This month, I spent a couple of weeks going through hundreds of photo contest entries that you guys filled out for us. This may sound boring after a dozen or two, but it was enlightening. The volume of cars I looked at gave me a really clear cross section of our readers' vehicles. There were a lot of the basics-Mustangs, Camaros, Chevelles, and Novas-but a good variety of the less common cars as well. I was happy to see the spread was pretty proportional to the cars we feature and build.
The entry form asked for quite a bit of information on the cars, from the engine specs, to the size of the tires used. Almost everyone had a handful of mods in the engine department, and many had more than a couple bucks invested in the wheels and tires. Unfortunately, the suspension and brakes specification sections were filled out as "factory" far too often. With all the money spent to make PHR readers' cars faster, I was surprised to see so little attention to the areas of the car that have the biggest influence on control.
I realize not everyone is into driving through the canyon roads and hitting the road course like I do, and that's cool, but some degree of safety should be incorporated into every car. There is the argument that a street car that's occasionally drag raced really doesn't need to have any kind of fancy brakes, but I really believe that street cars are the first to benefit from a brake upgrade. Anyone who has driven a four-wheel brake drum car knows where the term "panic stop" came from.
When I got my Camaro, it had the factory 11-inch rotor, single-piston caliper brake setup, which worked great on the street with the vacuum assist. These brakes lasted quite a while through my daily trips to school and work, and weekly trips to the dragstrip. It wasn't until my second lap at the Laguna Seca road course that I realized these brakes were not adequate. That day when I returned home from the track I began to look into brake upgrade options. The price wasn't nearly as high as I thought it would be to have a nice modern-style braking system. I didn't use a kit because at the time I wanted to create a braking system that was larger than the others that were designed to fit inside a 15-inch wheel. I bought rotors, hubs, and calipers from Wilwood, and fabricated my own bracket to mate the parts together. I managed to spend less than $600 on the parts-a very small price to pay for the reassurance that these brakes will work every time I need them to. On top of the improved braking force, the aluminum hubs knocked a ton of weight off the nose of the car. My road racing-style setup saved me about 25 pounds, while the drag race-only combination would have been good for around 35 pounds.
Over the last decade, brakes have become less expensive because the Pro-Touring movement has made the upgrade much more popular. To get an idea of the spread of prices, I went to Summit Racing's website and searched Wilwood's front disc conversion kits. I recommend their popular Dynalite kit. It comes with a slotted and vented rotor, a smaller four-piston caliper, and an aluminum hub assembly. These kits are available for a huge number of domestic cars, like the ones entered in the photo contest. This kit goes for about $675 plus or minus a few bucks depending on the model car. It's good bang for your buck in weight savings, and could save you even more money avoiding an accident. Plus, they look cool.