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1955 Ford Part 100: Revisiting the Brakes

Updated: Apr 5

We have made it! Look at the post count - #100 is finally here! Of course, there are more posts here on the blog, but this is specific to the work on the car. What started out as a simple "Let's repaint it and put it back on the road," has turned in to so much more than that when it comes to the scope of work. (Good thing we are literally out of room at the property where we live - I could go for another project like this one!) Thousands of people have visited the site last year in 2020 and hundreds of you have personally messaged me to ask questions, make comments, or give sound advice. I am so glad everyone enjoys the posts.

Revisiting the Brakes

Early in 2020 I was determined to get some things done with the 55 Ford that included several minor adjustments. The summer was busier than I expected with travel to help churches, then Covid-19 hit our house along with some other problems and I had to drop the car back down so we could move it around, I didn't have much time in the garage, we got into the holiday season, you know the story... Now that we are in 2021 and things are somewhat back to normal it's time to revisit this idea of brake adjustment. You may be wondering why I feel the need to do so. When we finally put the car back on the road after all of the paint and interior work, she did perform quite well - nothing like power brakes, shoes or disk! At times the 55 seemed to be pulling a little bit more to the right under hard stopping conditions; like when I really had to put on the binders she drifted to the right. From what I can "feel" at the steering wheel it seems that the front passenger side brake assembly needed adjustment.

If you examine the picture above and the diagram below, it is pretty easy to ascertain that hydraulic brakes for this vehicle are a pretty simple affair. Now mind you the brake shoes and drum setup on classic cars are nowhere near as simplistic as rotors and pads, but there really are not that many moving parts to these things. Many DIY guys these days are swapping out original front shoe/drum setups for modern disk brakes. This is a very popular upgrade with companies now providing complete kits to get the job done, saving time and headaches for junkyard visitors searching for Granada or Lincoln Versailles front ends. Upgrades to stopping power are always a plus in my opinion unless you are trying to get one back to all original. Not only do you get better stopping power in wet conditions, but there is really no "adjusting" that needs to performed on a pad/disk setup like the periodic tinkering needed on mid-50s shoes/drum (especially without a self-adjuster).

These disk brake swaps have always been popular. I can recall that even back in the early 90s the gentleman who owned my 55 Ford Fairlane had 55 Ford Victoria that had a rear 8.8" axle with disk brakes (but still retained shoes up front, not sure what all that was about).

Most of the time the ill-informed remove a drum from a mid-50's Ford and scratch their heads when it comes to adjustments. The irony is that Ford spells all of this out in their shop manuals year by year. While most understand the star adjuster between the two shoes at the bottom, many do not realize that the anchor pin up top is ADJUSTABLE, as is the eccentric on the primary shoe. Now would be a good time to refer you back to this post...

On page 325 of the 1955 Ford Shop Manual, the instructions in Section 5 begin with these words... "The front and rear brake assemblies, used on all models, are of the single anchor self-energizing type." Everyone familiar with the history of Ford Motor Company will recall that Henry Ford himself was a little reluctant to move from mechanical brakes to hydraulic brakes in the earlier years. But as cars got bigger and speeds got faster the need for more stopping power became evident. Like I noted earlier, many guys have gone the disk brake route but I elected to keep the drums on the front and the rear and just add a power booster. (There are more articles on that work if you look back through the posts - use the suspension category to see more.)

While there can be much simplicity in systems like these from the 50's, the need for attention to detail cannot be overlooked. And... if you have not figured it out by now, I am a very big proponent of shop manuals and other written technical articles on all things mechanical. Since I was a little kid I always loved pulling out the instructions with the diagrams, the procedures, the steps, the specs, and all the rest of the minutiae. I guess I am just weird that way!

At any rate, I had a good time pulling the hubcaps, removing the wheel and breaking out a few tools to take a look at things and do my best to get them right. The video below will show the details and explain some of the hardware, but suffice to say I discovered the problem. It seems the large nut that secures the anchor pin (on the passenger side) was not quite tight enough. For some of you that dig the inside info - the nut on the anchor pin is 15/16", the head for the cam eccentric is 11/16", and of course you will need a set of feeler gauges, a brake spoon, and a ball peen hammer if you have to move the anchor pin a bit. While Ford does not go into this idea, I do mention one tip to help in making these adjustments: it is advisable to "re-center" the shoes as you make adjustments. Simply get back inside the car and press the break pedal once or twice to extend and retract the shoes. They re-center each time. Once the weather clears we will take a test drive for sure; it will be a treat to see what performance gains we will make with having wide open throttle available. (see part 99, the previous post in the blog series)

Video: 1955 Ford Fairlane Front Brake Adjustments

The Hot Rod Reverend

aka Daniel Jessup


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