STOP ME IF YOU’VE INSTALLED THIS ONE… (With an added commentary on automated common sense)

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TECH TALK:
STOP ME IF YOU’VE INSTALLED THIS ONE…
Unique Power International Co. Ltd.
Rear Disc Brake Conversion Install and Test
2014 Ford Fiesta SE
Story by Doug Stokes
Photos by Author
Component drawing and Video by UPI

(WITH AN ADDED COMMENTARY ON AUTOMATED COMMON SENSE)

My newest daily driver, a certified-used 2014 Ford Fiesta SE (which replaced my trusty-but-getting-tired 2003 Ford Focus) works just fine, it starts, runs reliably, handles well, sips regular gasoline at a bit better than a 30 mpg rate, accelerates clean and hard in “S” and really stopped pretty well … Good car.

But the rear brakes … the standard-issue rear drum brakes were tiny, faded flat black bottle caps, so small and spindly that you could just barely make them out hiding behind the Fiesta’s spiffy alloy 5-spoke wheels. My new car’s rear brakes were in a word: murky, miniscule, featureless, a personal embarassment (since I work at a race track) and, perhaps the worst sin of all for a fun runabout, dull.

OK, yeah they helped to stop the car but they were just not cool. Rear discs like on the factory hot-rodded SVT version of the Fiesta were the answer (except for one little thing, those are not sold as a bolt-in kit). You’ve got to buy a whole car to get them (that’s about $24,000 and I already had a perfectly-good Fiesta.)

Just for fun I tallied-up price of buying all of the components needed to upgrade my rear brakes to those SVT discs by buying the components piece-by-piece (as if I was purchasing replacement parts for my non-existent SVT Fiesta over the (parts) counter at my local Blue Oval dealer) and it was sobering. I stopped counting when the dollar figure shot up past a grand, and almost stopped breathing shortly thereafter.

The kit was complete down to the last nut, washer, and bolt and needing only Locktite (a special liquid that secures critical threaded parts) that, and a half can of fresh brake fluid to get the job done.

A tip from a friend and check around the web led me to the site of Unique Power International Co. Ltd. UPI company makes (very complete) disc brake conversion kits for a number of popular small cars … an e-mail over to Taiwan soon had a kit for our Fiesta on its way.The kit we received was a standard production unit, destined to be mounted up on my Fiesta to see how it worked. It was complete down to the last nut, washer, and bolt and needing only Locktite (a special liquid that secures critical threaded parts) that, and a half can of fresh brake fluid to get the job done.

By way of full disclosure, LA Car did not pay for this test kit, nor, once it was installed and tested, did we rip it out and send it back to its maker.*

We did however pay for the installation. In truth, and in hindsight, I think that I could have done the installation myself on my garage floor but, without a lift it would have been very hard on the knees, and this was after all the brake system, a pretty damn critical part of the operation.

So … how did the UPI kit install? Exactly as in the (below) video. Every component was designed and manufactured precisely and fit first time accurately without any fiddling or fooling around (like needing to “adjust” bolt holes, which, to me anyway, is a sure indication that a “kit” is questionable). This one was grooved to my Fiesta like it was OEM.

Luckily we have a great independent automotive repair shop nearby. Alex Romo’s shop in Duarte, California is one of those rare (but not totally out of style yet) repair shops that’s clean, qualified, honest and always busy (which says to me that they are quite familiar with the ills of modern car and can diagnose them quickly and repair them accurately). In fact, watching a pro get the job done was a lesson in time study. Here’s the quick version:

Taking time to look at the assembly drawing and the checking the parts and pieces against the list in the instructions was first, that’s perfectly logical, but how many times have I blew by that step in the rush to get something assembled and gotten it all wrong or found that some critical part was AWOL? You don’t want to make me count them up … I get really angry when I have to count them up.

Here’s the UPi “Tube” video; it looks relatively easy (and is). The open secret is prep, and having the vehicle at work height.

At Romo’s each side’s setup was IDed and laid out on a separate clean tray and the procedure proceeded precisely like the video. No glitches, bad fits, off-center holes, barked knuckles, swearing, or even breaking a light sweat. The best news was that the pro doing the work was fully able to do so.

In business since 1968, this shop is right on Route 66. A “retired” NASCAR Super Stock driver, Romo’s got a great attitude, a helpful staff, and a nice selection of racing magazines (even though I never actually had to wait) in his waiting room.

As for home installation, written instructions (while sparse) worked fine, and, if you have access to a lift, and do regular maintenance on your car, you should have this done in a couple of hours.

And it is OK that, if, after watching this installation video a time or two and studying the schematic, you’re unconvinced that you can handle the job, I sincerely hope that you have a car repair place like Romo’s nearby.

However this kit gets installed, our results were very good. The first few feet out of onto Huntington Drive told me that I had a much firmer brake pedal, after a quick brake-in set of three or four hard runs to 50 mph and back to zero (in a closed-off parking lot at a well-known NASCAR racetrack in Irwindale) with a little cool-off in between each time, of course got the brakes bedded in, and working beautifully.

A strong, balanced set of brakes is really one of the best aftermarket “performance” parts you can add to a car. In pure performance terms, really good brakes allow a car to go “deeper” (hold their speed longer).

We did not do any empirical meter-by-meter before and after brake tests with this install, but the seat of one’s pants cannot be influenced by company claims, this kit upgraded our Fiesta and performed exactly the way we had been told to expect. Our little Fiesta just took on a more purposeful feel. I imagine that I’m the only one who will feel any real difference, but the firmer pedal, the stronger snub, and the sense of additional ability are all there. It’s my ride, and I really like the difference.

And … if you’re wondering where the park brake went to, it’s sort of hiding. It’s cleverly located inside the “hat” center/mounting part of the brake disc. A perfect solution (since disc brakes really don’t really like to be park brakes and vice-versa). The hook-up was a simple snap-connection, like all the other mechanical match-ups … clean.

One more tech note, the brake pads used in this conversion are Nissan D4060-9HM0A, the ones that came with the kit weren’t marked and there was no specification for them in the instructions. Honestly I was pretty reluctant to install the kit until I had a spare set on hand so I wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to find brake pads when I really needed them down the road. But I’m just like that.

I consider this kind of a modification to be the new age of Hot Rod movement, only in this case there’s no stripping off fenders, strapping on three Stromberg 97 carbs, getting Isky to grind you a wild-assed cam, throwing on a set of cheater slicks, or fitting a set of Hooker Headers.

In this new, enlightened age we hook up with a K&P air filter, upgrade the rear disc brakes, bolt on an Eibach suspension kit, throw in a cross brace between the front suspension towers, (and headers are still cool).

Both of the above plans of action have the same root idea: upgrade, customize, and personalize your car, make it better, yours, a reflection of you … performance is what you say it is.

I feel the superior snubbery now every time I push the brake pedal, there’s just a more confident feel to the overall operation of the vehicle. I’ve made a good car better … more “mine.”

The good news here is that Unique Power is hard at work on designing and producing a number of conversion kits like this one that will upgrade and enhance safety on a number of small and compact cars. Banish the little dirty black bottle caps cowering behind those cool wheels, get you some rear discs and roll! -DS

RIGHT NOW: Unique Power shipped us our test unit directly from their plant in Taiwan and, at present, interested customers will need to deal directly with the company to purchase one of these terrific upgrade kits.

And of course, if you just happen to be an aggressive high quality, high performance automotive parts distributor and are looking for a great product to handle; the below letter should be of very great interest to you.

Of almost equally great interest to me is Mister Chen’s notation that he and his business partner both worked for AP Racing. That little revelation (well after installation and about a thousand miles of very confident driving) explained a whole lot about the well-thought-out design and quality of the rear brake kit that we installed on our Fiesta.

AP brakes have long been the standard of the world in racing, and that heritage seems to have very happily carried over into Unique Power’s offerings.

Dear Mister Stokes (Doug):
We’re very happy that you are pleased with this brake kit. Just for your information my business partner and I worked for AP Racing Taiwan for more than a decade. We know that many brake upgrade products help people to improve their front brakes, but very few companies focus on improving the rear brakes. That’s our mission.

We are presently looking for a reliable partner to create and develop the U.S. market. Hello, calling SEMA … hello!

Right now without an established distributor in the U.S., we are selling direct to consumers from our production facility.

Thanks very much,
Kelvin Chen
info@unique-power.com.tw

CAUTION: By the way, there are a couple of so-called upgrade “kits” on the market, but they leave it up to you to source and buy the “readily available” calipers that don’t come with the kit. A bit like selling someone a car and telling them that all they have to do to drive it is head out and buy a set of wheels and tires. There are two key components in a disc brake: the disc itself and the calipers. Those two items are the heart of the system, the rest is high pressure lines and bracketry.

LATE BRAKING COMMENTARY: And while we’re on the subject of brake upgrades, many of the new cars that we’ve reviews lately here at LACar have some form of autobraking now built into the car’s system.

Every other TV advert shows some sort of form of the same scenario: the driver of the new WhizBang XLE9 is driving along and there’s some sort of a momentary distraction (insert you favorite here one here please), the driver looks out wide-eyed, the person or thing that is about to get hit appears to rush back at us … and the car sends an urgent message to the driver: the word BRAKE! (“STUPID”) in bold letters is flashed on the dash readout, the car hesitates a millisecond, apparently calculating that the clod behind the wheel is not got to hit the brakes, and the car does it for him or her. The day is saved, the car stops in the nick time, the person who was facing certain injury (if not death) looks up and feints some sort of grateful half-smile … the highlight reel of their life that was playing in their head now fading.

And … we cut to the protagonist behind the wheel in this 30 and 60-second mini-morality play on wheels, a frightened look is now replaces a sheepish grin that looks as though they’re thinking: “DAMN … I’m sure glad that I didn’t kill that guy …it would have really played hell with my insurance rate.”

As my observant wife often says when a TV commercial runs the latest version of the above … “But what if the driver behind THAT driver doesn’t have one of those magic “… don’t worry about being an observant driver … we’ve got it.” systems that apply the brakes as well as tell you (just in case you’re catching up on your reading on the way to work) that you’re not in the traffic lane (dummy!).

While we’re at it giving up all control (with Cadillac now aping Tesla with “true hands-off driving” is just as vexing). Here’s the deal (in which we repeat and restate the above parable): unless everyone on the road gets the same system and starts using it on the same day … well, does “the Tower of Babel” ring a bell?

We’ve had different record speeds 45, 78, 331/3, we’ve seen Beta, VHS, and DVDs, AM, FM, MP3 and satellite radio, and we’ve got cars that have both metric and American nuts, bolts, and fittings and we’ve worked that stuff all out.

But, if your car (with you and your kids aboard) decides to do something that my car was not designed (programmed) to relate to, the whole “safety” shootin’ match is up for grabs.

There’s a very good reason that all traffic controllers across the world all talk to the people driving airplanes full of people in one language: English.

I’m not a Luddite, more of a concerned citizen who sees some small holes (that you could drive a truck through) in the “self-driving” car world at this point in time and … well … take care!

*Rest assured, gentle reader, that if this kit was just a harmless piece of junk, you’d simply not be reading a word about it here. Further, if this kit was the least bit dangerous or unsafe, you’d see something of a brief note here indicating that we had tried it, found it unacceptable, had removed and shipped the pieces back to the manufacturer, and that we’d passed what we learned (the hard way) on to the proper authorities.

… We generally get to pick the products that we review here at LACar be they books, cars, (or brake kits). In doing that, and most of the time, we have a fair idea that the cars we test drive and all the other products that we read and check out at are at least at an acceptable level, within a range of say, Just OK to Spectacular with stops at: fine, nice, good and great alone the way. Your trust is part of the deal here, and we plan to keep it that way. –DS (Editor)

Whew! that was a long install story and “bonus” diatribe …

… Thanks for getting here, you can stop now. -Doug