As evidenced by the scene shown here, sometimes our cars don't go exactly where we want them to. Unfortunately for this '71 four-door, 318-equipped Dart Custom, which was recently acquired from the original owner by Nina from Norway, the car's lack of certain braking and handling qualities had put it on its side. Fortunately, no other vehicles were involved and the sheetmetal damage was surprisingly minor, but gave pause that it might be a good idea to correct the classic all-drum-brake situation before it led to even greater disasters. At least this incident was enough to speed up the "Yeah, someday I'll take care of that" attitude that's regretfully all too common.

So while the details of how this happened will be postponed until another day, we began the search for a remedy-namely, a disc-brake conversion for the front end. With little time to search boneyards far and wide to find a suitable '73-'76 disc-brake A-Body with the required decades-old yet usable parts still attached, the aftermarket seemed the way to go. And having witnessed the installation of Wilwood brake components on numerous magazine-project cars throughout the years, our first inquiries were naturally aimed in this direction.

Wilwood (located in Camarillo, California) was onboard for the project, whether we wanted to go with their no-fuss, basic bolt-on replacement kit for the Dart's front drums or do something a bit more elaborate. Updating the remainder of the front-suspension components seemed prudent too. This had also been in the "someday" category, especially since all of the original, 30-year-old ball joints were too shot to even align it properly (we learned this when it chewed through the front tires in record time after we started driving it).

This led to a chat with the folks at PST (Performance Suspension Technology) in Montville, New Jersey. Although their polygraphite bushings sounded tempting and came with a 20-year warranty, this Dart is just your basic, daily-driver family car. We were told the trade-off for superior handling capability was the risk of an occasional noisy suspension, and after having a '78 Dodge B-200 van squeak and severely annoy us ever since installing urethane bushings years ago, we opted for their original-performance replacement kit and its rubber bushings.

Next, we had to find a shop to do the work and put up with our cameras. We selected Magnum Force Racing in Campbell, California. Magnum Force proprietor Ron Jenkins is a die-hard Mopar guy. Not only was he willing to have his shop crew work on the Dart, but he also offered to throw in a set of his tubular upper control arms. These control arms, aside from looking cool, will let you replace the stock torsion bars with coilover shocks, but this seemed a tad on the overkill side for this street-only Dart. Ditto of his next offer, which was installing one of the new trick Magnum Force tubular K-members under the car. Losing a lot of weight and providing adequate space for headers, deep oil pans, and the like is obviously a good thing; going to rack-and-pinion steering would have been nice too. But since the Dart sees only the parking lot when it goes to the drags, we declined using this appealing hardware as well; the control arms would be enough.

The only complication was using the tubular upper control arms with their large-shank ball joints. They required the use of spindles from one of the aforementioned '73-'76, factory-disc A-Body cars (and their beefier lower ball joint assemblies), so we would need some salvage yard parts after all. Acquiring a set was surprisingly painless, since it took only three phone calls before connecting with Bonanza Auto Dismantlers in Shingle Springs, California, where a disc-brake '76 Valiant was spending its final days. The gent on the phone said the spindles looked fine, so we had them shipped to us.

Soon afterward the Wilwood catalog arrived, and a sinking feeling ensued when it showed no brake-kit match for the '76 Valiant parts. Another call was placed to Magnum Force, and Ron, with his extensive Mopar-inclined experience, figured a Wilwood 140-2729 kit would probably fit. We immediately shipped the spindles off to him to check and, sure enough, all was well. The order was then placed with Wilwood, who sent not only the requested kit but also a new master cylinder and proportioning valve. The former was essential because of the large fluid capacity of the calipers, and the latter was a dandy tuning aid for the braking system. Wilwood also sent us drilled/slotted rotors, which are basically competition pieces. While they'll work on the street, they'll quickly and prematurely wear pads in the stop-and-go environment. We replaced them with a similar 10.75-inch set of solid-faced Wilwood rotors Ron had in stock.

And so, with all the new parts loaded into the trunk, we headed off in the Dart before sunrise to make our morning appointment at Magnum Force. Fully aware of the irony if the dreaded braking inconsistency and fade caused another sideways incident on the way to attaining braking nirvana, we drove more carefully than ever. Despite that, we encountered two situations on the freeway that required heavy-brake application, accompanied by our now all-too-familiar apprehension of the Dart's ability to stop in time. Luckily, we arrived without further difficulties, and soon after, the Dart's totally inadequate stock front brakes were heaped in a pile by the trash can where they couldn't cause any more trouble.

In this installment of our epic tale, we'll take you through the disassembly of the OE parts and get them ready for the new hardware. Next month we'll finish by discussing how those up-to-date parts fit on our little A-Body. As a result, it will, we hope, be a long time before we see the world through the windshield from such a vertical perspective again!

SOURCE
Bonanza Auto Dismantlers
5200 Bonanza Auto Rd
Shingle Springs
CA  95682
800-559-0349
www.bonanzaautodismantlers.com
Magnum Force Racing
1436 White Oaks Rd., No. 7
Campbell
CA  95008
408-559-6633
www.magnumforce.com
PST-Performance Suspension Technology
P.O. Box 396
Montville
NJ  07045
973-299-8019
www.p-s-t.com
Wilwood
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