The brakes broke.

Well, all was going swimmingly for a few months but whilst out on a quick run to check the carb setup progress got slower and slower until eventually the car would barely move under its own steam. The unmistakable smell of hot brakes from all four corners of the car suggested that there was a problem with the master cylinder – hardly surprising really for a car that had been pressed into service after many years sleeping.

Luckily for me, the problem came to a head when I was only 20 metres or so from the end of my driveway so, with the seemingly unbridled power of my newly-tuned engine, I was able to gently coerce the beast back into its garage where I must admit it sat for a couple of months whilst I ordered in some parts from the UK. On a side note: it’s generally much cheaper to import parts from the UK than it is to buy them in Australia from the few Triumph parts suppliers that exist here – even when the expensive international freight is taken into account.

Whilst the fact that the problem affected all four wheels at the same time strongly pointed towards the master cylinder as culprit, I did bear in mind other causes like the servo (or booster as they call it here), collapsed hoses, seized pistons etc. To save time and parts shipping delays/costs if I only addressed one issue I decided it was worthwhile giving the whole braking system a bit of an overhaul. To be honest it had been playing on my mind for a while due to the length of time that the car had been laid up so this was as good an excuse as any to get stuck in. My shopping list therefore included a brand new TRW master cylinder, flexi hoses, front pads, rear shoes, rear cylinders and an assortment of little bits and pieces needed for other jobs that had cropped up. Rimmer Brothers provided everything I needed and their international shipping isn’t exorbitantly priced and it’s fast. I know they are not always everyone’s first choice of supplier back in the UK but for overseas orders their comprehensive website and fast shipping makes things so easy. It’s probably the third order I have placed from overseas and haven’t had any problems to date with quality or incorrect parts.

New master cylinder vs old

The first job was to replace the master cylinder which was fairly easy in the grand scheme of things. Prior to removal I wanted to empty the reservoir of brake fluid to minimise spills – due to the lack of any suitable suction or siphoning device I decided to bleed this out with the help of the missus on the brake pedal. Whilst the front brakes bled easily thus emptying one half of the dual-circuit reservoir, the rears would not bleed at all – presumably due to a dodgy or stuck seal somewhere in the cylinder. On the plus side at least this confirmed that this was most likely the cause of the stuck brakes. In the end I opted to just remove the cylinder with the reservoir half full with some carefully placed polythene used to protect my (albeit rather dodgy) paintwork from any spills.

Just two bolts hold the cylinder to the booster, once these and the two hydraulic pipes are undone then the cylinder can simply be pulled away. The cylinder piston and inside of the booster looked nice and dry which means the faulty seals at least did not allow fluid to escape from the system entirely and ruin the booster.

Cylinder out
Master cylinder out, drip tray and sheeting to protect paintwork

Fitting the new cylinder is pretty much just the reverse of the removal procedure – I put a blob of grease on the end of the pushrod first to prevent any wear as the years pass. Hydraulic unions were tightened carefully – I worked by the rule of tightening until there was resistance and then nipping up another 1/8 to 1/4 turn. I haven’t had any problems to date with other cars on which I’ve worked so I used the same method here.

Cylinder in
Clean, shiny and hopefully functional

Whilst I was pretty sure the new cylinder would solve the problem I set about taking a look at the rest of the system to ensure everything else was in order. The flexi hoses, whilst not obviously perished from a quick glance, looked old enough to be original so I swapped those out for a new set. My preference would have been to fit a set of steel braided hoses but my budget would only stretch to replacement rubber ones – time will tell how the quality compares to the old ones. Removing the hoses was fairly easy – one benefit of such a dry climate is that there are far fewer seized fixings to deal with than I had been used to in the UK.

Old Hose Front
Old vs new hoses. Just in case you’re wondering – yes, I was using axle stands…

The other benefit of a dry climate is that the brake pipes themselves were in good condition with no signs of corrosion or seeping so were left in place. On close inspection a couple of the old rubber hoses showed signs of perishing when bent so it was well worth swapping them out now.

I had made the decision a little while ago to replace the front pads and rear shoes on the car, despite neither being worn to the point that they really needed to be replaced. This will probably divide opinion given the strong affiliation towards NOS items among the Triumph community but I really do not like the thought of asbestos dust being constantly generated and deposited on my garage floor and accumulating on components which I will be fiddling with for years to come. I’m aware the risks of low-level infrequent exposure are minimal but I would rather remove the risk entirely than live with a small risk indefinitely. I wore a P2 mask during any work around the friction material and kept everything dampened with a water spray to minimise dust becoming airborne and to remove built up dust from components (yep, I’m weirdly paranoid about this stuff). It will be interesting to see how the new brakes compare with the old brakes, which were really rather good – until they seized.

The front pads were addressed first. These are easy to remove – the two guide pins are pulled out (with the split ends being closed up first) and then the pads can just be pulled out of the caliper. Interestingly, whilst most UK cars have Lockheed calipers, mine and many other AU/NZ cars use Girlock ones. Apparently the Girlock brand was born from a joint venture between Lockheed and Girling required to meet regulations that required a certain percentage of locally manufactured parts to be used on AU/NZ assembled cars. The calipers are entirely different so it is important that the correct parts are used – I had to obtain the front pads locally as Rimmer Bros did not stock them (although Chris Witor does).

Old Pads Front
Old front brake pads – approx 5mm friction material left

At this point I decided to pull the calipers off the car (much easier if the bolts holding the suspension upright to the hub are also loosened) and take a quick peek at the pistons under the dust cover to check their condition and renew if necessary. However, this showed there was no fluid leaking past the seals and no corrosion to the pistons so I chose keep the originals in place to save a bit of time and money – I can revisit this at a later date if needed. Fitting the new pads was straightforward – the caliper pistons were compressed with a clamp (and proved to be un-seized) and the new pads installed in place of the old. Ideally I would have fitted new guide pins but I forgot to order these so reused the old ones. Corrosion was minimal so hopefully this won’t cause any problems. The existing discs are in good order with very minimal scoring so these remained in place.

New Pads Front
New pads fitted – note Aussie Girlock caliper

I had originally planned to use mid-range Bendix branded pads but due to a mix-up with the order I ended up with TransGold ones instead. I was going to return them but some googling indicated they actually seem to have a good reputation for a budget kevlar pad among the Holden community so I’m going to give them a go. They’re easy to swap out again if they prove to be dud.

The rear brakes were next. Popping off the drums showed that they had obviously received some attention shortly before the car was taken off the road as the shoes were virtually new but due to aforementioned reasons I decided to replace them anyway (I have kept them as spares in case I change my mind). This recent brake work meant the drums were easy enough to remove – although the nearside one required a little bit of persuasion due to what turned out to be a seized wheel cylinder holding one of the shoes in place (releasing the self-adjusting mechanism did not help here).

After unclipping the handbrake cable from its lever I stripped the brakes down, making a careful note of the location of the springs (the top one goes behind the shoes) and gave everything a good clean with some brake cleaner. I removed the cylinders and, as mentioned above, the nearside one had a seized piston which I could not work free, so were due to be replaced anyway. They most likely had seen minimal mileage but sadly the long time spend off the road had not agreed with them. Fitting the new cylinders is a mixed bag – offering the unit up to the car is the easy bit, but installing the funny little dished e-clips to hold them securely against the backplate (without breaking the clip) is annoyingly fiddly. As luck would have it, these clips are the same as used on Minis and a tool exists to fit them. Even luckier, whilst there are no Triumph parts suppliers in close range, there is a very good Mini spares company in Adelaide (Minisport) who had the tool in stock and do next day delivery for local orders. I therefore bit the bullet and ordered the tool online to make my life easier.

Clip Tool
The brake cylinder clip tool that will save your sanity and knuckles

The tool is really easy to use – it threads into the hydraulic inlet of the cylinder and a new clip is inserted over the top of the tapered section of the tool. As the nut is tightened, the outer section pushes the clip downwards over the tapered section, spreading it gently as it moves. As the outer section of the tool hits the backplate the clip can be heard to click into place with all three tabs neatly located in the groove around the cylinder inlet. This tool saved much swearing and means I’ll never have to worry about whether the clips are doing their job or not.

After the cylinders are fitted, building up the rear brakes is a simple reversal of the removal process – although getting the springs in place can be a little frustrating. Before the drums were refitted I made sure the self-adjusting mechanisms were completely retracted.

Rear Brakes Done
Rear brakes completed (minus shoe retaining pins and springs)

All that was left to do after this was to refit the wheels and bleed the system through. I used DOT 3 fluid and a Gunson Eezlibleed fed from a bike tyre inflated to about 10psi – I wanted to use a pressure-bleeding method rather than pumping the new cylinder as I didn’t really like the idea of un-lubricated piston seals moving in the cylinder bore during those first few pumps before brake fluid made its way completely through the system. I sacrificed the old master cylinder lid for use with the Eezlibleed which made for an airtight seal on the first attempt.

After the bleeding was complete, the brake pedal proved to be nice and firm and the rear brake self adjusters could be heard ratcheting into place on both sides – I have read that this is best done before the handbrake cable is reconnected.

All in all the system appears to have been successfully overhauled. The car is currently out of rego as I await the changed to the South Australian historic rego scheme to kick into place on 1st July but as soon as she’s legal again I’ll bed-in the brakes and report back.

Next job – finish the tuning that was rudely interrupted by the brake problem.