May242011

SACO 14” Bus Disc Brake Kit Review

If you’re looking to upgrade to disc brakes for your 1964-1967 bus and you’re determined to keep your stock 14” wheels, your options are sadly limited. There’s the CSP kit that runs in the $1400 range, but there’s now a kit from Saco Performance that fits right and keeps a few hundred dollars in your wallet.


I installed these on my 1967 Camper with the help and guidance of a friend who’d recently upgraded to disc brakes and we completed the job with relative ease. The install, complete with a quick trip to the local VW shop for a c-clip and a couple lock washers as well as one small modification to the kit, totaled 4.5 hours from start to finish.


The kit comes complete with everything you need to install the brakes, plus it already has the bearing races installed! The discs themselves are beefy and drilled to assist with cooling, though it does make for a little more noise in general when stopping! Saco four-piston calipers run standard Wilwood pads which drop in with no trouble whatsoever! The bearings are complete and ready to go once you grease them up. The kit even comes with little step-down adapters to fit your stock flex lines right to the caliper with no issues at all! The guys at Saco Performance also go the extra mile and fit a stock 14” bus wheel to the kit before it ships in order to ensure everything is built to exacting standards.


The clearances between the different elements of this kit are amazingly close! I’m very used to drum brakes and just how much extra space exists inside them! The spaces between the bracket and the rotor and the caliper are all insanely close. Once you snug down the outer bearing with the lock nuts, things are as close as they’re going to get! Definitely check everything over as you’re tightening things up to make sure nothing’s coming in contact with each other.


In my install, I had one bolt for the bracket (even though it was seated firmly after chasing the thread for the better part of fifteen minutes) sitting about a millimeter higher than the other bolts on the spindle. When everything was snugged down, this bolt does rub on the back of the disc. However, we spun the disc back and forth a number of times and decided that the disc will wear down shortly and leave enough clearance for the head of the bolt. In other words, the more we spun the disc, the easier it became to spin it.


In my experience, one bolt on the driver’s side bracket refused to seat flush with the bracket and ultimately scored itself a decent ring on the back of the rotor. It was causing a tremendous grinding noise at times while driving. A week after installation, we disassembled that side and ground down the face of the offending bolt so nothing was rubbing or grinding anymore. No significant damage was done to the rotor and the grinding has since ceased.


The grease caps in the kit come with the Saco logo nicely machined into them and attach each with three rather small allen screws. Attaching the passenger side cap, we quickly discovered the cap was just a couple millimeters too shallow and rubbed on the end of the spindle. We decided that it would be easiest to just grind those couple millimeters off the spindle. I’ve since discovered that the case is the same for the driver’s side. Ultimately, it would benefit everyone if Saco machined their caps just a few mils deeper. Instead of trying to find a way to recreate the caps, I had a friend who works at a machine shop create a couple spacers about 4mm deep. They work a dream and look like they came with the kit!


Also, neither grease cap comes drilled with the square hole necessary to fit your speedometer cable. It wasn’t difficult to drill a hole and then file it into the correct size square and fit the end of the speedometer cable with c-clip. I understand that Saco doesn’t always build products for the regular daily driver crowd (evidenced by the fact the calipers are racing quality calipers), but being able to just pop the cap on without any modification would have saved a little time.


Now we get to my largest complaint (and even that is relative) in the Saco kit: bleeding the brakes. The tight clearances of the entire kit make it very difficult to securely get a ¼” wrench on the bleeding nipple and rotate it open and closed with confidence. We were able to bleed the brakes, but it does feel as though there is still some air in the lines. Right now, I’m thinking I am going to have to modify a wrench or socket in order to confidently bleed the brakes and have a solid pedal.


Lastly, and this is the big recommendation for Saco to really rank up there with other makers of disc brake conversion kits for our air-cooled VWs, it would have been a huge help if there was even a basic instructions sheet contained within the kit. Nowhere was there a list of steps to follow in order to install the kit nor a spec sheet with torque info for the various parts of the kit. Thankfully, it’s not a difficult process, but if a complete newbie came to the table and wanted to install the kit, I could see them making some mistakes!


The only other troublesome experience I’ve had with the kit is that currently the inner brake pad on the driver’s side caliper has a little bit of a high spot that will grab on the spinning rotor. The pad moves forward just enough that, when the rotor passes the high spot, the pad clicks back against the body of the caliper. Really, it’s just an issue of noise and hasn’t affected the driveability of the bus. I’m either going to pull that pad to make sure it has a level face or just see if continued driving will even it out.


Overall, I am very pleased with the kit as a whole and with the ease of installation. Any modifications are ones that I’ve been able to make with relative ease and I’m confident that with a few more adjustments and tweaks, I’ll be driving in great shape for years to come!

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