RE: hard brakes
My brother has a 1966 mustang I6 with non-power drum brakes all around. That car only weighs about 2500 pounds, but like you say, the pedal travels with no effort and then suddenly hits a wall, at which point you have to push rather firmly to get the car to stop. I would say it was normal, but I had a '56 Chevrolet 210 4-door sedan with non-power drum brakes all around, and the braking was much more sensitive and required less overall effort. That car, with a v8, supposedly weighed more like 3300 pounds. I still have no explanation for the significant difference in the way the two similarly-designed systems felt.
Oh, and on the Mustang, we replaced all the shoes and all the wheel cylinders and bled the brakes thoroughly and it didn't change the brake feel.