“Coming in hot! Shut her down!” That’s the last thing you want to hear when your 4x4’s brakes aren’t in tiptop shape.
Like most old 4x4s, our 1978 Ford F-250’s brakes leave much to be desired in the “Woah Mule” department. That said, RedFerd, as the truck has come to be known, certainly has potential to stop well with big honking drums on the Dana 60 rear axle and dual-piston calipers on the heavy-duty eight-lug Dana 44 front axle.
Unfortunately in the past 130,000 miles (or is it 230,000?) the front brakes have become pretty worn and the rear are apparently not functioning. The truck will stop with the pedal rapidly approaching the floor, but it doesn’t happen quickly. A truck like this will teach the driver patience and what makes for a good following distance.
An inspection proved that the rear hydraulic circuit of the brakes was dry as a bone, and the question is why. Based on the chrome valve covers and air cleaner on the Ford 460 as well as the burned tire residue in the rear wheelwells, we suspect that the previous owner may have drained the rear circuit to aid in the creation of a few smoky burnouts in RedFerd. And really, who would blame him?
The RuffStuff Specialties Ford Dana 60 1977-Newer Rear Axle Disc Brake Kit (PN R2054, $300) includes new rotors, calipers, caliper mounting brackets, brake pads, flexible brake hoses (we opted for the stainless steel upgrade for an additional $40), banjo bolts, caliper slide bolts, copper washers, a weld-on tab to hold the new brake hose, and a clip to hold the hose to the weld tab. RuffStuff also has similar kits for older Fords’ Dana 60s, Sterling axles, GM 14-bolt axles, Eaton axles, Ford 9-inch, and others.
Our stopping solution was to fill the rear circuit, wait, gravity-bleed the brakes, and see how it does. Our fix yielded slightly better braking performance, but overall it was still far from satisfactory. It became clear that the truck needed new brakes.
Now, we could spend a day replacing worn shoes, getting drums machined, and playing games with brake grease, springs, slots, and pins or we could look to the aftermarket for a disc brake conversion. After all, discs work great and they are easy to install and way easier to maintain. The only downside is if you use 1/2-ton calipers like we did you lose your parking brake—which we can live with since we can install one on the rear T-case output.
With a quick internet search we found several companies with caliper mounting brackets for a Ford Dana 60 rear axle and at least a few, like RuffStuff Specialties, with a full Ford Dana 60 disc brake conversion kit. The best part: It’s right at $300, a price that is easy to swallow, especially when we know we could spend half that or more just replacing worn drum brake parts and at the end of the day discs will work better and weigh less than the old drums. This kit is similar to others we have used on Ford 9-inch axles, GM 14-bolts, an Eaton, a Sterling, and more, so if you’ve got some other axle, follow along. Much of what we did will apply.
We started our quick install by jacking up the truck with our floor jack in our driveway and dropping it back down on some 3-ton jackstands. We also like to put the tire and wheel under the frame in case one of the jackstands vaporizes or collapses. As much as we like RedFerd, we don’t want to hold it in our lap.
Place a small catch pan under the hub, and loosen the eight axle retaining bolts. When the bolts are out, a tap with a small hammer or rubber mallet will loosen the axle from the hub. On this full-floating axle the wheel bearings ride on a spindle and are bathed in gear oil, so when you remove the axle and hub some gear oil will flow out. Hence the catch pan.
Next, remove the outer spindle nut. Start by driving the tabs of the lock washer free of the outer nut. Then with a huge socket (this case, a 2 9/16-inch) loosen the outer nut, remove the lock washer, and remove the inner nut. Use that huge socket or you can do like some former owner of RedFerd did and use a hammer and drift to remove the nuts.
Now you can pull the drum and hub. Be ready—they’re heavy. RedFerd’s drums were actually in decent shape, but the shoes needed to be replaced and at least one of the big springs in the brake was broken. Luckily we won’t need to source the shoes or the spring. Then you can loosen the metal brake line from the wheel cylinder on the drum backing plate and use some pliers to remove the parking brake cable.
With the hub and drum off the truck we loaded the unit into our shop press and pushed the wheel studs out of the hub and drum to free the hub assembly.
With the hard line disconnected from the backing plate and the hub/drum assembly removed, you can remove the four retaining bolts from the backing plate and remove the whole backing plate assembly with the shoes installed. That’s literally a load off the old Ford!
RuffStuff suggests using new Dorman wheel studs (PN 610-180), but that would require that you to switch to 9/16 lug nuts. For now we want to stick with the 1/2-inch wheel studs for simplicity, so we used a large impact socket and our shop press to reinstall the wheel studs that we’d pressed out of the drum/hub earlier. It’s probably a good idea to tack-weld the backs of the wheel studs once installed to ensure that they will not spin in the hubs later on.
The caliper mounting bracket has two slight bends that push the caliper mounting holes ever so slightly inward on the truck. Now is a good time to replace your hub’s inner seal and inspect your wheel bearings. Reinstall the hub spindle nuts following the sequence recommended in a service manual. You can then load the caliper with the pads and slide it over the rotor and install the included slide pins to hold it in place.
With the new brakes in place we cleaned the face of the hub with some brake clean and reinstalled the axleshaft with a skim coat of silicon on the mating surfaces.
The cleaner way is to cut the factory hard line and reflare it, but we took the quick, dirty way and carefully looped it into a circle to moves it away from the caliper and provide space for the new flexible brake hose. As mentioned earlier, the kit comes with a weld tab and a clip to retain the new hose on the axle. RuffStuff also recommends installing a manual proportioning valve in the rear brake circuit to dial back how much work your new rear discs will be doing during a stop. The front brakes should be doing most of the work, and you don’t want the rears locking up too early. Also, check out this caliper from RuffStuff. It has two bleeder valves and provisions for two brake hose mount positions. That means this one caliper can be used on either side of the axle. Remember to use the bleeder valve that is facing up, and if your caliper only has one it should face up to ensure all the air is evacuated from the system when bleeding.