The History of Disc Brakes

1Most vehicles these days come with disc brakes on the front. Many even come with disc brakes on the back as well. However, it was not all that long ago those disc brakes were not widely available and they were typically only found on high end sports cars.

Believe it or not the disc brakes have been around almost as long as the automobile has been. They were developed in the late 1890s in England and patent by a man named Frederick Lanchester and put to use in Lanchester cars in 1902. What should have been a great innovation was not as the choices of metals in those days were very limited and this forced Lanchester to go with copper for the braking part that acted on the disc itself.

Because the roads were very crude at the time and consisted of little more than dirt trails, the copper proved to wear out much too quickly and just like that the disc brakes were put back on the shelf. It would be almost another 50 years before the disc brakes would begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel and begin to be implemented into certain automobiles.

The first modern style disc brakes were produced in a very small number and put into the 1949 Crosley Hotshot. The design proved to be a bust and they were discontinued one year later due to design problems.

At the same time Chrysler was offering its version of the disc brakes from 1949 to 1953 on their Imperial model. These brakes were greatly different however and were fully enclosed. It wasn’t until 1953 that Dunlop would change the world of braking as they came out with what was considered to be the first “reliable” disc brakes.

These reliable disc brakes began to catch on as the years rolled forward and they could be seen in a number of automobiles such as:

  • 1953 Jaguar C-Type Racer
  • 1954 Austin-Healy 100S (first model with four wheel disc brakes)
  • 1955 Citroen DS
  • 1956 Triumph TR3
  • 1963 Studebaker Avanti (optional on other Studebaker models for the year)
  • 1965 Rambler Marlin (optional on other AMC models for the year)
  • 1965 C2 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
  • 1965 Ford Thunderbird

Very quickly the auto manufacturers began to see all the advantages of having disc brakes as opposed to the traditional drum brakes. Stopping distance was greatly reduced and the disc brakes performed much better in wet conditions. Disc brakes also had a much greater resistance to overheating which caused “brake fading” to take place.

It wasn’t much longer before more and more models of various name plates begun coming standard with at least front wheel disc brakes. Today you would be hard pressed to find a vehicle that doesn’t at least have standard front disc brakes and many of today’s sports cars feature disc brakes on all four corners standard. Even cars that are not considered “sporty” are now coming with four wheel disc brakes as standard equipment. Though the technology had existed for some time, amazingly it took quite awhile to catch on. But catch in it did and now almost every vehicle on the road today is stopped courtesy of disc brakes.

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