Do your Front Discs right

In the 1970's, Fiat tended to use the time-tested Front Caliper and brake design they developed for the 128 in 1969. There are a few notable exceptions, namely late Pininfarina Spiders and some Lancia models imported to the States, but for the most part 124, 128, 131/Brava, X1/9 and Strada models were fitted with the old 128 Brakes.

This can be a challenge, especially when you Optimize your 124, or 131 for Mountain Driving. With a light 128 or X, the brakes perform well- With the heavier Twin-Cam models, it becomes a problem- The cars are star performers on the road, but the brakes are inadequate! You can make the best of your setup by following the guidelines below.

1. Brake Disc 2. Cotter Pin 3. Locking Block 4. Caliper
5. Pliers 6. Support Bracket 7. Retainer Spring 8. Brake Pad

Please note that this info is intended to supplement your shop manual procedure, not replace it

First of all, select the right Pads! Everyone has a personal favorite, but I've always had good luck with the Repco Metalmaster line. Do not just hang a cheapie set of semi-metallics, as this is your first guarantee that your brakes will squeal, and fade when you need them most.

Before you start, open the bleeder on each caliper one by one and bleed some fluid out. If the fluid looks seriously ugly, then lean more heavily toward rebuilding the calipers. If nothing else, you know you have a complete brake fluid change ahead of you before you finish your brake job!

Now, remove the calipers- Remove the retaining springs, and make sure they are not worn- Clean all surfaces with Brake Cleaner and a wire brush, removing as much old material as you can. Be sure to sand the Locking Blocks shiny clean on all surfaces, and also sand the Calipers where they meet the Locking Block!
Next inspect the Calipers. Make sure the boots are not torn, and if the boots look tired, or you have no idea when the calipers were last rebuilt, now is your chance to freshen them up. Also look at the Brake hoses, making sure they are in top condition and secured to the body correctly. Pay special attention to any signs of cracks, or chafing on the hoses.

Now look at the rotors. If they show signs of scoring, excessive heat checking, or are close to the minimum thickness (.35in or 9mm), THROW THEM AWAY. Never, ever turn a Fiat rotor, as they are too thin to begin with and after even a light turn they will be susceptable to warping. New rotors are still readily available (the fronts are the same as the rears) and fairly inexpensive.
*Note that my advice against turning Rotors is not in keeping with the Shop Manual and might offend the sensibilities of some Mechanics. In real world experience, I've had horrible luck with turning front Rotors, warped a bunch, and the only utility I've found for old Rotors were ones that only needed a light skim. In that case, I install them on the rear, and that has proven to be OK. It all depends on how you use your Car, but of you have any intention of getting the most of out the (IMHO) undersized brakes Fiat used on these cars, get new Rotors. It should also be noted that when you use Repco Metalmasters, you will wear out a set of brand new Rotors as often as you wear out these very hard pads.

*It's worthy to mention that at this point, you are close to the front wheel bearings and it's a good time to do an adjustment check/repack as necessary. It's not really a braking related item unless they get really sloppy causing a Pull, but you already have the thing taken apart. Your call!

With all the major items squared away, it's time to reassemble. It's OK to use a small amount of the goopy Brake Squeal stuff on the backs of the pads, but don't overdo it with the Goop. Make sure that the Calipers are clean where they meet the locking blocks, and make sure that the locking blocks are clean as well- I use industrial sandpaper. Install the springs and your shiny-clean Calipers over the pads, taking time to apply a light coat of the copper hi-temp brake lube (it's sold for Drum Brake jobs) on the Caliper where the locking blocks ride. Apply a coat of the same grease on the locking blocks before you install them.
Don't skip this step! Folks have toqirn their hair out trying to track down mysterious brake pull, rebuilt front ends and the like, and in the end found that the calipers were hanging up because they could not slide properly!

Bleed, Bleed, Bleed

Now that the major mechanical stuff is over, your job is not yet complete. Every Fiat I've ever had came to me with a brake system full of ancient fluid, and this can be very problematic. Find a buddy (or a good one-man bleeder kit) and get a large jug of quality brake fluid. Some folks like to use the Dot4 stuff, but for myself I just like to use decent quality Dot3 and change it at least once per year.
Bleed the entire system out, starting with the brake line furthest from the Master cylinder (yes, the rears too) and finishing with the closest. Don't stop until you are bleeding clean, clear fluid at all four wheels.

The Road Test

Now that all this hard work is over, you've probably spent a small fortune and your whole weekend working on your car. A road test would be pretty gratifying, say a blaze down your favorite Mountain road so you can see just how awesome your new brakes are? Resist Tempatation!
Good brake pads (especially the Repco's) don't take well to being beaten on until they have burnished in. Take it easy on them for the first 100 miles or so, let them seat properly, and then go for that bakin' drive. Next weekend.

May you have Braking Happiness, and please contact me if you have any questions!

  • Document last updated: Sun Aug 16 20:22:50 PDT 1998

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