photos by: Don Johnston, Master Power Brakes and Rick Seitz
Helping an Early B-Body Pontiac Stop with the Help of Master Power Brakes
*Editor’s Note: This story was complied as a joint effort with Poncho Perfection Magazine
What’s the first thing a fellow classic-car hobbyist tells you when you ask him about his classic Pontiac? The engine, right? “Oh it’s a 455 Super Duty with an 850-cfm carburetor, a Ram Air IV cam, factory headers … and enough torque to pull the teeth out of an elephant.“ (A Hemi elephant, that is!) But when it comes to the performance of the brakes … well there’s a subject that is sure to bring the bragging to a grinding halt.
Back in the day, Pontiac’s high-torque engines had all the glory, but stopping those massive muscle cars was a dark, dirty secret that nobody really liked to talk about.
Do you remember when your Driver’s Education teacher told you to keep back two or even three car lengths for every five mph you were travelling between you and the vehicle in front of you? He said that for a reason– yesteryear’s drum brakes were slow, inefficient, and, in many situations, downright dangerous.
To compound matters, if you own a ’66 or earlier Pontiac, a loss of hydraulic pressure could cause your brakes to fail completely … all due to the design of the single master cylinder that was factory-issued from General Motors. How serious are we? Very! Mechanics old enough to remember referred to these single-reservoir cylinders as a “dead man’s can.”
Pontiac’s introduction of the dual-reservoir master cylinder in ’67 made all Pontiacs safer to drive and the optional front disc brakes introduced that year and in years since were a most-welcomed upgrade for those who could afford them. Still, drum-brake-only Pontiacs were available through 1974.
If you ever plan on turning the ignition key on your classic Pontiac and putting it into any gear (and who doesn’t?), then a master cylinder safety-upgrade is mandatory and a front disc-brake setup is highly recommended.
The folks at Master Power Brakes are experts at direct-fit Pontiac master-cylinder and disc-brake conversions. In fact, they started the hobby on its way to safer, quicker stopping over 33 years ago.
“Drum brakes were great when everyone else had drum brakes,” says Eric Waters, from Master Power Brakes. “Now vehicles have modern disc brakes and weigh less so they stop better. If you want to have peace of mind while driving your classic Pontiac in today’s traffic, then disc brakes are a MUST!”
As we were working on a high-horsepower upgrade on our NASCAR 389 Catalina, we asked Eric what he’d suggest to improve the safety and stopping power of our 4,000-lb. Poncho.
“Our complete power system in our Legend Series is perfect for this Pontiac set up,” he said. “Not only does it include the more modern front-disc-brake components that install on the factory drum spindle and a booster/master assembly, but also includes the correct combination valve for the system. Everything you need is all in one SKU number.”
We took Master Power Brake’s advice on “better safe than sorry.”
A few days later, a professionally packed upgrade kit arrived at the front door of DCI Motorsports in Atwater, Ohio. Pontiac specialist Don Johnston was eager to direct the installation, and with his extensive drag-racing experience, we knew we had the project in the hands of a great Pontiac guy.
Follow along as DCI Motorsports installs Master Power Brakes disc-brake and dual-master-cylinder upgrades on our Catalina.
Safety vs. Originality: The Top Three Mistakes Enthusiasts Make (A primer from Master Power Brakes)
- Classic car owners not wanting to upgrade to disc brakes.
Classic-car owners want to keep their rides original with the OE drums yet want to drive in today’s traffic conditions. It’s unfortunate, but all too often we hear from consumers who say their car is in the body shop getting a whole new front end due to a car pulling out in front of them and they just could not stop. If you want to enjoy driving your car you have to update its brakes.
- Hobbyists trying to piece a kit together to save a few bucks.
They buy a booster from eBay, a master at a local auto-parts store and then rob parts from a junk yard, drawing a conclusion that they have just saved a lot of money. Most do not realize that all the parts have to be matched together in not just fitment, but also function. You need the correct pedal ratio to operate the correct booster with the correctly set booster pin to operate the correct bore/stroke master cylinder. This all has to push fluid through the proper valving in order to generate adequate pressure. The clamping pressure to the rotor is then dependent on the size caliper/piston that you’re operating on the correct thickness rotor. Customers who try to piece a kit together or go for that “cheap” price end up spending at least two to three times what they originally tried to save.
- Consumers do not read the instructions thoroughly or will not give us a call with questions.
We are here to answer questions from when they first start looking to purchase a disc-brake system all the way thorough the installation process. A few extra minutes reading all the instructions or a 5-minute phone call could save them an hour or two during the installation. Our goal is to improve the stopping power of your classic vehicle so you can have confidence and reassurance when driving it in today’s driving conditions.
It is vital to clean the years of road grime and brake dust off the factory spindle. Smooth out any imperfections such as OE burrs in the spindle or stubborn grime that will not rub off. This will ensure the new brackets will mount flush to the spindle. It is also the perfect opportunity to inspect your spindle and address any stress cracks that could have occurred over the past 40, 50 or even 60 years.
The spindle-bearing adapter is next and may require applying some heat in order for it to fully seat. This is common in several of Master Power Brakes’ kits. The bearing adapter is not supposed to move at all once on the spindle so it has to be a tight fit. A little heat from either a torch or an oven will expand the metal. This will allow it to slide right on the clean spindle. Once cool, the spindle adapter should be tight on the spindle and ready to receive the new rotor/bearing set up.
A long-time Pontiac fanatic and former Editor-in-Chief at High Performance Pontiac Magazine, Chris Phillip lends his expertise to Timeless Muscle Magazine in a big way!