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Should I Keep My Drum Brakes?

A quick guide for the casual classic car owner who wants to enjoy their car.

1954 Ford Customline Rear Brakes

Drum brakes have been in use since the early days of the automobile and continue to be used in todays cars so what should you do about your classic car? The honest truth about keeping them depends on three key factors, the year/ car you have, availability of parts, and your intended use.

#1 Not all Drum Brakes Were Created Equal

The year of car you have makes a huge difference. There are many versions of drum brakes but I will briefly touch on a few. If your car was not equipped with duo servo drum brakes (1953 and up for Chevrolet) your car was not engineered with peak drum brake technology. Huck brakes and non servo brakes do not perform as well as duo servo brakes but still work relative to their drivetrain. For cars that do have duo servo brakes, KEEP THEM.

#2 Replacement Parts

Availability of parts is also something to consider when making this decision. Just about every major chain auto parts store will have 1940's -1970's brake parts, sometimes even absolutely everything including hardware. When the major chains do not have them, try to source a specialty supplier such as: Chev's of the 40's

Truck and Car Shop

Auto Crafters

Bob's Buick

Larry's Tbird

If it is unavailable which is rare, swapping it might be in the works.

#3 Things to Consider

Drum brakes get a bad rap because they are neglected for service. The shoes are often way out of adjustment, or there are leaking lines and cylinders. No mechanical system in poor condition can ever perform well. Keep in mind, these cars were engineered by masters of their craft, with a great amount of resources to back them. Do you think the cars stopped well off the assembly line? Absolutely!

#4 Pros and Cons

Drum Brakes :

Pros: Inexpensive parts, last longer depending on driving, no modification required, stop very well.

Cons: More prone to fade during EXTREME usage, may need to be adjusted from time to time, front drums need more adjustment to prevent pulling.

Disc Brakes:

Pros: Easier to service, no adjusting on fronts, Less likely to fade.

Cons: Cost more to swap, rear discs will complicate the parking brake setup, more thought out setup for master cylinder/ valves.

Final Thoughts

KEEP THE DRUM BRAKES! So long as the car is stock, the brake system is restored (new/rebuilt parts/replumbed) ,the master cylinder is correct and there is no air in the lines, you will have a great time driving and stopping your car. If you do want to do the swap, just make sure you plan out the master cylinder, the valves, and the parking brake. The best brakes I have felt to this day were on a 1933 Stutz DV32, they were vacuum boosted drums. Doing a drum disc setup is about the optimal setup for any car and is very common for muscle cars for a reason. Vacuum boosted drum brakes such as those on a 1964 Impala also feel great!

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