Stopping In The Dirt With Wilwood Brakes

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Stopping is something that everyone seems to take for granted until that time you push the pedal to the floor and nothing happens. Normally, brakes are an afterthought in the off-road world, but larger tires and more weight has to be slowed somehow.

We wanted to find out exactly how braking works in the dirt, and with the help of Wilwood Disc Brakes we were able to get the answers we needed to get Project Storm Trooper stopping right.

Our prerunner project will be hitting high speeds in the desert and having the ability to stop at a moment’s notice is important to us. With the recent additions of a Currie Enterprises F9 housing and front long travel suspension, it was time to make sure our fun would not be stopped by not being able to stop.

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Wilwood started in the brake industry in 1977, but stumbled on the off-road market more than 25 years ago. Off-road racing teams looking for an advantage as the cars and drivers got faster began to look at other motorsports for ideas. The rest is history, since then Wilwood has refined what does and does not work. At the core of it all, they work with race teams to test and get input to help them continue to grow in the off-road market.

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Are Off-Road Brakes Different?

It seems that in today’s automotive world, there is a product specific to every application out there, but after speaking with Michael Hamrick of Wilwood we learned otherwise. “In many instances, the brakes themselves are not much different,” Hamrick explained. “It’s the combination and installation of the brakes that make them different between a street car and an off-road car.”

Off-roading encompasses many different avenues and the type of brakes used will vary in each as well. “Depending on the application, brakes that are heavier and can take more temperature stop after stop work better in a Trophy Truck,” Hamrick said. “If we were more concerned with weight in a vehicle like a rock crawler and did not need to do repeated stops, but need more torque and clamping force to stay on the trail we would go a different route.”

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Whether you are building a prerunner or building a King of the Hammers vehicle like Erik Miller your brakes will come into play in different ways.

“The points of interest we need to look at when deciding on the correct brake for the off-road vehicle are how much it weighs, how much brake can we put in the wheel, and what type of racing will the vehicle be used for,” Hamrick continued. “Most cases, it’s best to contact Wilwood directly when starting a project or trying to get one to perform better. We can look at all aspects of the system and give the best recommendations for the application.”

Knowing the differences and similarities we were able to turn our attention to our prerunner project and get the truck set up correctly.

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Getting Storm Trooper To Stop On A Dime

With the recent additions, the weight of the truck has increased and we wanted to make sure that we would be able to stop. We looked at an option for all four corners of the vehicle and decided to go with the Dynapro 6A lug mounted (PN 120-134XX) for the front and the forged Dynalite rear parking brake kit (PN 140-7150) for the rear.

Parts List

These products were not picked out of the air, but with the help of Wilwood. We let them know the goals for the project and what we wanted to accomplish. “One thing that seems to be the reoccurring thing in the off-road market is wanting to use the six piston calipers to stop or work better,” Hamrick explained. “In some applications, that is false. Depending on your application a four piston caliper may be a better choice. We need as much clamping force/square area as possible for this application. The customer’s choice is usually the six piston unit and the first question they have is why the vehicle will not stop using this selection.”

The rear brake kit we selected would have no issue mating up to our Currie housing as the kit is made specifically for that type of housing end. This kit was also factored in when we were getting the measurements for the housing. The fronts, on the other hand, were a whole different story.

The front kit (left) with the six piston calipers, along with the rear Ford big bearing kit (right).

There is a theory behind the brake selection that worked in our case. “With this application being a prerunner, used on the street and for off-road, we need more front braking and choose to run the six piston in the front and four piston in the rear,”Hamrick said. “If this was a dedicated off-road vehicle and not using the stock pedal and master cylinder assembly, we would install the same six piston caliper size for the rear.”

Knowing the correct application Wilwood brakes can help match up the right calipers. For us, the six-piston fronts and four-piston​ rears.

We wanted to do something unique with this build and be different. Doing that in some instances will make product availability low. This was the case for our 2005 GMC Canyon as the performance aftermarket support is low. With the help of Wilwood, we were able to narrow down the caliper we needed to use, but we needed to make our own dog bone adapter to get the caliper to mount on our long travel spindle.

Things got tricky when we got to the front of our GMC Canyon. We used the 2009-2012 rotor for the truck as they increased the diameter. We also fabricated our own bracket to mate the caliper​ to our spindle.

Taking some measurements and spending time in our CAD program we were able to draw and plasma cut these mounts out of quarter-inch steel. We used two plates per side that we TIG welded together to make sure we would have no movement.

While we were at Currie finishing our housing we had them install the rear brake kit. With all the prior measurements and design it matched up correctly.

With everything installed and a proper bedding complete, we were able to see how big of a difference the new brakes made over the factory. Driving down the road or trail anytime the brakes were used we could feel them do their job and stop the vehicle.

The factory brakes were very soft, and it did take us some time to get used to the new stopping power. The truck stops a lot quicker all the way around. We do know that this has a lot to do with removing the factory drum brakes and going to disc brakes.

There can still be a lot of fine tuning to the system with a new master cylinder and brake pedal with a balance bar, but for what we have done the difference in braking is night and day. Between looks and performance, we know we are headed in the right direction.

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Looking Further Than The Calipers

With the amount of customization in today’s automotive world and every application being different, it is important to make sure that the parts being used are correct. “Please remember that bigger is not always better,” Hamrick said. “Depending on what you are doing with the vehicle and what parts are being used the bigger component is not always your best choice. This comes up most of the time with master cylinder bore size selection.”

Bigger is not always better. – Michael Hamrick, Wilwood Disc Brakes

“Unless the brake system has been developed by an engineering staff, the bore size of the master cylinder in relationship to the leverage of the pedal has so much to do with how the vehicle will stop,” Hamrick explained. “To help understand, a smaller bore master cylinder will help produce psi easier than a larger bore. But, the smaller bore will not be able to displace as much volume as the larger bore so the pedal will typically travel further. The leverage of the pedal in relationship to the volume needed for the calipers or wheel cylinders has so much to do with making your brake system work the best it possibly can.”

Brakes are a simple yet complex part of a vehicle whether on or off-road. The important part is to make sure that everything in the system works correctly together. For more information on Wilwood’s products be sure to check out its website and Facebook page for tons of pictures of different applications.

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About the author

Steven Olsewski

Steven Olsewski grew up with a true passion for anything with a motor. He loves his wife and kids, and during the year can be found enjoying quality time together. They are a huge part of his life and their passion for God.
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