Chopping the top, channeling the body, lowering the chassis, and smoothing the body are some of the common custom modifications that come to mind when talking about building a car. These jobs are very satisfying because of the instant gratification of the visual impact they make when finished. Brakes on a custom car is one of the things that isn’t and can be overlooked and VERY under appreciated.
First of all, if you’re rebuilding an old car, whether it’s a full blown 100 point restoration, or an out-of-this-world kustom, you shouldn’t forget about completely redoing the brakes on your ride. Brakes are one of the most overlooked part of a build that can save your car and your life. Project Pile House is a full blown custom with little to be left original on the truck. It sits on a first generation Chevy S10 chassis, so the brake components on each corner are easy to get replacements for, but that’s about where it stops being easy. I recently decided to plumb the brake system on Pile House, and show you what goes into a project like this.
For anyone that’s been following along you may remember my saga with my brake pedal cluster and how I originally fabricated a custom frame mount for a brake booster and master cylinder to mount under the cab floor. This method just wouldn’t work with the S10 chassis so I had to move back to a hanging pedal cluster setup that I mounted under the dash to keep a clean firewall. This worked well and got the pedal where I wanted, but it now made running brake lines VERY interesting. I had no old brake lines to use as a guide when making my new lines, and taking the lines in and out of the truck a dozen or more times to test fit wouldn’t be very fun!
I should have known this project was going to be VERY tedious when I realized straight away that the proportioning valve and bracket wasn’t going to fit on the Right Stuff booster behind the dash. I decided it would be cleaner, and easier to mount the proportioning valve on the frame so I only had two brake lines running out of the truck. I first cut off the old frame mount pedal cluster and mounting studs, but kept the box I had welded into the frame so I had a flat mounting surface for the proportioning valve. I drilled and tapped the box and mounted the chrome proportioning valve in its new home.
I decided to start mocking up my brake line patterns by using 1/16″ steel TIG rod bent to fit from the master cylinder down to the Right Stuff Chrome Proportioning Valve and then out to the four corners. Because the lines were going to be longer than a common TIG rod, I had to use painters tape to hold the pieces together to get the correct shape.
Normally I would dread the process of straightening a coil of brake line, especially stainless like I was using on Pile House. No matter what I do I always over bend a section and then when I try and correct it I just make it worse and the line forever has a wave there. Recently we got in a new style tubing straightener that was handheld. I heard it was easy to use, and MAN were they right! You just slide the appropriate sized roller (available in 3/16″, 3/”8, and 1/4″) over your tubing and just push or pull it towards the coiled tubing and it will instantly straighten the line. I especially like this method over other vice-mounted straighteners because I could leave a coil of tubing hanging behind me if I was mocking up brake lines until I’m 100% sure where to cut it instead of guessing. I then measured out the amount of brake line I would need and used the professional tubing cutter to cut the stainless brake line to length.
The two feed lines from the master cylinder to the proportioning valve really have tighter quarters to fit in and it took a number of tight bends to get them out of the cab and under the cab. I wanted my hard bends like 45’s and 90’s to be as clean as possible so I grabbed the Eastwood Triple Head Tubing Bender to start copying my TIG wire patterns. You can see below how involved it was to make all of those bends in the line to get it down to the chassis!
I then pulled out the Pro Flaring Tool and flared up the master cylinder end of both main feed lines and fit them into the truck. I left the last couple bends to do under the car as they were too difficult to fish through the truck and the opening I had in the door pillar at the floor. Even though I have the body securely fastened to the chassis, the truck still will twist and potentially flex a little when driving, so I knew I couldn’t run the feed lines from the master cylinder too tight or they could potentially fatigue the fittings at the proportioning valve. I decided to put some loops in the lines just before they went into the chassis-mounted prop valve. These loops act as a “spring” and will give a little if the body flexes or twists during driving. There’s no fancy tricks in making these loops, I picked a bead roller mandrel and formed the lines around it to keep a uniform shape.
With the feed lines out of the way I had to move on to the lines that fed each corner out of the proportioning valve. The valve has 3 outlets; two for 3/16″ lines that run to the front brakes and one single 1/4″ line that ran out to the back of the car and then split at the chassis to rear end flex hose. The front brake lines I did first because they were going to be custom as well due to the longer brake hoses and relocated hose mounts needed for a the travel of air suspension. I made up my TIG rod patterns again and taped them to chassis to make sure everything jived and they weren’t in the way of anything like the exhaust or oil pan for future servicing. With these lines ran I was on the home stretch.. or so I thought!
I then moved on to the rear brakes, which were drums and I figured were going to be simple. I mean they’re just a wheel cylinder, some springs, and shoes right? Until I dug in and found that I had the dreaded GM bolt-less wheel cylinders that use an odd round spring clip pressed into the backing plate. I’m putting it nicely when I say THEY SUCK! You pretty much have to go caveman and pry the wheel cylinders out to get the clip to pop off as it’s recessed deep into the backing plate. I later found out that there’s a special tool to install and remove, but it’s still REALLY tough to get in there and I can’t see how this was a good idea when GM decided on this design!
Once I had the old wheel cylinder out and straightened the backing plate back out it hit me… I had to get those horrible clips back ON the new wheel cylinders (insert my favorite swear words). After trying and trying I was thoroughly frustrated and ready to give up, but I decided to hit the web and see what others had done to get around this issue.. there HAD to be a secret handshake to make it just pop back on! I was wrong, the only real tip was to fit a socket in and hammer the clip in.. but even then the wheel cylinder may be loose and fit incorrectly. Luckily I read on and a couple guys mentioned a NAPA part number for a retainer kit that bypassed the clip and allowed you to bolt the cylinder in place. I quickly placed the order and I had these little brackets in the next day. The kit required me to drill 2 small holes in the backing plate and install the bracket over the wheel cylinder with a pair of self-tapping screws. This was a painless process and the wheel cylinders are very secure now. I highly suggest this modification if you don’t hate the next owner or your future self!
With the wheel cylinder saga over I moved on to restoring the brake hardware I’d be reusing and rebuilding the drum brakes. I used the new Eastwood Blasting Cabinet to blast the rust and crud off of these parts and primed and painted them with Satin Chassis Black Paint. I then painted the drums with brake gray to match the front calipers. The before and after is really amazing and almost made the hassle with the wheel cylinders worth it!
I finished by making my split lines to the drums and ran them over the rear utilizing the original mounting tabs. It’s almost a shame to cover these lines as they look so dang nice contrasting against the Chassis blacked rear and detailed drum brakes! I just need to go pick up some line clamps and drill and mount them on the chassis to securely hold the brake lines in place. Then I can bleed the system and move on to the next project on Pile House!
All in all this project took me a 3-4 afternoons of work, but that was due to some complications and the difficulty of changing the routing, shape, and mounting of the brake lines over stock. This project normally is a weekend job, but it isn’t something that should be rushed, it’s your brakes we’re talking about here! Now that truck will be able to stop itself soon, I’m ready to get the drivetrain tuned up and ready for a test drive around the parking lot!