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56 Buick Scarebird vs. Wilwood?


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Hi,

 

I own a 56 Buick Special 4dr Riviera and live in Germany. I want to convert my front drum brakes to disc brakes. The reason is because I want to do more vacation with my 56 Buick and my 66 Constructam comet 6 RV-trailer. I love my drum brakes but they overheat very fast going down the hills with my trailer. I need more security and less problems with an overheated drum brake.

 

Here are my questions:

 

How good is the Scarebird conversions with the Astro Van calipers?

Is the Wilwood conversion much better for its higher price?

 

Let me know what you think.

 

Thanks

Thomas

 

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Did you consider putting brakes on the trailer? In the mid-1950's there were large clubs of Airstream campers that traveled all over the country. I remember feature articles in magazines like National Geographic on those clubs. It's better to brake with the rearmost axle, too.

Bernie

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The trailer has very good brakes. Its wheight is about 2900 lbs. Not the trailer is the problem. More or less it is the Dynaflow. Newer Automatic Transmission has more than one speed to shift down. You can't use the engine to hold the speed down the hill. So you have to use the brakes more or less constantly, which let them overheat. That's the problem. I own a 67 GS 400 with 4 speed, too. No problem going down the hill with or without the trailer. It has drums all around, too,

 

Thomas

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Generally I think that the Scarebird brakes would be suitable for most.  An Astro is a pretty heavy vehicle (combined vehicle weight rating around 10,500 pounds), so the brakes should be more than capable for typical '56 drivers.  The 4 piston Wilwood package is more for the extreme users, which I'm inclined to say you are one of.  

 

Unfortunately, I have no numbers to back that up, but if someone wants to send me both, I'd be willing to perform some independent testing!  :lol:

Edited by SpecialEducation (see edit history)
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That's interesting. The modification to disc brake would still leave all the braking force to the bake surfaces and not increase engine braking capability. It would reduce the braking surface and eliminate the self energizing features of the original drum brakes. It would be hard to convince me to do the mod based on anecdotal experience with two cars.

 

My own perception and experience lead me to wonder how old the brake linings are on the 1956. Not when they were installed, but how old the lining material is. It could be NOS that sat on a shelf for decades. Our cars generally have a longer life for consumable parts that would wear out sooner on a daily driver and age related issues may occur that are not common.

 

I have replaced brake shoes on cars that looked nearly new, but were 30 or 40 years old. Even without a load behind them them the cars stopped poorly. The braking material should not be rock hard. It needs to be flexible to mold with mechanical cohesion to the drum surface. Over time I think the solvents that maintain flexibility in the material may out gas and leave them less flexible or inflexible. And braking power is lost.

 

In your situation I would replace the brake lining with known new material before doing the modification. I pay about $60 per axle for linings, kind of cheap compared to the disc swap. My vendor, http://www.rochesterclutch.com/, has three grades of non-asbestos material with varied levels of stopping power. I use the standard. I drop off the shoes and drums and each wheel set is ground to an exact fit. It makes a difference and we have demonstrated it on some expensive British cars with a reputation for not stopping.

 

A durometer test on some lightly worn 30 to 40, even 20, year old brake friction material would be interesting. I only have my observations. I've relined old thick brakes and had the owners swear I did something else when the cars stopped amazingly well.

Bernie

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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That's interesting. The modification to disc brake would still leave all the braking force to the bake surfaces and not increase engine braking capability. It would reduce the braking surface and eliminate the self energizing features of the original drum brakes. It would be hard to convince me to do the mod based on anecdotal experience with two cars.

 

I don't think he's looking for more stopping power, per se, but rather that he needs the disc brakes' vastly better ability to reject heat. In terms of sheer stopping force, it's a wash, and a drum brake car will stop as short as a disc brake car in normal driving cirucmstances. The difference is, the disc brakes will do it over and over and over, while the drums give you two or three really hard stops before heat starts to become a factor. The problem he's facing here is absolutely related to heat rejection, not stopping force. He's finding that without sufficient engine braking from downshifting the transmission, keeping his rig under control going down long grades is problematic. The drum brakes are reaching peak temperature faster than discs and staying there, whereas discs would reject the heat faster and more effectively, improving braking. This is definitely one of those circumstances where a switch to discs will yield a notable improvement in performance in the area he's looking to improve. The car/trailer rig may not necessarily stop in a shorter distance, but he will have effective braking going down those long grades.

 

Anyway, that said, I would go with the biggest rotor you can fit in the stock wheels. If Wilwood will give you a 12-inch rotor instead of the 11-inch setup, I think that's a difference you will feel and that will add safety. The larger rotor is not only a larger heat sink, but offers greater leverage and therefore braking effort will be diminished, which also reduces the amount of heat generated. I would look at rotor size first and foremost--if they're the same, then I think the difference in performance will be negligible, but if you can get a bigger rotor with Wilwood, I think that's money well spent.

 

Hope this helps!

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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Very worn and thin drums will fade faster.  New linings on worn drums will not have full contact unless arced to the drum.

Very worn and thin brake linings will fade faster.

Improper friction material will fade faster--- see Bernie's post.

Old brake fluid  will boil sooner, reducing braking effectiveness.

 

I don't pull a trailer, but I do drive in the mountains and the Low range of the Dynaflow gives good engine braking; when that is inadequate a hard stab of the brake pedal to reduce speed is all that is needed for awhile...riding the pedal will get you killed.

 

Both kits will work and I researched them  and found that they are not complete:  none offer a matching dual POWER master cylinder.  They can't tell you what will work with their system and the master cylinder vendors can't tell you what will work with disc brake conversion system.  You can't just hook it up to the existing single manual master cylinder (I did see on like that).

Do a search and you will see lots of discussion on the conversion, but no one who did it successfully has bothered to give a detailed report on the outcome and the parts used to get to a well functioning system.

 

Your trailer has drum brakes.  Big trucks have drum brakes.  You should have disc brakes if you want them and PLEASE check back with the results and parts list along with a nice pictorial description.

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Anyway, that said, I would go with the biggest rotor you can fit in the stock wheels. If Wilwood will give you a 12-inch rotor instead of the 11-inch setup, I think that's a difference you will feel and that will add safety. The larger rotor is not only a larger heat sink, but offers greater leverage and therefore braking effort will be diminished, which also reduces the amount of heat generated. I would look at rotor size first and foremost--if they're the same, then I think the difference in performance will be negligible, but if you can get a bigger rotor with Wilwood, I think that's money well spent.

 

Wilwood states their disc is 11.88", where Scarebird says the Riv disc they use is 12".  I was also curious about the surface area of the pads themselves, but found no data.

 

You are exactly right here, Matt.  Drum brake fade is going to be a big issue here.  No doubt a disc upgrade is going to help, the question is in the value of the upgrade to Wilwood.  I wish the numbers were available on that one...

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Thanks for all of your explanations.

 

I am happy with the brake power of the drum brakes, but I live in flat area. I love them, but the heat and fading on long steep road passages is the problem.

Some years ago we drove with the 56 through the Alps. There was one road passage it go down the hill on a small, curvy road about 20 minutes. I pushed the brake not constantly. Gave here time enough to cool down after every braking period, but after 10 minutes down the hill fading started and the brakes smelled very strong. I had to make a brake for some minutes. This downhill trip was without trailer. What had happened when it was with the rig.

The other problem is the old single MC as Old-Tank stated. Nobody can tell you what Dual-MC you have to use. The biggest brake-booster you can use 7"dual-booster. But what is the right MC? Some years ago I tried a MC out of a early 70's Riviera with a 7" brake-booster. But it doesn't work. Brake pedal feels hard as rock and had not much to bad brake power.

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I just got back from dropping my 1938 Allis-Chamlers B starter off for a rebuild. The main thing it needed was a new drive. The old one had failed clutches and gnawed up teeth from being slammed in with a 12 volt battery that was a previous owner's "upgrade". Interesting timing. Once it is fixed I will have a new 6 volt battery and it should start like the new ones did on the winter plains of 1930's Minnesota.

 

My main point, and sometimes it seems the point of my existence, is to say that many times a misdiagnosis of a problem leads to modifications. Sometimes it just leads to disassembly of the whole car (and it would be interesting to survey if more cars are permanently disassembled for modification than for restoration). It's all an interlocking group of systems. Old Tank's point about the Bendix Fazoola can get better. The brake lines on the '56 are 1/4" tubing. Would 3/16" on a dual master cylinder be OK? Should all be reduced in size or made larger? Would the displacement of a four piston caliper need a larger line. Would there be a coefficient of friction through a long length of line during a panic stop that could reduce pressure? It is a lot to think about if you sit down with a clean sheet of paper; how about mixing a bunch of parts designed for other systems?

 

So the first quest would be "Is the original system in excellent condition and fully functional? If the answer is a confident yes. If it is I would then ask how the cost of a hotel compares to everything involved in the conversion and the decreased gas mileage.

 

Please don't take the comment personally. If it was an old Ford or a Plymouth it would warrant consideration, but you own a Buick.

One thing is for sure. I won't be scooping snow out of the driveway with the old Alley Cat tonight.

Bernie

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I am with Old-Tank here

"I don't pull a trailer, but I do drive in the mountains and the Low range of the Dynaflow gives good engine braking; when that is inadequate a hard stab of the brake pedal to reduce speed is all that is needed for awhile...riding the pedal will get you killed."

 

I am even a little less experienced as I havnt driven my car with a dynaflow anywhere yet, so I am going on book learning and some heavy vehicle driving experience

 

I also have no problems with people doing brake modifications, provided they have an idea what they are doing (brakes and steering will get you killed if not right)

 

Disc brakes will also overheat and fade, just a bit slower than drums, I think "driving technique" is more the issue

 

Most trucks have very good engine braking capacity, especially if the have some form of exhaust braking as well, but they still have to approach a steep decline in the appropriate gear to get them from the top to the bottom with minimal use of the wheel brakes

 

Your car should give you reasonable engine braking in low range and if you maintain a reasonable speed by modulated braking and dont care about the lineup of cars behind you (where do you think the term "bloody caravaners" came from) your brakes should be adequate as they are

 

For me though, having had a massive scare driving a 1962 Holden (look it up if you dont know what it is) down a mountain and loosing an entire rear axle and brake drum ect, I am not a big fan of single circuit brakes and if you towing a van a lot, I would at least recommend a dual circuit master cylinder

 

I think (its been a long time since I have seen it) there is a movie with Lucile Ball in it called the "Big Trailer" that was pretty good :) the times may be modern now, but the technology being used here is basically the same as in that movie

 

Mick

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IF you want to keep your stock-configuration power drum brakes, then I'd look for a brake relining place (usually the more HD truck parts people) and see about some brake linings with more metallic content in them.  BUT as Old-Tank mentioned a while back, not all brake lining brands are exactly the same.  He recounted using one name brand of brakes on his '55 and it wouldn't stop well, but changing to another name brand made the car stop as expected.

 

Using an automatic transmission for "engine braking" in its lower gears will heat the trans fluid much quicker than any other operational mode.  Therefore, having sufficient external cooling added to the existing trans cooler can be important.

 

Keeping an OEM-style system (as I understand Scarebird does) can make parts availability easier in the future, provided you keep a list of what parts were used and what original OEM applications they fit.  IMPORTANT thing to keep track of!!

 

The Chevy Astro Van was a mid-size van.  Don't recall one with a GCVW of 10K lbs, which is C30 Camper Special Territory, back then.

 

ONE thing to keep in mind is that with disc brakes, you MIGHT need to change your wheels.  In the earlier years of front disc brakes, the inner contours of the wheel rim were changed for caliper clearance.  So there were drum brake wheels and disc brake wheels, circa 1967. So check with whomever you get the power disc brake kit from to see about that important interface!

 

Wilwood has been doing brake things for several decades, starting with drag race-specific brake parts.  Now, they've branched out into the street rod/street machine territory with their upgrade kits.  Should be first class stuff, but still specific to them, which might delay some parts changes as things might wear later on.  Not sure which brake pads they use for their kits (application wise), though.

 

Any kits for putting rear disc brakes on the '55 Buick, too???

 

The larger diameter disc brake rotors will allow for a little more leverage of the clamping force of the brake pads, but many USA OEM vehicles have mere 11" rotors and , with metallic pads (or the CarbonMetallic formulation) that have great fade resistance and stopping power (plus good stopping power on "first stop when cold" in 32 degree F weather, from my own experiences).

 

KEY thing is that with disc brake rotors (whether new or re-surfaced) is that the finish on the rotor surface has the "swirl polish" on it, rather than a "dull, phonograph record look" on it.

 

NTX5467

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Also, you can switch the 2 1/4 inch front brakes to the Roadmaster 2 1/2 inch brakes. You would need to obtain 1952 through 1956 Roadmaster backing plates, hardware and shoes. Kanter sells the drums for about $90 each. If you can't find shoes, 1968 Cadillac front shoes will interchange.

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Using an automatic transmission for "engine braking" in its lower gears will heat the trans fluid much quicker than any other operational mode.  Therefore, having sufficient external cooling added to the existing trans cooler can be important.

 

 

I use an editional cooler since 10 years.

 

 

Keeping an OEM-style system (as I understand Scarebird does) can make parts availability easier in the future, provided you keep a list of what parts were used and what original OEM applications they fit.  IMPORTANT thing to keep track of!!

 

Great idea! The Wilwood parts are really special and who knows if they are available in 10 years.

 

The larger diameter disc brake rotors will allow for a little more leverage of the clamping force of the brake pads, but many USA OEM vehicles have mere 11" rotors and , with metallic pads (or the CarbonMetallic formulation) that have great fade resistance and stopping power (plus good stopping power on "first stop when cold" in 32 degree F weather, from my own experiences).

 

 

EBC brake pads are very good. I use them on my 86 Grand National. Hope they have pads for the Astro Van Calipers, too.

 

I sent BEEMON a message. If I read it right in an other post, he went to a dual MC with dual 7" brake booster. Let see how he did it.

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I know the film "The long, long trailer" with Lucy ball. A lot of fun.

 

Some years ago I switched to more modern 7 " wide rims (stock looking) with the original hubcabs. I think they will have enough space for another brake setup.

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I sent BEEMON a message. If I read it right in an other post, he went to a dual MC with dual 7" brake booster. Let see how he did it.

I was just reading this thread, was wondering when my thread would pop up! I'm at work right now, but the swap is costly. The front discs will work with the original master cylinder, but you have to add a proportioning valve to the rear line since it takes longer for drums to engage braking force than discs. Going to a dual master cylinder is a completely different beast, but in my opinion is worth it in the long run if you plan to drive it more than just to shows.

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Hi Beemon,

 

a proportining valve should be no problem. How did you made the swap to a dual master cylinder? What master cylinder did you use on your 56? Does everything you use fit under the steering column?

Thanks for your help.

Thomas

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I found the thread I commented in, it wasn't created by me, but I outlined everything I have done thus far. This last month, however, while I had my steering box out, I replaced the rear drums with discs. I went to go park on a hill and the car didn't stop rolling backwards, leaving me to park and walk an extra 15 minutes. Every park after that, unless on level ground, would not stop the car from rolling back. I'm jaded to the fact that I was not born in an era with drum/drum vehicles and I cannot stand them personally. Everyone always argues that the original system works the best, but there's a reason why all full size cars come stock with disc/disc. If I could, I would attempt to put ABS on the old girl, but that's besides the point.

 

It seems the pictures are lost, so I'll have to try and find those, but they're outdated anyways. Bear in mind I had to notch my frame to have the master cylinder fit in the stock location. In hindsight, I should have used a jeep MC or something much more compact under there.The car stops on a dime, or did before the drums went out of alignment and I spent more time than I wanted to trying to fix them. Bear in mind that drums are free floating, self energizing, while discs are always in contact with the pads. Also please note that the master cylinder I used has left ports. I put the master cylinder on the car before the fenders were on, and left ports come up flush with the fender. I had to cut a small hole (ouch!) to make the lines fit and just haven't had the cash to buy a right hand port master cylinder. Bleeding these systems can also be difficult. Because the MC is on a downward slope, I've been told that the angle allows for sucking in air. I am not familiar with this issue, but it could apply to you. There is a reason why the MC is parallel to the road surface, but if that were the case, then you would need to bleed your system every time you have to stop on a heavy incline.

 

Here is the link to the disc/drum proportioning valve that will mate to the MC I used.

 

They also make one for disc/disc setups, which I've recently purchased.

 

These proportioning blocks are cast from a GM block that uses a valve to equalize pressure in both ends of the lines. If you're sticking with drums, you won't need them, but you might have to get crafty with your proportioning block. Bear in mind the brackets provided will not work in the stock location, at least not for me. You may have to play with finding the proper location for the unit since space is extremely limited. While I wait for the steering gear, I may look into a different, smaller MC that more closely resembles the original stock, but for now my system has been working pretty well.

 

I hope this helps you and is what you're looking for. For me personally, Scarebird is the way to go. OEM products in my opinion are proven tough vs hotrod bling.

 

For anyone interested, the rear disc conversion cost me an unexpected $440 in shop time (originally quoted ~$200) to have the rear axle bolt flange shortened a few hundredths, as well as opening the rotor center hole up to the flange on the axle. The bracket was also from Scarebird and was $150. I had to pull rear calipers off a 1985 Seville at a junkyard for $30 to pay for the $70/ea core charge at NAPA. The calipers themselves were $65 each, the discs were about $45/ea and the pads another $45. I used a universal park cable connector from the universal wall packs and bought two 38 inch long cables that had to be pulled tight to fit (could have gotten away with 37 inch long cables) that were about $15. I can get exact values for those interested.

Edited by Beemon (see edit history)
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After doing a bit of research, I did find a Doorman master cylinder with .75" bore. The original master cylinder in 1956 if I recall correctly is a 17/32" bore, so this master cylinder would probably be more desirable. As far as fitment goes, it doesn't specify how long it is. It also has a Ford mounting flange, so I'm not sure how well it would bolt up to the more common GM booster.

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Hello Beemon,

 

Thanks for your detailed explanations. I will get all parts together. Most of the parts I can buy here from US-Parts Shops in Germany. That will bring down my shipping costs.

There is another .75" master cylinder which could fit. It is from a Fiat 850 Sport. I will check, if it will bolt on the dual power Booster without or with minor modifications. It uses a remote tank for the brake fluid, too.

It should be shorter as your 1" MC.

I will let  you know, if it works.

 

Thomas

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Found another master cylinder which should fit the brake booster. It is from an Opel Corsa B and is a little bigger. Its .081", but it is short,too. Bought a used one today.

Looking forward to have it here and test it if it will fit.

 

Thomas

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Found another master cylinder which should fit the brake booster. It is from an Opel Corsa B and is a little bigger. Its .081", but it is short,too. Bought a used one today.

Looking forward to have it here and test it if it will fit.

 

Thomas

Oh, I like that idea. An Opel part on a Buick is a bit more palpable than a FIAT part...

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I got the Corsa master cylinder today. Length is 5" from mounting plate. Bolt pattern is a little bit less than 3". I have to make an adapter plate.

Overall length with dual mastercylinder should fit place between steering column and frame. My dual mc should reach next week. Be back with further information soon.

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What sort of parking brake system does your enhancement include, Beemon?  Is there a small drum brake mechanism that fits into the "hat" on the rotor or is there a mechanical linkage which pushes the caliper piston/brake pad to "clamp" against the rotor?

 

Not all master cylinder/boosters had the master cylinder parallel with the road surface.  Some in the '60s-'70s had the front of the cylinder significantly higher than the rear.  In some cases, the cylinder's reservoirs could only hold about 1/2 of their potential amount of fluid.  If the front section got full, the excess would run into the rear reservoir, for example.

 

There are TWO types of what are "blocks" which are in the dual master cylinder's output plumbing.  In the drum/drum cars, the purpose of that block was to turn on the "BRAKE" system light should one wheel-pair system lose fluid, which would push an on-center plunger off center and let the connection in the brake warning light circuit "complete" and turn on the light.  Later, when front disc/rear drum systems came online, the factory blocks looked similar, but also proportioned pressure such that the front discs (which needed higher pressure levels to work) got more fluid pressure, which also let the rear drums get less pressure and no lock-up so easily.

 

With the disc/disc system, as the front brakes do most of the stopping, they would still need more pressure than the rear brakes, even with rear discs.  Mopar Perfomance, GM Performance Parts, and Fords special parts division sold an adjustable brake proportioning valve.  Had a "wheel" on one end to adjust the front/rear pressure bias.  It was for racing applications, but could be used for a system as you have.  It should come with an instruction sheet indicating the pressure "slope" of the adjustment.  "Cut and try".

 

There is a balance between master cylinder bore sizes, brake caliper fluid use (wheel cylinder diameter on drum brakes) and brake pedal leverage on any brake system.  Modern disc systems let the pads retract slightly from the rotor for increased fuel economy reasons.  But they return to the rotor quicker (what GM termed "quick take-up" when they started doing this in the earlier 1980s, i.e., Chevy Citation).

 

One reason modern vehicles almost exclusively use disc brakes is that it's easier to downsize the components and then make up for that with a more aggressive pad material to maintain the earlier level of braking performance.  Can't really do that with drums.  Initially, it was for fade resistance, though.  Plus, you can further downsize the pad size if the rotor diameter is increased (with the larger diameter rotor increasing the leverage factor).

 

In bleeding brakes, with the frame-mounted master cylinder, you'll need to apply the vacuum to the highest level in the system, which could well be the caliper body.  With a firewall-mounted master cylinder, the highest point would be the master cylinder reservoir itself.  Probably best to do a vacuum/fluid draw method, if possible, to me.

 

To do ABS, you'll need rotors with notches for the wheel speed sensor to read.  Plus some sort of computer to run it all.  Plumbing would be an issue!  THEN, you can look forward to flushing the system every so often (years) such that moisture accumulation does not affect the operation of the valving in the ABS module.  Not that it can't be done, just might not be cost effective.

 

Keep us posted,

NTX5467

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I have a firewall mounted remote reservoir with my master cylinder. The rear calipers I used are mechanical from 1980-85 Eldorado/seville/toronado/riviera. It was suggested for disc/disc I use a 1 1/8 inch bore master cylinder at a 3:1 pedal ratio, but since I mounted the master in the stock location, which is a 1:1 ratio, I've been hunting for a remote master less than 1 inch to take up pedal pressure. Even before searching, the 1 inch bore mc worked fine when using disc/drum. It required a bit more of a push due to the 1:1 but worked regardless.

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Thanks for that information.  Part of the "mechanical advantage" can be hydraulic in nature.  This, I believe, relates to the bore size in the master cylinder, relative to what's in the calipers (or wheel cylinders in a drum brake system).  I don't recall the particular vendors, but there have been ads in "Street Rodder" magazine for frame-mount brake systems for cars that came that way.  Not that what they have will fit your Buick, but the sizing of the master cylinder bores and the sizing of the rest of their systems might be of interest.

 

Please keep us posted on your progress.

 

NTX5467

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Short update: I got the 7" Dual Diaphragm Brake Booster yesterday. The booster and the Opel Corsa Dual Master Cylinder will fit perfectly on the stock location without notching the frame because they have the same length like an 7" brake booster and a 71-76 Riviera dual master cylinder. Two winter before I tried the last combo in my 56, but wasn't satisfied with the brake power, so I went back to my stock brake booster cylinder combo.

 

Thomas

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Have you made an adapter plate for the Opel MC? I know you said it's mount flange was smaller than 3 inches. When you get it all mocked up, can you take a photo before you put it in the car? Thanks Thomas.

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Can't wait to mount the Opel Corsa MC on the brake booster. First I thought about an adapter plate, but now I use two brackets to hold it. First I cut off a small piece of the MC mounting plate on each side. Just enough to get it between the two bolts of the booster. After that I made two brackets which clamp it on the same place like the nuts did it. See the photos. This version should be as safe as the mounting method before.

 

Thomas

 

 

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With the ports on the left side, be careful that they clear the inner fender. Since this is a small MC, it might not be too bad. Also how did it fit on the end, snug? Does it look like the booster piston will compress the master cylinder completely?

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I will take a look about the clearance between the lines and the inner fender. It should work because I notched the inner fender the last time when I tried the conversion with the Riviera MC. The Opel MC fit with a little play between the sides not much. Should be about 2/25", but it is no problem to bring it in the middle. When you push the booster piston it can compress the master cylinder completely.

Got my Scarebird kit yesterday. Will order the other parts this week. Hope I will have everything together next weekend.

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