I’ve been a Hot Rodder / Street Rodder for as long as I can remember and like a whole lot of others I’ve always favored the ‘28 to ‘34 Fords. The first time I saw a pair of 45 Fin Buick Brake Drums on a ‘32 Hi Boy roadster I was hooked and fascinated by the look. In the early 70’s when guys started adapting O.E.M. disc brake setups to their early Ford spindles, there was no doubt that the time had come for something better than the conventional drum brakes most people were still using. Soon front disc brake kits were the norm and most kits used O.E.M. cast-iron rotors and calipers with various brackets and adapters to fit an individual’s need. To a guy like me, even though I knew disc brakes were the safer way to go, I just couldn’t get beyond the look, which in most cases wasn’t that pretty, especially on the front of a traditional looking Hi Boy.
During the build of my first real street rod, I started collecting Buick brake drums and learned a lot about them⎯even though that car had fenders, it was going to have Buick brakes. The late Dave Enmark of Super Bell Axle fame had given me a lot of tips along with various other Buick brake guys. Through lots of trial, and some error, I eventually discovered that a mid 50’s Bendix backing plate that used the same 12” Lincoln style brake shoes and hardware, along with a modified early Ford hub worked best for me. Good used Buick brake drums were never easy to find mainly because the most common problem with used Buick drums is that the cast iron liners are cast off center.
When the drums were machined by GM back then, this would cause the liner to be thinner on one side than the other. The thin side would get much hotter and eventually lead to hot spots and fracturing. The hot spots are what usually cause the vehicle to pull to one side or the other during heavy braking—not fun, especially on a light Hi Boy. Also, the off centered liner caused a balancing problem, so GM added weight to the top outer face of the finished drum assembly. So if you are looking at used Buick drums, you want the ones with the least amount of weight attached, which simply means that the liner is closer to center and the thickness is more consistent all the way around.
In early 1995 I completed a new ‘29 Roadster on Deuce rails with Buick brakes for a customer from back East. He flew out to California with a friend and wanted to drive the car to Las Vegas on its first run and then have it transported home from there. All went well on their run to Vegas. But while touring the area he was forced to make a panic stop in traffic at highway speed and fearfully experienced the down side of drum brakes when the car felt like it wanted to change lanes! Although there was no harm done, it was an eye opener. I decided that if I was going to continue building street rods as a hobby for customers, it was time to get away from offering used Buick brake setups and accept the facts and advantages of disc brakes, even though it was going to be hard for me to accept that “look” on a traditionally built Hi Boy. At that time I had a lot of used Buick drums and I wasn’t totally ready to let the “look” go, so I decided to try a mock-up of a disc brake that might fit inside of a Buick brake drum. I took one of my worst drums, machined the cast iron liner out and removed as much aluminum as possible, since it was only going to be a cover, I would need all the clearance I could get. I then machined an early Ford hub to accept an O.E.M. non-vented rotor and caliper and used a heavily modified ‘40 Ford style backing plate to cover the backside and conceal the whole inside workings. The idea was good but I wasn’t happy with the overall proportioning and the drum cover would have to be wider which meant manufacturing one from scratch. So, if I was going to build a drum cover from scratch my next idea was to see if I could fit it over an existing Wilwood Engineering front brake kit. Another mock up was created, but it wasn’t going to meet my criteria either. I wanted to maintain a very authentic look. It was very important to have the brake flex hose exit the backing plate in the same location as a ‘40 Ford backing plate at the top center. That meant the caliper would have to be relocated and the offset on the Wilwood hub wasn’t suitable either. This mock-up looked better than my first attempt and I now knew it was possible. I also knew I would have to build the whole package from scratch if I was going to pursue this any further. I was excited and I wanted to get started with my plan to produce an innovative brake system that would satisfy myself and hopefully a whole lot of other people who shared the thought that an exposed rotor and caliper on a Hi Boy was down right ugly!
At the time I was working full-time as a manufacturing engineer for a Navy nuclear defense contractor. I was very fortunate to be in the accompaniment of some great design engineers and close friends. When I revealed my pet project it didn’t take long before they started offering their spare time and brainstorming ideas. Guidelines and priorities had to be set, and because of my expertise in welding and manufacturing, my first priority was material control. I wanted all of the components for this new system that I was about to manufacture to be “American Made.” I wanted all the aluminum pieces made from virgin aluminum ingots with certifications provided by the foundry, otherwise how do you know what you are getting?
Design and functionality were next. The whole idea was to come up with a safe, functional and improved way to stop your ride and also offer an alternate to the exposed disc brake kits. I knew there was no way to improve on the look of the Buick drum, so that was a no brainer. It would have to be totally re-designed, so I had CAD guru Gary Grant set about and draw the first part of its kind in full scale. What was now just a cover would only have to be widened a mere half inch (I still have those old original drawings signed by Gary). Since I was going to be encasing a cast iron rotor between a cover and a backing plate, heat was going to be a major factor, so material, ventilation and heat dissipation would be of utmost importance. After all, I wanted to improve the stopping ability over a drum brake system that suffers from what is known as brake fade, which is something that occurs when the drum gets so hot that it actually causes the brake shoes to glaze and lose their ability to be the least bit abrasive.
Now with all of the critical dimensions taken care of on the drum cover, next would be the backside, the “backing plate/heat sink.” “Heat sink” meaning that there had to be a way to pull heat away from the hot rotor and make sure it would continue to dissipate the heat as the rotor got hotter otherwise there wouldn’t be much of an improvement over the “drum brake” glazing problem.
My first thought back then was to stamp the backing plate from stainless steel for the bright look and ease of polishing. That suggestion was shot down because of the fact that stainless steel does not dissipate heat very well. Instead, by it’s natural composition, it is best known to retain heat, making it one of the reasons it is so popular with frying pan and cookware manufacturers. With a frying pan, a cook wants the pan to heat up fast and remain hot even after the heat source has been turned off, not the kind of material you would want next to a hot rotor that’s getting hotter by the second. Think about it, a heat source that continues to heat the caliper and brake fluid even while the vehicle is parked. This too was a no brainer.
NOTE: For a more detailed explanation on why and how stainless steel retains heat so well, please refer to an excellent article written by the experts in this field, BURNS Stainless LLC at www.burnsstainless.com.
To make sure that this wouldn’t happen, the backing plate had to be made from aluminum so it could serve double duty as a cosmetic item but most importantly as a “heat sink” to draw that damaging heat away from the rotor and allow it to cool faster.
That was the big improvement the Buick aluminum drum had over the conventional cast iron bake drum of that era. The aluminum cast around the cast iron liner cooled so much faster, and continued to cool well even when the vehicle was parked.
I then added an air scoop to the backing plate. The scoop would give the system a new way to breathe and also that famous nostalgia look of that era, but the backing plate still served as the major source of heat dissipation.
So now with the three most visible and important components designed and proofed, I went on to design the rest of the components to complete the system and the rest is Hot Rod history.
With those drawing done, the next step was to secure capable sources to manufacture the items. Since Southern California is a major manufacturing area for defense and aerospace products, I chose a local foundry that had been serving the industry since 1948 that was family and employee owned. What could be more American? The type of quality control I insisted on was second nature to them and they had an excellent Quality Control program in place and could supply Certifications for materials used.
After a lot of research, I realized that Permanent Mold would be the best and most accurate way to produce these major components.
For those, of you not familiar with this process, Permanent Mold in short, is the process of cast iron molds machined to the image of the part to be produced, in this case, a clamshell style where two halves come together and lock. With Permanent Mold the aluminum is poured into the pre-heated mold and allowed to solidify with the mold closed, then released from the mold and allowed to cool. This process produces a very stable and dimensionally correct part with great detail and repeatability. This process is totally different from the sand cast method. Permanent Mold is just that, the part/item is molded not cast and since I only specify virgin A-356 aluminum these components polish to a very high, long lasting luster because of its purity. That too is Material Control.
The hub to the brake system was a very important item to me. I originally produced it from a permanent mold in A356-T6 aluminum. Later on I wanted to do a revision to the hub and changing the mold was going to be very expensive. At this point I decided to CNC machine the hubs from Billet 6061-T6 aluminum which would prove to be a better way.
I decide I also wanted to make my own cast iron rotor, so I design an aluminum match plate that produces a vented .812” wide rotor and then it gets stress relieved to ensure accuracy. Made in the USA.
I was committed and I was scared, I had never taken on anything of this magnitude. This venture made buying my first home feel like a walk in the park.
It was going to take a whole lot of time and money along with many sleepless nights since there were still a lot of “what ifs.” During the early part of the process I was dealing with pattern makers, permanent mold shops, machine shops and various others. Since no one had ever attempted anything like this in the past, a lot of the people were having a problem understanding the whole concept. Most of the individuals were only responsible for one item and couldn’t visualize the big picture. They would ask why I wanted to make a disc brake set up look like a drum brake setup. So, during one of my sleepless nights the name for the product came to me, “Functional Fakes.” Up until then the product had no name.
“Functional Fakes” was perfect, .my original goal was to create a safer more functional system, yet retain the finned Buick brake drum look which by now was a fake, since it was only a cover. The name caught on fast and soon all the venders could relate to the concept.
It was now late 1996 and around this same timeframe Pete Chapouris formally of Pete & Jakes Hot Rod Parts in Temple City, CA, had put together a very talented group of craftsmen under the business name of PC3G. The group was credited with designing a new traditional style front end with everything from hairpins to F-1 style upper shock mounts. It had the perfect traditional look for a modern day traditional build⎯nostalgia cars were hot at the time.
I knew a few of the guys in the group and one evening while at one of our get togethers I mentioned what I was doing for the first time to anyone. I suggested they mention it to Pete since I felt it was the missing link to their front end. Soon afterwards Pete contacted me and asked if he could see what I had, which by then was a very refined and detailed working model. (I still have it) Pete was very impressed and the picture was clear, their new traditional front end and my “Functional Fakes.” The package was complete.
Like I said earlier, this project was going to take time, so another year goes by and things are happening for me, but at the same time, PC3G seemed to be having problems with the company name recognition. Pete realized that a new business name was necessary. Soon afterward he was able to acquire the use of the SoCal Speed Shop name and by March of 1998 it was official. By then all of the new and first pieces were coming together for me and I was working out the “inevitable” bugs from the system. The original SoCal Speed Shop roadster was nearing completion. The plan was to debut the roadster with their new chassis, their traditional front end and my “Functional Fakes” at the first annual SoCal Speed Shop open house on Father’s Day weekend prior to the 1998 LA Roadster Show. The debut was a total success for SoCal Speed Shop and my “Functional Fakes” were a home run clear out of the park! Pete and I immediately agreed on a deal where they, SoCal Speed Shop, would be my sole distributor and I would concentrate on the manufacturing full time which meant leaving the defense industry and a company I had been with for 18 years to pursue this dream.
My distribution agreement with SoCal lasted until 2000 when I decided I wanted to make my product available to dealers and Rod Shops at wholesale prices but I would have SoCal continue to do the retail side and they would also continue to feature the product in their catalogs and magazine ads. Near the middle of 2002 I was very involved in numerous projects and once again Pete at SoCal approached me and wanted to do sole distribution again. A new deal was made between us and all was well until January of 2006 when a close friend of mine who worked for SoCal at the time invited me to lunch and broke the news to me that a couple of Pete’s associates were copying my brake system. Their intention was to make a cheap off shore copy that would look similar to my “Functional Fakes” from ten feet away. I was devastated and immediately pulled my entire inventory from their store in Pomona, CA.
In 2006 my wife and I founded Deuce Manufacturing Inc. We wanted full control over the manufacturing of our product plus I had a list of other items that had been shelved for sometime.
Shortly afterward the permanent mold that produced our Buick style drum cover was severely damaged while at the foundry and it didn’t make sense to repair it without any guarantee that it would work properly. So, the decision was made to build a whole new permanent mold and incorporate some changes that were overdue. The process was a lengthy one but the end result was well worth the wait. The detail and overall finish exceeded my expectations.
Then came 2008, the year that changed the world let alone small businesses like ours and so many others. We downsized and survived and in the long run it gave me the opportunity to get caught up on some of the shelved projects that were collecting dust.
When I introduced the Buick style back in 1998, they took off like wildfire and time flew by. I always had a plan to revise the backing plate and add more hardware to give it the authentic look of the 1940 Ford backing plate which is what it was meant to appear as. I was never really satisfied with the way the flex brake hose went through the backing plate to the caliper fitting. Even though we were copied by the “other guys,” they copied what they had on hand and didn’t improve on anything either, “pretty typical.”
I always had interest in the Original Kinmont Brakes and over the years had been asked many times if I would ever consider doing a version of them. I gave it some serious thought. I knew a guy who had a complete set of originals and I took the opportunity to measure and photograph them in detail. My biggest issue was with the wheel cylinder on the Kinmonts and how I would transition it to the caliper and most importantly make it look authentic. I was stuck there and I knew if I was going to do a version of them, they would have to look authentic and be based around the internals of my Buick style system. There was no way I was going to reproduce the original style of Kinmonts since they never stopped that well to begin with. So the Kinmont version went on the shelf.
I felt it was most important to update the Buick style backing plate at this time and I wanted to separate myself from the cheap copies that were out there. I designed and made prototypes of the upper and lower adjusters from stainless steel and mounted them to a backing plate. They looked fantastic and very authentic. But, there was still that hole for the flex hose to caliper to deal with. While sharing my ideas with a friend, he made a simple suggestion and the light came on! I immediately went to my Bridgeport, chucked a piece of aluminum in the rotary table and made what would become the prototype fake wheel cylinder for my upgraded Buick style backing plate. I then made a custom caliper fitting to hold the fake wheel cylinder in place. The prototype was used to make a match plate which would produce a highly detailed casting. Once seeing the completed casting I realized I had also found the solution to the Kinmont wheel cylinder issue.
I decided right then that if I was going to do a Kinmont version, that I would do both front and rear systems, everyone who had copied my Buick style had only done the fronts because it was easy, since they had mine to work with.
The rear Kinmont style would have to be available with a parking brake option and the front and rear drum covers would have to be interchangeable. Plus, I wanted the backing plates to be dimensionally similar.
This was going to be a real challenge since I wanted everything to fit a 15” wheel otherwise it would be too limited. I also envisioned what a Kinmont style brake system would look like on an early Ford rear end with a V8 quick change. So that too would have to be an option though the popular Ford 9”was my primary focus.
Starting with the front system, my intention was to use the hub and rotor from the Buick style since we own that tooling and it was a proven design. I still had all the pictures and rough drawings from years prior and I still had access to an original set of front Kinmonts through an old sprint car buddy. I realized immediately that the rotor would have to be reduced to 10 ½” diameter in order to keep the drum cover dimensionally correct and to fit inside a 15” wheel. I was very fortunate at this time to be introduced to one of the most talented, old school, pattern makers. His business was slow and I was able to get exclusive long periods to start the prototypes. Within a year of modeling and prototypes and a whole lot of new designs, I had a working mock-up. While the new aluminum match plates were being made to produce these castings, I moved on to the rear. The rear system would be centered around the Ford 9” using the late big bearing Torino style housings with the 2.500” axle offset. At first the project seemed fairly straight forward, after all, rear disc brakes weren’t something new, but what I soon learned was installing rear disc brakes inside a drum cover that had to fit inside a 15” wheel was new, and, adding a parking brake as well, was looking impossible. There are a lot of rear disc brake kits on the market but none would be useful to me in anyway. There wasn’t enough room to use an O.E.M style caliper with built in parking brake and the common Wilwood and Ford Explorer with internal parking brake shoes were also way too big. I was committed to the drum cover dimensions since the front ones were already done. I searched until I found smaller O.E.M style parking brake shoes and designed a new solid rotor that would allow me to use the internal parking brake shoes and a very low profile Wilwood caliper. All of the hardware and mechanisms would have to be built from scratch. I designed an aluminum hub that the parking brake hardware would mount to and also serve as a caliper bracket and backing plate mounting surface. A lot of prototypes and a lot of time! Everything was coming together really well and all that was left was the parking brake cable bracket. I designed what I feel is a period correct piece and had it laser cut from 304 stainless steel. By now the front system was complete and working. Although, I didn’t want to put it out on the market until I was finished with the rear kit, or at least the Ford 9” ones. All in all it turned out to be a very time consuming project, but well worth every minute. I met all of my goals and expectations for high quality and exacting detail. The fake wheel cylinder that had put the project on hold several years earlier was now a stand-out piece and quite unique in itself.
Thanks for taking the time to read our story and please check out all of our new products. There are still a few more on the shelf that I’ll be getting to in the near future, and as always, they will be the highest quality and made in the USA.
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