1964 Chevy Nova Front Brake Rotor Conversion - Drummin' Away
Getting The Most Out Of Slowing Down
From the September, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Sean Haggai
Photography by Sean Haggai
Brake upgrades don't have to be elaborate or cost-prohibitive. If you're in the market for an increase in performance on the street for your daily driver, then a front drum-to-disc upgrade is going to make a huge difference without killing the bank. Since the front brakes do more than 60 percent of the vehicle's braking, just replacing the old drums will net you a significant gain in performance along with better pedal feel and cooling. A lot of the drivers out there won't be flogging their rides on open-track days or performing 60-0 mph stops on a daily basis. However, having the confidence to know you could is always a bonus. Most rides will see light duty on the track, with most miles accumulated on the streets in and around town through traffic and to local car-digs.
To begin the swap, we situated...
To begin the swap, we situated the Nova wagon on jackstands using a hydraulic jack. From there, we took off the passenger-side 15-inch Cragar rim with a 13/16-inch socket.
Forty years ago drum-brakes were outfitted on nearly everything, from delivery trucks to four-door saloons. Our mildly modified '64 Nova Wagon was one such vehicle. While that may have been more than adequate at one time, it's fairly antiquated by today's standards. Increased freeway speeds, frequent traffic stops, and high-zoot engines won't allow for any lacking in the wagon's clamping department. To combat this problem, we needed a full front brake upgrade complete with everything from the rotors to lines. Pirate Jack Brakes had what we needed. We got the full-deal with one kit that provided everything we needed for the swap, including new stock-height spindles, 11-inch cross-drilled rotors, calipers, bearings, lines, and even the master cylinder in one complete kit for under $700.
We should mention that the drum-to-disc upgrade took the better part of the day, but it only required basic handtools. Follow along as we modernize yesteryear's technology for a set of modern-day binders.
What We Did
Upgraded the front factory drums with a modern set of 11-inch cross-drilled rotors
Stop faster and smoother with less drama and fade-free performance
Thirty years ago these drums...
Thirty years ago these drums got the job done. However, with the freshened-up 327 under the hood, it was time for an upgrade. Here, we first removed the drum cover to gain access to the brake system.
To work around the old drum...
To work around the old drum brakes, the easiest thing to do is to loosen the nut that connects the tie rod from the steering to the tie rod arm that is attached to the back of the drums. We used an 11/16-inch socket and ratchet to free the pieces.
We removed the two clips holding...
We removed the two clips holding the rubber brake line fittings to the hard line coming from the master cylinder. We used a 3/8-inch wrench to separate the two line fittings. Note: Brake fluid will leak from the line.
To separate the links, we...
To separate the links, we used an air-powered hammer with a tie rod separator fork attached. Once the two were separated, we removed the nut. This would allow the spindle and drum assembly to move freely.
Next we removed the drum assembly....
Next we removed the drum assembly. To do so, we removed the cotter pins from the upper and lower ball-joint nuts and loosened both. For the upper we used a 3/4-inch socket and a 7/8-inch wrench for the lower. Once the nuts were loose, we again used the ball-joint separator to "pop" the upper and lower ball joints. Finally, we removed the nut along with the passenger drum.
Moving on to the bearing assembly,...
Moving on to the bearing assembly, we pulled out the new 11-inch cross-drilled rotors. Before we could install the discs, the outer and inner bearings had to be packed with grease. We packed the inner (larger) bearing with plenty of grease. We placed the inner bearing in the disc and used a small wooden block to evenly distribute the force of the hammer to set the seal in place.
'64-72 A-, F-, and X-body front disc conversion. Complete stock-height kit with 11-inch cross-drilled and slotted rotors, loaded large GM calipers, caliper brackets, backing plates, stock-height spindles, braided stainless steel hoses with banjo bolts, vacuum hose with intake manifold fittings, bearings, seals, dust caps, spindle nuts, spindle washers, cast iron master cylinder, brass proportioning valve kit, and a power brake booster.
The tie rod arm from the factory...
The tie rod arm from the factory suspension isn't supplied with the kit, so we removed the dust cap, cotter pin, and nut from the drum. We then slid the hub off the axle, which allowed us to use 11/16- and 5/8-inch sockets (front and back, respectively) to remove the arm.
The stock-height spindles...
The stock-height spindles included with the kit come with a raw finish. We took the time beforehand to lay high-temp engine paint to both the spindles and calipers. We began to piece together the new kit on the upper and lower control arms. We installed the new spindle to the upper ball joint first with its nut. Then, using a hydraulic jack under the lower control arm, we raised the control arm up to meet with the new spindle. We tightened the upper and lower joints with 3/4- and 7/8-inch sockets, respectively.
The factory tie rod arm, new...
The factory tie rod arm, new caliper bracket, and dust shield were all installed at once. The passenger-side bracket (PN 151BR) is used while the tie rod arm is fastened to the back. The dust shield is the last piece to sandwich it all together. We used the factory bolts we had pulled from the drum for the tie rod arm and tightened with 11/16- and 5/8-inch sockets. The last bolt (upper) was fastened with a 15/16-inch socket.
We added a liberal amount...
We added a liberal amount of grease on the spindle axle prior to setting the disc in place.
A combination of cross-drilled...
A combination of cross-drilled rotor, outer (smaller previously packed) bearing, and key-way washer (included) was used in one step to install the rotor. Note: Cross-drilled rotors are directional, so the slots must face the front of the vehicle.
The supplied spindle nut was...
The supplied spindle nut was installed first, followed by the cotter pin. Then it was tightened snuggly with an 11/16-inch socket. From there, we attatched the new dust cap and rotated the disc to make sure they spun freely.
We could then install the...
We could then install the loaded caliper with the pads already installed. With the bleeder fitting facing up, we installed the caliper onto the bracket. Using the supplied Allen-headed bolts with the steel sleeves, we tightened the whole assembly with a 3/8-inch Allen wrench.
To complete the swap, we threaded...
To complete the swap, we threaded on the tie rod nut to connect the rod with the arm and tightened it with an 11/16-inch socket and a new cotter pin.
Two copper washers are included...
Two copper washers are included in the kit, along with new steel-braided brake lines and a specially designed bolt. We installed the two washers (top/bottom) of the brake line.
We then removed the safety...
We then removed the safety plug on the new caliper and threaded in the new brake line until tight with a 1/2-inch wrench. We also fastened the upper end of the steel brake line with the hardened line.
With the passenger side complete,...
With the passenger side complete, the driver side required the same steps and method for removal and install. Since this is a complete-power brake kit, we still have the new brake booster and master cylinder to install. Be sure to follow along next month as we install the brake booster as a complete step-by-step piece and show you how to bleed the brakes.