Willys Jeep: Ballad of Porkchop’s Brakes

In Jeep by J Michel Metz12 Comments

Not surprisingly, Porkchop needs new brakes. All of them. Front brakes, rear brakes, parking brake, brake lines, master cylinder, everything. So, I went ahead and bought everything I needed for a complete rip-and-replacement of all the brake parts I need.

So pretty... so pretty...

So pretty… so pretty…

With that, I got ready to get to work.

Originally I had thought that I would be able to work on the parking brake first, and actually ordered the replacement parts for that before anything else. However, there was a significant backorder and as a result I didn’t actually get all the parts together until 5 months later.

In the meantime, I got the parts necessary for working on:

  1. The Master Cylinder
  2. The brake lines
  3. The drum brakes

The original master cylinder was, well, toast.

View from floorboard

View from floorboard

This was even more obvious once it was taken out, and cleaned off:

Not looking much better

Not looking much better

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

One of the things that I had figured out (from both my research on forums as well as friends who do restoration on cars) was that the single-reservoir master cylinder is unsafe and should be considered a mandatory upgrade.

For those of you who – like me – don’t know much about cars, here’s why: The Master Cylinder is the device that controls the movement of brake fluid throughout the brake system. It has a reservoir of fluid that gets pushed through the brake lines to the brakes on the wheels, both front and back. Old Jeeps had master cylinders that only had one reservoir for all the wheels, which meant that if something went wrong you lost all your brakes.

Basic schematic of how the system works

Basic schematic of how the system works

It turns out that “something going wrong” can mean almost anything. If one of your brake lines gets pinched, or it develops a leak (where you lose fluid) or air gets into the system, you can suddenly find yourself without any brakes at all.

As you can see, Porkchop’s Master Cylinder didn’t look reliable at all. Looking from underneath you could see that it was leaking like a sieve:

Viewing the Master Cylinder from underneath

Viewing the Master Cylinder from underneath

This explains a lot. When I first test-drove Porkchop, the brakes were so spongey and scary that I had nightmares for a week afterwards about driving and not having brakes. I only went around the block!

I took a couple of pictures before it was completely removed, and you can see even more of its sorry state:

Replacement just looks better and better...

Replacement just looks better and better…

… especially when you look at the electrical connections (you know, the ones that connect up to the brake lights?)

Yeah... No.

Yeah… No.

Instead on relying on a single reservoir that controlled all four wheels, it would be better to replace with a dual reservoir system. This way if there is a problem with one of the brake lines or reservoirs, I still have half the system in operational order. In other words, it’s not an all-or-nothing deal.

New kit to the rescue!

New kit to the rescue!

In the photo above you can see the original master cylinder at the top of the picture, compared to the new dual master cylinder to the left of the picture. I bought the kit from Kaiser Willys, who also included some installation instructions (with very blurry pictures)…

Hey, at least they came with instructions - can't say that about most things

Hey, at least they came with instructions – can’t say that about most things

…as well as a push rod and a new boot, which connects up like this:

How it all lines up

How it all lines up

I have to confess I was a bit confused, because the kit also came with its own pushrod from the manufacturer, Wilwood:

Two pushrods?

Two pushrods?

There were no instructions that came with the kit, about why there were two pushrods, so at first I was a bit concerned about what I was supposed to do. I mean, it should seem intuitive, as only one pushrod appears to fit onto the brake pedal arm from the Jeep:


Well this one fits...

Well this one fits…

But if you look closely, you’ll see that the pushrod looks, um, rather worn:

Not exactly pristine

Not exactly pristine

Also, when you insert the rod into the pushrod connecting hole, it fits, but it’s not exactly secure (I.e., it wobbles around a lot):

Nothing really to grab onto

Nothing really to grab onto

After a conversation with Wilwood, however, I came to the conclusion that Kaiser had simply placed an additional pushrod and rubber boot into the kit, and it likely came from either some donor Jeep (which I’m fine with). One of the photos in the Kaiser instructions showed a cutaway photograph of this pushrod in use anyway, so I figured I had enough to decided to use it. Still, it would have been nice if the instructions had said, “disregard the additional pushrod that came with the Wilwood OEM kit.”

The next thing to do was try to install it.

As I said, Kaiser was kind enough to place step-by-step instructions into the kit, which were helpful up to a point. As I said, much of the photos were blurry, which made piecing together the perspective taxing on occasion. Even so, I’m not knocking the instructions: there’s no way in hell I would have gotten anywhere without them.

On the M38A-1 Jeep, there is a clutch bracket that requires some drilling in order to install the master cylinder bracket:

Gotta get through that

Gotta get through that

Without question the major problem with this is that when you line up the bracket (that came as part of the kit), you will see that the holes are offset:

Not quite as easy as I thought it would be

Not quite as easy as I thought it would be

In the same picture you can see that there is a guide that is supposed to help you place the bracket properly so that you can align the drill holes, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to work the bracket such that it actually fit over the pipe. Perhaps it’s just my klutz-iness, but it seemed to hover just out of reach of the pipe, rather than actually slip over it to provide a true and accurate placement for the drill holes. This was definitely something that needed an extra pair of hands if there was any hope of coming close to accuracy.

So, after measuring not twice, but six times, I took a huge gulp and started drilling:

Measure 6x, drill once, curse infinite times

Measure 6x, drill once, curse infinite times

Let me tell you, there is a reason why Jeeps are known to “go anywhere and do anything.” That steel is freakin’ tough! With cobalt drill bits and one hell of a lot of elbow grease, it still took us over an hour and a half to bore through that steel for all four holes.

Not so flimsy at all

Not so flimsy at all

What’s worse is that because the steel was so tough, the drill bit slid to the side on occasion (that is, all four occasions). I had to go back through with the Dremel tool and ream out the holes so that I could get the bolts through in alignment.

Grumble grumble...

Grumble grumble…

Finally, after much more work than it looked like it should have taken, I got the bracket in and the new master cylinder in place and ready to be connected:

A look from the inside...

A look from the inside…

Placing some Grade 8 bolts through the freshly minted holes, I mounted the bracket on the inside of the frame and managed to get a halfway decent picture of what it looked like from that angle:

To say that it’s a tight fit is an understatement, but you can see the bracket secured to the frame with the rubber boot waiting for the pushrod to be inserted and connected to the brake pedal arm (located on the right side of the picture).

Everything mocked up and ready for installation... almost

Everything mocked up and ready for installation… almost

Cleaning Up the Parts

During this time I started doing some preparation on the raw materials. The original clutch and brake arms looked extremely beat up and worn, but the reality was that most of the problem was cosmetic. The metal for both the clutch and the brake arms was fine, so after placing the arms in a cleaning solution,

Before and after, clutch pedals (Porkchop's and Honey Badger's)

Before and after, clutch pedals (Porkchop’s and Honey Badger’s)

I sanded them down until I got to the raw metal.

Honey Badger's "before" and Porkchop's post-sanding

Honey Badger’s “before” and Porkchop’s post-sanding

Once that was completed I painted them with matte black high temperature paint, and I think they came out really nice.

2 clutches and 1 brake, ready to go!

2 clutches and 1 brake, ready to go!

I did the same with a plate that originally connected next to the brake arm. Here you can see it hanging on the right/center of the image before I managed to get the brake arm off the pipe (more on this below):

Brake plate... thing.

Brake plate… thing.

And here’s a picture after it was sanded:

Prepped and ready

Prepped and ready

and after it was cleaned up and made to look all pretty:

Hanging out, waiting for its friends

Hanging out, waiting for its friends

The sad thing is that I cannot remember what this thing is for. I don’t remember what it attaches to above what I can see in the photo, and this is somewhat infuriating as I’ve been extremely diligent about taking pictures before I disassemble anything.

I’ll figure it out, I’m sure. It’s just one more thing that delays marking success in the project.

Putting It All Together (or Trying To)

This is, of course, where I noticed that – once again – things were not going to go as planned. To see what I mean, take a look at the following picture:

Crap. Crap Crap Crap!

Crap. Crap Crap Crap!

You see that red line that goes across the width of the brake pedal arm socket? That arm needs to fit around the pipe where the yellow line is attached. That yellow line is the distance between the edge of the pipe and the exhaust pipe. It may not be obvious from the angle of the photo, but in real life that red line’s distance is about twice the length of the yellow line.

In other words, I can’t get the pedal arm back on the pipe because the exhaust pipe is in the way.

“Well, how did you get it off in the first place?” Actually, I put a punch against the arm and whacked at it with a rubber mallet until it popped off, to be blunt. Sadly, doing the same in reverse isn’t going to work. I have a sinking feeling that I will have to remove the exhaust pipes in order to get these pedal arms back on, which I really don’t want to do because it’s one of the few things that actually is well-situated on the Jeep and I don’t want to run the risk of breaking it.

For now, though, I’m just fighting down the frustration level. I’ve seen people comment about how they were able to use this kit and install on their Jeeps in under an hour, and I honestly have no idea how they did it. I mean, I know I’m a mere novice at this but if that’s true, then I am doing something seriously wrong.

Interspersed with this brake project has been the replacement of the brake lines and brake drums, but I’ll save that for another post. Believe it or not, I’ve made some progress with that one, but still have a long way to go.


  1. That all part of the fun of the learning process. looks to me like you’re doing a good job.

    1. Author

      I’ve got an update about the MC endeavor, with photos ready (but the text isn’t). It’s been quite an adventure, and I’ve hit a stuck point that I need to get through (without hurting things, of course). I’m hoping to have something written up this weekend…

  2. Author

    Well, two things, actually. First, the triangular shaped plate that I refinished, well, I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember what it connects to. I thought I had taken a “before” picture but as I look back through my photo record apparently I didn’t. I can’t find it in the manual schematics either.

    Second, getting the brake arm back onto the spindle (photo above) seems impossible without taking off the entire exhaust assembly. I don’t think there’s going to be a way to do that, though, and I’m starting to resign myself to that issue.

    Then there’s the issues with the drums and aligning them correctly (there’s a scraping sound on the one side, and on the other side the screws won’t come off the drum at *all*, so…. 😉 )

  3. This is exactly why the car repair shows on TV make me so mad. In 30 minutes (22 after commercials) they can completely restore a Studebaker that has sat in a yard for 40 years and I spend 12 hours trying to drill out a bolt that broke off changing the rear shocks on my 98 Cherokee.

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