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Emergency/Parking Brakes for Hot Rods

Story & Photos: Jim Clark (The Hot Rod MD)

Emergency brakes in most modern cars are generally relegated to duty as just parking brakes, because modern braking systems are so efficient.  On older hot rods and classic cars, the roles are often reversed, because early braking systems leave much to be desired.

The automotive aftermarket has done much to change this by introducing modern disc-brake systems for many of the early cars - though few, if any, offer advanced systems with anti-lock brakes or modern stability controls.

I am one of the die-hards with a traditional hot rod equipped with drum brakes and a single-stage master cylinder.  It stops the car but is a grossly inadequate system by today’s standards...  It's the price I have to pay for keeping it the way I originally built in the ‘70s.

This makes my emergency brake a necessary safety device, and one that has to do more than hold the car securely while parked.  The aftermarket offers a number of good emergency/parking brake kits.  Some can be adapted to a wide range of vehicles; others have to be ordered for a specific application.  Here are some examples of what they have to offer, starting with a Floor-Mounted Traditional-Style hand brake.


Lokar’s traditional-style floor-mounted hand brake attaches directly to the floorboard and is compatible with their universal emergency brake cable kits.  It is offered in a black powder coated finish, as shown, or chrome plated.


Transmount Emergency Hand BrakeTransmount Emergency Hand Brake is designed after the automotive industry standard.  Ratchet cut gear plate and lock are heat treated for strength and safety.  The geometric design of the lever allows for comfortable leverage operation.  Levers are available in chromed steel or black powder-coated steel and come in 11" and 16" lengths to complement Lokar's Automatic Transmission Shifter.  Mounting hardware for use with Lokar Automatic Transmission Shifter is included with Transmount Cable Kits and is used with the built-in mounting bracketry included with the shifter kits.


Lokar's Under-the-Dash Hand Operated Emergency Brake gives you ease of operation along with a clean, out-of-the-way emergency brake.  There are no cables entering through the firewall.  It fits in a space as small as 11" from the firewall to dash.  Ratchet cut gear plate and lock are heat treated for strength and safety.



Kit is designed for use with Lokar's Floor Mount Emergency Hand Brake, and in conjunction with Lokar's Connector Cables.  Kit comes equipped with one-piece aluminum adjusters and aluminum ferrule to eliminate fraying of stainless housing.  Outer housing is designed with specially extruded liner for extended life of the cable.  Stainless inner cable resists moisture.  Design allows rear end backing plate fittings to be removed without removing brake cables.  Lokar cables also feature adjustable cable lock and clevis.  Kit is complete with cable bracket and spacers.  Kit includes two 8 foot outer housings that "U-Cut-to-Fit" and are available in stainless or black housing.  Application fits 8" and 9" Ford, Chevy, Chrysler and Lincoln Versailles drum and disc brakes. Call for other applications or custom configurations.


Your vehicle may have one of the emergency brake cable configurations like these shown on the Control Cables brake layout sheet.  A cut-to-fit cable system can be created in one of these configurations or custom cables can be ordered from Control Cables to fit your specific vehicle.


For my roadster I chose the floor-mounted hand brake from Control Cables.  It is shown next to the hand brake assembly from a Vega or Pinto (can’t remember which) that I picked up in the early ‘70s to use on the project.  At the time it seemed like the one to use but proved to be way too big, especially compared to what the aftermarket now has to offer.


Cable mounting bracket attaches below the floorboard.  I pre-assembled it with spacers the thickness of the floorboard to verify that there was proper clearance for the connection of the cable.


A hole was cut in the floorboard, holes for the bolts drilled and the hand brake bolted in place.  When mounted in place the cable connection proved to be too high for proper mating.


Floorboards on my roadster are wooden and when the cable mounting bracket is installed it positions the cable clevis attachment point too high to align correctly with the bracket.


The floorboards are made from ¾-inch plywood, so I was able to recess the hand brake by removing a layer of plywood where the mounting brackets attach on the top side of the floor.  A larger section of plywood could be removed from the bottom side of the floorboard to accommodate the cable mounting bracket if the hand brake needed to remain flush with the top of the floor.


With the hand brake recessed in the floorboard, all of the hardware is located nearly flush with the floor.  By recessing the mounts, the cable connection below the floor now lines up.


Brake actuating cable housing attaches to the cable mounting bracket, and the clevis attaches to the hand brake lever below the floor with the provided pin and C-clip.  


This is the short actuating cable that connects between the cable mounting bracket and the easy junction bracket.  I had to wait until the hand brake and easy mounting bracket were installed before I could order this cable because I needed to measure the exact distance between them.


Short cable housing attaches to the easy junction bracket while the cable adjuster attaches to the emergency brake equalizer bar.


This illustration from Control Cables shows the components that make up the kit that I chose for my application.


My roadster is equipped with a large X-member kit to accommodate the Turbo 400 transmission behind the Buick Nailhead V-8, so I had to make cutouts in the top and rear gusset to provide clearance for the hand brake and cable mounting bracket.  The X-member is so overbuilt that it is not affected by this.


The easy junction bracket needed to mount to the frame, but the X-member angled away to the right.  A bracket was made from steel plate so that the easy junction bracket could be mounted parallel with the centerline of the car.


The easy junction bracket provides a solid point for the two cables from the brake backing plates to connect.  Adjustment for the brakes is made via the emergency brake equalizer bar that connects the rear cables to the short actuating cable.


Actuating bar running parallel just below the wheel cylinder connects the forward brake shoe to the pivoting arm attached to the rear shoe.  Emergency brake cable enters through the bracket attached to the backing plate at the lower left.  Emergency brake cable attaches to the bottom of the pivoting arm and when pulled mechanically forces the shoes outward against the inside of the brake drum.


The Buick rear end on my roadster uses a bracket for mounting the brake cable that bolts to the outside of the backing plate.

I had to supply the original bracket to Control Cables because I was using a rear end from one of the less popular models of vehicle.  They created the new cable and installed it exactly like one for a stock Buick.

Stock bracket holds the cable housing so that the spring-loaded cable can apply and release the brakes.  Cable end is permanently attached to the end of the cable like a stock unit.


The new brake cable was manufactured to the exact length, so it is critical that the hand brake and the easy junction bracket be installed before making measurements for the length of each rear cable.  I used some inexpensive spiral wire loom wrapped around the original brake cables to mockup the rear cables so that I got an accurate measurement.  Anything that lets you simulate the routing of the cable will make the job easier.


This end of the rear cable attaches to the easy junction bracket and the cable hooks into the emergency brake equalizer bar.  With this setup there are no cable clamping points to work loose.


The easy junction bracket brings the two rear cables together and the emergency brake equalizer bar provides a wide range of adjustment.  Easy junction bracket can be mounted in an infinite number of places depending on available space and clearance around other components.


Routing the rear cables from the backing plates to the easy equalizer bracket can be very challenging, especially on a small open car like a highboy roadster.  The cable from the right rear was relatively easy, but brackets and clamps were needed to keep the cable clear of the driveshaft and hot exhaust.  This is why you must mockup the routing before ordering the cable, because they cannot be adjusted afterwards.

Recessing the mounts into the floorboard makes the hand brake sit flush below the carpet.  Hand brake is small but provides just the right amount of leverage to smoothly actuate the brakes.


Control Cables offers this boot and ring kit to cover the hand brake.  It comes with extra length at the bottom so that trimming can adjust the height to your application.


The finished hand brake provides a very compact installation that looks like a factory unit.  The boot is only available in black vinyl, so you could use it as a pattern to produce one in the color and material of your choice.


I had a boot made in brown to match the interior, with a flange sewn around the bottom to make a cleaner transition between the boot and trim ring.

An emergency/parking brake is a critical piece of safety equipment in any vehicle.  For an early hot rod built to late 20th century standards, the need is magnified even more. However, there is no reason to omit this critical safety device, because the aftermarket offers many viable options for installing a good functional system.  They are not simple bolt-in kits; a lot of careful planning and fabricating are necessary to complete the installation of a safe and effective emergency/parking brake system.  This could be a good do-it-yourself project, though, if you utilize one of the well-engineered aftermarket kits.

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