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The first disc brake system for use in automobiles was patented in Birmingham by Frederick W. Lanchester in 1902 but the first car to make use of this type of brake system was the 1949 Crosley Hotshot, a limited production model that is considered to be one of the worst cars of all time.
The design of the system is simple. When you step on the brake pedal a couple of calipers exert pressure over a disc bolted to the wheel and slows the car down. The discs may be solid or vented. This last type of disc is better to dissipate the heat generated by the friction of the brake pads and it shows less fade than the solid disc. Another type of disc has holes drilled in them which is even better to dissipate heat. But this system is more expensive and is used only in racing cars and sports cars like the Corvette, Ferrari and Lamborghini.
If you own an old truck you probably know how hard it is to brake after you go through a puddle of water. This is because the brake pads get wet and slide over the drum. A technique I used to have to get my braking power back was to stand on the brake pedal for a few seconds, accelerating at the same time. The friction against the drum would heat up and dry the pads and the truck would start braking again. But the pads would not last long. This technique made them crack and they had to be replaced much more often.
This problem was solved when I replaced the drums with a disc brake kit that you can buy almost anywhere these days. The kit comes with everything you need and you don't have to fabricate anything, since the disc kit fits exactly where the original drum system is installed. In order to install the new disc kit you just have to unbolt the drums and bolt on the discs. It's so easy that I did it by myself on my truck in one afternoon, with regular tools.
Front disc brake kits can be purchased from several suppliers for old Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Dodge trucks. They may come with a power booster or not. In any case, you will have to install a brake booster to get the performance you want out of your new disc brake system. Cost may vary from about US$ 550 to over US$ 1,000 and this does not include installation. But as I said before you don't have to be a genius to replace your old brakes with a modern disc system.
Even if you want to keep your truck in its original condition I would advise that you install disc brakes on it. Your truck will brake much better and the improvement in safety is noticeable from the first moment you drive the truck.
Joseph A. Ceschin is a journalist with a long experience in the auto world. He publishes the website [http://www.we-love-old-trucks.com] for people who love old trucks. And he owns a beautifully restored 1954 Chevy pickup truck.
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