Mechanical brakes!

Not too long ago, a new forum member told us that he wanted to install mechanical brakes on his Oldsmobile, rather than repairing the brake hydraulic system. At the time, I and a few others informed him that Ford was the last manufacturer to modernize their brake system to hydraulic operation, in 1939.

Well, it turns out that I was wrong. When I was talking to a VW restorer a few days ago, he mentioned that the VW beetle still used cable-operated brakes up through the 1949 model year. The 1950 beetle was equipped with hydraulic brakes–but only for the export market. VWs that were sold w/in Germany still used mechanical brakes for another year or two.

So, anyone who wants mechanical brakes has only to find a 1949 VW!
(Note: Only two were imported into The US, so it will be difficult to find one for sale, but if someone wants mechanical brakes, this is the solution for him)


There’s a '49, fully restored, listed on Hemmings for $99,500.

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I’ve never thought of mechanical brakes a “solution” for anybody! :wink:

My 71 Honda CL450 motorcycle had mechanical drum brakes. They worked OK, provided you adjusted them every 500 to 1000 miles or so. This was one of the issues with mechanical brakes on cars. The need for constant adjustment.

Another was uneven braking. Even if properly adjusted, the asymmetrical nature of the linkage means the brakes will virtually never provide equal brake force side to side. A 3 foot linkage (or cable) that operates the left front brake flexes less than the 7 foot linkage (or cable) required to actuate the right front brake. That means the left brakes more and the right brake less.

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What type of power assist would work with mechanical brakes?
The Hudson through the 1954 model did have a mechanical linkage backup to the rear brakes in case the hydraulic system failed.

Interesting tidbit was that the “solution” for mechanical brakes was hydraulic but it was years before “dual diagonal” and “low fluid warning” was required so a fluid leak anywhere in the system could result in a complete loss of braking without any warning. Think the old Detective Movies from the 40’s & 50’s where the bad guy cut’s the brake line and the car plunges over the cliff.

Ah the “good old days, they don’t make 'em like that anymore”. (Thank God!!!)

+1 and let’s include drum brakes all the way around for passenger cars on that list too!

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Hispano Suiza automobiles had power assisted cable operated brakes in the 1920’s and licensed the design to Rolls Royce.

It consisted of a drum brake about 10 inches in diameter connected to a jack-shaft off the transmission. The driver’s brake pedal applied the drum on the trans and just one of the 4 wheel mechanical brakes. The drum on the trans applied force to the other 3 brake cables. The drum multiplied the force the foot brake applied to slow the car. BIG cars, FAST cars! The 4th cable was a fail-safe in case the drum on the trans failed. In the linked picture the right-hand drive H-S shows the drum alongside the transmission.

Hispano Suiza power brake booster

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Well, if our friend with the Oldsmobile happens to wander by this thread, he just might consider it to be a solution to his brake dilemma. Additionally, since he seemed to abhor modern passenger-protection technology, he would probably love a '49 beetle!

The driver sits right behind the fuel tank with their nose against the windshield… what could go wrong? :smiley:

Well, let’s not discount the effectiveness of the spare tire sitting just behind the front bumper!
Surely that would function just as well as a modern, well-engineered crumple zone, and would protect the occupants from serious injury.


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If I wanted mechanical brakes, I would prefer the 38 Ford. I prefer Plymouths to Fords, but Plymouth never made a car without hydraulic brakes. You could buy a Dodge without any brakes, but it was a boat.

A slightly different situation I know but both of my antique Harleys use mechanical brakes front and rear and they work great; especially the rears. HD did not introduce hydraulics until 1958.

@old_mopar_guy. Back in the 1960s, the local Rambler dealer had a 1950 Volkswagen on his used car lot. I don’t know if it had mechanical or hydraulic brakes. I didn’t look at the car very hard as it was just another VW. I think that the price was less than $500 at the time. I should have bought that VW and stored it.
Back in 1958, I looked at a 1940 LaSalle at the Oldsmobile/Cadillac agency. I could have had that car for $75. I am sure it would be worth a lot more today.

The second generation LaSalle is not considered very collectible today. It had more in common with Oldsmobile than it did with Cadillac by that time.

@old_mopar_guy. I was in high school when I looked at the 1940 LaSalle. I had a summer job that paid 60¢ an hour, plus I did mowing for people in the evening. Buying any car was out of the question because my dad said “No teenager needs a car”. However, he was very generous in letting me use the family cars. From the time I was in junior high school , I had to wash and wax the family cars and clean the interior. When I got my driver’s license, I was expected to keep the cars maintained. I think my dad was afraid if I owned a car, I would spend my time working on my own car and neglect the family’s cars. I got to know mechanics that way including the head mechanic and service manager at the DeSoto/Plymouth dealer who would tell me that I was should be smart enough to figure out how to figure out what was wrong and fix the problem.
As far as mechanical brakes are concerned, I do remember riding in Fords of the mid 1930s that had mechanical brakes.

What surprises me is what the 21 and 23 window Type 2 buses are going for. A 100 to 150 grand.
If someone had mentioned this 50 years ago they would have been brought down with rhino tranquilizer and locked up for life.


How often did you ride that bike?

I’m asking because, depending on how much use it saw, an adjustment every 500 - 1000 miles could be every other week, once or month, or something like that

The 1930 Whippet had four wheel mechanical brakes. Made by Willys so might be available yet. Of course it only weighed about 700 pounds so maybe get a couple sets.

Heh heh. The neighbor had a visitor today that pulled up in a perfect 1955 Pontiac. Same color and everything as one of my college room mates had. In Hemmings, one of poor quality was over $20,000 and I’m sure this one was in the $30,000 range. Got me thinking though that that was three times the total cost of a four year private college back then. I’m sure he didn’t pay any more than $200 for it. Needed a place to store the stuff for 50 years though and of course $200 was a lot of money.

I didn’t ride a lot. Maybe 500-1000 a year. Summers only since I lived in the midwest. Brake adjustment in the spring and it needed it again the next spring before riding season. Not much of an issue, really.

Old cars with mechanical brakes had similar adjustment requirements from what I’ve read. That would have been at least once a month with one of my cars. But back in the day, you’d change your oil that often, especially if the car had no oil filter.