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GrandAm Brakes

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Grand Am Brake Conversion

by Keith and Terri Gerhard

I always thought the Fiero brakes where just fine and couldn’t understand why everyone dogged them. I never had a problem with them autocrossing and at Waterford Hills raceway. Maybe it was in part due to the fact that the Pumpkin’s brakes actually worked properly, including the rear brakes (emergency brake and all). Or the fact that I’m a strange one and race an Automatic, that with the right driving style you almost do more braking with the transmission than the brakes (especially with the TH-125’s steep gears and being only a 3 speed.) Then I met up with Gateway Raceway. With over 100mph straightaway followed by a hard braking left-hander, I had no brakes after my first session. I mean no brakes period, pedal to the floor. After they cooled down I had to change my driving style by dropping into 2nd gear for the infield and using the transmission to slow me down and save my brakes for that nice long straight. This did slow my laps down a bit but not as much as if I couldn’t slow down enough to make a turn. Then I drove Keith Huffs car with drilled rotors and boy could that car pull hard.This, along with the fact I had to change my brakes before I headed home, made me think about a brake change. What made things even worse was when I got home my brakes where never the same. I actually seemed to notice brake fade during spirited driving and panic stops. I changed the brake fluid and swapped out the old rotors figuring the heat from the track may have done some permanent damage to the rotors, plus God only knew how old the brake fluid was. After I changed it I noticed an instant improvement but the fluid went from clear to black in less than a week. On a side note, I’ve started to change the brake fluid at every oil change. Just get a turkey baister and suck out the old fluid, wipe out the reservoir and refill with new fluid. Only takes about 5 min and I figured that if it’s done every 3,000 miles then I might get away without bleeding the system, which can be a pain. I started doing this with Terri’s old GMC Jimmy that had ABS, and the worst brake system I’ve ever seen. I kept hearing about how old brake fluid (which likes to soak up moisture) would gum up the small passages in the $500 plus ABS module. Then I was wondering why I never did this on the Pumpkin. But I still wasn’t totally happy with my brakes and was still looking for the answer to better brakes, just in case I ever get to go road racing again.I thentalked to Alan Mooty (407-275-5040) at the Daytona show, and I decided to try using the Grand Am brakes on the front only, since the biggest problem I had was brake fade from the rotors heating up too fast. I could lock-up the stock brakes if I wanted too so I couldn’t justify the cost of over a $1000 of going to the bigger rotor even though a bigger rotor would also take longer to start fading. With a bigger rotor brake system if you don’t have a big tire to help you slow down then your not using the full potential of the big rotors and wasting your money. In simple terms if you can lock-up the tires with your stock brakes, going to the bigger brakes you’ll just lock-up the tires quicker and you may even have longer stopping distance. Remember the time your car is braking the hardest is right before lock-up, which is why Anti-Lock brakes work so well. Sure the big brake kits are better but are they three times better since the Grand Am conversion is under $300 and the other kits are over $1000? Sorry, my money tree died a long time ago. I decided to do the Grand Am conversion and a bunch of my friends were waiting to do theirs until they saw how mine come out. Can we say Guinea Pig...squeak, squeak? Since my front brakes where getting low anyway (again) I sent an old set of rotors to Alan with a check for $90 where he cut off the rotor part leaving just the center hub and installs new lug studs. I decided to only do the front brakes since I wanted to retain my emergency brake to keep the car legal and mine still works great. The rear is just a one for one swap of the Grand Am rotor and caliper, easy but you have to work out an E-Brake system. Alan says some people have used a mechanical (verses electrical) line lock to hold on the rear brakes on. They usually work by pressing the brake pedal to engage the line lock and then when you let go of the pedal the back brakes will stay on until the lock is disengaged. Alan also suggested a master cylinder from a 92 full-size 4x4 blazer. While I was waiting for the hubs to come back I bought all of the other parts from Pep Boys: Rotors, and calipers from an 88 Grand Am, (if you get the “loaded caliper” they come with pads and pins etc) Fiero wheel bearings, and the Blazer master cylinder. I also decided to order a set of stainless braided brake lines since everything was coming apart anyway. Since the master cylinder only takes about 15min to install I decided to try it first. There was definitely a difference. The car felt like it had been turned into a manual disc brake system. You had to push down hard on the pedal to get the car to slow down. This was really noticeable at parking lot speeds and on the road they definitely pulled harder and the pedal was very high. All of this was due to the bigger bore of the master cylinder. Moves more fluid faster but takes more pedal pressure; it’s all physics, dude. I wish I would have found this out a couple of years ago when I converted my 60 Chevy P/Up to Disc brakes, I had a lot of pedal travel (went almost all the way down to the floor) and it was very easy to push down. I needed a bigger bore since it already had a Mopar car disc brake master cylinder but with truck brakes. It’s all coming together...now if I could just figure out how to hook the Dakota’s 360 to the Fiero and get the Flux capacitor to flux...sorry, where was I? When I went to the Carlisle Show there was a Fiero Store mini catalog in the goody bag and they had a Grand Am Brake kit for about $280 for everything, including a caliper-mounting bracket. I called Alan if I had needed a new bracket and he said I wouldn’t. That little voice inside of my head was saying that maybe Mr. Murphy might end up having a little fun with me when I try to put these brakes on.

I received the hubs from Alan, which looked very good. A week later I had some spare time so I decided to try to install them. Well Murphy did decide to make the job a little interesting. The hub went on fine but I had problems with the rotor. When I tried to put on the rotor it hit the dust shield and the caliper-mounting bracket. I thought no biggy, I’ll take off the dust shield and get out the grinder out and take a little meat off of the bracket. With that done I put on the caliper, or should I say, tried. The outboard pad on the caliper would not clear the front of the rotor. It was just a couple of millimeters too tight. I started to grind off some of the metal and managed to get the caliper on but the wheel wouldn’t spin. I was thinking about grinding more off, but then realized that if the bracket wasn’t ground exactly parallel with the rotor the brakes would wear funny. If I had used used parts I might not have a problem since the rotors and pads wouldn’t have had as much material. Although I might have a problem the first time I did a Pad or Rotor change. I didn’t want to cut a brand new rotor and getting the brakes shaved was just wasting money and would have to be done every time the brake pads where changed. I decided to take an extra set of brackets and have the pads that the calipers mount to shaved down at a local machine shop. It took me half a day just to find one that would do it for me, and it cost $65 (about one hour worth of work).

With the modified brackets, and after doing an anti-Murphy dance, I tried the swap again. This time everything went smoothly. I had left the braided steel lines on after the first attempt and the moment of truth was coming. I got in the car after Terri helped me bleed the brakes, and the pedal felt good. I went down the road and gave them a try and Murphy decided to give me one last poke. The car pulled to the right. I figured it was that the machine shop just cleaned up the one I ground by hand and matched the other side with the same amount material removed. I told them to take a little more off of the one I started but since I had to wait for them to have an opening in their work schedule they had probably forgotten. As the brakes heated up it got less noticeable. They weren’t tight when I installed them; I figured that the right side must have less air gap between the pads and the rotor so the brakes on the right side grab first.

The Verdict

The Pull is almost completely gone now that the brakes are broken in or seasoned, as they would say (no not with salt and pepper). I like the way they feel. They don’t fade as quick and cool down much faster. After some spirited driving (or as my dad would say “driving like an idiot”) on the back roads of PA, the brakes before would start to get mushy, start smoking and would smell so bad I got nauseous. Now they’ve never faded once and you could only smell the brakes a little bit. For under $300 and the ease of installation (when Murphy stays out of your hair) you can’t beat it. The kit from the Fiero store looks like a very good buy since it comes with the modified brackets. But, if you get Alan to modify an old set of rotors and shop around for the best price on the other stuff, you could save some money, plus you won’t have any cores that have to be shipped back. If you use Alan’s hubs try your stock bracket first before having it modified since he said I was the only one who had that type of problem. Maybe Murphy just likes me…

Keith and Terri Gerhard
The Great Pumpkin