By Allen Bishop
Money, Horsepower, Brakes: You Never Can Have Enough.
"I remember the first time I went to Le Mans, it was 1954. Ferrari was running the big 4.9 roadsters (the 375 Plus). Jaguar had the D-Types, they were really advanced technically. Near the end of the Mulsanne straight, you could see how much the Jags could out-brake the Ferraris. God! The 4.9s would thunder into the turn, downshifting with flames belching out of the tailpipes - this was at dusk during practice. While the Jag - you could see their brake rotors through the Dunlop wheels glowing dull red!" Phil Hill recollecting to the author some years ago (loosely quoted).
Brakes are the most critical system in any car, especially in a car capable of the performance levels of a Ferrari. Yet, along with worn out suspension, I almost never fail to find deteriorated braking systems on the older Ferraris that I work on. Partly it is the fault of the brakes themselves - the components that make up the system are totally out of sight, except for the master cylinder and booster. Even when new, parts such as calipers, pads and hoses are hardly designed to look soul-stirring in the way a V-12 engine is. That can spell neglect.
Modern brake systems will continue to function under moderate driving conditions long after they have passed the point of no return. I have test driven several Ferraris whose brakes did work, or seemed to. But upon tear down and inspection, at least some components were literally unrestorable. Rebuilding a severely worn braking system, for me at least, is one of the filthiest, most utterly frustrating jobs I can undertake. Yet under such circumstances, there are no shortcuts: each and every component must be completely rebuilt or replaced and the completed system tested and retested until there is no question that all is once again 100%.
On the other side of the coin, routine maintenance of a braking system that is in top condition is simpler than an engine oil change. Minor fault diagnosis in a well-maintained system is also very simple.
What can you, the Ferrari owner, do to keep the braking system on your car in top condition? If you are driving a new 348 or 456, insist that your servicing agency follow the factorys recommended maintenance procedures. One note here is that recommended Ferrari friction pad changes are based on far harder driving conditions than we do stateside, so there is some slack there, but that does not mean that the pads should not be checked regularly. Uneven wear of the pads is often the first sign of problem.
If you own an older car, here is a list of checks and cautions based on my experience as a mechanic and driver:
- If you have any doubts about your own mechanical aptitude, or dont like to get your hands really dirty, dont touch your braking system.
- Never allow an evident problem with the brakes to go untouched for any length of time.
- Conventional brake fluid is very corrosive even when new, and when "aged" is absolutely instant death to Rosso Corsa, or any other paint color if spilled on a fender.
- I do not recommend the use of silicone based brake fluid in any Ferrari of any vintage. If you want a technical dissertation on silicone based brake fluid, look elsewhere but be aware that it may void your warranty if used. You have been warned.
- Use only the best conventional brake fluids. Castrol "LMA" or equivalent.
- Flush, i.e., completely change your Ferraris brake fluid, once a year, minimum. If you purchase a Ferrari that is charged with the silicone stuff, do flush it, but you will have to retain silicone fluid in the system until overhaul time - then get rid of it.
- If you elect to drive in a club speed event, thoroughly inspect your braking system prior to the event, flush the system, then flush it again immediately after the event is over.
- Relative to the above, you may want to use a racing brake fluid in your car for a speed event. Do not do so unless your brakes are freshly overhauled. Racing brake juice has a much higher boiling point; the highest rated fluids are rated 550-600 degrees F. But, they are ruthlessly corrosive and have a very short operational life. If you elect to use something like AP550 fluid, get rid of it immediately after the event is over. Do not retain opened cans of this stuff, nor leave it sitting idle in your brake lines. It can and truly will attack the rubber and steel/alloy components.
- When inspecting brake pads, dont just look at them - remove them and measure their remaining thickness. Find out what they should be new, and what the minimum thickness should be. Generally, pads should be replaced when half worn.
- Dont use sintered-metal pads for general driving purposes. They dont stop well when cold, and never come up to full efficiency around town. Also, they can really tear up the brake rotors because dirt wont imbed in them properly. Have you priced a pair of new rotors lately?
- Don't overlook items that seem fine in appearance but might not be functioning properly. For example, many Ferraris came equipped with rubber brake hoses manufactured by ATE. While they might appear fine from the outside, these hoses tend to collapse internally as they age. If you are experiencing pulling, smoking, or locking brakes in your Daytona or similar car, be sure to check the hoses.
In future articles, I will detail some specifics regarding brake operation and maintenance.
About the author: Allen Bishop owns Galloway Enterprises, a full service shop specializing in Ferrari maintenance and repair. Located in the Pacific Palisades, he has been working on Ferraris for more than 20 years. If you have any questions, feel free to call him at: 310-454-1904.
For a complete look at Sempre Ferrari, you may want to check out the
rest of the articles from
Volume 2, Issue 1 - January 1995