Page Revised: 31 August 2020


Article by
Eric Dess

One of the few bright spots that we have when restoring these vehicles is the abundance of pure mechanical parts, and nowhere is that more evident that with the braking system. For all Cougars 1983-88, common 10" (25.4 cm) front brakes were utilized. Out back, most cars had the standard 9" (22.9 cm) drum brakes, while later cars had 10" (25.4 cm) drums. All the brake parts (excluding the brake hard lines) were standard Ford pieces from the era, with no real hiccups in finding replacement parts.

But you do want to make sure that, if restoring, you get the most correct parts possible. This section will help you do just that.


As mentioned, the factory front brake rotors used on all 1983-88 Cougars were 10" (25.4 cm), regardless of engine size or model year therein. This simplification makes obtaining parts very easy, and as a bonus, the same parts were used on 1987-93 Mustang 4-cylinder vehicles. Keep in mind that brakes, like tires and batteries, are considered to be normal replacement items. It's not impossible to use all Ford parts but as time goes on, it's going to be more difficult to do so, therefore you must use the parts that are readily available to you.

Front 10" Rotor

For a replacement front rotor, look for a good quality brand such as Bendix, Wagner or Raybestos, with a long warranty and preferably American-made as the Chinese-made rotors cannot typically be turned. It still may be possible to get new rotors directly from the Ford dealer; they will likely be very expensive. Motorcraft rotors, at last check, were available at Rock Auto but be warned that they carry only a 1-year limited warranty.

Front Caliper

New Ford-stamped calipers may be possible to buy via the Ford dealer; however, as most calipers are remanufactured these days, it's very likely you'll find that a Ford-stamped core was used when purchasing calipers in the aftermarket or at parts stores. Also keep in mind that it may be cheaper to buy loaded calipers (with pads included) than purchasing the calipers and pads separately. Our cars used semi-metallic pads as standard equipment.


Again, look for semi-metallic brake pads for stock performance. Organic pads will be fine but they create more brake dust. A quality name brand will work perfectly. Be sure to use new anti-rattle clips supplied with the pads; the old ones will likely not be tight enough to reuse.

Front Caliper Pins

While not being known as a part that wears out, we've had our experiences with sheared caliper pins before. Replacing the pins will go a long way for peace of mind. The 10" (25.4 cm) caliper used a Torx (star) head pin with a round barrel front. There was never a hex head on the front of our caliper bolts. Earlier cars (at least 1983-84) seem to have used T-47 Torx bits in the OEM pins; later cars used T-50. Replacement pins that are very similar to factory are available at parts stores—be sure to check the fitment of your Torx bit. Some aftermarket pins, like the ones shown here, use an Allen bit instead of a Torx. Also, aftermarket pins tend to be a hair shorter than factory; usually that does not affect performance as the smaller end is inside the rubber boot anyway. Occasionally we'll see Ford caliper pin kits on eBay so keep your eyes open (it's unknown if those kits are still available from Ford). By the way, if all you would need is the slider pin rubber seals, those are usually available in a disc brake hardware kit sold in stores and online.


There's nothing really surprising here—just get good quality, name-brand outer and inner bearings and you're fine. One thing to note: beginning in 1986, Ford started using nylon outer bearings in the rotors. When they wear out they produce a really distinctive high-pitched wail. We're not sure if those are even possible to get again; we're big believers in steel roller bearings anyway so we'd recommend ditching the nylon bearings regardless.

Front Brake Hose

Geniune Ford brake hoses may be difficult to find so prepare to purchase aftermarket units. Really there's nothing special to know except to get a good name brand with a long warranty (some may be lifetime so keep the receipt). Be aware that brake hoses known to collapse from the inside, and can also show exterior cracking. When replacing, a factory-correct line will be rubber with pressed, zinc-coated steel ends.


You'll find clips, washers, banjo bolts, etc. at your local parts store or online. Sometimes they're under the Help! brand. Nothing special or out of the ordinary about these parts.


Now here's something most people never think about replacing, yet you may need to. Although our dust shields are metal from the factory we have seen OEM-style plastic shields with Ford part numbers. Those would be acceptable for restoration purposes. They may be only available as a restoration part at LMR or Fox Restoration, or possibly Rock Auto.


Replacement dust caps are readily available in the aftermarket and online. OEM was steel, not plastic; zinc coated is just fine.



BRAKE DRUMS - 9" (22.9 cm)

The 9" (22.9 cm) brake drums are the same used on 4-cylinder Mustangs from 1987-93. They are finned on the sides for visual reference. However, there were two different types of 9" (22.9 cm) drums, depending upon your model year/rear axle:

9" Drum - Early

1983 through February 1, 1985:
This rotor has a raised hat section to accommodate the wider Cougar/Thunderbird axle shafts vs. a standard Mustang axle shaft. The rear axle is actually from a Mustang, just with longer axle shafts specific to our cars, hence the bumpout on the drums.

9" Drum - Late

February 1, 1985 through 1988:
This rotor has a flat face with no hat section. The rear axle was made wider to a specific Cougar/Thunderbird width to match the axle shafts, therefore the hat section was no longer necessary.

BRAKE DRUMS - 10" (25.4 cm)
10" Drum

Beginning in 1988, just about all Cougar/Thunderbird V8 cars received 10" (25.4 cm) rear drums. They were available in earlier cars that had the optional towing or suspension package; we've also had reports of some 1988 V6 cars that had them as well. The 10" (25.4 cm) drums have no fins and are smooth sided.

Regardless of whichever drum setup you have, just like the front rotors, be sure to get a good quality name brand rotor with a long warranty. We don't know if there are any Motorcraft drums out there; it's possible but again, they will not be cheap.


Again, get good name brand brake shoes. Be sure to buy new, not relined, and we always recommend bonded/riveted shoes. You can also get severe duty shoes for a little extra durability.


Any other drum hardware part (spring holddown, return spring, bar, etc.) can be easily purchased online or at parts stores; no need to hunt down Ford parts.


Cars with both the 9" (22.9 cm) and 10" (25.4 cm) drums use wheel cylinders with a 3/4" (1.9 cm) bore. Be sure to get a good quality brand name with a decent warranty.


One of the most difficult things to deal with is a broken steel brake line. Brake hard lines were found between the master cylinder and proportioning valve; between the prop valve and the front brake junctions; between the prop valve and the rear brake junction; and between the rear junction and each rear drum brake on the axle.

Should you run into a ruptured or severely rusted line, you really shouldn't attempt to have it spot repaired; the entire section of line needs to be replaced. Fortunately we've found a source for new steel lines, Classic Tube. You can get complete kits front to back for all 1983-88 Cougars and T-Birds.

Just FYI, Fox Mustang lines were slightly different and shorter in some spots and are not recommended.

Rear Brake Junction

The brake junction is a flexible rubber line, similar to a front brake line, between the rear hard line and the rear axle. A Mustang-style junction should be acceptable to use, but double check for your application.


The proportioning valve used in our cars should be the same used in 4-cylinder Mustangs. We've not seen a Ford unit lately, although a Motorcraft unit may be available at the Ford dealer. You may also have to reuse your brake light sending unit.

Brake Booster

Our brake booster seems to have been unique to our cars; Mustang boosters are not as wide but deeper. We've yet to find another Fox vehicle with a similar sized booster (although Rock Auto lists some earlier Granadas and Fairmonts as being the same, though we don't have any evidence of that). Therefore you will need to get one specifically made for our cars. Original Ford boosters are very rarely seen; you will need to look to the aftermarket for one. Also, be sure to get a new vacuum check valve with the new booster. If it doesn't come with one, that is available under the Dorman/Help! brand, among others.


We again luck out, as the master cylinder for our cars is the same as many other Fords from the era. A good aftermarket m/c is easily obtained. We've yet to see a 1983-86 Motorcraft (p/n E4DZ-2140-A) master cylinder show up at a parts store but it's possible that the dealership can order one. The 1987-88 style was shared with Mustangs, among other cars, so they're readily available in the aftermarket as well as Mustang sites. The new m/c should come with a new cap but you can reuse your old one. Most parts places will have the master cylinder you need in the stock bore configuration.



Brake Light Switch

Long the bane of mechanics, the brake light switch is available online and in parts stores. Motorcraft does sell a new switch (p/n E9ZB-13480-AA or E9ZZ-13480-A). Fortunately they are cheap; unfortunately they're not easy to install. Wiring tends to fray, split or break off completely from this switch so be sure to inspect your wiring and repair as necessary.


Yes, you can get the brake pedal cover pad, under the Dorman/Help! brand at auto parts stores. They are pretty much identical to OEM. You can also get a parking brake pedal cover pad (which doubles as a clutch pedal pad) as well.