Anyone who’s tried to stop an early second generation Trans Am will tell you that the brakes are adequate at best. Those are the nice people. Most would tell you that a sudden braking maneuver can leave more than one set of skid marks, if you know what I mean.
Until recently, there wasn’t much help in the way of aftermarket brake parts that could be bolted on. The recent explosion of performance upgrades for Pontiacs has been phenomenal. Unfortunately, that variety of parts comes with a price and, for Pontiacs, it is typically a high price. Pontiacs are in the minority in the muscle car market so fewer of those parts will be sold. Simple economics dictates that if the production run is small the price is high.
This problem will always plague the Pontiac owner but with some aggressive shopping you can cut corners without sacrificing performance or reliability. This method usually includes some problem solving along the way. As you know, one of the reasons you pay a premium for a “kit” that bolts on with little or no modifications is so that there are no surprises along the way. You’re paying for the research and problem solving to be done for you.
Shopping via the internet opens doors that the might not have occurred to the Pontiac enthusiast. Most of the parts used in this upgrade came from companies primarily known for supplying Modified and Sportsman type circle track racers. With a bit of creative thinking and solid internet research lower cost components can be located. Your investment will be in time and finding solutions, not your hard earned cash.
This article will detail the installation of stock, replacement rotors, braided steel brake hoses, aluminum Howe dual piston calipers and Hawk brake pads on our test vehicle. These upgrades are to the front disc brakes only. The rear drums will be left in their stock configuration.
It should be noted that the rotors are being replaced only because test car’s stockers had been turned as far as recommended by the factory. If your rotors are within specification they won’t need to be replaced.
If you prefer a higher performance rotor and have the budget, the calipers used in this project were designed to work with a 1.25 thick rotor. Stock rotors are only 1 inch thick. Vette Brake Products offers a custom, aluminum hub and rotor assembly that would work for $249.95 each. A slotted version can be substituted for an additional $65.00 each.
According Howe Racing company spokesman Dick Van Wieren there is no problem running these type calipers with the thinner rotor. He stated that you should keep an eye on the pad wear and not run them within .25 inch of the backing plate. Pads should be replaced at that point. This will keep the caliper pistons back far enough in the bore to be effective and safe.
Another option, and the one we chose to pursue, is the use of brake pad spacers. These could be manufactured by any machine shop but we elected to build our own in the interest of keeping the project under our self-imposed $400.00 limit.
These are the parts gathered from our internet sources and the local auto supply store. We will be replacing the rotors, hoses, calipers, hardware and pads.
1 – Once the wheel and tire are out of the way, you can remove the stock calipers. These are held in place by two bolts that require a 3/8 inch Allen wrench or socket. Once they’re out of the way you can lift the caliper up and back to free it from the spindle. Have a piece of coat hanger wire handy so that the caliper can be hung via the wire from the frame. This well keep you from stressing the joint where the hose connects and keep the old caliper out of the way while you proceed.
2 – Use a pry bar or screwdriver to pop of the grease cap on the end of the spindle.
3 – Remove the cotter pin that holds the castle nut in place. This nut retains the outer bearing and the rotor. Have a rag handy to clear away the grease in order to locate it. Discard the old pin. It needs to be replaced by a new one. Cotter pins can be found at any hardware or auto parts store.
4 – Once you’ve freed the rotor from the spindle, pry the rear grease seal out to retrieve the inside bearing.
5 – These are the bearings and hardware. Clean them thoroughly and examine the bearings for any signs of wear. If they pass inspection, they can be reused. If they show any signs of galling, scrapes, etc, it is cheap insurance to replace them. Ours looked fine so they’re going back in.
6 – Now it’s time to pre-assemble the braided steel hoses and fittings. These will be attached to the new calipers. Use some Teflon seal at the joints to help prevent leaks. It should be noted that we used the 18-inch lines. Our stock lines are only 14 inches long. Afco part #40262-15 is a 15-inch line and would have been a better choice.
7 – The 45-degree fitting is used on the back of the caliper and the other end of the hose attaches to it. Once the hose and caliper are fully assembled we can quickly un-bolt the old hose and connect the new line and caliper, limiting the mess and the amount of air that enter the brake system.
8 – Using a pair of needle nose pliers, pry the U shaped retaining clip up that holds the brake hose in place at the junction with the hard line. This will allow you to pull the line down through the mounting bracket and provide room for the wrenches to unbolt the hose from the hard line.
9 – With the old caliper out of the way, hang the new caliper on the wire hanging from the frame. Connect the new hose to the hard line and replace the retaining clip.
10 – With the rotor out of the way, test fit the new caliper. You will see how the back of the spindle blocks the new caliper from freely bolting in. Two crescent shaped cuts will need to be made. Draw a guide with a paint pen to mark the shape. The cut at the top will be approximately ½ inch deep while the one at the bottom will be 5/8 inch deep.
11 – Once the metal is ground away your spindle should look like this. (photos 11 & 12)
13 – Test fit the caliper after the grinding to be sure you have clearance. The caliper should bolt securely to the back of the spindle but the sides should not touch.
14 – While test fitting the calipers we found our next surprise. The caliper bolts only extended half way into the outer caliper hole. Another trip to the parts store netted 1/8th inch longer Wagner caliper bolts (part number F76074S). As you can see in this photo, the threaded portion remained the same depth but the new part gave us more length to work with. In order to get the additional length into the outer caliper receiver hole we ground down our spacer bushings by 1/8th inch. Problem solved.
15 – One of the down sides of the race style caliper is noise. These calipers are made for guys who don’t mind a metallic “clink” noise every time the step on the brake. Stock calipers have a machined receiver groove that holds a rubber O-ring to silence this. The Howe calipers do not have this ring so we smeared a coat of Permatex Ultra-Copper on the bolt heads and spacer to give us a silicon cushion that would stand up to the heat of heavy brake usage.
16 – We discovered one more hurdle to overcome in our adaptation. The Howe calipers are designed to work with a 1.25 inch thick rotor. Our stock rotors measure just over 1 inch. According to a Howe spokesman their calipers can be run with these rotors. They recommended changing pads when they wore within .25 inch of the backing plate. Our solution was to create spacers plates from the old brake pads we removed. Examination revealed that the inside pads had a metal backing plate that was 3/16ths of an inch thick. Using a cold chisel, we removed the rivets that held the friction material in place. We then used our grinder to remove enough metal to fit the plates behind our outside pad. A white paint pen marks the uncut plate (top, photo 16) while the plate in the center shows the cut down area so that allows it to fit behind the outside brake pad (bottom). Both sides were given a good coat of brake anti-squeak spray before assembly. (See diagram 17)
18 – Reassembly is as easy as reversing the previous steps. Make sure to follow the service manual instructions and specifications for tightening all hardware, especially the castle nut that retains the outer bearing. When you get it buttoned up it should look like this. Bleed the brake lines and your finished.