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Classic Velocity Blog

Barely Bleeding Brakes

Classic Velocity

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Few experiences are more terrifying than that of having your brake pedal suddenly go to the floor. In my experience, there have been two versions of the situation. The first is that the pedal goes almost to the floor and then there is some mild resistance. The second is having the pedal go immediately to the floor without any resistance. Both produce a sphincter-tightening reflex response of pumping the pedal, downshift, and, depending on urgency, a reach for the handbrake!

When you suddenly lose brakes on an old car, your first thought is not necessarily air in the lines. It is usually something more catastrophic like a master cylinder failure or a brake line failure. In the old old days, it would have been a rod or a cable breaking, but hydraulics have been the norm for a long time now. Most of the time, the brakes get soft or spongy or just less effective, providing some level of warning. The remedy is often simple; bleed the brakes. 

And so it was that I recently needed to bleed the brakes on the tii. You can do this without removing the wheels, but it is a pain. Starting with the wheel farthest away from the master cylinder, I recruited my son as assistant, and pumped and held and opened the nipple and pumped and held and opened the nipple, and......What you want to see, what you hope to hear, is the popping of air as you open the nipple, the rise of bubbles in the jar. This bad news is just what you want. It means that you have found air in the system, and have located the source of your braking woes. I had no such luck on wheel number one. I tightened the nipple glad that it had opened and closed without issue. 

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In the past, I have found these corroded beyond recognition, and on my former Porsche 356, one had been broken off right right below the flat wrench surfaces. That was no fun whatsoever. On another, I gouged a knuckle and produced more blood than brake fluid. On yet another, I soaked a corroded bleed nipple overnight, heated it, soaked it in something else, meditated, offered some Ancient Druid chantings, drank a shot of a third soaking mixture, and attempted a Native American ceremonial dance. It loosened, leaving me wondering which element had done the trick. As a result, I have been forced to do all of these things for any rusty bolt. Oh and another thing, brake fluid is incredibly corrosive itself. There are warnings about getting it in the same postal code as paint. It must be handled with gloves. It should probably be carried using tongs and poured from a metallic flask by a guy wearing nuclear protective gear. But I digress.

Wheel #2 seemed to have no air either. Wheel #3 snapped, crackled, and popped like a box of Rice Krispies. I was elated. My son was properly amused at such joy over finding a problem. Wheel #4 was pure fluid. I have always been puzzled  by the way in which a single system could have air in just one place. Why doesn't it all rise to the highest point ? In any case, with the brakes properly bled, I went for a test drive. The brakes were excellent. Back to their former uuhhhhmm glory. I locked up the fronts and generally tried to confuse and surprise the pedal. It was not fooled. The problem is that although I could not surprise the pedal, it reserves the right to surprise me at any point in the future.