Everyone loves junk. The look of patina has swept across the land. Nowadays, all things rusted, faded, mismatched, and funky are the stuff of dreams. But the appeal of junkyard mojo doesn’t translate to the mechanical side. Nobody wants an old truck that drives like an old truck.
Instead, the style of today aims for the best of both worlds — well-worn body and paint, combined with state-of-the-art high-performance mechanicals. That’s the whole idea behind Project F Word, our 1969 Ford F-100 owned by Ford Muscle staffer Ivan Korda.
You may remember Ivan as the guy behind Boosted Coyote, our street/strip 2015 Mustang GT project that ran 9-second e.t.’s. Up to this point, Ivan’s projects have been similar late-model machines and he wanted a change of pace. “This is my first classic vehicle,” said Ivan. “I’ve done a lot of modern stuff and I was really itching to do something that was just a little bit different.”
To find the right raw material, he scoured the internet and came across this tired but solid Bumpside languishing away in an Alabama backyard junk pile. With the help of the truck’s owner, Ivan dragged it out of the weeds, got the original 390 FE V8 running well enough to lope around the yard, and the deal was done.
His plan was to combine the best of patinated visuals with sophisticated, modern-day underpinnings, retaining the truck’s hard-earned rusty roughness while fortifying it for autocross, track days, and general street flogging.
And with that, Project F Word was launched.
Ivan’s original vision was to upgrade the mechanicals with a fairly tight budget. The intention was to keep the original 390 and merely freshen it up. But like so many other builds, things got a little crazy. In short order he had stripped the truck to pieces, powdercoated the frame, and upgraded the front and rear suspension to a QA1 performance setup. At the same time, we gathered up some other goodies for it, like a Ford Performance Gen III 5.0-liter Coyote Aluminator crate engine and a Strange Engineering 9-inch full-floater rearend (you’ll see that in an upcoming story).
As you can probably tell, Project F Word won’t be a sedated fairground cruiser. It’s being built to thrash. And with that in mind, it was going to need some serious brakes.
Choosing Brake Components
To paraphrase an old saying, “acceleration is optional. Braking is not.” But many people don’t realize the potential landmines when choosing high-performance brakes. These days, most vehicles have a nearly infinite choice of rotors, calipers, and master cylinders available. Further complicating brake system decisions are wheel and tire fitment, suspension design, and, of course, the intended use of the vehicle.
Some people plow into brake upgrades without understanding how these choices interplay. This can lead to poor performing, dangerous brake systems. But just as often, the wide array of choices and the potential for problems discourages car builders altogether, says Rick Elam from Baer. “If you look at how many people we sell brakes to, it’s probably just a small fraction of people that actually are interested in the product,” said Rick. “They get scared, because brakes can interfere with so many different avenues of the vehicle, so they’d rather just not do anything.”
The best way to avoid potential issues is to start by consulting experts — the guys that develop and build these systems from the start. Rick says Baer reps talk to different customers about these choices “all day long,” and they’re happy to do so.
For Project F Word, that discussion revolved around several key points: how the truck was going to be driven; what wheels we wanted to use; and the brand of suspension system it would have on it. Project F Word’s hardcore performance intentions and wide-open wheel availability made the recommended choice Baer’s 6P six-piston caliper, with 14-inch EradiSpeed rotors. The 6P caliper features a two-piece, radial-mount design, and features pistons in the following sizes: 1.625-inch, 1.375-inch, 1.1875-inch front, and 1.1875-inch, 1.125-inch, 1.0-inch rear. Baer utilizes staggered piston sizes to help reduce brake pad wear. The two-piece, high-performance iron rotors are slotted, cross-drilled, and zinc-coated, with a curved vane design intended to promote airflow and heat dissipation.
Although this stout combination of components obviously suits Project F Word’s all-out performance mission, it would also be a great choice for less intense applications. “You can never have too much brake,” explained Rick. “If you go with a massive six-piston caliper and 14-inch rotor, all it’s going to do is stop the car that much quicker before the point of lockup. Yeah, if a guy is just cruising car shows and stuff, he doesn’t necessarily need it. But there’s literally no downside to it.”
The one caveat is whether or not the vehicle’s wheels can accept big brakes. Wheels are a matter of personal preference. It’s a choice that can make or break the style of any vehicle. For that reason, Baer recommends choosing wheels first and building your brake system around that, unless it’s an all-out performance application.
Project F Word is a clean-slate build, so our wheel options were practically unlimited, with the one request being that we wanted to run wheels with the smaller 5×4.5-inch Ford Mustang bolt pattern instead of the larger 5×5.5-inch Ford truck bolt pattern. Since we didn’t need the higher load capacity of big truck wheels, running the smaller bolt pattern gave us a wider choice of wheel designs, sizes, and backspacing. To accommodate that, Baer developed a special hub with holes for both bolt patterns.
With the basic elements of our brake system chosen, there remained only one other factor to work through: the suspension system. Baer didn’t yet offer a brake kit for the QA1 suspension system designed for this era of F-100, but was planning to. And so, Project F Word proved to be an ideal opportunity for Baer to develop and test a system for this application.
The QA1 F-100 front suspension uses a General Motors second generation F-Body spindle. According to Baer, that’s a good choice in some respects because it’s strong, it’s common, and there are a lot of different components that will fit it. But for Ford faithful like Ivan, this spindle can force users to run a GM-pattern hub and wheel. This especially complicates things for Ford builders that have already purchased wheels or are upgrading their vehicle in stages.
More significantly, the somewhat vintage-design GM F-Body spindle also requires a few modifications to mount Baer’s modern high-performance calipers to it. Baer’s solution is simple and effective. They do all that work for you, modifying the spindle, pre-assembling the entire front brake system on it, and then shipping it to you complete and ready to install. For stock-height spindles, Baer even provides its own GM F-Body style spindle. With dropped spindles, such as on QA1’s F-100 kit, you’ll first have to ship Baer the spindles, and then Baer will modify them as necessary before assembling your brake system.
Of course, once the basic brake system is chosen, there’s the question of what master cylinder and booster to use–or whether to use a booster at all. While converting to power brakes isn’t necessary, Ivan will be driving his truck on the street quite a bit, and power brakes are arguably the most comfortable for this type of application. Although most people tend to focus more on calipers and rotors when it comes to picking brake components, the wrong choice of master cylinder and booster can have drastic consequences. So, once again, you’re best off consulting the manufacturer for recommendations.
For the ultimate drivability and comfort, we went with Baer’s recommendation of a Baer master cylinder and a 9-inch dual diaphragm booster with a 1-inch master cylinder bore from Master Power Brakes. The booster’s bellcrank assembly will allow us to achieve proper pedal ratio. Ivan told us that the installation of the booster was super easy. “It bolted right up,” he explained. “I just needed to cut the push rod to the correct length.”
Even with the wide Coyote engine, clearance is acceptable with this combination, allowing several inches of space above the coil packs. That said, changing spark plugs on the driver’s side will probably require pulling the booster off the firewall.
Mounted directly below the master cylinder is a Baer adjustable proportioning valve. It allows the user to quickly and precisely set the brake bias, so the front and rear of the vehicle both get optimum braking force. This is especially crucial in performance applications, and even more so with the front-heavy weight distribution of pickup trucks.
For the visual aspect of the upgrade, we went back and forth a lot about the color. Baer offers its components in many different hues to fit practically any design scheme. Rather than go with the standard red, yellow, or black that you see on most calipers these days, we chose a vibrant blue finish. Although you might assume that this punchy looking finish is anodizing, it’s actually an “SD” or super-durable powdercoating, which resists heat, chemicals, and sunlight. It’s translucent enough to allow the underlying bare metal to show through, which is what adds that sharp metallic element to the color.
Baer says its brake systems are far too complete and pre-assembled to be called “kits.” All the components arrive at the customer’s house fully assembled, adjusted, tightened, and safety wired where necessary. “Because we pre-assemble the brake on the spindle, the front is really a piece of cake,” explained Rick. “It’s all done. You don’t have to pack bearings, you don’t have to mount hubs, you don’t have to mount calipers, and you don’t have to shim anything.”
Indeed, the Baer front brake installation consists of mounting the spindle to the A-arms, attaching tie-rod ends, and hooking up the two brake hoses. It’s literally as simple as it can possibly be.
In back, Project F Word uses Baer 6P calipers and 14-inch EradiSpeed rotors like the front. They’re mounted to a Strange Engineering 9-inch rearend with Baer’s full-floating axle setup. This rearend is Strange’s prototype for a direct bolt-in setup the company will offer for F-100s like ours. To make sure there weren’t any compatibility issues, Strange installed the Baer floater kit and brake system on the rearend before shipping it to us. However, Baer assures us that the rear brake system is also simple enough for the average hobbyist builder to assemble.
At this point, all that remained was to plumb the brake system with new lines and hoses. Unfortunately, pre-bent brake lines aren’t available for this series of F-100s, so we had to build our own. To ensure that this crucial element of the install was done correctly, we once again consulted Baer. They recommended the right hard line diameter (3/16-inch) and sent all the fittings we needed. They also provided stainless braided lines and mounts to bolt to the calipers.
No matter what brake system you choose, having the right components is critical. It’s a complex jigsaw puzzle. And getting it right isn’t just a matter of performance — you’re betting your life on it. And that’s why it pays to consult the pros on this critical part of your build. We found out for ourselves that talking to experts is the best way to get a great brake system that goes together quickly and easily. The peace of mind and safety that comes from this approach is priceless, whether you’re building your truck for cruising to the burger stand or tearing up the track.