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1953 Studebaker Champion 4 Door Sedan

Brake Drum System - In Situ Project

After years of service the brake system on the '53 Studebaker Champion was simply worn out. To ensure that it operates safely on the road it was time to take it all completely apart and give it a full servicing. Now, luckily the brake system on this car is extraordinarily simple. The brake master cylinder is a single system (though it's recommended to upgrade to a dual master cylinder configuration) and all four wheels are fitted with drum brakes. In this article we'll go through the system piece by piece and restore or replace as we go.

As this project is done please keep in mind that it's properly raised on Jack stands at all times and the negative battery cable is detached.

We'll start on the front end first off you need to remove the dog dish hubcap. Be careful, these are fairly easy to deform.

Loosen the lug nuts, raise the car on jack stands, finish removing the lug nuts and set the wheel and tire aside.

Hereyou can see the front brake assembly before full disassembly. Again, this Studebaker has drum brakes on all four wheels.

First you need to remove the dust cap.

Pull the cotter pin that holds the castle nut in place.

Remove the castle nut.

Remove the bearing retaining washer

And now the outer wheel bearing.

At this point you should be able to lift the front brake drum away. Sometimes they need a little persuasion in terms of a BFH and big screwdriver.

Once the drum is off and on the ground remove the inner bearing race on the front side of the brake drum. You pay have to tap it out from the back side using a punch/screwdriver and a hammer.

Flip the drum over and carfully pry out the outer bearing race.

Lift out the inner bearing and then tap out the inner bearing race. I like to separately bag & label the bearings, races, etc. for front side and rear side of the drum.

Here you can see the brake assembly without the drum. In particular note the wheel cylinder, shoes and the way that the various springs and clips are laid out. This is a very important comparison picture for reassembly.

Start by removing the upper spring with a pair of pliers.

Then carefully remove the brake shoe retaining clips and their underlying spring washers.

Pop off the lower retaining spring clip.

At this point you can lift the shoes away from the brake assembly. Traditionally you would check these for wear and determine whether or not to reuse them. Safety Note: many old brake shoes were made, in part, with asbestos. Because of this I like to simply get rid of old brake shoes when I wasn't the person who originally put them on.

Here's the backing plate with the wheel cylinder still attached. Somehow I managed to misplace a couple photos. At this point you need to detach the rubber brake line from the back of the wheel cylinder. In addition to this you need to undo the four bolts with nuts that hold the brake backing plate to the wheel spindle assembly.

Finally you end up with a bare wheel spindle assembly like this. If you are only working on the brakes as I am, it's a good idea to get the backing plate mating surface cleaned off (both sides).

Don't forget we're doing both sides of the car. Here's the passenger side mostly disassembled.

With the front disassembled we'll turn our attention to rear drums. They are very similar to the front (both being drum brakes) but there are some specific items found on the rear brakes, and they have a slightly different configuration.

With the rear wheel removed you can see the drum brake assembly. Keep in mind that the lug nuts were initially loosened before the car was put in the air. Then the lugs were fully removed and the wheel set aside.

Akin to the front end there's a cotter pin and castle nut holding the drum in place.

Unlike the front drum, there's no bearings. The drum gets pressed onto the rear axle and requires some "assistance" to get it loose. Here you can see an old fashioned brake drum puller hooked up to remove the brake drum. If you ever see one of these, buy it immediately! I borrowed this one from a fellow Studebaker driver, and I've been looking for one for my own tool collection for years.

After applying a ridiculous amount of force to the brake drum via a really big socket wrench/breaker bar the drum will eventually pop loose. And, by pop loose, what I really mean is that it will stick there and you'll be convinced that it's not going to come off, so you head into the house for a fresh cup of coffee and while pouring it you hear an explosive bang and a clatter only to run back outside and find the brake drum sitting six feet from where it was mounted to the car.

With the drum removed you can see the guts of the rear brake assembly. As I mentioned before, it has a different configuration primarily due to the parking brake cabling set up.

First step is to remove the retaining spring clip from the bottom of the brake pad assembly.

Then disconnect the parking brake cable. There's a bit of a trick to this. You need to use a pair of pliers to compress the outer spring cable cover. Then you use a second set of pliers to slip the ball end of the cable out of the parking brake activating arm.

Now remove the retaining clip and any spring washers from the forward brake shoe. Also slip the upper spring off the back of the forward brake shoe.

Lever the brake shoe out of the assembly.

Here's something you always want to check for on the rear brake shoes of a Studebaker. See how the bottom part of this shoe has completely delaminated and disintegrated? There is an oil seal on the rear axle behind the brake assembly. This oil seal keeps the oil in the differential from leaking out the ends of the axles. Obviously the oil seal on this side has given up the ghost and will additionally need replacing. (This part is not covered in this article)

Lift out the spacing piece

Slip the upper spring out of the assembly

Remove the retaining slip and spring washers from the rear facing brake shoe.

Lift the rear brake shoe out. Now, take note of the back side of the shoe wher the parking brake lever connects. See the special retaining clip at the top? This needs to be carefully pried away from the assembly in order to remove the parking brake lever.

Here you can see a closeup of the retaining clip after removal. Once it's off the brake shoe and parking brake lever separate easily.

The rear shoe survived in better shape than the forward one.

Instead of a rubber brake hose going to the rear of the wheel cylinder the rear end of the Studebaker has rigid brake lines out to the wheel cylinders and a sinlge flexible rubber brake line that connects the master cylinder to the rear brake line assembly. Use a flare wrench to carefully remove the metal brake line.

Underneath all the road drit, grease and goo is the retaining plate for the parking brake cable. There are two nuts buried in all that stuff. Scrape it clean and remove the nuts. The plate should then slide free.

Here you can see the plate. Once it's removed it's realtively simple to slide the brake cable out the back of the brake drum backing plate.

Remove th efour nuts that hold the backing plate assembly to the rear axle. These are actually bolts that come through from the back so you may need to scrape the back clean though to find the bolt heads and put a wrench on them. Once they're off you can remove the interior metal/felt gasket. Behind it you'll note the shims and finally the backing plate.

Now slide the backing plate free.

Here is the bare axle. Don't forget we're doing this to both sides of the vehicle.

Here's the main section of the parking brake assembly. The parking brake worked well before, so we won't be looking at replacing any of the actual cables.

A little unbolting and depinning later and the parking brake assembly is on the ground.

Now it's time to get everything up on the bench and cleaned up. First step is to unbolt the wheel cylinders from the backing plates.

Now, if your backing plates looked like mine, then you'll want to spend some time with a wire brush and a scraper getting as much of the dirt, grease, oil, and gack off.

Here's the backside. As I mentioned these were particularly gooey.

The next step is to pull apart the wheel cylinders. Here you can see a partial exploded view. All four wheel cylinders look more or less like this.

Here is the fully exploded view.

Once you check the interior of the wheel cylinder for condition pack it with shop towels/rags. When you check the cylinder, you're checking to see if it needs a honing or if any rust has ruined the interor enough that it will no longer seal correctly.

Here's a photo of the front brake assembly up on the bench in an exploded view. Before you proceed too much further you'll want to check the bearings and determine whether or not they need replacing.

Here's a photo of the rear brake assembly on the bench in an exploded view. I like leaving my assemblies like this when I work on them because they tend to be easier to keep track of, and easier to visualize.

Once everything has had an initial go over, it all goes through the sandblaster and comes out looking like this. Please note, on brake drums be careful of the interior vertical surface where the shoe is applied. You don't want to rough this up. Alternatively you can sandblast the heck out of everything and get the drum turned when you're done.

Here's a quick picture of the painting process. A good trick on keeping the wheel cylinder threads clean is to reattach the old rubber brake line.

Another painting process photo.

A selection of the parts all sandblaster, painted and ready for reassembly.

Here's a trick. Old brake bleeders don't necessarily go bad, but they do get goobered up internally. Take a fine drill bit and insert it into the brake bleeder and then rotate it by hand. It'll dig out any goop inside the bleed screw. You can then use an air gun on the air compressor to blow any residual bits out.

Here's the goodies. This whole pile of bits was delivered quickly from Chuck over at There's even a couple candies for energy!

Attaching the brake hose to the wheel cylinder is easier to see if shown on the bench. Note the copper washer. Always use a new copper washer for reassembly.

Here's the preshely painted wheel cylinder shown with the plungers and the rebuild kit. Assembly process is the same for all four wheel cylinders.

First step is to insert the plunger into the rubber wheel cylinder cap. Applying a little brake fluid to the rubber makes this really easy.

Install the rubber end cap on one side of the wheel cylinder. Then tip it up on end.

Coat one of th einner rubber seals with brake fluid, set it in the top of the wheel cylinder so that it's oriented for the opposite end. Insert the spring and it will press the seal down to the bottom of the wheel cylinder.

Coat the upper interior seal with brake fluid, set it in place, and then install the remaining cylinder cap.

Set the Wheel cylinder into the correct location on the brake backing plate. Tighten down the two bolts that hold it in place.

You can do final installation of the brake hose now, or when it's on the car.

Set the backing plate into the correct location on the spindle.

Add the nuts and tighten down the nut/bolts.

Set the new brake shoes in place. Connect the upper spring and then the lower spring clip.

Place the spring washers and retaining clips over the posts that hold the brake shoe in place.

Replace the interior beearing races. Pack the bearing with grease and press it into place.

Press in the bearing retaing cap.

Put the 1/2 assembled brake drum on the spindle.

Pack the front bearing in grease and press into place

Add the retaining washer

Add the castle nut, and the cotter pin.

Finally, press the dust cap into place.

Connect up the new rubber brake hose to the metal brake line.

Reassembly of the rear brake drums is very similar to the front with the exception of the parking brake assembly and the lack of bearings. I seem to have lost my photos of this segment of the work.

Once the rear brake drums are reassembled correctly, reattach the parking brake assembly. Once you've got the car done and on the ground again you'll likely have to adjust the parking brake cable tension to get it just right.

Also keep in mind that the entire system needs to have fresh brake fluid added and bled. If you're rebuilding the master cylinder as well, or at least draining the entire system I strongly recommend switching over to DOT5 brake fluid instead of DOT3/4.

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

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