Brakes & Improvements

Thing brakes are known for being rather exciting. When you are increasing the horsepower and the speed of the Thing, you are putting more stress on the brakes in their role of bringing it to a stop.

I had one Thing that the previous owner had converted to Type 3 brakes – backing plates and all.  They seemed to work better, but came with one major drawback; as the brakes got more and more miles on them, the holes the guy had drilled into the backing plates to adapt them to the Thing front spindles started wallowing out and allowed the plate to start moving. More excitement than I wanted-lesson well demonstrated!

I went back to the stockers, but upgraded to some semi-metallic linings. The local NAPA store had good ones at a reasonable cost. The part numbers for the rears were AE 315R, while the fronts were TS 269. The rear drums are 181 part numbers only; translated, expensive – even used. The fronts are 68 and earlier Bug drums and run about $65 new for German ones.  Chinese drums have been a problem, so I personally avoid them. Wheel cylinder rebuild kits for the Things can also be purchased at NAPA using part #113 698 293 for the fronts; for the rears, part  #543NAPA. The master cylinder is available at NAPA also—it’s the same application as a Ghia. It has a 19 mm piston.

JBugs sell German master cylinders for approx $109.  I find they are much better than the other brands.  For me… dictates the best brakes I can find….period.

Also, you can buy complete wheel cylinders that are just bolt-on for the Thing.  PEX is  a German brand of wheel cylinder, and the rear part # is 113-611-053B; the front part # is 131-611-057.  these are the best quality you can buy.

Adjustment of the shoes is just as critical as the quality of the shoes. If you have the bias (adjustment) set wrong, your front brakes are more prone to stutter and vibrate. I have found the bias that works best is 60% rear to 40% front. Also, when you remove your wheel for whatever reason, mark the threaded holes the lug nut came out of with magic marker. Sometimes when you put the wheel back on, it’s rotated one or two positions off from the original bolt pattern. This can cause an unbalanced situation. Torque the lug bolts to 72 foot pounds while you are at it.

If you look at the picture brakes-IMG_1322of the entire brake plate you can see what 98% of the braking problems are. Look at the adjuster on the top side – it’s almost all the way out and the shoe is worn down to about 10% left on the lining. In contrast, the bottom shoe is almost unused because the adjuster is still in the retracted position. The point is, this is the way I find almost all of the Things that come to me with braking problems.

When you have a shop adjust the brakes, many times they don’t have a clue how to go about it. They just thrash around inside the backing plate with a blade screwdriver and adjust anything till they get drag on the wheel and call it good.  Wrong! Both of these adjusters must be adjusted equally. As you can see, most of the stopping was accomplished with just one shoe on each wheel. You don’t need disc brakes….you need to know how to adjust your own brakes, or be able to tell someone at the shop how! It’s called attention to detail.

Here’s how I adjust my brakes:

  • First, I completely loosen the handbrake cables.
  • I start with the rear wheels and make sure the star adjusters are free.
  • I adjust the rear shoe on the rear wheel first. Adjust it so there is a slight amount of drag on the drum.
  • Now adjust the front shoe on the rear wheel. Do the same here, just a slight drag on the drum. Do both rear wheels the same way.
  • When you are finished, both rear wheels should have just a slight amount of drag when turning the wheels. Don’t worry about the drums heating up, when the car is on the ground and the brakes pumped a couple of times they will reseat and have good clearance.
  • Now go to the fronts. Complete each wheel before moving on to the other one. Adjust the rear shoe till it has some drag, then back off till there is zero drag. Repeat this with the front shoe.
  • When completed, both these shoes will have zero drag and will not pull to either side.
  • Now, go inside the car and adjust the handbrake so it has five clicks to the top position. If it’s more than this, the cables are stretched and need to be changed out. Another project for another day.

Another good idea is to periodically use an air hose to blow out your drums.  This keeps dirt from piling up inside the drums if you are traveling a lot of gravel/dirt roads.  Dirt and sand in the drums accelerate the wear on the shoes and the drum itself.


– Mike Humeston