View Full Version : Brake help for my '55

03-09-2011, 09:58 PM
I have a '55 that was a barn find. I have been working at it for a number of years and have it in running condition with lots of cosmetic work remaining. I am keeping the car original so restoring and refurbishing alot.

As they stand now, the brakes are in correct operating conditions, most components being new. They just aren't all that good, at least by today's standards.

So - - has anyone reading this managed to convert to disk brakes ? If so what are some effective but economical ways to go about this? Can I keep the same tires?

While I want to keep the car original, if safety or reliability are compromised I don't mind upgrading, as in this case.

Any help appreciated!


03-10-2011, 01:39 AM
Fred, two things weigh heavy here. You either have to keep your car stock or not. There is no inbetween.

Having said that, I have converted both of my Ford Classics ('55 Customline & 59 Galaxie) to power disk brakes.

Power disk brakes will put you through the windshield, they don't pull to the side, they dry out fast and they don't fade. If you drive your '55 in today's traffic I highly recommend you install disk brakes.

Here's the deal (you're in for a treat)... The 1955 Thunderbird and the '55 full-size Ford Cars used the exact same spindles. Here are the Ford Parts Catalog part numbers for 1955 spindles. S=Thunderbird and A=all other Ford cars:


You can use a Granada spindle to take the place of your originals. That means you can put your original spindles in storage in case you ever want to revert back (I guarantee you won't ever go back).

The Granada/Lincoln Versailes setup bolts right on to your original ball joints and the set should include the spindles, calipers, rotors, and backplate (wind catcher). If your wheels are 15", you can probably use the originals. If they are 14", you need Granada-type wheels which are designed to give clearance for the calipers. Several steel wheels fit.

If you are serious about this retrofit, let me know and I will go into more detail. - Dave

Joe Johnston
03-10-2011, 02:08 PM
We have a couple of club members that used the Granada swap and have never been happier. It works great. I chose a complete kit from a vendor that included rear wheel cylinders. Smooth installation with full instructions and the 14" wire wheels on my 57 fit with no problem. Any way you go, disks are a big improvement.

03-12-2011, 08:55 AM
Thanks for the encouraging replies!!

Now - - has anyone put together a list of specific parts that I would need??


03-12-2011, 11:04 PM
You might consider the kits that the TBird suppliers have for sale. They do not require changing the spindles like the Granada stuff does. All the parts are enginerred for a TBird. They even have larger rear cylinders to equalize the front and rear brakes.

03-16-2011, 01:24 AM
...They even have larger rear cylinders to equalize the front and rear brakes.Paul, thanks for your post, but rear cylinders need to be much smaller, because front calipers require hundreds of psi more than drum brakes.

When that kind of pressure is applied (usually from a power booster), the rear drum brakes lock up before the fronts can do their job.

The solution is a combination proportioning/metering valve which is installed on ALL disk/drum systems regardless of brand.

You have the right idea, but front brakes do about 80% of the braking. Even with drum/drum systems, the rear brake shoe area is always smaller and so are the piston diameters. We don't want the rear-end to lock up and swing around to the front.

Can you cite a company who offers disk brakes for my '55 without changing spindles? You mentioned, 'suppliers'. Who are they? - Dave

Jimz Bird
03-16-2011, 03:59 AM
Disc Brake conversion is one of the first things that I am going t do for "Mable" (Girls always like new shoes) when I get back.

First let me recommend that you go to:

This is the link under Ray's sig and is available elsewhere.

Scroll down to the section on "Disc Brakes Conversions"

Ray has put a ton of stuff there and I have found it quite useful.

Here is a link to a post there with about 28 pages of discussion that has a lot of good points:
(Scroll down to start at Post 1) Good stuff there!

There is so much good stuff in the Tech Section that you may not be seen for days. :D

There is also a good Post and Links that Ray and Dave have put together on Combination, Proportioning, metering and residual valves.

BTW Ray - I think one of the links on Proportioning valves has changed. Here is the new one:

There are also a couple of good articles in Gil's Garage:
and here:

This last article and the info I got from here prompted me to send a question to CASCO yesterday and ask them about installing a "Residual" valve in addition to their "Kit" and "Combination Valve".

Here also are a couple of shots from their catalog. I am not affiliated and don't want to start a "But this vendor and that vendor" argument but only post them because Dave asked about specific vendors.

I have some other thoughts on replacing the spindles vs. buying a kit but will save those and post them when I get an answer back from CASCO ( http://www.classictbird.com/ ) on the residual valve.

I also think it is good to convert the rears to "Self-Adjusting"

Also a couple of considerations with the new Dual Master Cylinder:
1. a new longer heat shield should be used (Sanderson Headers look like they "aim" down away from the MC and reduce the heat - Yea, that's my excuse to put headers on my want list)
2. probably convert to DOT5
3. another reason for the combination valve is to isolate the front and back systems in case one of the systems fails you still have the other.

I added the Prestige Thunderbird page with their kit also. I couldn't find a Combination valve in their catalog but they may have one or recommend one if you talk with them.


03-16-2011, 12:26 PM
Jim, your info is fabulous! I didn't know these kits were out there for the '55 and I appreciate you sharing your resources.

Edit: I forgot to ask... are you a restorer? Do you perform brake or suspension work?

Jimz Bird
03-16-2011, 03:46 PM
More Info Hot Off the Press - err I mean off the Internet :)

Here is the response I received from CASCO:


Good questions. The residual pressure valve makes a lot of sense in some applications. We pondered adding it when we began offering the combination (distribution and proportioning) valve. We decided not to add it, because most of the birds out there have the rear brakes properly adjusted and so the extra valve would not be much benefit.

Concerning adding self adjusting mechanism, we have not had any call for this. It might be a good add-on if the car is regularly driven. Unfortunately most of the TBirds arenít driven enough to get the benefit from a self adjusting arrangement. If you do decide to add them, and you have the time to take some pictures and provide your comment, I would really be interested in your take on it.

Jim Brown
President CASCO
www.classictbird.com "

So looks like for those of who are "drivers" or want to be when they are ready that either or there may a good consideration.

One more link:

I am not really a brake or suspension guy - although I have found Anders thread on the 58 suspension fascinating. Especially the geometry and the importance of "length":D

I just have been researching this for a while and thought some of the stuff I had found would be valuable in this thread. I am mostly just a lurker here and on the Y-Block Forum. (Seen ya there also Dave)

Thanks for the "accusation" of being a restorer. Coming from Dave - I consider that quite a compliment! :D

03-16-2011, 08:38 PM
Thanks, Jim... I'm also a member of the H.A.M.B. Alliance. So is Scarebird, who offers 15% discounts to their paid members.

Self adjusters really shine when your brakes are new-ish, and require frequent adjustment. I have tried 10-lb. residual valves in our '50's Ford cars and I find them to be more dangerous than helpful because there is no indication of how far the wheel pistons are extended. (We used to use the pedal height to indicate when an adjustment is needed.)

Self or manual adjusters spread the bottoms of the shoes and allow the pistons to fully retract every time.

On another note, Ray & I spoke this morning when this dawned on me: How come our members who have Y-Block engines (in their Little Birds) have never posted about valve lash adjustment? Certainly, not everyone knows how to tune a solid lifter engine! I understand the first 352 FE's fall in that catagory too.

03-16-2011, 09:26 PM
There was an article in the Early Bird about adding self adjusters. I have a copy of this article and can email it to any one who wants it.

Regarding residual pressure valves. All brake systems should have these. These are standard equipment in all cars. All drum systems had them built in the master cylinder. With the advent of disc/drum systems. the residual pressure valves were part of the combination valve which also served as a proportioning valve. Residual pressure valves prevent the brake cylinder/caliper from retracting to far.

If you don't use a combination valve with a disc/drum system, you should use residual pressure valves (10lb for drums, 2 lb for discs) plus a proportioning valve. All are readily available in the aftermarket.

03-16-2011, 09:41 PM
Paul, thanks for your post, but rear cylinders need to be much smaller, because front calipers require hundreds of psi more than drum brakes.

When that kind of pressure is applied (usually from a power booster), the rear drum brakes lock up before the fronts can do their job.

The solution is a combination proportioning/metering valve which is installed on ALL disk/drum systems regardless of brand.

You have the right idea, but front brakes do about 80% of the braking. Even with drum/drum systems, the rear brake shoe area is always smaller and so are the piston diameters. We don't want the rear-end to lock up and swing around to the front.

Can you cite a company who offers disk brakes for my '55 without changing spindles? You mentioned, 'suppliers'. Who are they? - Dave

Hill's, CASCO, Larry's and all the rest offer the kits. As far as the rear cylinders go, they are probably bigger to provide better rear braking to equalize with the better braking of the discs and so you don't need a separate proportioning valve.. But I am not sure which way the new cylinders go so you could be correct.

Jimz Bird
03-29-2011, 06:04 AM
I've been following the disc brake discussion on the 58-60 area and have been curious as to how the Caliper adapters attach on the older spindles and what type of bracket the "kits" have.

It appears that the spindles are different and the kits (both that I posted earlier) use a circular bracket (plate) with four holes to attach the caliper "carrier plate" to the spindle.

Attached are some captures from the 56 Shop Manual.

While the kits are substantially more expensive than acquiring the parts and changing the spindles, I am inclined to do so on this series of Birds. This is particularly so if you plan on doing a substantial amount of driving and be exposed on the highways.

My concern of swapping out the spindles since they are so much different is that it may affect the steering geometry and perhaps even cause alignment issues. I, like Dave and the others, believe this is a critical safety upgrade along with the dual master cylinder.

What are some thoughts on this arrangement?

Thanks and HTH

03-29-2011, 01:04 PM
Jim, you raise some good points.
Granada (Versailles, Mustang) spindles are made to hold calipers. That's hard to beat.

Some companies have taken this a step further for the hot rodders. They offer spindles that drop the front end two inches for the Mustang guys.

While lowering isn't my goal, I find the OEM Granada spindles do lower the front by about 1/2". That, I can easily live with. In fact, it's very hard to notice on my '55.

It's important to remember that Ford never offered a disk brake setup prior to their Granada, and Ford only authorizes parts specifly made for the intended application.

That leaves us 'hanging out to dry' if we want disk brakes on earlier Fords. Ford has no desire to engineer a system for Little Birds or Squarebirds even though Mustang/Granada parts work beautifully and they are every bit as beefy as our original equipment. (Mustang 11" rotors-w/hubs use the exact same bearings as Squarebird drums.)

Now here comes the hot rodders, to satisfy our disk brake needs with their new brackets and kits (at a nice profit). You know, they adapt as many 'production' parts as possible to keep costs down and availability up. Most won't disclose the parts list until you buy their kit.

I use Granada spindles on the '55, and Scarebird brackets/S-10 calipers on the '59. Performance-wise, I can't tell the difference because they both work so much better than drums, it isn't even a contest. I will NEVER go back to front drum brakes.

The Granada geometry is so close to the original, I cannot tell any difference in driving. So, brackets use the original spindles. Granada-type spindles are forged to hold disk brake calipers but are slightly different in ride height. The choice is yours. - Dave

Joe Johnston
03-29-2011, 01:24 PM
I used the CASCO kit with new rear wheel cylinders and new master cylinder. Also used all new lines and hoses so everything was new to replace the original 1957 parts. Installation was straight forward with instructions and I would expect similar results with any of our great suppliers complete kits. Sorry the picture shows the completed conversion but I didn't take any others at the time. It also allows the use of my existing 14" wire wheels with no problems.

03-29-2011, 03:59 PM
Nice 4-piston setup, Joe.

I have some thoughts and questions. A major consideration in this job is the parts list. Let's face it, if you ever need a new bearing, rotor or brake pads, what do you buy, and where can you get it? I try to use 'readily available' parts found in any parts store.

Joe, have your rotor snouts been cut down to accommodate 'regular' Ford wheel centers? (I did this on my Granada rotors, but not my Mustang rotors. I believe I see tooling marks in your picture.)

What diameter rotors are yours? This is a consideration in stopping power, and it may be the reason for your 4-piston calipers. Most 14" wheels have a hard time fitting 11" rotors, unless you have wheels like Howard showed. Mustangs and other new vehicles use much larger diameter rotors with huge wheels.

Joe Johnston
03-29-2011, 06:28 PM
Good questions to things I didn't think of, but thought if there were any parts I needed, I'd just order them. I can take some pictures tomorrow and also some measurements. Have no idea what they used for rotors but there was a very little bit of grinding needed to retain the stock steering knuckle/spindle assembly.

There is plenty of clearance and perhaps I can get that in a picture too. One of the major reasons I went this way was to retain the 14" repo wire wheels. I have seen a couple of Granada conversions and with stock wheels they seem to set out and inch or so, but that could be easily fixed with different wheels. Not really noticable, unless you are following one in traffic.

Joe Johnston
03-30-2011, 03:57 PM
Hope you can see the clearance between the rotor and rim. The rotors appear to be very close to 11" dia, the nose on the hub is 2 13/32" dia, and the center wheel opening is about
3 5/32" creating a gap between the hub and the center. The wheels are "stud centric" as they do not locate by the center hole onto the hub.




Sorry, my car is very dirty & dusty since I have been sanding on it all winter, but its ready for paint as soon as the weather warms up a bit.

03-30-2011, 04:16 PM
Nice pictures, Joe. I wish mine were that clean. Your last picture shows tons of clearance between the caliper and rim; way more than the S-10 setup, but I don't know if you have 11" rotors.

Hey, did you ever find out what the bearing numbers are for your rotors? What diameter rotors are they?

I know CASCO sells pads, but I doubt they make the calipers or the pads. They are probably production parts, but I wonder, who's.

I'm raising these questions because typically, when you need a bearing, you need it now. You could probably wait a few days for a rotor or pads, or your local auto parts store may have them on the shelf.

I would like to hear your opinion on how well your Squarebird stops with disk brakes vs the old drums. - Dave

Jimz Bird
03-31-2011, 09:23 AM
Makes sense to know what sources are available for replacement parts not just pads.

Great pics. I tried to blow up the detail on the caliper to read the number on it but could not make it out. I thought maybe that would give us a hint as to manufacturer. Any parts guys recognize the caliper?

@ Dave - It appears that the 55-56 front spindles are the same on passenger and tbird. Is that so? That is encouraging since you did your 55 to be able to get the parts instead of the kit to save some money and know what replacement parts to get.

Are the Cragar SSs on your 59 14 or 15 in? They really look great on it. Do they fit on your 55 OK? I want to get Mable some pretties like that for dress-up nights. At least two for the front and perhaps rear also to run without skirts. Want to get either black walls or redlines. (Diamondback Radials???)
What offset is needed on the Cragars to fit on the discs or is it the same as on the drums?

I don't really care if they have really wide tires - 6.70/205-75-15 stock - but maybe just to 215 if there is enough room for those. It is only about .4 inch wider and .55/.6 taller.

I mentioned that I was concerned about geometry and front end alignment. Well, as fortune would have it - Bob in the Squarebird area showed an alignment tool that allows us to do our own. Looks like a couple of alignments would pay for it. Here are a couple of links on Amazon for it and its big brother for a few bucks more that is digital.



I have hit on several topics in this one thread but it seems that they all inter-relate.

03-31-2011, 02:20 PM
Yes, Jimz. Post #2 shows the Ford Parts Catalog entry for our spindles. 1954-6 Ford cars used the same part number as 1955-7 Thunderbird. When Ford changed Thunderbird spindles in '58, Ford Cars shared that spindle, too.

I guess I've been lax because now I find many companies have a bracket for our spindles. I asked Mark (owner of Scarebirds) for info on his bracket. Remember, he only sells the bracket and spacer, but gives you part numbers for everything you need at the auto parts store. I like to make my best deal and I don't like shipping costs for iron parts, so this suits me just fine.

From the list below, I picked a random part (RC4233) and checked all applications. That piece was used in Buick Electra, Cadillac Fleetwood, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Pontiac Bonneville, and Chevrolet cars. Millions are out there.

Joe Johnston
03-31-2011, 03:17 PM
I measured the rotors and they are 11"
Caliper castings have 2SB5H cast on them
Master Cyl has both outlets toward fender. I think all the parts are from Mustang, but can't verify that.

Jimz Bird
03-31-2011, 04:52 PM
.The rotors appear to be very close to 11" dia, the nose on the hub is 2 13/32" dia, and the center wheel opening is about
3 5/32" creating a gap between the hub and the center. The wheels are "stud centric" as they do not locate by the center hole onto the hub.

Perhaps something like this "hub-centric" ring would be a consideration.



How do the Cragars fit? Do they center on the spindle or would the rings work there also?

03-31-2011, 09:45 PM
...Are the Cragar SSs on your 59 14 or 15 in?...Whew! Where do I start... My Cragar SS wheels are 15". The centers are huge to accommodate the spinners.

My '55 Customline came with 15" wheels, and Fairlanes came with 16". So, the Cragar's fit both cars the same, even though both cars have disk brakes. The original Customline 15" wheels fit over the Granada calipers, too.

Now about the rings:
"Recent tests by several major wheel manufacturers have shown that when the above mentioned mis-locating occurs the studs actually bend down slightly thus creating an artificial out-of-round condition by as much as .0025"

NONE of our wheels locate on the center hubs at Ford, and they never have (including T-bird wheels). If they did, there would be a real problem getting them off years later (while your lady is on the freeway with a flat). We lug them to the hub's back plane, where cast iron meets the alloy (or steel) wheel. I had one car with wheels so tight, it was impossible to kick them off. That's bad for jack safety and just plain wrong.

Two and a half thousandths??? Rubber tires deviate more than ten thousandths, each one's imbalance throws them off even more, and they come out of the same mold!

Our biggest concern with tires was; when 'lubed', mounted and balanced, for two days, if someone booted the gas, the mag wheel may turn inside the tire beads. Sometimes only one side would turn. That skews the crown and there goes the balance job.

At the assembly plant, as soon as the vehicle is started, they pull off the Final Line fast and immediately hit the brake, to test the seatbelt locks on both shoulder harnesses. Another vehicle rolls off the line each minute, and there isn't much room inside the plant.

People looking on from afar have no idea what's really happening. They think the line workers are just nuts. No, that's their job. Only authorized workers are allowed in the area.

Jimz Bird
04-02-2011, 12:07 PM
That's good to hear about the fit with the brakes.

The Cragar site lists several 15" with the Ford bolt pattern.
Rim Widths of 4.5, 6 and 7in. and various offsets.


Do you have the part # of your wheels or the width and offset?

Thanks for all the info!!