Installing SSBC Brakes on the Swinger Nova

Bringing Project Swinger, a ’71 Chevy Nova Coupe, into the new millennium as a retro street racer with a hi-tech edginess to it has led to some real challenges in the build. Fortunately, we have found some aftermarket companies that are manufacturing technically advanced components made specifically for vintage muscle cars like ours.

One of the biggest concerns that we had was getting this beast stopped once we had the drivetrain upgrades in place. Putting the binders to this “more metal than plastic” machine with a smog-restricted small block Chevy 350 might have been easy for set of drums on all four corners. However, stripping off some weight, putting in an LSX Vette engine, a Currie rear end, and a much stouter transmission would require far greater stopping power than the stock OEM brakes.

Our solution? Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation (SSBC)

About SSBC

In 1975, SSBC pioneered the technology of using stainless steel sleeves in aluminum calipers for classic Corvettes and Mustangs. From those beginnings, SSBC has expanded their catalog and now offers a complete line of disc brake conversions and performance brake upgrades for classic muscle cars, late model performance vehicles, street rods and customs, trucks/SUV’s, and sport compacts. SSBC Technical Representative Bill Cummings tells us that 90% of the components they use are made in house. Per Bill, SSBC is proud of being, “Homegrown and Made in America.”


Stock front drum brakes might have been ok in 1971, but today they’re woefully inadequate for the street or the strip.

SSBC, located near Buffalo, New York, is thriving in its second generation of family ownership and showing no signs of letting up on their pursuit of braking perfection. SSBC’s groundbreaking research and development department has been awarded several industry honors in recent years, including awards in the Best New Product category at the annual SEMA Show (1999, 2000, and 2007) and multiple GM SEMA Design Awards (2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007). Bill sums up his faith in the quality of their brakes by saying, “At SSBC, we all live in the Buffalo area, and we all use these brakes. If they can last forever in these harsh conditions without corroding, they can last anywhere.”

Take a tour of SSBC by clicking here.

Whoa to Match the Go

Turning our vintage Nova into a performance street cruiser and sometimes autocross racer, we will be making some major technological changes in our project car’s suspension and drivetrain, something that’s not uncommon in muscle cars that have found themselves in the hands of automotive enthusiasts. Whenever changes are made to the rear end, rear axles, engine, or suspension components, the braking system should be evaluated for adequate stopping ability. Almost all muscle car owners have at one time or another experienced this situation. In the case of our early 70’s Nova, the stock braking system consisted of front and rear drum brakes – hardly confidence inspiring when driving to the supermarket, let alone on the track.

The stock front drum brakes on the Project Swinger Nova were obviously chosen by GM for cheapness, not performance.

It’s widely accepted that disk brakes are superior to drums in every way that counts. Disk brakes wear longer, are less affected by water, are self-adjusting, self-cleaning, less prone to grabbing or pulling, and stop better than any other system around. However, even with disk brakes in the front, the front brakes can only do so much. Most rear drums do very little for stopping power. By adding rear disc brakes, you can add up to 30% more braking force to get your car whoa’d up.

The ultra-useless stock rear drum brakes have one redeeming quality – they function well as a parking brake.

Floaters or Fixed?

SSBC offers both fixed mount calipers and floating calipers, depending on the application. To help distinguish between the two, SSBC breaks it down this way: Most commonly, smaller calipers float, while larger calipers are fixed. The larger calipers are commonly used with 12” – 14” rotor diameters. These rotor/calipers require 16” wheels or larger.

Floating calipers have pistons only on one side of the disc, while the rest of the caliper “floats” on the mount to put pressure on the opposite side when the pedal gets pressed.

Floating calipers put the pistons all on one side of the disc, which limits the braking “feel”. Two (or more) pistons on floaters will help improve the braking force and the “feel” as the caliper centers itself over the rotor. Fixed calipers are rigidly mounted to the caliper support and do not move. They also have more than one piston on each side of the caliper body, and the pistons themselves handle the task of applying force evenly to both sides of the disc.

The Solution

Working with Bill Cummings, we chose the FX3 Disc Brake Kit (part # A123-14DS) for the front brakes and the Force 10 Tri Power Rear Disc Conversion Kit with internal parking brake (Part # A111-30 for Ford 9-inch rear ends) for the rear. Bill explained that we would have less brake pad deflection and more clamping power with the three-piston caliper.

This kit comes stock with Hawk brake pads, but readily available off-the-shelf pads can be used as replacements. The bearings are equally high quality Timken components for the inner and outer bearings on the rotor hub. Timken bearings are known for their quality and availability. Replacement Timken bearings can be found at any auto parts store.

The FX3 Disc Brake Kit features calipers with three 38mm pistons in an aluminum housing with the standard polished clear anodized finish. The piston bores in all of SSBC’s aluminum billet calipers are hard-coated to prevent chafing and corrosion. All calipers are designed in a CAD program that allows for finite element testing and virtual non-destructive testing during the development process.

Once the components are manufactured, they go through a series of “real life” non-destructive and destructive testing procedures. This testing has shown that the brake components manufactured at SSBC have a safety factor over four times greater than the components would ever be exposed to, even in the harshest racing environment.

The calipers are offered in a range of powder-coated finishes, including Blue, Black, Yellow, Orange, Red, or Silver, in addition to polished clear.

SSBC’s product details for our Nova brake system can be found here:A123-14DS

The rotors for our Nova brake upgrade are 13-inch discs with directionally curved vane venting for cooling. The rotors carry SSBC’s Xtra Life plating to inhibit rust on the unswept surfaces, and are slotted for cleaning and off-gassing properties. We chose the optional drilled finish with our rotors and a 5 X 4.75 bolt pattern on the hubs.

We have heard the horror stories about drilled rotors developing stress cracks around the drilled holes in some rotors, so we asked SSBC’s tech department about the issue. We were told that SSBC avoided drilled rotors until a proven drilling pattern and technique could be developed that ensured a safe and long-lasting rotor. Through extensive research and testing, SSBC found the combination of high quality steel and a spacing pattern of the borings that met their quality control expectations.

SSBC’s cross-drilled and slotted rotors with curved cooling vanes built in are plated to inhibit rust in areas not kept polished by the pads.

Installation

In order to install the FX3 Brake kit, the Nova was put on the lift and raised until the tires cleared the floor. We removed the tires and supported the lower control arms with a hydraulic jack to prevent the springs from dropping out when the lower control arm was separated from the spindle. The steering arm was separated from the outer tie rod, then from the spindle. The steering arm was retained for re-use with the new brake kit and drop spindle.

The steering arms should be inspected for wear and damage so they can be replaced if needed. The mounting holes on the steering arms should be checked for size. If the holes are 7/16”, they will need to be drilled out to 1/2” before they can be used on the new spindles. A drill press needs to be used to drill out these holes to ensure proper alignment of the steering linkage and flush mounting of the steering arms to the spindle.

Once the steering arms are off of the spindles, the spindles can be removed from the upper and lower control arms at the ball joints by using a ball joint separator or pickle fork. Once the spindle is removed, the ball joints should be checked and replaced if necessary. Because we were installing the Air Ride Street Challenger System, we replaced the upper and lower control arms with Air Ride’s Strong Arms, complete with new ball joints.

We installed the new drop spindles, ensuring the torque on the upper ball joint studs was set to 50 ft/lbs and the lowers to 65 ft/lbs, then mounted the steering arms to the lower two bolt holes on the spindles, torquing the nuts to 75 ft/lbs. We then connected our steering arms to the outer tie rods, torqued them to 35 ft/lbs, and installed the cotter pins in all of the castellated nuts.

Caliper Mounting Brackets

The caliper mounting brackets are manufactured specifically for the left side or the right side and are labeled accordingly. The mounting bracket is located at the proper distance from the spindle by a spacer on each anchor bolt. The precision spacing for the caliper allows for maximum clamping power on the rotor without deflection or uneven pressure.

Mounting the brackets in place on the spindles.

With the mounting brackets in place, the next step is to install the hubs and rotors. The hubs and rotors are shipped preassembled and ready for installation, and like the caliper mounting brackets, they are labeled left and right to ensure proper installation. Prior to mounting the hubs on the spindles, the inner and outer wheel bearings need to be packed with a good grade of hi-temp grease.

Installing the inner bearings and grease seal into the hub is messy, but fun. Make sure that the discs don’t get contaminated, though.

The inner bearings and grease seals can then be installed in the back of the hubs, and the hubs can be slid onto the spindles and secured in place with flat washers and spindle nuts supplied in the kit.

The SSBC instructions require torquing the spindle nut to 12 ft/lbs then backing off the nut to the nearest cotter pin hole. Check to ensure that the rotor spins freely and there is no side-to-side movement in the hub. The cotter pin can then be installed and the grease cap pressed into the center of the hub.

At this point, the calipers, assembled and loaded with brake pads from SSBC, can be installed on the caliper mounts. Installing the calipers is simply a matter of sliding them into position over the rotors and bolting them to the mounting brackets with the lock washers and bolts that come with the kit. The bolts are then torqued to 90 ft/lbs. At this point, the tires can be reinstalled and the brake lines attached to the caliper. If you are only installing the front brake kit, now is the time to bleed the brake system.

Sliding the calipers over the rotor and installing the securing bolts.

Installing the Rear Brakes

The first step in the rear brake installation is to get rid of the ultra weak stock drum brakes. The car needs to be off of the ground and supported on jackstands so the rear wheels can be removed. Once the wheels are removed, the rear drums can come off. You may need to back the brakes off of the drum by using a brake spoon to turn the brake adjustment wheel. The brake drum, brake shoes and backing plate can all be removed and discarded.

You will need to remove the rigid brake line from the brake cylinder and cap the line to prevent the brake fluid from completely draining from the master cylinder. You must remove the axle shafts, because the lug studs in the axle hubs need to be replaced with the longer lugs supplied in the kit. The axle shaft bearing retainer plates need to be removed and replaced with new retainer plates that are also supplied in the kit.

On our project car, we were replacing the entire rear end so no disassembly was required. We ordered the Force 10 Tri-Power Rear Disc Conversion Kit with internal parking brake, part number A110-15. This kit was made specifically for Ford 8- and 9-inch rear ends.

Because our Nova project car had the stock Chevy rear end and we were upgrading the engine, we decided to replace it with a bulletproof Ford 9-inch from Currie Enterprises.

Nothing but quality parts for our Project Swinger Nova!

One of the really cool features of this kit, especially for the installer, is that the parking brake assembly and caliper mounting brackets are sent as a complete preassembled unit. The parking brake assemblies are laid out so that the caliper mounting bracket faces the front of the vehicle and the parking brake lever points toward the rear of the car.

The assemblies are installed by sliding them down the axle shaft to the axle flange. The axle shafts are then slid into the axle housing most of the way, leaving just enough space to install the split retainer plates that hold the axle bearing in the axle housing. The retainer nuts and bolts can then be installed and torqued to 45 ft/lbs. Once the retainer nuts are tightened, the axle can be checked for end play and shimmed if needed.

Prior to installing the rotors on the axle they should be cleaned to remove the protective coating. Acetone or brake cleaner works well to clean the preservation coating off of the discs because it does not leave any residue. The locator bushing and rotor can then be installed on the axle and secured with one lug nut to hold the rotor in place.

SSBC ships the calipers completely assembled and loaded with brake pads. A styrofoam spacer that keeps the brake pads in place needs to be removed, then the caliper can be slid into place over the rotor. The calipers are then secured to the mounting bracket by 12mm bolts and lock washers. These bolts are torqued to 100 ft/lbs. Once the calipers are mounted, the flex lines can be installed to the calipers using the banjo bolts and copper washers supplied with the kit. Finally, the parking brake cable can be connected to the parking brake lever and the adjustment turnbuckle can be adjusted to ensure the parking brake will function as intended.

Wrapping it Up

Having taken off the old stock brake system from our project car, we are well aware of what corrosion can do to a brake system. Stainless Steel Brake Corporation has developed a brake system for muscle cars that is corrosion-proof and has incorporated both technological advances and cutting edge engineering into the design. These brakes kits are not only designed to last for the life of the car, but also provide advanced braking the entire time.

Questions on fitment and availability can be answered by SSBC’s technical assistance staff at http://www.ssbrakes.com/contact/tech or by calling 1-800-448-7722.

TOP TIPS FOR INSTALLING BRAKES ON MUSCLE CARS

  • Before starting the installation, spray all fittings with penetrating oil to make the removal of brake lines easier.
  • Use caution with brake fluid. Capture the old fluid in a container and be careful not to spill brake fluid on painted surfaces. Brake fluid is corrosive and will damage paint.
  • If you have to use adapters on the brake lines and fittings, use brass adapters. It is important not to use thread sealants or pipe dope on threads.
  • Most high performance brake calipers do not require anti-squeak adhesive on the back of the brake pads. Using this adhesive will degrade the performance of the calipers.
  • Replace stock rubber brake lines with steel braided lines. Rubber lines can cause a spongy feel in the pedal due to expansion of the brake line under extreme braking pressure. Rubber brake lines are built with nylon webbing to prevent expansion. Nylon is not elastic and will not stretch over time.
  • Always bench-bleed the master cylinder. Clamp the master cylinder in a vice and run tubing from the outlets to the chambers on top. Pump and release the piston until air no longer exits the lines.
  • Use care when routing brake lines. The steel braided lines are nearly indestructible but can get crimped in moving suspension parts. Keep the lines away from these moving parts and heat sources like exhaust systems. Brake fluid doesn’t do well with heat and can boil, releasing vapor into the lines. Any air in the brake lines is a bad thing.
  • Flex lines should be installed to the rigid brake lines with a tube wrench to prevent rounding the fittings on the rigid lines.
  • The copper washers on each side of the banjo fitting should only be used once. Copper is a soft, malleable metal that may not provide a good seal after it has been seated. Reusing the copper washers is bad maintenance practice and false economy. More time will be spent trying to find where the hydraulic system is pulling air in and contaminating the system than will be saved by reusing the inexpensive copper washer.
  • Most high-end brake kits have directional rotors. Make sure the right side rotor is installed on the right side and vice-versa.
  • Dirt will kill a brake system. Debris or any foreign matter in the hydraulic system can cause poor performance and early failure. It is imperative that the hydraulic components and lines be kept clean and free from dirt and debris when installing the system.
  • Follow torque specs as listed by the manufacturer. If no torque specs are listed, torque specs outlined in SAE J1701 & SAE J1701M specifications should be used. Caliper bolts should be re-torqued after 500 miles.
  • Along with performing a “clean” installation of the hydraulic system, remember to install the calipers with the bleed screws pointing up. It is impossible to bleed the hydraulic system without the bleed screws higher up in the system where the air will migrate and collect. Air will stay trapped in the components and when the pedal is actuated, the hydraulic fluid will expend its force compressing the trapped air instead of moving the piston against the brake pads. This often results in a “spongy” pedal.
  • Use a checklist for installation. SSBC includes a front brake checklist and rear brake checklist in their instruction manual. A checklist will prevent you from a test drive disaster.
  • After changing your brake pads and rotors, drive easy for the first 250 miles to temper and seat your pads to the rotors. Excessive braking in these first 250 miles will glaze the pads and rotors.
  • Brake fluid is hygroscopic, able to absorb moisture from the surrounding environment. Water in the brake system will eventually corrode lines and components. Under extreme braking conditions, like racing, it is possible for the moisture in the brake lines to boil and off-gas the oxygen molecules, causing a vapor lock situation. It is always a wise idea to replace the brake fluid when upgrading components in the brake system, or when the brake fluid has “dirty” or “muddy” appearance.


Article Sources

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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