East Coast Garage: 1965 Mustang – Better brakes improve performance & safety

*Part 3 in Jeff Melnychuk’s series on rebuilding a 1965 Mustang.

In case you’re all weirded out by my continued badgering about safety, there are ulterior motives since it just so happens that safety travels in lockstep with capability and performance.

Is a safe car one that stops faster and turns on demand while remaining stable or controllable? Or is it a better performer?

The answer is both, of course, so if I’m not appealing to your good sense to stay alive, perhaps you’ll be jazzed by reduced stopping distances, no brake fade and sharper handling, which also make for a safer car.

The interesting thing about safety, or a lack thereof, is that it creates a certain tentativeness and a reluctance in the driver, neither of which are welcome copilots.

A 50-year-old performance car could barely hold a candle to a new economy car today, and this Mustang was not as good as a 50-year-old performance car. There’s some good perspective.

If this all seems too theoretical, let’s use some basic math. A car with a stopping distance from 100 km/h to zero of 55 metres is in big trouble in a world that can stop in 40 or less.

Much of this shortcoming — or long distancing, rather — has to do with the tires used on those 50-year-old cars: narrow and with little bite, so increasing braking performance has to begin with the tires being used.


Which brake kit to purchase depends on your use

The larger the diameter of the brake rotor, the more leverage the brake pads have, and the larger the cooling surface to shed excess heat. And you can’t fit big brakes inside a stock 14-inch wheel. That’s just not going to happen. Fifteen inches, maybe, which is a reasonable compromise when trying to retain a stock appearance, and 15 inches was the standard wheel diameter until the 1990s. Today, 18 is more the norm, with 19- and 20-inch wheels being just as popular.

But that’s not the only measurement at issue. Just as critical is brake-caliper offset, or how far the brake caliper sits out toward the wheel face. You might think that 13-inch brakes will easily fit within an 18-inch wheel and you would be correct. But will the wheel spokes clear the brake caliper as the wheel spins? That’s the effect of caliper offset.

Buying a bigger/better brake kit could be complicated by the wheel you choose. If you know what wheels you’ll be using, be sure to ask about fitment at the time you order brakes.

The big-brake question, of course, is which kit to purchase. The best answer is the best kit you can afford, but to a point, depending on your use.

You could drop $5,000 on a front brake kit with 14- or 15-inch rotors, but such packages are intended for race-track use for consistent performance in extreme conditions. This might be just the thing for you – and they certainly look cool – but for use in normal traffic with normal tires, it’s likely overkill. Large brakes have increased rotating mass and the bigger they are, the harder it can be to find wheels to fit, too.

Buy parts that work as opposed to parts that merely fit

In the case of Project Mustang, I was already well under way, modifying (narrowing) a set of 18-inch 2004 Mustang Cobra wheels to fit the smaller physique of the ’65, so rotor diameter was not going to be an issue. And since I ended up choosing late-model Mustang brakes from the same-year 2004 Mustang, I knew there would be no clearance issues.

I came to that decision more by accident than by design. I had already sourced an aftermarket kit that used 12.2-inch front rotors, but then I stumbled over an outfit that sold a package to convert the 13-inch brakes from the 2004 Mustang Cobra to the ’65. Perfect, since I was using the wheels off the same car.

Not only were the rotors bigger and more rugged than the 12.2-inchers, they’re production based and therefore proven tough. And this conversion kit was actually less money at about $800.

But will they actually stop the car better? Next time, we’ll get into the issue of parts that work as opposed to parts that merely fit.

1965 Mustang Rebuild – Catch up on the series here:

Part 1, click here.

Part 2, click here.

Part 3, click here. (You are here)

Part 4, click here.

Part 5, click here.

Part 6, click here.

Part 7, click here.

Part 8, click here.

Part 9, click here.


The stock 14-inch Mustang wheels were replaced with 18-inchers, but not to make a fashion statement. The 18-inch diameter provides a huge variety of tire widths and sidewall heights to perfect the new combination.

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