Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 5

A big part of this brake project has always been the intention to replace all the hard lines. It was back in the fall of 2019 (days we’ll forever remember as “pre-coronavirus”) when I purchased a 25’ roll of new CuNiFer (copper/nickel/iron) brake line (from FedHill) and all new line fittings (from Classic Alfa), knowing that the day would come when I’d need them.

Well, that day did come, and I’ve spent a somewhat enjoyable last few days in the garage making up the new lines. The rear rotors and calipers have been bolted back in place, so with the old lines as templates, I cut the first two new lines for the two rear calipers to the appropriate lengths.

The creation of new brake lines requires that the ends be flared, which requires a special tool. I have one of those cheap old flaring yokes, a tool I’ve had for so long that I couldn’t tell you the last time I used it. Maybe never. My good friend Mike G owns a high-end brake flaring tool kit made by Eastwood, which he generously loaned to me. I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process, which on an old Alfa like mine can be a bit tricky! You’ll see in a moment.

The Eastwood brake flaring tool

With the exception of the ¼” hard line from the brake fluid reservoir to the master cylinder, all the other hard lines on the car are 3/16”. That’s the easy part. The fittings, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The car’s four-wheel ATE calipers use metric M10x1 threads, while most of the remaining connections, such as at both front and rear T-fittings, use UNF 3/8”-24 threads. Further, the M10 end requires an ISO bubble flare, and the 3/8” end takes a double 45° flare. Please don’t ask me why – I’ll just point to the car and say “that’s how the Italians did it!”

The Eastwood tool, which I used for the very first time this week, is a bit intimidating at first. The instructions in the box are ok, but I thought it would be wise to cut a few short pieces of pipe and make some test flares (I purchased about 7 feet more brake line than needed, because sooner or later I’ll make a mistake and need to redo a line).

L to R: new fitting, test pipe w/ISO bubble flare, old pipe w/same

The Eastwood instruction book states that before you make a flare, you should do 3 things with the cut tube: run a file on the inside to remove burrs; run a file on the outside for the same reason; and slightly chamfer the edges. I dutifully followed instructions.

The tool itself is designed to be securely clamped into a bench vise. The two most important pieces which require your utmost intention are the tube-holding dies in 4 different sizes, and a rotatable disc with the various flare-forming dies. This is when I discovered that the 3/16” tube die is double-ended: it says 45° on one side, and DIN on the other. The instruction book didn’t say too much about this.

All the flare-forming dies are on this disc

 

I grabbed the 3/16” tube-holding die and placed it into the tool, with the 45° double-flare at the business end. The tube itself was inserted between the two halves of the die, and with the disc’s “OP. 0” (Operation Zero) facing the tube, I pulled the handle. This step simply squares up the end of the tube with the end of the die. Once done, I made sure the clamp was tight.

OP ZERO before squaring the tubing
OP ZERO after tubing end is squared with die

Rotating the disc to “OP 1, 3/16”, I again pulled the handle. As a final step, the forming die disc was rotated to “OP 2, 3/16”, the handle was pulled, and I removed the tubing to examine my work. It looked good! I had a nice, neat 45° double flare.

OP 1, step one of the 45 degree flare

 

OP 2, step 2 of the 45 degree flare

 

45 degree double flare done!

Before you flare the other end of the tube, you MUST slide on the two flare fittings; once both ends are flared, you’ll never get them on. In my case, not only did they need to face the correct way, they needed to be the correct threads! With the 45° double flare done, the 3/8” fitting went on first, and then the M10 fitting. It is highly recommended to delay the celebratory glass of vino until AFTER these steps are completed.

Pay attention! L to R: M10 flare fitting, 3/8″ flare fitting, 45 degree double flare on pipe end

It was a good thing that I had made some test pipes, which is when I discovered that the DIN end of the tubing die would make the needed ISO flare. I further discovered via experimentation that while the forming die does have an “OP 1” and “OP 2” for the DIN flare, I needed only “OP 1” to get a bubble flare that matched my old brake line.

ISO bubble flare done!

I’ve made two lines so far, and am quite pleased with the progress. It’s a nice feeling to have rounded the curve and to have begun reassembly. With most collector car events cancelled for the spring, the pressure is off, but the progress continues.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Don’t have the right tool for the Alfa’s brakes? Then MAKE the tool!

I’ve often referred to the two years I spent as a professional automotive technician as my “post-college” graduate work. It was a different kind of education, and included the benefit of earning a salary. One of the earliest lessons, and one I still carry today, is that there is no substitute for having the right tool for the job at hand. The correct tool ensures that the repair is done correctly, safely, and within a reasonable amount of time. It is not an exaggeration to state that there were times when sweat dripped from my brow, and curses sprang from my lips, when the lack of the appropriate tool made a repair attempt a real struggle.

A corollary lesson states that sometimes, one needs to practice some creativity and “invent” a tool, perhaps by assembling one from hardware parts, or by modifying an existing tool. This point was put into practice during the Isetta restoration, as tools for that car aren’t exactly found in your local NAPA store.

The challenge rose up again during the recent brake work on my Alfa. I found myself struggling with the reassembly of the parking brake shoes, which reside inside the rear brake rotor ‘hat’. The shoes and their assorted springs and clips came apart easily enough. But now my efforts to put it all back together were just taking too long.

Let me be more specific: the brake shoe assembly mounts to a backing plate, like on most cars. Unlike most cars, though, the wheel hub is mounted on a bearing that is press-fitted into place through the backing plate. The parking brake reassembly would be easier if the hub were not in the way, but to remove it, I would need to remove the entire axle and press the hub and backing plate apart. That was more work than I wanted to bother with. I was convinced that there was a way to put the parts back on with the hub in place.

And Alfa Romeo actually made that accommodation. The hub surface has two additional holes, lined up in such a way to allow a tool to pass through them to access the brake shoe hold-down pins. The pins require a 5mm Allen tool, and I have one as a 3/8” drive socket. Since there is so much spring pressure to overcome, putting the Allen socket on an extension, with a 3/8” drive ratchet wrench, provides way more leverage than one could ever get from a tiny hex key.

Original 5mm hex socket on extension is placed through access hole in hub

Herewith was the problem: I could not push the pin in far enough to engage its lock, because the socket was too wide to pass completely through the hole in the hub. I briefly considered grinding down the socket, but a close examination revealed that would likely weaken it to the point of failure once an extension or a wrench was snapped into place. I briefly (like, for 10 seconds) considered enlarging the hole in the hub before rejecting that crazy idea. (Repair lesson #39.b.2: when making permanent modifications, always do so to inexpensive, replaceable objects, NOT to complex, difficult-to-replace components of the vehicle itself.)

Socket bottoms out before pin can be fully inserted in backing plate (spring and shoes removed for clarity)

Staring at things for several minutes brought forth the revelation that if the 5mm hex shaft were longer, I’d have what I needed. After considering a Home Depot run, which I internally wagered would yield a 25% chance of success, I challenged myself to modify the tool I owned. Could I do this in less than an hour? I thought it entirely reasonable.

Here is the Snap-On 5mm Allen socket about to be modified

With a 3/32” drift, I hammered out the roll pin and pulled out the existing 5mm bit from the socket. I found a standard 5mm hex key in my Allen key collection, and tested it at the car. It was long enough for my purposes. Next, I secured the longer hex key in the bench vise and hacksawed off the short end. (I really should have pulled out the Dremel tool for this step, as the hardened steel took longer than I thought it would to hack off.) I filed the end smooth, and it fit right into the socket. My attempts to drill a hole in it to reinstall the roll pin resulted in two broken drill bits – like I said, that tool steel is hard! But the new bit was a tight fit in the socket, and since I’d be pushing against it, not pulling on it, I let it be, feeling certain that there was nothing to worry about.

Drift makes short work of roll pin removal
This hex key is about to give up its life for a greater good
Hacksaw got the job done, but it took 10 minutes of muscular effort

Total time to modify the 5mm Allen socket: approximately 30 minutes. I attached my ‘new’ socket onto an extension, snapped on a ratchet wrench, and was easily able to engage the brake shoe pins in their locks. Mission accomplished!

“New” socket has considerably longer shaft

I’m keeping my new, longer 5mm Allen socket as is. Who knows when someone might need my help with their Alfa Romeo parking brake shoes? “Hey, I got just the tool for that!”

Success! Longer hex shaft makes short work of engaging pin

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 4

The weather today in downtown Neshanic Station NJ reached a balmy (for February) 55 degrees F. While I desperately do NOT want it to be 90 in April, I didn’t mind today’s spring preview; after all, the calendar claims we’re only four weeks away.

That high temp was accompanied by blue skies and lots of sunshine, all of which inspired me to get back to the garage. The Alfa’s brakes have been ignored since last autumn, and even I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve put up a blog post about my progress, of which there has been scant little. I have been ordering parts, reading service manuals, and perusing online forums, but there’s been no actual wrench-turning since before Halloween, which feels like a very long time ago.

Old (upper) and new (lower) parking brake cables- note boots

While today’s progress was not substantial, it was significant. The corner has been turned; everything that’s to be removed has been removed. I am now embarking on reassembly, using new parts as required. Starting at the left rear, a new parking brake cable was installed, and a new upper e-brake shoe was also put into place.

Parking brake shoes & springs: old (left) and new (right)

Projects never proceed at an orderly pace. There may be a flurry of activity, then a slowdown. Other, smaller projects may jump the line. Sometimes, it’s a parts delay that forces the pullback. However, there’s something to be said for picking up the tools again after a long layoff: it reinvigorates the soul, and reawakens the motivation.

LR upper e-brake shoe in place

I’m also motivated by an email I received from the NJ Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club, announcing a one-day spring tour for Sunday April 26. That’s nine weeks from today. I plan to drive this car on that tour. Sounds like I have lots of time, but we know how quickly that time will fly. The last time I drove my Alfa was July of last year. I have not gone this long without driving it since my purchase in 2013. So I’m motivated! Let’s hope the trend for an early spring continues.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

The 2013 New England 1000 Rally

Happy New Year! It’s winter, with not much going on in the garage or out in the collector car world, so it’s a good time to catch up with some old business. Below is my summary of our participation in the 2013 New England 1000 rally. Previous reports for the 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, and 2007 rallies can be found at the highlighted links.

It was the dawn of 2013. We (my rally brother Steve and I) had not driven in the New England 1000 since 2007. Why the six-year layoff? Life had gotten in the way. Whether still in the way or not, we threw caution to the wind and signed on to participate once again. In the 2007 rally, we drove my ’68 Mustang California Special. The Mustang was sold in 2012, and was replaced by my 1967 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior, so the Alfa was the ride of choice. Steve, still living in Southern California, was flying east to be co-driver / co-navigator.

The helmet twins about to depart NJ. The ’12 Ford Focus and ’03 Volvo V70 are both gone.

In hindsight, it was a bit of a gamble to be taking the Alfa on a roughly 1500-mile journey. I had acquired the car only two months prior, in March of 2013, and had put hardly any miles on it. Some early teething problems were already addressed: the battery had died and was replaced, and the hard-as-a-rock tires were swapped out for a new set of Vredesteins.

Overheating was still a concern, though, as (previous owner) Pete’s attempt to install an air conditioning setup overtaxed the car’s cooling system. Even with the A/C turned off, the removal of the factory fan and shroud to make room for the compressor, combined with the extra weight of the compressor and its bracket, made the coolant temperature creep up at idle and low speeds. An aftermarket electric fan was bolted to the radiator, controlled by an on-off switch on the dash. The driver’s job was to constantly monitor the water temp gauge and engage said fan as necessary. It usually worked, but one had to be on constant alert.

The ceremonial attaching of the plate

This year’s host hotel was the Sagamore Resort on Lake George NY, where we had stayed during previous rallies. Much of the week’s itinerary kept us in New York, with dips into New Hampshire and Vermont. (The “New England 1000” takes liberties with its name; please, no angry missives from you Revolutionary Patriots. You know who you are.)

The queue to get past the starting checkpoint

It was great to be back with some familiar faces and vehicles, and it was equally great to meet new folks and see their rides. The classics were again out in force: Mercedes 300SLs, various Jaguars and Maseratis. We noted that modern machinery represented an increasing percentage of the cars: the rally book listed no fewer than 5 new 2013 Porsches, plus several Ferraris less than 10 years old. Our class of three included an MGB and a Morgan 4/4. In the bigger picture, though, our 95 horsepower Alfa was significantly outgunned by the more powerful 6-, 8-, and 12-cylinder ground missiles. The NE1000 of old, with its preponderance of quaint 4-cylinder ‘50s and ‘60s European roadsters, was not to be seen again.

A photo of the Alfa made it into the rally book.

 

By Monday morning, we were already experiencing a highlight of the week when we stepped into the private car collection of Jim Taylor. Jim is the CEO of Taylor Made Products, and judging by what he has been able to amass, business has been very good.

THE JIM TAYLOR COLLECTION

 

Lake Placid NY was another déjà vu, as we had stayed in this Olympic town during the 2001 NE1000. The Mirror Lake Inn is situated on the body of water after which it’s named, and the views are stunning. The view from the top of one of the ski lifts is equally stunning in a very different way!

This is why it’s called Mirror Lake

We left Lake Placid and headed to Whiteface Mountain, still in NY. Although the day was cool, driving up the steep mountain started to push our car’s temperature gauge into uncomfortable territory. Flicking on the electric fan didn’t help, so half-way up the mountain, we opted to reverse direction, but not before losing one of the car’s hubcaps. If that was the biggest tragedy we were to face, so be it.

Our turnaround point; note missing hubcap

Driving into New England proper, we stopped at a perennial favorite: the RPM Repair & Restoration Facility in Vergennes VT. Not only has the Markowski family provided wonderful technical support to the rally through the years, they also run a top-notch workshop which can fix anything automotive, with a special focus on Ferraris. This was the 3rd or 4th time the rally has dropped by, and we were again given free run of the place. This gearhead could stare at disassembled 12-cylinder engines all day long.

RPM, VERGENNES VT

My recollection is that, with the exception of the occasional sprinkle, the weather held up during the week, but I also recall driving home on Friday in torrential downpours (which at least kept the Alfa’s engine cool). Aside from the slight trouble on Whiteface Mountain, the Alfa ran flawlessly for us, and it was an easy decision to proclaim the car fit for duty for future rallies.

 

Modern Porsches

 

C2 Corvette

 

Morris woody wagon

 

Ferrari 365 GTC/4

 

Ferrari 250 GT Lusso

 

 

Lamborghini 350 GT

 

Acura NSX
Maserati Ghibli

 

Something old (Morgan), something new (911)
The Alfa with some of its competition

 

 ACs and Alfa

 

We pose with the Alfa, which was a real champ all week

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 3

In Part 2, we covered the ongoing caliper overhaul, both front and rear. While waiting for the caliper rebuild parts to show up, I decided to remove the rear rotors and inspect the parking brake set-up.

Left rear disc, caliper, and brake line

Similar to what Volvo has used for decades, the rear rotors sit over a set of drum brake shoes which apply to the inside of the rear disc “hat”. On the Alfa, these are cable-operated. It was always gratifying that my car’s hand brake worked, but it required a significant tug of the handle to engage.

First challenge was removing the two slotted-head screws holding each rear rotor to the hub. An ordinary screwdriver wasn’t getting the job done, so I resorted to one of my favorite tools: my Snap-On hammer-driven impact driver. A long time ago, Andy Finnegan, the shop foreman at the first Volvo dealer that employed me, suggested this tool to me. While I infrequently use it, it’s one of those tools that makes you glad you have it for the occasions you really need it. This was one of those occasions.

The right tool at the right time can save hours of time and frustration – note slotted screw in rotor face

A few taps with a hammer, and the screws were loose (I also bought new replacements on the chance that I would mangle the heads during removal.). But getting the disc off also required a few heavier hammer blows. Eventually, the rotors were off, first on the driver’s side, then the passenger side.

It would not surprise me if I were the first person to expose the parking brake shoes since this car left Italy. Remember that when I bought it, the car has 54,000 original miles. I also have reason to suspect that the rear brake pads were original to the car. There has likely been little need to check or service these components.

With some effort, I removed the brake shoes on the driver’s side (access is conveniently limited by the hub). The arrangement is typical, with a star wheel for adjustment, and two springs holding the upper and lower shoes. A cable extends from the differential through an access hole in the backing plate, pulling a lever which spreads the shoes. After taking the one side apart, I decided to leave the passenger side intact for reference, and ordered all new parts from Classic Alfa.

Old shoes and springs will be replaced

It was also time to remove the master cylinder. With its so-called “standing pedals” hinged through the floor, my ’67 is one of the last Giulia coupes so configured. Within a year or so (varying by model), Alfa would switch to “hanging pedals” and mount the master cylinder in the conventional location on the firewall.

Standing pedals – accel pedal has been removed

I desperately searched for guidance on the Alfa forums for “master cylinder removal”, but nothing I came across addressed the underfloor location. So I tackled it on my own, and really struggled with it. There are two bolts which pass horizontally through the master cylinder, and these bolts mount into a plate that also holds the clutch linkage. Said plate didn’t look removable to me – that’s from the vantage point of lying on my back, with my nose about 3 inches from the car’s underside. Without removing the plate, there wasn’t enough clearance to remove the bolts. Through sheer luck, I wiggled the cylinder and the bolts and got the master cylinder cleared. But I’ll need to investigate this plate when it comes time for reinstallation.

View of master cylinder while on my back

There was also the matter of the two brake lines, both of which thread into the top of the cylinder. There was little choice but to loosen and drop the cylinder to give me access to the line fittings, but then I lost the leverage one gets from a master cylinder firmly bolted to something.

Brake fluid reservoir on firewall is where you’d expect to find m/c – note hard line which feeds it

Using my flare nut wrenches, the first fitting came out easily. The second one did not. I resorted to using a cheater bar (a length of pipe) on the wrench, and for the first time during this brake overhaul, the wrench slipped on the fitting and rounded it off. The fitting was seized. I cut the line with a pair of diagonal cutters, and the master cylinder was on my workbench. In a bit of good news, the fitting did come loose once I dropped a deep 6-point socket on it.

Master cylinder – note severed line and fitting in right-most hole

There is plenty to do next: finish the rebuilding of the two rear calipers, renew the parking brake parts, and rebuild the master cylinder. Parts were duly ordered and are on their way.

… to be continued ….

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 2

As you read in Part 1 of the Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, the new front calipers I had purchased, through no one’s fault, didn’t get the job done. It was just as well; in an attempt to get my car ready to drive to the AROC Convention in Pittsburgh, I was hurrying through the job, which is no way to work on a braking system. If anything, the inability to make the car roadworthy gave me just the excuse I needed to do the right thing.

 

I had purchased this car in 2013 from my friend Pete. He bought it in 1968, drove it for perhaps five years, mothballed it for over 20 years, then took it out of long-term storage. After refreshing various systems, including the brakes, Pete enjoyed the car for about 10 years before handing over the keys. In my mind, this Alfa had been “recently” refurbished. However, once I added up the years and the miles, I realized my own miscalculation. At best, Pete worked on the brakes around the year 2003, meaning, the brake fluid alone was now 16 years old. Shame on me! Since I loved driving the car, I wanted 100% confidence in its brakes, so The Right Thing meant a complete overhaul: rebuilt calipers, new or rebuilt master cylinder, and new lines and hoses. I got all 4 wheels up off the ground, drained what little fluid remained, and brought both front calipers to the workbench.

Caliper with piston, dust boot and spring in place before removal

First, the dust boots and their retaining springs had to be removed. The springs were so rusty that it was difficult to see them against the boots, but with a little urging from a dental pick, they popped off. The boot for the seized piston looked like it had been on fire (it almost was), and this early discovery reinforced that this overhaul was necessary and overdue.

 

Dust boot and rusty old spring on their way off

 

This dust boot is ready for the trash can

 

I’ve rebuilt calipers before, as a Volvo tech, but it wasn’t a job we did very frequently. All 4 of my car’s calipers are of the two-piston fixed type, and research from my Alfa library led me to conclude that there was no need to split the calipers. The pistons could be removed with compressed air, and the bores cleaned up as necessary.

 

This 2-piston caliper has 1 piston behind each pad. It is “fixed”: the two halves are bolted together.

Starting with the seized right front unit, my technique was to start by pushing the pistons back into their bores with a piston compression tool. The reasoning is that any movement is good movement. Once they were fully retracted, I hit the fluid passage with compressed air, and both pistons moved outward a few millimeters. The cycle was repeated: retract pistons, apply air; retract pistons, apply air. Finally, one piston popped free.

At the start, piston retraction tool was used to push pistons all the way back

 

Compressed air is good stuff

 

But now I had a problem: the compressed air escaped from the now-empty bore, and did nothing to move the piston still in place. I reinstalled the removed piston, but the same thing happened: one piston came out, and one stayed in. I needed a way to block the fluid passages without fully reinstalling the first piston. Stuffing rags into the bore did nothing.

C-clamp is employed to hold 1st piston while compressed air dislodges 2nd one

Here’s how I did that: lubing up the piston with brake fluid, I reinserted it just a few millimeters back into its bore, enough to block air flow, but not so much that I couldn’t pull it out by hand. I held this piston in place with a C-clamp, so the force of the air would blow out the 2nd piston. It worked! The 2nd piston shot out, and once I removed the C-clamp, the 1st piston could be worked out with my fingers. With the pistons out, the inner seals were easily coaxed out with a dental pick.

Removal of the inner seal

A close examination of the pistons revealed that one had a mark along its surface. My local Ace Hardware store had 3M brand emery cloth which I bought in medium, fine, and super fine grit. While I couldn’t completely remove the nick, I smoothed it out so that it couldn’t be felt. The front lips of the pistons showed marks from pliers or Vice-Grips, so someone (not me) got aggressive with a prior piston removal attempt. Thankfully, the marks would not affect the braking performance.

The bores themselves showed some minor corrosion along the outer edges, but the insides (below the inner seals) weren’t bad, and the super-fine emery cloth made them even better. While this was going on, the rear calipers were unbolted and disassembled so that I could measure the piston diameter. According to my supplier, Classic Alfa, this generation Giulia used either 30mm or 36mm rear pistons, and of course, one needed to know before ordering parts. It turned out that my car has 30mm pistons. I placed my order with my favorite Alfa supplier, knowing that I’d have the parts within 48 hours or so.

 

 

Pistons before (left) and after (right) emery cloth treatment

 

Nick in surface could not be removed, but was minimized. Note pliers marks.

 

Rear caliper piston confirmed as 30mm

 

… to be continued …

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 1

Now, the full story as to why I was not able to drive my Alfa to this year’s AROC (Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club) annual convention in Pittsburgh can be told. In my initial post about the convention, I wrote:

Let’s get this bit of disappointing news out of the way: while this Alfista was in attendance, his ’67 Alfa GT Junior was not. Four days before the scheduled departure, the car’s right front brake caliper locked up, and although repair parts were obtained, there wasn’t enough time to effect a safe and sufficient repair. So the green stepnose stayed home.

This is what happened: Four days before we planned to leave for Pittsburgh, I drove the Alfa to my friend George’s house. George (Geo to his really close friends) lives just five miles away, and while he was excited to join in the weekend’s festivities, he had never driven my car before. I thought it only fair that he have a crack at it before we commenced on a 6-hour journey.

As soon as I pulled out of my garage that morning, I sensed that something was amiss. The car seemed a little down on power, and it pulled to the right. Other than that, it drove OK, so I pushed onward. The moment I entered Geo’s driveway and killed the engine, smoke emanated from under the closed hood. I popped the hood but saw nothing obvious. When Geo came out, I explained what had happened, and we both decided to let him drive the car, if only for 2 or 3 miles.

Once Geo got the car back to his place, the smoke returned, only this time, the source was clear: it was pouring off the right front brake. Hindsight made the drifting and low power obvious: this brake caliper was seized. I was lucky we weren’t seeing flames.

We pulled the wheel and there was nothing visibly wrong that we could try to fix on the spot. Putting the wheel back on, I reasoned that I could “carefully” drive the 5 miles back home, and work on it there. As soon as I bade Geo ciao, I started the car, put it in first, and headed down his driveway to the street, where I would need to turn left. Hitting the brake pedal, it sank to the floor. Thankfully, my parking brake (sort of) works, and I used it to stop at the bottom of the driveway. I backed the car up the drive, and started to figure out what Plan B looked like.

Geo couldn’t understand the loss of the pedal. I reasoned that the heat had caused the fluid to boil. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, a firm pedal returned. But I wasn’t driving this car home. There’s a reason I carry an AAA card. I called, they said one hour, and the truck was there in 90 minutes. In seven seasons of ownership, and in over 11,000 miles of driving, this car has never ridden on the back of a flat bed – until this brake failure. But the risk in driving it wasn’t worth it.

 

There’s a first time for everything

While waiting for the truck, I had time to calculate how I was going to get this repaired by Friday morning, just a few hours shy of four days away. My go-to Alfa parts supplier, Classic Alfa in the UK, was still open, if barely. I had always placed my orders via their website, never by phone, and this seemed like a most valid reason to spend the money for an international call. Given their stellar shipping reputation, I could have the parts by Wednesday, which I reckoned would still allow enough time to make a repair.

I called. ‘Chris’ answered. I explained my dilemma and asked him about my options. He quickly offered the choice of either remanufactured (reman) ATE calipers, or brand new ones. I asked him for the price difference, and he replied about 20 British pounds (approximately $25 thanks to the Brexit-depressed value of the pound). I figured that the small differential between new and reman made the new ones a deal, so I ordered a set. Since a core return wasn’t required, I asked Chris to include a caliper rebuild kit, thinking that I would eventually refurbish the old ones. It was now close to noon on Monday in New Jersey, and Chris said I should see the parts by late Wednesday.

Chris was wrong. The parts were in my hands at 5:30 pm ON TUESDAY. This was a miracle, and I presumed that the boys in the UK pushed the order through, having heard that I was planning on driving this thing to the U.S. Alfa convention in 4 days. So far, so good.

Shiny new caliper, ATE-like

Opening the box, the first disappointment was to discover that while these were certainly new calipers, they were not marked ATE, and I had to conclude that they were ATE copies. I unbolted the offending caliper, and an eyeball comparison proved that the new one was identically shaped. All I had to do was swap over the pads, connect the hard brake line, and bleed the system.

Right front rotor shows slight scoring, looks salvageable

With the existing pads and pad hardware installed, I knelt at the right front knuckle, held the 11 pound caliper in my right hand, and began to thread the brake line fitting into the new caliper with my left hand. The threads would not start. I tried every trick I knew; after perhaps 20 minutes, it felt like the threads had started, but I was unable to turn the fitting by hand more than half a turn. Of course, the dreaded fear is that I might cross-thread it, and ruin the caliper and/or the brake line fitting. After another 20 minutes, with blisters forming on the pads of my fingers, it felt again like it started. I picked up the flare nut wrench, and slowly, carefully, brought the fitting all the way down. It was about 8pm on Tuesday night. I was drenched, from both the 100% humidity and the nervous energy.

Flare-nut wrenches (this fitting is 11mm) indispensable for brake line work

The next evening, I removed the (good) left front caliper, and, convinced that the previous night’s issues were behind me, went through the same routine: swapped the pads, held the caliper up to the knuckle, and began to thread the pipe fitting. SAME PROBLEM. Desperate, I removed the hard line from the car, and brought it and the new caliper to the workbench, where I wouldn’t need to struggle with the caliper’s weight. I never came close to getting the threads to start.

New caliper looks great, too bad it leaks

I rationalized: I have the new caliper on the right front, to replace the known bad caliper. Certainly, I can keep the existing left front caliper in place and drive the car a few hundred miles. The left front caliper was reinstalled. Geo stopped by to assist. We were ready to bleed (the brakes, not us). I filled the master reservoir, asked Geo to climb in, and we began the “pump, hold, release” routine of manual brake bleeding.

There was a drip at the fitting at the right front caliper.

Reluctantly, I put a wrench on it and got another 10-15 degrees in clockwise motion. The bleeding resumed, and so did the dripping. I told Geo that we were done. While I did have the rebuild kit, it was now after dark on Wednesday, and I was out of time, patience, and confidence. Working on a car under such duress only encourages poor decision-making, unnecessary shortcuts, and botched repairs. My only desire was to enjoy the AROC convention, knowing that I would resume this wrenching at an unhurried pace upon my return. The new calipers would go back to Classic Alfa as defective or unusable.

… to be continued …

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.