In being truthful I’ve never attempted to rebuild drum brakes. Many have stated that it’s a fairly innocuous task, something a novice hack like me could undertake. But I like NEW things that are shiny and make my wallet lighter so I usually choose the more expensive of Option A or B.
When it comes to brakes I’ve always leaned towards converting to discs whenever possible. I like shopping for parts. The thrill of the hunt. There’s a reason “new” cars have been running discs not drums for 50 plus years. And in the GM, Ford and sometimes in the Chrysler worlds a disc swap is either a bracket or kit away. Other times parts can be cobbled from various donor vehicles, local parts stores, and internet threads. More time consuming and takes up more space but this is usually a cheaper option. Pop off the old stuff by however means most efficient and install the brackets, rotors, pads and calipers. Voila! Instantly better brakes.
For the Hudson however there is really only 1 viable option for discs that it is within my mechanical abilities. And that option runs anywhere from $650-$800 not including a new dual-master cylinder, brake lines, etc etc. Since this car needs to be done on a budget – and that the factory straight 8 isn’t going to be setting any land speed records – I chose to rebuild all four brake drums and replace all the lines, etc.
I had planned a solid week plus for this project. Fortunately my friend (and Irish male-model seen in the pics) was able and gracious enough to pop over and lend his hands and brain to getting the Hudson outfitted with all new internal brake parts. Now it’s time to lower the rear 2 inches, replace all hard lines and the master cylinder and start the bleeding process. Of the brakes that is, my wallet’s already wrapped in a tourniquet.
What I learned on a June night when replacing drums on the Hudson:
- Step 1 – watch hours of youtube videos demonstrating how to remove and replace drum brake parts
- Step 2 – repeat Step 1 until enough confidence to actually move to Step 3
- Step 3- BEGIN!
Getting the wheel off was easy enough. Mental note that I am short a couple “lug bolts” – and probably a few eggs short of dozen. Tried to pop off the drum and no luck. Tried a few hammers, nope. Didn’t want to whack the crap out of the drums so it was down to Lowes for some PB Blaster. Sprayed that in and waited. And nothing. Back to the Internet. “You need a 3 hub puller for the rear” is what I discovered. So over to Amazon.com and $41 later the tool would be at my house in less than 48 hours. Went back and continued putting the floor insulation down while waiting for the mail to come.
Tuesday arrived and so did the puller. Had to try it. Went out and was promptly confused about how the damn thing was assembled. Every time I would rotate one of the arms, another would fall off and I couldn’t figure out how it was happening or how to get them back on. Said Sod It and used 2 of the 3 holes and the hub came off nicely. Finally the fog lifted and I turned the puller over to see a groove where the arm slides on. Duh. Did the other side, went to bed.
Wednesday after work I decided to try my hand at doing this. I grabbed a few pics of the brakes as-is and brought up some larger pics on the laptop. The biggest recommendation I had read was to do 1 wheel at a time and use the other side as a template in case something didn’t make sense. I can say with absolute certainty that this IS the best piece of advice regarding the process. Many times I had to get up and check on the other wheel to make sure I had installed things properly and in the right order (I hadn’t, and I didn’t).
So I opened the package of brake shoes from Kanter. Placed the old next to the new to determine the “long shoe and short shoe.” Used the brake tool to try and get the old springs off – nope, the tool just slipped. Examined the new springs in the rebuild kit and compared to old to see if there was a difference from right or left side. There wasn’t so I just cut the old springs out. Used some needle-nose pliers to get the small spring retainers out and then pulled the whole assembly out as 1. Since I am replacing the wheel cylinders those had to come out. Got the two bolts out but couldn’t get the brake hose off. So flipped on the compressor and used a small cut off wheel to slice through the old hose – I am replacing it anyway. Pulled out the old cylinder and voila, a clean backing plate. Now that it was a naked drum I took some time to clean it with brake clean and rags. The backing plates etc are in remarkable shape. Not a speck of rust or rot. Gave it a quick wash and dry.
Installed the new wheel cylinder and hose. Now it was on – time to set about getting the front shoe on. Held it in place and tried to put the sprig on with the $5 tool from Napa. Realized I hadn’t put the pistons into the new cylinder. Duh. Got the shoe on but it was now angled towards the bottom and I didn’t like this. So I backed the spring off and tried to install the new small springs and retainers on. Holding the shoe with one hand while trying to keep the new pin from spinning and then using the other hand to try and get the spring compressed was not working. First I put the spring collar in backwards so that the spring was not seated in the cup. Only noticed AFTER I struggled to get the second cup on. I realized part of the struggle was that the new springs were much wider than the old and were not going to compress enough to fit. I had saved the originals which were in good shape so I reused them. I figgled and jimmied it till I finally had it set. The tips of my fingers now lack prints but it worked. Installed the upper spring with the tool. Sweet 1 side done. Repeated procedure, including same spring backwards-cup mistake, on rear shoe side. Installed the upper spring. Looked down and saw the diamond-shaped washer or whatever it is called lying on the ground. S&^$! Go check other side – sure enough that piece has to go on BEFORE putting the upper springs on. Damn it. Start over.
After getting the shoes on both sides it was onto the lower spring and the star adjuster . Luckily all 4 star adjusters ended up spinning freely. I simply cleaned them inside and out with brake cleaner and lathered on some anti-seize before reinstalling. The challenge was in the order of install. First I put the star adjuster in the wrong spot so it always would just fall out. Get up, go check other side, curse my idiocy, do it again. Once that mountain was climbed it was time to add the bottom spring. The new ones that came with the kit wouldn’t work. After fiddling with every scenario – front to back. left to right, etc etc I decided to reuse the stock springs which were also still in good shape. Finally came up with the order: Star Adjuster compressed as much as possible installed first, then hook the spring that connects the 2 shoes. I was done. There were no extra pieces!! One wheel success – the Hudson was a 1 brake unicycle. Until the drum wouldn’t fit. Backed off the star adjuster and it was good to go. Or so I thought.
Moved on to the passenger side. Measured up the shoes and Oh S&^$! again. The rear shoes are narrower than the front. Guess which I used on the Driver’s side? Ugh. Pull the whole damn thing apart again and redo with the wider shoes. Finally done. Until I saw that the “short” shoe was not on the back – I’d reversed them yet again. Back apart. Redo again. FINALLY 1 wheel done. Beer time.
So BACK to the passenger side. Repeated almost all of the same mistakes – especially the one of forgetting that damn diamond washer thing BEFORE putting springs on. Even had a brainstorm to use a C-clamp to keep the new shoe in place while getting the springs installed. That was a big help. Double checked my work and the shoes were in the right order, all the parts were correct. Forgot the diamond thing. Do it again. Finally success. The front was done.
Derek stopped by and we started in on the rear passenger side. Other than needing to contort ourselves to get around the motorcycle lift, there really wasn’t too much trouble. The drums didn’t want to come off so we really had to whack the dogbone part of the puller with a 3 pound sledgehammer. Derek is quite patient and knows old cars really well so I can honestly say that without him the job would have taken me 5 times as long. We simply kept at it and by 8:30 the old Hudson had all new shoes, cylinders and hoses. There’s no good flubups here – having a friend who knows more than you and is willing to help out is the biggest resource one can have. Thanks Derek – I owe ya!
Week 3 is time to lower the rear with a set of 2 inch lowering blocks, order a pair of new wide whitewalls for the front, redo all the hard brake lines, pop on the fender skirts and install the new master cylinder.
Right now I am enjoying my time with the Hudson. The car is still within budget and the pace of small projects is keeping progress moving. I know it won’t all stay this way but it’s enough to keep the motivation up.