Based on your listed situation, rear discs wouldn’t be a bad thing, but that has more to do with the poor state of your drums and potentially the aging master cylinder than the superiority of discs.
 

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They too have an internal drum parking brake and that pushes the swept area of the rotor and the caliper out so that my old 14’s wouldn’t fit, and I question if 15’s would clear.
I am running 15" Magnum 500's and they clear fine.
 

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I'm in the process of putting 58 rearend in mine, big bearing, big 11 x 2.5 drums... I thought I was set with big drums, Then realized the drums couldn't be turned, and I can't find replacements anywhere. Keeping with drums I understand you need to find 60's galaxie backing plates, as drums are still available for these.
 

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Hi Kelly... the fact that you CAN lock up the wheels is an indication that you don't necessarily need MORE braking power but, rather, need to transfer more of that power to the pavement... the opposite of losing traction under acceleration.

I fear you might have a bum master cylinder if you have "disappearing brake fluid" without the sign of an external leak. Crawl under the dash and pull back the dust boot where the brake pedal pushrod goes into the firewall and look for signs of leakage there... that's the most common source. Same deal with wheel cylinders... look under the dust boot for signs of fluid. Many years ago I purchased a wheel cylinder hone. I've probably used it a hundred times...enough to replace the stones, anyway. Rebuild kits are still readily available and are cheap.

The biggest problem I see out there, today, is the quality of friction materials. IIRC you run EBC front pads, don't you? They're decent as are Porterfields. I also thing Porterfield makes 10 x 1-3/4 shoes in the R4 spec and, should you think you NEED more rear brake you can always scare up some Aerostar/Ranger 10 x 2-1/2 backing plates and adapt them to fit. While an 11.2 inch front rotor isn't exactly huge by today's standards, it was enough to who down 428CJ's in the day and you CAN get caliper mounts to move up to the D-1 Lincoln/T-Bird versions of the K-H 4-piston and THICK 12 inch rotors.

As far as the pavement goes, it's all tire contact patch and coefficient of friction...which is affected by things like weight transfer/inertia, centrifugal force, etc. A tire with a hard rubber compound that is overinflated with skim along the road surface. Excessive nose dive and transfer of weight from the rear will lessen rear brake effectiveness forcing the fronts to do more work. Nose dive will also change wheel alignment causing dynamic changes in camber and toe that can affect tire contact patch. Don't forget that when you move to a larger front tire that the assembly will not only typically weigh MORE, but that weight will be farther out from the axial center which will INCREASE the inertial forces of the spinning tire so bigger isn't always better.

Some things to digest, anyway.... I'm not convinced that most brake "upgrades" are really upgrades that are needed, other than replacing existing parts that are adequately designed by may be worn out or poor quality.
 

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I autocross with the stock rear drum brakes with no issues. You have a problem with your brakes but the rear brakes being drum isn’t the problem.
 
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