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Vintage Brake Tech- How to Convert Your Early Camaro to Disc Brakes

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Drum brakes have their place, in this author’s opinion, that place is on the rear end, if not in the trash. Drum brakes up front are just not safe. Sure, they technically get the job done, but many a scary moment has been attributed to stock front drums. A big problem is that disc brake swap kits cost a fortune, just a basic swap kit can cost $700, while the high-end upgrades cost a lot more. This is a lot of cash to put down for something as simple as brakes. These kits usually consist of spindles, brackets, shields, rotors, calipers and hoses. The basic conversion kits come with stock replacement-style components. This raises the question- “How much would the parts cost individually at the local parts store?” We set out to answer that question and we found the answer a little surprising.

With just a little (and we mean about 10 minutes) of extra work, we were able to convert a 1969 Camaro from stock front drum brakes to stock discs using brand new stock replacement parts for $321.47, including tax. We sourced all of our parts from the local parts store, all of which were in stock. We didn’t even have to wait for shipping.

There is a trick to this swap. All 1969-later GM drum spindles for cars that had a disc brake option were cast from the factory with a demarcation line on the upper backing plate mount. When a car was optioned for disc brakes, the top mount was machined down about 3\4 of an inch (this measurement can differ from spindle to spindle). This allows the caliper mount to sit square. This makes the low-buck swap easy, all you have to do is slice off the excess material and go.

Due to manufacturing tolerances, not all spindles require the same amount of trim. To make sure you cut off the right amount, bolt the caliper mount to the spindle and lay the upper portion against the caliper, then mark the spindle with a scribe. Using a die-grinder and a cut off wheel, the mounting boss can then be trimmed (carefully, and make sure it is square) and the rest of the swap completed.

The ’69-later spindles are threaded all the way through, so no tapping is required. This swap works on earlier spindles as well, but these spindles require drilling and tapping, still a cheap way to better braking.

1.This is all you need to convert your ’69-later GM muscle car to front discs. All of the parts can be found at the local parts store, usually in stock and for about $321.47 (except the backing plates).

1. This is all you need to convert your ’69-later GM muscle car to front discs. All of the parts can be found at the local parts store, usually in stock and for about $321.47 (except the backing plates).

2.Our test car was pulled apart to illustrate the process a little better. The castle nuts were removed, then the rotor was pulled.

2. Our test car was pulled apart to illustrate the process a little better. The castle nuts were removed, then the rotor was pulled.

3.The backing plate has 3 bolts that need to be removed. The lower 2, shown here and the upper bolt at the top in the center. There are 2 tabs that must be bent down to remove the bolt.

3. The backing plate has 3 bolts that need to be removed. The lower 2, shown here and the upper bolt at the top in the center. There are 2 tabs that must be bent down to remove the bolt.

4.The spindle was marked with a sharpie because the line didn’t show in the picture. This is approximately 1\2”, the bigger car might require as much as 3\4”. Make sure you check your car as mentioned earlier.

4. The spindle was marked with a sharpie because the line didn’t show in the picture. This is approximately 1\2”, the bigger car might require as much as 3\4”. Make sure you check your car as mentioned earlier.

5.Using the die-grinder and cut off wheel, the spindle was trimmed off.

5. Using the die-grinder and cut off wheel, the spindle was trimmed off.

6.All done, the hole is even threaded, so no tapping is required.

6. All done, the hole is even threaded, so no tapping is required.

7.The new backing plate and bracket were mounted up, using the stock hardware.

7. The new backing plate and bracket were mounted up, using the stock hardware.

8.The original upper bolt still works.

8. The original upper bolt still works.

9.We used an impact gun and a backup wrench to tighten the lower bolts.

9. We used an impact gun and a backup wrench to tighten the lower bolts.

10.The 2 tabs on the backing plate were bent up, so it all looks factory.

10. The 2 tabs on the backing plate were bent up, so it all looks factory.

11.The new rotors were treated to new bearings, grease and seals. Using a brass hammer, the seals were tapped in.

11. The new rotors were treated to new bearings, grease and seals. Using a brass hammer, the seals were tapped in.

12.The rotors mount on the spindles. Use lots of moly grease and tighten the castle nuts to hand tight; get them too tight and the rotors will bind up.

12. The rotors mount on the spindles. Use lots of moly grease and tighten the castle nuts to hand tight; get them too tight and the rotors will bind up.

13.The new calipers were put together with pads and brake hoses.

13. The new calipers were put together with pads and brake hoses.

14.You will need new caliper hardware; these bolt in from behind and require an allen wrench.

14. You will need new caliper hardware; these bolt in from behind and require an allen wrench.

15.The brake hoses mount to the same hardline and bracket.

15. The brake hoses mount to the same hardline and bracket.

16.All done, just need to bleed the brakes and go.

16. All done, just need to bleed the brakes and go.

About Jefferson Bryant (221 Articles)
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).

6 Comments on Vintage Brake Tech- How to Convert Your Early Camaro to Disc Brakes

  1. Hey Jeff
    where did you get the caliper mounting bracket i doubt thats a jobber part also the backing plates.
    great article vary helpful exactly what i was looking for.

    • Jefferson Bryant // October 27, 2016 at 9:12 pm // Reply

      The caliper brackets can be found on Ebay, ricks’s Camaro Parts, quite a few places. We just did another car like this a couple weeks ago using Ebay brackets. The backing plates are available at just about any parts store.

  2. Chris In Australia // November 16, 2016 at 7:04 am // Reply

    What about removing the residual pressure valve in the master cyl. No mention of a proportioning valve either.

    • Jefferson Bryant // November 18, 2016 at 9:50 am // Reply

      The story is about modifying the spindles to mount the brakes, however, most Camaros do not need a proportioning valve when this mod is done. Of course one can be added, along with a new master cylinder, but we have done this conversion many times without needing to change the master or adding a different prop valve.

  3. is there a list of part number on items you used for example what caliper and brake hose did you use

  4. now that’s why other kits move the tire out a half inch more for the off set they don’t remove the excess metal from the spindles they just shim or spacer the bottom to match.

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