When our '59 Chevrolet hit the showrooms it was advanced in a number of areas. The styling certainly pushed the envelope, from the "jet plane"–inspired intakes in the hood to the broad fins and "cat's eye" taillights in the rear. Under the hood performance options included a fuel-injected small-block or a 348, and either engine could be found backed by a four-speed transmission. But while there were a number of factors that make '59s really cool to this day, driving one makes them less so. Compared to contemporary cars the Chevy has all the handling characteristics one would expect from a car of this vintage—the ride is soft and squishy, which results in so much body roll in sharp corners it seems as though the rocker panels are dragging on the ground. And in today's traffic the brake's shortcomings are evident; bringing 3,500 pounds of Impala to a halt from freeway speeds with the original drum brakes is an eye-opening experience.
To ready our AMSOIL/STREET RODDER Chevy for the 2014 Road Tour, and to perform at a level we deemed necessary, Hot Rods By Dean (HRBD) swapped the stock chassis for a Roadster Shop perimeter frame with front and rear independent suspension (see the February and March SR for details). With the ride and handling issues addressed, the next consideration was updating the brakes. As we have in the past, we turned to Wilwood for their expertise.
Wilwood began doing business in 1977 and quickly became one of the predominant aftermarket brake companies supplying the race and street/performance markets. Wilwood brakes can be found in NASCAR, drag racing, dirt track, and just about every other form of motorized competition. In addition to motorsports Wilwood also manufactures brake systems and components for agricultural equipment, industrial applications, utility vehicles, snowmobiles, quads, motorcycles, and military vehicles. Of course they also have a vast array of street rod components and kits.
The Roadster Shop chassis under our '59 uses C6 Corvette spindles up front, so we chose Wilwood's brake kit for that application (PN140-8921). Included in the kit are massive Billet Superlite 6R six-piston calipers (PN 120-11778/79). The fully CNC machined billet bodies have six stainless steel pistons (three per side) with what is called a differential bore configuration. Adapted from Wilwood's racing brakes, it means that the piston sizes are staggered, in pairs, along the length of the caliper body. According to Wilwood, "Clamping pressure is proportionately distributed to provide balanced pad loading with even wear properties at all loads and temperatures. Pad life is extended and performance is measurably improved." These new versions of the venerable Superlite caliper series are available with radial mounting provisions. This style of mount allows the caliper to be adjusted on two planes—closer to or further away from the centerline of the spindle and in or out in relation to the center of the rotors' braking surfaces.
Rotors in the kit are 13.06x1.25-inch thick, drilled, slotted and carry PN 160-7798/99. As Wilwood describes them, "These rotors feature a specially engineered directional cross drill and face slot pattern that improve brake response and pad performance throughout the entire range of light to heavy braking. The venting and cleaning action of the holes and slots will reduce pad glaze and disperse gases and heat generated during the pad-to-rotor interface. The holes and slots also inhibit irregular pad compound buildup on the rotor faces resulting in smoother engagement and improved pedal response in all conditions. The material removed also contributes to lower rotating and unsprung suspension weight."