Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brakes, Part III: Shoes and Drums

In a drum brake system the shoes are located inside of a drum which spins around an axle and to which the wheel is attached. Pressing the brake pedal forces the outer surface of the shoes--through hydraulic pressure--to contact the inner surface of the drum, slowing rotation of the drum and wheel, and stopping the car. Each time you brake a small amount of the brake shoe is worn away. A smaller amount of the drums (drums are cast iron) is also worn away; usually the wear on the drum is not exactly uniform, so over time the brake shoes need to be relined with new friction material, and the drums (usually) need to be turned, i.e. ground down until the surface is uniform and smooth (actually, not exactly smooth, but uniformly rough in order for the shoes to "grab" it better).

When I removed the drums on my car I got several surprises. First, the brake-shoe return system (the springs and clips that pull the brakes back into the "off" position when you release the brake pedal) was not installed correctly. Also, the shoes and drum were oil-soaked, a result of wheel cylinders that had leaked because of long-time inactivity. This is normal in cars put in storage for long time periods because small amounts of moisture inside the hydraulic (oil) system eventually corrode the metal. The rubber seals also degrade and both of these allow brake fluid to leak out of the system onto the shoes and drums. This does not usually occur if the car is used daily because even if there is a small amount of moisture in the system, braking causes it to move around so it doesn't have the chance to corrode a specific spot.

I knew before buying the car that I would have to replace at least some of the components of the hydraulic system ( I ended up replacing most of it), but after assessing the condition of the brake shoes and drums I realized I would also have to replace the shoes and turn (repair) the drums.

Before: Notice oil-soaked and corroded hardware.

After: Relined shoes, new wheel cylinders, cleaned hardware. The "hardware" is the springs at top and bottom and the two clips on the sides. I de-rested these Evapo-Rust, a very handy product to have on hand!

Hardware before Evapo-Rust

Hardware after Evapo-Rust

Freshly-turned drum. Isn't it pretty? I had Austin_Brake_&_Clutch turn the drums and reline the shoes. They have the proper equipment to turn these old-style front drums.

The threads on the axle were stripped. Here I am re-cutting the threads uing a die.

New tap and die set I bought from Harbor_Freight. The quality of the tools they stock is not as good as Craftsman,which I prefer, but they have a HUGE selection in stock, so you can usually find odd special tools there. I also bought my Evapo-Rust there.

After bleeding the brakes and adjusting the shoes the brake system is now restored and works as new, which was among the best, if not the best, in the industry for 1953. The Jul.-Aug. 1986, #94, issue of Special Interest Autos (now Classic_Car) road tested a 1953 Kaiser and said that "The large, 11-inch drum brakes pull the car down from 60 mph in about 225 feet (the same as a disc-braked modern car of this weight)." Not too bad for a 58-year-old car!

Here are the specifications, including brakes, for the 1953 Kaiser taken from the same issue of Special Interest Autos.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brakes, Part II: Wheel Cylinders and Lines

I had planned to do the same thing with the wheel cylinders as I was going to do with the master cylinder, viz. rebuild them. But they were in just as bad condition as the master cylinder, so it ended up that I bought new ones instead of rebuilding the old. It is not always easy finding parts for Kaisers and Frazers now, but there are a number of sources. Kaiser_Willys is a source that specializes in parts for Willys Jeeps. Kaiser-Frazer purchased Willys in 1953, and so they have many parts in common, but they are not always an exact fit. For example, the right front wheel cylinder's bolt holes were in the opposite corners on Kaisers than on Willyses, so I had to drill new holes in the backing plate for that wheel cylinder. All the rest fit perfectly with no drilling.

New wheel cylinder next to the old wheel cylinder. Notice that the old one has a chip, which in and of itself would have made it impossible to rebuild. Even without that chip, each of the old wheel cylinders were in similar condition to the master cylinder, with pits too deep to hone smooth (see previous post).

Drilling holes in the backing plate for the new right front wheel cylinder. Kaiser-Willys sent me a pattern with the new wheel cylinder which I used to mark the points for the new holes.

Here is the backing plate after two new holes were drilled. The old holes are now superfluous, but do not negatively affect the new wheel cylinder.

There was one small section of brake line near the rear left rear wheel that I accidently crimped as I was unscrewing the old fitting that hooks the brake line to the wheel cylinder. In order to make a new one I bought a length of the correct diameter line with fittings, measured the old line, cut the new one to size, bent it to the correct shaped, and flared the end so it would mate to the fitting on the wheel cylinder.

From left to right are the line-cutting tool, flaring tool, and shaping tool. At bottom are new brake lines. They come in common pre-cut sizes with fittings, so if you have a common vehicle, you would only have to shape the lines. But there was no size that fit the Kaiser, so I had to cut it to size and re-flare the (straight) end I had cut so it would seal properly.

New brake line after I had cut it.

Flaring the end of the freshly cut brake line.

Compare my flaring on the left with the flared end that came with theline on the right (it's the extra length of line I cut off to make the line the correct size).

New brake line installed on the car. Also note the new rubber brake line between the frame and suspension in the bakground. There are three of these on the car: two in front and one in the rear--I replaced all three.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brakes, Part I: Master Cylinder

Before I bought the car the owner told me the brakes "needed some work." After getting it here and starting to assess the brakes I learned just how much work they needed: a complete overhaul.

Automotive brakes use a hydraulic system having either disc or drum brakes or a combination of both. Kaiser, like most 1950's American cars, had drum brakes, so the following explanation will be based on that system.

In a hydraulic drum brake system there is a master cylinder connected by steel lines to four wheel cylinders, one at each while. The system is filled with fluid. When the brake pedal is depressed it actuates the piston in the master cylinder, pushing the fluid out of the master cylinder and through the brake lines. This increases the pressure in the (4) wheel cylinders. In each wheel cylinder the increasing pressure forces both pistons (there is one at each end of the wheel cylinder) outward. These pistons, in turn, force brake shoes, which are lined with a friction material, outward and against a steel drum that rotates around them. The car's wheels are bolted to these steel drums, hence stopping them (via the friction created when the shoes press against the drums) stops the car.

The wheel cylinder is at the top. When pressurized fluid enters it, it pushes the pistons outward, pushing the shoes (right and left) outward, which press against the drum (removed here).

In older cars that have sat for a long period of time small amounts of moisture can enter the line, which--if allowed to sit in the same place--can rust cylinders or lines, resulting in leakage. Additionally, the rubber components in the master and wheel cylinders can also deteriorate, leading to loss of sealing power and leakage, which of course means loss of braking power. Besides the hydraulics the brake shoes can become worn thin, or oil-coated (if the wheel cylidners or oil seals are leaking--the oil seal prevents the grease that lubricates the wheel bearings [which the wheels rotate around] from coming into contact with the brake shoes) and the drum can become grooved. I knew from the owner's description that the wheel cylinders, or at least some of them, would have to be rebuilt. I decided I would check over the whole system first to determine what would need to be re-built or replaced, including master cylinder, (4) wheel cylinders, lines, drums and shoes.

I began with the master cylinder. From a visual inspection alone I determined that it needed at least to be rebuilt with new rubber seals. So I ordered a rebuild kit from Kanter_Auto_Products, and disassembled the master cylinder. The first step in the re-building process is to thoroughly clean the cylinder, which I did by first soaking and scrubbing with mineral spirits, followed by a spray application of brake cleaner. These two steps remove all grease and oil. To remove the rust I soaked the cylinder overnight in Evapo-Rust, an amazing product that removes all traces of rust, leaving clean, bare metal. Best of all, the product is non-toxic and biodegradable!

Brake Pedal

Brake pedal removed in preparation to removing master cylinder, which bolts to the frame directly under the brake pedal.

Brake pedal removed

Master cylinder removed

Cleaning the master cylinder with brake cleaner. This is very toxic, and I should have been wearing goggles. All the other times I WAS wearing goggles!

Master cylinder and associated parts before Evapo-Rust

Master cylinder and associated parts after Evapo-Rust

The next step is to hone the master cylinder. Over time small amounts of rust will pit the metal, leaving a rough surface. In order for the seals to work properly you must have a smooth surface, which is achieved through honing. I bought a small hone that can be attached to a hand drill from Harbor_Freight_Tools. In order to achieve a true hone, you must have the master cylinder held stationay on a vise. Normally you would attach the vise to a work bench, but since I don't have one I had to think of an alternative method. So I bought a laminated shelf from Lowes, and a suction mounted vise from Sears. I mounted the vise onto the shelf and anchored it with my knee as I honed.

Here is my vise / honing operation. It worked very well, but unfortunately the master cylinder was beyond repair.

After much honing I realized that the pits in my cylinder were too deep for it to be rebuilt. It would be possible to hone until the pits were completely gone, but by that time the cylinder bore would be too large, which would prevent the seals from sealing properly, so that was not an option. After all of that work, I ended up returning my rebuild kit to Kanter and ordering a new (rebuilt, actually) master cylinder, which is now installed in the car.

New Master Cylinder

New and old side by side

The back of the master cylinder has two fittings that the two brake lines attach to. One of them is a rectangular brass piece that is not fixed, i.e. before you tighten the end fitting, the side fitting (the brass piece) can be placed at any angle relative to the master cylinder you want, but of course it must be placed at the correct angle to line up with the brake line. So before I removed the end fitting I had my wife take a picture of the two fittings to I could get the angle right when I put them back together.

Picture of the angle of the brass fitting

Here I am ready to install the brass fitting on the new master cylinder. I brought the picture up on the computer, measured the angle (crudely) with two rulers (they wouldn't have needed to be rulers, but they served as a convenient straight edge) and...

transferred the angle to the new master cylinder, then tightened the end fitting down with the brass fitting at the correct angle. And it worked!

Monday, April 20, 2009


After the Kaiser arrived and was parked in its spot, I went to lock the doors, only to find out the key I had did not fit in the locks (although it did fit the ignition). At first I thought the locks might just be frozen and sprayed them several times with WD-40 in an attempt to loosen them up. But it became clear that these were the wrong keys.

After consulting with my Kaiser-Frazer_chat_group I learned that I did not need to take the door panel off as I thought I would (what a relief!). There is an access hole in the door jamb you use to remove the locks. So I took the door locks out. While I was at it I decided to take the lock out of the glove box, because it too was did not work with my key.

A couple of screwdrivers and a hinged mirror were all I needed to remove the glove box lock

Close up of the glove box lock hole

Once I got the door and glove box locks out I took them to a local locksmith, who kept them for 3 days before telling me they couldn't fix them. It looked like I needed a specialist, so I turned (as I always do in cases like this) to Hemmings_Motor_News, the largest and best publication for everything related to the old car hobby. I found a locksmith, Jessers, who specializes in classic cars. They said they could do my lock cylinders, so I sent them away.

Door locks (left) and glove box lock (right)

I waited a little over a week before getting them back. I was surprised to find that they had not rebuilt the glove box cylinder (they never called me to inform me of this, just put a note in with the other keys). I later spoke with them and they said they could make a new key for the lock. This was after I had already received the locks though, so I decided not to bother with it: it's not the end of the world if I can't lock my glove box.

The day after I received the locks I installed them in the car. I had to remove the door handles to do it, which is also a simple operation, accessible through a hole in the door jamb. The most difficult part was guiding the rebuilt lock cylinders back into their proper slot in the door. As you can see there is a long shaft protruding from the cylinder, which needs to line up exactly into a slot on the opposite side of the door, which you can't see because as you put it in, the lock cylinder blocks your view. I slipped a magnetic_grabber in through the handle hole to guide the shaft into the slot and it worked well.

Lock and handle removed. I went through the handle hole to guide the locks back in. Note the original Stardust Ivory color (too dirty here too look very good).

Lock now installed

The locks are now installed and I can finally lock up the car! I will probably wait until I get around to the restoration before I fix the glove box lock (again).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Covering the Dragon

One of the things I struggled with when deciding whether to buy the Kaiser is the fact that I don't have a garage right now. I decided, though, that since I plan to restore this car one day that any weathering it might get parked outside can be fixed in the restoration. Besides a good cover will protect it well enough for now. So, once I bought the car, I started looking for a cover. Initially I liked the idea of a touchless car cover, but the Kaiser ended up being too long for that. After some searching I decided on the Covercraft Evolution Car Cover, which is supposed to give the best protection for stormy weather like hard rain and hail which we occasionally get, and also does a good job of keeping the sun out. When you order the cover they custom make it for your car, so it fits really well. They do not, however, make an opening for an antenna, and since the Kaiser has an antenna I had to make one from the kit they provide. First I test fitted the cover on the car.

And marked the spot where the antenna goes.

Then I drew a circle for the cutout.

And put in the retainer ring.

Next step is to tie it down.

It fits!

And now the car is protected.

It seems like a really good cover and I am glad to have it since I cannot put it in a garage now. But I plan to do that as soon as I can.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


My son and I in front of the Kaiser

Any time you buy an old car you have to decide what you want to do with it. Just drive it? "Fix it up?--this could be as simple as a basic tune-up or involve new paint, upholstery etc.--or restore it? And if it is a restoration you want to do will you aim for a concours quality job (meaning absolutely correct and as good as or better than the car rolled off the assembly line floor at the factory), or for a "driver?" Will you keep it "stock" (sticking to the original engine, wheels, tires, paint, upholstery, etc., etc.,) or will you opt for a customized job--perhaps a mild custom, which might involve nothing more than an upgrade from a 6 to a 12 volt electrical system, disc brakes and maybe "cherry" red paint, or another non-factory color.

Personally restoration, to me, means to bring something back to a former state, not to alter it. I love old cars not only for their integrity, solid engineering and beautiful styling but also for their quirks. I love a 6-volt electrical system with an ammeter whose needle jerks to "discharge" momentarily every time the turn signal light blinks. I love drum brakes and have never seen a compelling reason to switch over to discs. In all the years I have driven cars with all-drum-brake systems I have never felt unsafe or felt like I needed more braking power. I even love the old vacuum operated windshield wipers that slow down to a crawl when climbing a hill. Some other things I love about old cars (and hate about customizations) are their steering wheels, those distinctive cast plastic or painted, chrome-ring affixed, blazing medallion decked, huge and beautiful steering wheels found in cars of the 40's and 50's. When I see a '49 Mercury with a late model, small plastic or vinyl steering wheel, when I see a modern CD player inserted in place of a tube-type radio, when I see modern bucket seats upholstered in gray cloth in place of a uniquely designed, color coordinated 1950's bench seat, it is all I can do to keep from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off! A restoration should do just that: restore the car.
With that said, my plans for this Kaiser involve a period of driving it, using it and having fun for a number of years (at least until I can get out of school and get a house with a garage/shop), after which I would like to perform a full, body-off-frame, restoration. The car as it is is in fine mechanical and cosmetic shape, but there are several deviations from stock which I mentioned in an earlier post, including paint color, seat insert fabric and tail-lights. The motor (which is a replacement, but the original type) is painted an incorrect color of green. Even after I restore it it will not be a trailer queen, i.e. never driven except on and off a trailer at shows. Nevertheless, once it is restored I will probably be more hesitant to drive it regularly, but will plan to take it out occasionally.

The white inserts are non-original (black vinyl is stock)

This is the B-pillar which still has the original Laguna cloth with rectangular patterns. This is the material that should be where the white inserts currently are on the seats and door panels.

So there is the plan. There are a few mechanical issues that need to be dealt with before I can drive it regularly, which I will post in due time. For now, I am just happy to have it, excited to work on it and looking forward to many years of enjoyment from an automobile "built to better the best on the road."

Lower Dashboard

Eric loves to drive--especially if it's a Kaiser!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Dragon Comes Home

The Kaiser in its new home

The Kaiser has arrived. Yesterday morning the movers phoned me and said they were in Houston, where they were fixing a part on their truck. They expected to be in Austin in the afternoon. I waited and finally called them about 6:30 p.m.--They were just leaving; it turns out their repairs had taken longer than anticipated. So I waited around some more and then at about 9:30 they called again and said that they were at a grocery store parking lot down the street (they couldn't fit the rig into our complex). So I walked down there and saw a beautiful new (old?) Kaiser. They gave me the keys and I got in to drive it the several blocks to our house: the only problem was it wouldn't start. The drivers insisted it had started right up for them every time, but it was obvious that the battery was dead. We had someone stop by who offered to jump start it, but I had to decline: 1953 Kaisers, as most American cars of that vintage, used 6-volt batteries. Modern cars are use 12-volt batteries, so jumping would be a bad idea. Also, Kaisers used a positive ground. By that time it was after 10:00, so I ran back home, got in our (other) car, and headed to Autozone. I got there just at 11:00 and made it in before they locked the doors. I was lucky that they had a 6-volt battery in stock: apparently they are used in golf carts and marine applications.

I drove back to the grocery store, put the new battery in the trunk, drove home, put the tools I would need in a bag and walked back to the grocery store, where I replaced the battery and started the car right up.

When I talked to the owner he had mentioned that the brake pedal was "soft." I soon found out just how soft: when I pushed it, it went straight to the floor. Lucky for me the emergency brake is in good working order. I pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the street to put some gas in the tank--braking solely with the emergency brake. I filled up and drove home, almost crashing into the curb because the brakes were not working (emergency brakes only operate the rear brakes on most cars, but it is the front brakes that provide the majority of the stopping power). In addition to bad brakes, the engine is running extrememly rough--it needs a tune-up.

The important thing, though, is that the car is here. I am excited to get it into proper running order and register it so I can do with it what I bought it for: drive it! Actually, I plan on driving it for a number of years as is, but eventually I would like to do a full restoration of the vehicle to make it show worthy, at which point I will be scared to drive it (but probably still will). So until then, I plan to enjoy it.

Rear View of the "New" Kaiser