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A History of Automotive Brakes

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Braking Systems: An Evolution Story

Early Days

Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way to stop it. This has proven to be true for more than two centuries, when a horse stopping wasn’t enough to stop the carriage behind it. These early braking systems (dating to the early 1800s and possibly before) consisted of a wooden block against the wheel, which would place pressure on the wheel when the driver pulled a lever. Drivers would pull this lever after pulling the reins of the horse, to make sure the cart didn’t keep going after the animal stopped. The wooden block’s pressure against the wheel would create friction and slow the cart to a stop.

The Turn of the Century (1890s-1900s)

While the wood block on wooden or steel-rimmed wheels going no more than 20 miles per hour proved to be effective enough, the advancement of the rubber wheel and the higher-speed locomotive made this braking system ineffective, and soon virtually impossible to use. Because of this, efforts to create a new braking system began and were realized in 1902 when Louis Renault patented an early form of the drum brake that is used today.

By 1910, almost every vehicle used these drum brakes, which were equipped with semi-circle-shaped brake pads that pressed on the interior of the drum when the lever was applied. This was the first truly effective and reliable car braking system available, and was widely used until around the 1950s.

Mid-20th Century (1950-1970s)

Vehicles in the 1950s began to become more advanced, topping out at speeds upwards of 100 miles per hour. Because of this, a new braking system was in high demand, as the current model couldn’t keep up with the new speeds. In the late 1950s, disc brakes were developed and manufacturers started using them in cars in the 1960s, with almost every new car rolling out with disc brakes in the late 1970s.

Late 20th/Early 21st Century (Late 1970s-Now)

Disc brakes proved to be astronomically more effective and efficient than disc brakes, but they were more expensive to install than drum brakes. As a result, manufacturers began to produce cars that only had disc brakes in the front (where much of the braking power comes from), leaving the cheaper, less effective drum brakes in the rear of the vehicle.

Almost every car that is released now will be set up this way, with disc brakes in the front and drum brakes in the rear. While this is a mostly effective system for normal exertion, dry conditions, and day-to-day street driving, having drum brakes in the rear just doesn’t cut it when it starts to rain, on inclines, with higher speeds, or with heavy loads.

Brakes have come a long way since the wooden block method, and the car braking system has evolved to where you can have a high performance system to match your high performance vehicle. Find out why it’s time to ditch your drum brakes, and bring your car into the next century of automotive performance with a high performance brake conversion kit from Pirate Jack.