Hydratech Brake System Install in a 72 Mustang
By Jay Manley
Before discussing the replacement of my current brake setup, letís talk about what led me to search for this solution. As any drag racer knows, you never have enough power and you never have enough brakes Ė the first gets you to goÖthe second to slow. My car is no different. Since 1984, I have continually increased the power year-after-year, sometimes in slow increments, sometimes more dramatically. But one area often ignored was the brakes.
In 2004, after having the car for two decades, I had increased the power dramatically. I did notice that one area was markedly worse Ė braking at the big end of the track. I had a large cam in the engine with a huge duration, leaving me with 9.2 inches of vacuum. Mid-year, I had a catastrophic engine failure, which left me quite a bit of unexpected time. As my engine work was going to take the rest of the summer, I decided it was time to do something about the brakes, especially since I had a huge hole where the engine once sat.
I rebuilt existing or replaced everything with new components Ė from the booster eyelet at the brake pedal to the brake lines to the last nut and bolt on the calipers and rear drums. Everything was cleaned up and replaced, including the brake booster and master cylinder. I thought that finally, with everything new, I would have brakes like I remembered when I bought the car. I even went to a roller cam with a bit less duration (but more lift) in the hopes that Iíd get back some of that vacuum. I did have more vacuum (nearly 11 inches), but still not enough to run power brakes (you need a minimum of 18 inches, with 21-22 inches being good, firm brakes).
As a last-ditch effort, I added a vacuum pump that fed a brake vacuum reservoir and then went to the brake booster, not relying on engine vacuum at all anymore. While it gave me OK brakes for the initial pedal application, the pump could not refill the reservoir quick enough to keep up with repeated pedal pushes. Not good when Iím trying to stage my car at the track.
Then the worst happened. Just past the 660í mark racing, one rear tire broke loose in the back and lost traction while the other tire kept grabbing, which threw me 30 degrees off my intended path. Because of my poor brakes, I actually had to only slowly add just a touch of brakes while steering in big S curves to try to scrub off my speed (approx. 90mph) when things got a bit crazyÖsuddenly both the rear tires lost their grip and my reality suddenly changed from scrubbing off energy to trying to stay between the walls. As I started the race in the left lane, and now was aimed 50 degrees towards it, I did what I thought was best, steered hard the other way so that I was now aimed at the far wall.
In case youíve never been to a drag track, or even if you have and havenít paid attention to it (I hadnít in all the years Iíd raced) the track is narrower than youíd think, especially when youíre traveling at 140 feet/second. Suddenly I was aimed about 80 degrees at the far wall, sliding sideways, when I decided to use what little brakes I had. I slid sideways approx. 200í nearly perpendicular to the wall and when I came to rest, I was in the right lane (after starting in the left lane) a mere 8 inches from the wall. Poor braking led to a near tragic (at least for the car) outcome. And poor braking led me to Hydratechís website.
I started my search via the Internet and initially found several other vendors products, but it seemed that most of them were either remanufactured systems or parted together from parts that seemed not to work as a system. Hydratechís website was the only one that gave not only clear pictures of the unit itself, but also clearly described what vehicles were supported, and the fact that he could make a mount regardless for other vehicles if they werenít listedÖplus, he had more actual product literature than any other site Iíve seen.
I contacted Paul after reading his product information and forums (can you believe it, he actually RESPONDED to customers on his forums!) as I didnít see the 71-3 Mustang listed as an option. Fortunately Paul not only answered his own phone (yet another shock), he let me know that he had the plans for my car and could have the backing plate done in 7-10 days upon ordering it. So I did just that. No longer do I want mushy, undefined brakes.
I received my box about 10 days after ordering it. It was well-packaged, with all small parts in one small box, all hoses in a plastic bag, and the unit itself in its own plastic bag. Each of the parts were also wrapped in heavy brown paper and separated by corrugated cardboard. All-in-all, very well packaged. Then I got to unwrap my new toys and lay them out on the table. One thing that Iíve always liked about automotive parts is that many of them are works of art onto themselves, and this unit is no exception. Fitted with a rare machined finish accumulator cover, it looks dazzling to say the least. Eye candy at itís very best!
So, now it was time to start the process of replacing my stock-type vacuum system with the Hydratech hydraulic booster system. The first thing that I do is take pictures, lots of pictures. From all angles and sides, and then I view them on my computer before I take even one thing apart. You wouldnít believe how useful they are. I would advise taking them at the highest resolution your camera will go to so that you can zoom in as needed to get a close-up view of that critical connection and/or part. During the build, I will admit that I didnít follow Paulís instruction in the order that he has on his document, but did make sure to do each one, regardless of my order or his. If you donít know your car as well as I know my car, you may want to follow his instructions so you donít miss any of the critical steps for a successful installation.
Paul mentions repeatedly in his documentation to replace any marginal brake items, and if you donít read about me doing so, understand that itís because everything had been replaced less than nine months ago. There wasnít really anything in my system that needed replacement, other than whatís noted below. But really check your stuff. If your master cylinder is marginal, replace it, or better yet, get one from Paul when you order your own system.
Finally, Iím a computer nerd for a living, so donít think that you have to be an expert mechanic to do this work, you just need basic hand tools, some time, and attention to detail. Can you do this? If I can, you can!
Extra items I purchased that were not in the kit:
∑ Several 3/16Ē brake lines of various lengths. I only needed two, but wasted quite a few to get the bends correct. Ok, I wasted a bunch, but I wanted it just right, plus I donít have much experience bending this stuff.
∑ Valvoline SynPower Power Steering fluid Ė If youíre like me, you have ATF in your power steering pump (red in color). I would suggest draining it out the best you can and replacing it per Paulís suggestion to the Valvoline fluid. I didnít realize when I got it that it was clear in color. Makes it hard for an old guy like me to read the power steering dip stick.
I got a late start due to the thing that helps me pay for parts Ė work. I ate an early dinner and then got to work. I only had about three hours, so I wanted to get the parts at least removed and new ones installed.
1. I started by removing the air cleaner assembly and shock tower brace to make room to work and would suggest that you do the same. Remove anything that might interfere with your work, for instance, I also yanked the four plug wires on the drivers side loose and tossed them over the engine. If you do the same, remember to mark the wires so that you can put them back in the right order Ė nothing worse than flames shooting up through the carb because youíve gotten wires crossed! Then I got to get rid of more junk Ė the vacuum pump and vacuum reservoir up near the power steering pump and radiator. Iíll be able to put the washer reservoir back in the car when Iím done! Then I finished this step by disconnecting the battery.
2. Turning my attention to more stuff to take apart (the easy work, right?) I decided to work on being able to remove the entire booster/master cylinder as a unit. To do so, I removed the driverís seat so that I could more easily get under the dash to pull off the clip on the brake pedal, then slipped off the plastic pad and carefully removed the booster eyelet from the pedal along with the brake light switch.
3. Then I moved to the front of the car and removed the front and rear brake lines that went from the combination valve to the brake lines (or in my case, the front lines go to my line lock first). This was one of the few areas that I wish something was in the kit that was missing, but luckily I had what I desired. I had two plastic plugs that I could thread into the combination valve to prevent any brake fluid loss Ė theyíd come with the master cylinder and are nice because they have two thread patterns on them, initially a smaller pattern then a larger pattern. Plugging the holes will prevent fluid loss, easing brake bleeding later, and possibly paint damage (brake fluid is hard on paint).
4. After the brake lines are removed, then I removed the four nuts and slipped out the brake booster and master cylinder, leaving a gaping hole where once resided a lot of hardware. It actually felt good to remove this! I did notice that because of the smaller size of the Hydratech unit that I was going to need to do a bit of touch-up painting, which I handled in short-order. This is the perfect time to check your combination valve and brake lines if you have any doubts about their quality.
5. Because I read Paulís instructions, I knew that I was going to have to replace the ATF in my power steering pump with power steering fluid. There was a bit of confusion on what fluid to use as the sheet mentions GM fluid (in a Ford??? Say it isnít so!), but on Paulís forum he mentions using Valvoline SynPower Power Steering fluid. So next I removed the power steering pump and hoses and drained the pump the best that I could. Try to be careful with the pressure and return lines not to dump too much fluid on your floor. I like to put a catch can near the PS pump and as I remove each line I lower it to help it drain. I was concerned about the cup or so of ATF still in the system, but Paul assured me that this small amount wonít be detrimental since 95% of the fluid is now power steering fluid.
6. Next I cut the steel-braided lines to length and installed the proper fittings. This is something that is never fun, but this type of line is better to do it than the rubber lines. When you cut the lines, use duct tape and a VERY fine-toothed hacksaw blade (32 tooth or similar). Take the tape off, slide the hose base over it carefully, trying not to fray the ends, then, unlike rubber lines, you actually want to ďfrayĒ the ends just a bit to get the copper fitting in place. I used a very small flat screwdriver and worked my way around it and then pressed the copper fitting in. Then I slid the fitting base up into position, sprayed WD40 on the other fitting that would slide inside the hose, and pressed them together. It takes some force, but they will come together. Just make sure that you donít pull the base portion outward, rather, just press in the outside fitting portion. Make sure that you donít kink the inner portion of the hose when you do this. Use two 11/16ths wrenches and tighten the fitting. What was very unusual, and a nice surprise, is that extra fittings were included so that the installer could decide which best suits their installation. The instructions stated to use the longer line for the hydraulic booster to PS pump and the shorter one from the hydraulic booster to the steering gear, but both of my lines were the same length (and both were nearly double the length that I needed, again, a pleasant surprise). Then I installed the fitting into the steering gear that was supplied and attached my newly-made ďshortĒ line to the steering gear. I then installed the ďlongĒ line to the hydraulic booster that goes to the PS pump and the return line on the hydraulic booster as well. I should note that I ended up making my lines far too long because I made assumptions and wanted them to be a ďbitĒ long. In actuality, both my lines were far too long, though workable. I think the short line should be around 12-14Ē and the long line to the pump somewhere around 24Ē if you go direct to the pump, to 32Ē if you want it to route over the shock tower. I preferred going direct with the hose, though.
7. I then turned my attention to the power steering pump. After careful reading of Paulís instructions, I noted that the T fitting needs to be installed so that the normal flow is straight through with the added flow coming in on the 90 degree bend. Also, you must install it after any PS cooler and my PS pump happens to have one right on the pump. I cut the line just before it enters the pump, installed the T and then used the supplied hose clamps.
8. At this point, it was time to work on the hydraulic booster itself. I unbolted the master cylinder from the old booster and put it onto the new hydraulic booster, making sure to carefully and evenly tighten the supplied allen-head bolts that look very trick! The hydraulic booster at this point is basically together and ready for install, so I took it to the car for a test fit (after checking that the paint was dry from the previous step). It was, but I couldnít quite get everything in place. It turned out that the looped brake line from the master cylinder to the combination valve was hitting the shock tower, so I removed the unit and gently persuaded the lines to move a bit towards the rear of the car. If you need to do this, be very careful so that you donít kink or crack your lines. Moving it over just ľĒ took care of all my problems and the booster and master cylinder slid into place. Maybe not gracefully, but certainly not as hard as getting the tranny mated to the engine! Note that the above is very different than the instructions. I like to install all the lines because I canít get my hands into some of those tight spaces. The only line left to attach to the hydraulic booster at this point will be the short line to the passenger-side of it.
9. I then reattached the four nuts to the studs making sure that they were firmly attached. Now the part where the pictures came in handyÖjust how did that brake switch fit in place along with the plastic washers? The pictures saved me and I installed the switch and booster connection and held it in place with the clip. Finally, I looked at my pictures and tried to estimate where the pedal should be at for height, then tightened the jam nut.
10. I would say that, at this point, if you had a vacuum line to the old booster, youíll want to remove the vacuum line and plug it with the supplied plug (the one that was on the hydraulic booster return line.
11. Next I finished the power steering line install by installing the short line onto the hydraulic booster and then started on the two brake lines. Because the master cylinder was now approx. 3 inches forward of its old position, I needed to bend two new lines, one from the back brake connection to the combination valve (most forward connection) and one from the front brake connection (in my case, the line lock, which is approx. where the original combination valve was located) to the combination valve (most rearward connection). For someone not familiar with bending brake lines, this could be the most frustrating and time-consuming step. I wasted 6 steel lines before I was able to get the bends just right. The front brake connection was the worst for me. But I did finally get them both installed.
12. I decided at this point to finish the power steering pump install. I put the pump into place and tightened the bolts on the brackets. Once that was tight, I installed the pressure line, then the hydraulic booster return line, finally the steering return line. This was the end of the first evening that I had available to work on it. To this point, Iíve spent about 3 hours on the installation, mainly because I spent extra time ensuring everything was just as I wanted, plus it took me a bit longer than Iíd hoped to bend the brake lines just right. Iíll start next with the brake bleeding.
Ok, now Iím getting close to being done. With that, the anticipation increases. After 12 years of cruddy brakes, Iím hoping for the best.
1. Now itís time to start with bleeding of the brakes, or so I thought before I got back out to the garage. Once I looked at my work from the previous day, one item stuck out at me and I put a firm hand to my forehead. As youíll likely see in the pictures, I had my rear brake line going up nearly as high as the top of the fluid in the master cylinder. This will be a brake bleeding nightmare if I leave it, so once again off came the line. And, with the joys of trying to bend a new one that remains low enough, again time to run to the store to buy more lines (lots more, as I know my luck). Luckily, it wasnít too tough to build, it was just hard to get the bend tight enough without kinking it. With that done, it was now time to bleed the brakes.
2. As a quick reminder when bleeding brakes, start with the passenger-side rear, then driver-side rear, then passenger-side front, and finally the driver-side front. When I was done with the brake bleeding, I re-installed the battery and tested the brake switch. With that all working, I moved up to the engine and started re-installing all the items I removed Ė spark plug wires (in the right order, of course), shock tower brace, air cleaner setup, but did remove one item, the coil wire.
3. Next I put in Ĺ quart of power steering fluid and cranked the engine for five seconds, then tested the level of the fluid. I did this repeatedly, using smaller and smaller additions of fluid each time until I didnít notice any change. I then pressed the brake pedal a few times, not hard, and not full travel, but enough to help purge the accumulator of air.
4. Then I reattached the coil wire and started the car for one minute, shut it off, checked the level, and repeated twice until I noticed no level change. With that done, I started my Mustang and let it idle for about ten minutes. When it was warmed up, I ran the steering from end to end several times, bumping up against the leftmost and rightmost steering turn limits. After that I stopped the car again and checked the fluid level. Itíd gone down slightly, so I only added about a Ĺ cup of fluid. Then I restarted the car and I pressed the brake pedal about Ĺ way down a good half-dozen times or more, pushing down slowly then letting it come up slowly. Then I applied full brake pedal pressure another half-dozen times and all seemed well.
5. I re-checked EVERYTHING for leaks Ė brake lines, power steering lines, return lines, etc. to make sure there was NO fluid leaking. I was good, so now it was time for the test drive
Test Drive 1
The first thing that I noticed was that when I pressed the pedal it was firm, very firm. Iíd not felt that in 20 years. Unfortunately it was raining, but how often do you get to test new toys, right? I opened the garage door and backed out, noting that I had brakes right away, no waiting for an electric vacuum pump. I got to the end of the driveway and turned onto the road and accelerated to about 20mph and pressed firmly on the brakes.
Firmly is maybe the wrong terminology. I pressed with the pressure that it used to take to stop my car previously, but with these brakes, thatís equivalent of dynamiting the brakes. All four tires locked and my face was within 3Ē of my steering wheel, only held back by the shoulder belt. Good thing I had decided to use it this ride! When I released the pedal, it only slowly came up, but since I read the instructions I knew that it was likely.
I drove around for about 20 minutes, but started to hear the whine of the PS pump, so I headed home. I let the vehicle sit overnight and cool. To this point, I had another 3 hours into the installation (including wasted time bending brake lines). Just 6 hours from old to new brakes, with an amazing difference in drivability.
Test Drive 2
Saturday AM, I checked the fluid levels and rechecked all the connections. Everything was perfect! So I had the kids and the wife jump in the car and we went cruising. Everything I had read on the forums was that I needed at least a 100 miles on the car to make the pedal more responsive. The first thing I heard when we got to the corner was ďHey, not so hard on the brakes!Ē Ohhh, if they only knew! I had absolutely no noise from the brake system or power steering system, no steering kickback, and the pedal is improvingÖthough even at the end of the ride was still coming up slowly, but I *just* have 100 miles on them.
I will admit that there is one difference that Iím going to need to handle. Since the power steering pump is taxed more heavily when the brakes are depressed hard, it lugs down the motor a bit. My car has a very lopey idle at 800rpm, and when I lug it down it stalls the motor. If I hold the RPM at 1000, then it seems just fine. This may be due to my very large cam and the nature of the motor, so Iím not concerned with this small change.
The kit is VERY complete, the only items Iíd suggest adding are a couple of plugs for the master cylinder when moving it to the Hydratech unit, and possibly a couple of 8Ē and a couple of 12Ē steel lines to reconnect the master cylinder to the brakes, or better yet, a couple of 6-8Ē steel braided lines with the ends installed. Other than that, I was amazed that extra fittings (ones that are now in my parts pile) were included even though I might not use them Ė he left me the option to put in the fitting that I needed, not necessarily just the one that was the easiest or cheapest to include.
The instructions are quite good, with the only weak area in discussing the connection from the master cylinder to the brake lines (bridging the gap since youíre moving out the connection point.
Now, if you take a look at the pictures that Iíve included, youíll see that this isnít a show car, itís a race car, and has all the dirt/dust/paint dings that could be expected from being rode hard and put up wet (ok, stretching the pony car metaphor). Regardless, this really added to the overall underhood appeal, and Iíve received lots of compliments on it since itís install, plus lots of question as to its effectiveness. When Iíve given people a ride, they instantly feel the difference!
Moving to driving my car, Iím going to have to re-learn how to use the brake pedal on my car. Previously, I had to have a VERY strong left leg to push on the pedal, especially at 112mph at the end of the quarter mile. Now I can see where Iím going to have to gently press it rather than heavy-footing it. Itís going to take some time, but itís going to be time well-spent. What better reason to do a lot of cruising?
The braking is AMAZING! Itís literally a modern brake system in an old muscle car. If you want to increase your safety, especially if youíve significantly upped your power and performance, than this is something that you really want to consider. If youíre tight on under-hood room (and who isnít?), then consider this to get back some width real estate, if you can deal with the slightly longer system. In my case, it pushed the master cylinder out approx. 3Ē from its old position, but I gained 3Ē all around the unit. Even though the hydraulic unit is slightly heavier than the vacuum booster, overall Iím saving about 5 lbs after removing the vacuum pump and reservoir that I previously was running. Plus I have no issues now with worrying if the vacuum pump got the reservoir back up to proper pressure. I know Iíll always have brakes now! As Paul is fond of saying, when youíre done installing his system, you can ďStop on a dime and get two nickels change!Ē
After getting used to the new POWER brakes, I worked to find the best way to use them at the drag strip. Iím now able to get up to the line and light both prestage lights, then depress the brake hard, then floor it! Yes, Iím able to hold the car with just the brakes!
What are the results of this new launch plan? A best-ever run of 11.88, quite an improvement over a previous 12.09 best. The reason is that Iím able to get the car up against the converter when I launch, hitting the tires harder and reducing my 60í times by over a tenth of a second!
Iím STILL very happy with this purchase and have not one bit of buyerís regret. This was likely the best decision Iíve ever made for my Mustang.