Chapter 7: Them’s the brakes

Hmmm, No posts in 3 months is a bit slack, sorry about that.

So the brakes on the old girl have been a bit of an ongoing saga. Firstly the fronts got the same treatment as the rears. The drums were again in pretty poor, rusty shape cosmetically so they got a good wire wheel and satin black treatment. The interior again looked reasonably sanitary however I was sceptical the wheel cylinders would have survived in working order after 28 years of sitting idle, and they did look pretty ordinary on the surface. Before buying too many new parts unnecessarily I decided to mount up the reconditioned master cylinder and have a go at getting fluid to the system. I figured anything that was stuffed would leak like a sieve and I would go from there.

The manuals I have are all pretty clear when it comes to bleeding the air from the brake system:

  • Fill the master with fluid,
  • go to the furthest wheel from the master (the right rear) and attach a clear hose to the bleeder,
  • have someone step on the brake,
  • crack the bleeder until fluid comes out,
  • close the bleeder,
  • foot off the brake,
  • rinse repeat until all the air is gone from the clear line.
  • Do this for the rest of the wheels

Which in theory, yes, is the way to do it. But in an empty system you really have buckleys of getting the fluid through the system this way, or at least if you do, it will take forever. I also didn’t have the luxury of a brake monkey to step on the pedal for me. After a few hours of frustration, which resulted in exactly no fluid being exuded from the bleeders, I gave up, thinking either my new master was borked, or I’d need to invest in a fancy vacuum bleeder, which sucks the fluid through the system from the bleeder.

Talking to a mate at work, who is basically the car whisperer, he said to stomp on the pedal about 50 times, or at least until you feel some resistance before even touching the bleeders. Sure enough, a bit of rapid stomping gave me a bit of pedal, and using a bit of pipe wedged between the seat and the pedal (redneck style), I was able to start going back to the bleeder and actually getting some fluid to flow…wooooo! It was a tedious process stomping the pedal, crawling under the rear to crack the bleeder, closing the bleeder, crawling back out to work the pedal again and repeat, however it worked and I soon (after an hour of pretty hard work) had all the air and chocolate coloured ancient fluid out of the rear lines. Even better, seemingly no leaks!

Onto the fronts and I immediately realised I was going to have issues when the first fluid to come out was not the nice thin fluid expected, rather a thick black ooze that came out in popping spurts. Investigation revealed it was deteriorated rubber in the fluid. The cause? Maybe the deteriorated seals out of the old master cylinder? Or more likely, the old rubber flexible lines had started collapsing internally and needed replacing. Sure enough, with some more bleeding the flexible hose developed a pretty nasty leak where the hose fitting met rubber.


The leaky front brake line. Also highlights how rusty the fittings were. The flare nut wrenchs did the trick on all of them though

No drama really, I was expecting to have to replace them anyway, and a quick ebay got me a complete set of Aussie made lines for under 100 bucks delivered, front and rear. I figured I better have an internal inspection of the wheel cylinders given they were most likely full of crap and old rubber too big to pass through the bleeder. I was half confident the wheel cylinders would be salvageable with a clean out, hey they weren’t leaking fluid right? As soon as I took the first one out however I knew they were all toast. The cylinders weren’t leaking because they were all basically  solid lumps of corroded metal! Brake fluid is unfortunately hygroscopic, so if a car sits for any length of time the brake fluid becomes pretty corrosive and this is what happens. As you can see from the pics there was absolutely no coming back for these babies. In the bin, more ebaying, 4 new wheel cylinders for about 80 bucks delivered.


A typical example of the corroded wheel cylinders

At least now I have a basically new master, new flexi lines, and new wheel cylinders. The only thing retained is the hard lines, and they seem pretty ok. The braking system should be almost as good as new. I had a few issues replacing all this gear, which is probably expected on a car this old (and it all looked like original equipment). The first issue was disconnecting the old flexi lines which were pretty solidly rusted to the hard lines. There is no way you can undo these with a normal open ended spanner so don’t even try if you need to do it yourself. You’ll round off the bolts (and probably bark a knuckle or 2) before you move them a millimetre. Do yourself a favour and get a set of line wrenches, otherwise known as flarenut or crows foot wrenches. They are an open ended spanner but have a bit more thickness to them, and they are more like a ring spanner in shape (with only a small notch cut out to allow them to fit over the line). This gives you a bunch more grip on the nut, and while it still took a bit of wiggling back and forth, I eventually got all the flexi lines out. Using an open ender would have been absolutely hopeless.


A nice new rear flex line installed


Flare nut wrench…buy them before touching your brake lines!

Removing the old wheel cylinders was pretty straight forward, although it did result in my first semi serious valiant related injury. I was removing the brake shoe springs to spread them wide enough to remove the final cylinder. The tool of choice here is usually a pair of vice grips, grip onto the spring, pull it past the retainer and off she comes. Except stupidly on one of the springs I didn’t lock the grips, which resulted in the grips flying off the spring and my hand flailing up into the wheel arch, tearing the quick on my thumb, and gashing the knuckle to the bone on a bit of trim. Ouch. There is now a little bit of me in the val.


War Wounds!

So that brings us to now. I’m just waiting on the rear wheel cylinders and I can bolt it all together, put on some wheels and go for a test run! Which going on my current slow progress (I rarely get to play with the old girl) will probably be months away haha. We’re slowly getting there though and I learn every day.

Oh, one other thing I did was pretty up the chrome bumpers on the old girl. There’s a few methods out there, including super fine steel wool, but that really can cause some permanent swirl marks and should only be used on the very worse rusted stuff. The safest and most effective method i found was aluminium foil and water. You just spray a bit of water on the bumper then lightly rub back and forth with a bit of foil folded over a few times for strength. The aluminium begins to oxidise leaving a aluminium oxide paste, which is a very soft abrasive that is effective at removing rust and leaving chrome. A bit of a wipe down and a wax afterwards for protection, and the bumpers came up pretty sweet. They certainly aren’t as good as new, but good enough to avoid an expensive rechroming.




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