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Brake Ordeal

June 12, 2005

I've had plenty of experience over the years doing brakes so this isn't going to be about how difficult the actual labor was but more along the lines of how a simple job can turn into a huge headache when you're dealing with an old car. I also realize that this could have been much worse than it's been so far and honestly, not having the Internet available would have made this miserable.

To start at the beginning, this car has been mostly sitting for about 3 years because of leaking wheel cylinders. Within the last year and a half, the fuel pump went bad so with the exception of the few seconds it ran off of gas dumped down the carburetor a few weeks ago, it hasn't run in that long. I bought the car in December so I had plenty of time to gather the parts I should have needed to fix the brakes on the car.

Notice how I said "should have been"? Both my parts book and the TSM for the car said it had Bendix drum brakes. Once I sold my Rebel, I purchased new wheel cylinders, shoes, springs, and adjuster kits for the car going on the assumption that it had this type of brakes on it. The Monday after it came home (you'd think I'd have learned about working on cars on Monday's), I decided to start in on the brakes. I jacked the car up, put it on jack stands, and took the driver's side front drum off. Surprise! The car has Wagner drum brakes on it.

Grumbling to myself about having parts I couldn't use or return (I had them too long), I figured, no big deal (that's not what I said, I'm not going to print that here since I'm trying to keep the site family friendly), I should be able to sell the parts I have and I'll just order new parts tomorrow and continued taking the wheel cylinders out. On these cars, it's easiest to disconnect the hoses at the body to get the front wheel cylinders out (you can unbolt the cylinder from the hose but there's not much room to work and the hoses needed to be replaced anyway) so I sprayed the connection to the brake line with PB Blaster and let it soak a while. The flare nut came out of the fitting on the end of the hose easy enough, but was rusted to the brake tube and twisted the tube pretty bad before I noticed it (this is also a bad sign since the steel tubes shouldn't twist very easily). The passenger side did basically the same thing so I just saved myself some trouble and cut both lines at the brake hoses and finished taking things apart. I also took a look at the wheel bearings and they were loose so I just added them to the list of parts I needed. For those of you playing at home, the list of parts I needed is now:

  • Brake shoes for Wagner brakes
  • Springs and hold-down hardware
  • Self adjuster kits
  • Wheel cylinders (these were also different)
  • Brake hoses
  • Brake lines
  • Wheel bearings

This is a pretty big list considering I had all the parts I needed to fix the brakes before I started!

I knew that Inline Tube made brake line kits for 68-69 American's with manual drum brakes so I got cleaned up and started looking at my parts book to see how different the brake lines are between 1967 and 1968 Americans. It turns out that two different master cylinders are used for 1967 manual drum brake cars. Cars with Bendix master cylinders use the same lines as 1968 but two of the lines are different if you have a Wagner master cylinder. Guess which one I have? The main difference is that the Wagner master cylinder is longer than the Bendix one so the line going to the "T" fitting and one of the lines going to the pressure differential valve on the passenger side of the firewall are different. Both of these lines looked okay so I ended up buying the 68/69 set with the plan of reusing a couple of the lines.

The next day, I started looking for the rest of the brake parts I needed. The hoses and bearings were no problem and I ordered those from AutoZone. The rest of the parts ended up being a different story. No one I checked with listed Wagner brake parts for a 1967 American. I looked at the VIN and body tags on the car and it turns out I have a pretty early 1967 so I went under the assumption that it used the same brakes as a 1966 American. That got me part numbers for shoes and wheel cylinders. The big problem I had now was that no one listed anything other than shoes and wheel cylinders for this type of brake (I even checked the Raybestos and Wagner web sites to see if they had them listed). There was a mention on the AMC-List not long ago that Advance Auto Parts listed other vehicles that the part fits in the Buyer's Guide for each part (you have to go into the part detail page to see this link). International, Studebaker, and Volvo used the same rear shoes (the front's are only listed for AMC's) that I needed so I started looking for parts for those models.

To make a long story short, the brake springs and hold down hardware is the same for the front and rear brakes and I found a Volvo restoration parts house called Swedish Treasures that had these parts. I was unable to find a place in the US that had the adjuster kits (CVI Automotive in Sweden carries them along with the resting block for the shoes) so I'm just going to use what I have now. The shoes and wheel cylinders came from Rock Auto and I also ordered a rebuild kit for the master cylinder from them at the same time.

While I was waiting for these parts to show up, I started taking the engine compartment brake lines and the fuel pump off (it's being rebuilt as I type this). Needless to say, I had the same problems with those brake lines (the one going to the rear was seeping out of the tube itself) and the lines attached to the fuel pump (that made getting the fuel pump off a real joy). Once I had new lines to compare to, I also found a cosmetic difference in the brake line going from the "T" fitting by the mater cylinder to the pressure differential valve. I've sent these three brake lines and the three lines (vacuum advance, vacuum wiper, and fuel) attached to the fuel pump off to be reproduced so within about a week, a correct for 1967 American brake line set should be available from Inline Tube. The other lines I sent in fit 1967 AMC's sixes with a 1 barrel carburetor and vacuum wipers but they'll be available as well.

The rest of the brake parts came in while I was messing with the lines so once it quits raining here (my garage gets wet when it rains hard because water comes in under the doors), I can start putting the front brakes together. To summarize the parts, here's what I've ordered and where it came from (this parts list should work for all AMC's with 9 inch Wagner drum brakes):

  • Shoes: Raybestos 159RP and 158PG (Rock Auto)
  • Wheel cylinders: Raybestos WC36029 (need two of these), WC36028, and WC36027 (Rock Auto)
  • Master cylinder rebuild kit: Raybestos MK529 (Rock Auto)
  • Brake lines (stainless steel): SARB6801 (Inline Tube)
  • Front brake hoses: Brakeware 88487 (AutoZone)
  • Rear brake hose: Brakeware 88245 (AutoZone)
  • Brake springs: 25290 (Swedish Treasures)
  • Brake hold down kits: 659663(64)-1 (Swedish Treasures)

I also picked up new Timken (original AMC supplier) front wheel bearings and seals. These are common as dirt and just as easy to find at your local auto parts store.