The C5 Corvette in stock form has capable stopping power for the weekend warrior, but as your journey with your Corvette inevitably brings you to the race track you’ll discover the brakes feel increasingly weak under repetitive, aggressive braking. The C5’s brakes lose the firm feedback needed to inspire the confidence to hit that late braking point near the end of a twenty minute road course session. As you push the limits of your car and driving skills, confidence in your braking inputs as a driver is everything. With the right upgrades though, the C5 Corvette’s brakes can be much more capable for those getting ready for performance driving events.
Fortunately, knowing where to start on a C5 Corvette is easy. Every model year and trim C5 received the same caliper and rotor setup at both axles. At the front axle, the car was fitted with 2 piston floating calipers covering 12.8” diameter rotors while the rear axle was fitted with single piston calipers covering 12” diameter rotors. The C5 Z06 has red painted calipers, the only trim to come with painted calipers, but don’t be fooled as these are still the same exact calipers found on every other C5. The Z06, besides already benefitting from being the lightest trim, was only given a minor advantage in brake cooling by introducing functional rear brake ducts in addition to the front brake ducts that all C5 Corvettes were outfitted with.
FLUID & LINES
Let’s start with possibly the most important upgrade; a DOT 4 or racing brake fluid and brakes lines. There is a good chance that your Corvette’s brake fluid hasn’t been changed in years. It may still even have the factory fluid from 20 years ago. Over time brake fluid will absorb water from the surrounding materials and the seams in the hydraulic lines, drastically reducing the fluid’s boiling point.
Flush the brake system with a DOT 4 or racing brake fluid. ATE Typ 200 is a popular DOT 4 racing fluid among the track community, offering a strong dry boiling point of 536 °F at an excellent price of about $16 per liter. Motul RBF600, with an even higher dry boiling point of 598 °F, is another excellent option, though at a more premium price of around $35 per liter. Castrol and Prestone also make DOT 4 fluids that you can more easily find on the shelf of your local auto parts retailer. 2 liters (or the equivalent of 2 quarts or 64 oz) will be enough to flush the brakes and have some extra left to keep on hand.
While the wheels are off the car in preparation for the brake fluid flush, this is logically the time to replace the old rubber brakes lines with stainless steel lines. The original rubber lines are going expand under aggressive braking as the fluid temperature increases, reducing brake pressure. The stainless steel lines are going to expand dramatically less, resulting in a more consistent and firmer braking feel under track conditions. Most kits, including those from Stoptech, Goodridge, and Doug Rippie Motorsports, are available for under $150.
PADS & ROTORS
After brake fluid and lines, a proper brake pad is the next upgrade in preparing your brake set-up for more performance driving. For a track novice that also street drives their Corvette throughout the year, a quality hybrid street/ light duty track pad like the Hawk HP Plus is a great option to begin with. Initially, you will not have the confidence or skill to push the limits of a good pad and it also provides the convenience of not having to swap pads right before or at the track. With enough laps logged though, your driving skills will start to surpass the limits of a street/track pad. A dedicated set of track focused pads, such as the Hawk Blue 9012, Raybestos ST43, or Carbotech XP12 would provide the next level of braking performance needed.
For many, quality blank rotors from a reputable brand are going to serve you perfectly well. They are affordable and it always a good idea to have a replacement set of rotors on hand. Two pieces rotors, such as the DBA T3 5000 series, offer reduced thermal stress as well as a lower un-sprung weight, but they do come with premium price tag.
It is also possible to upgrade to a larger rotor while still maintaining your stock calipers and choice of brake pads courtesy of the C6 Z51 setup. However, you will need to upgrade to an 18” front wheel to provide the clearance needed. The C6 Z51 uses a 13.4” diameter rotor up front and a 13” rotor at the rear; a pretty considerable increase from the C5 sizes. Outside of purchasing the larger rotors, all that is required are the caliper brackets from a C6 Z51. The caliper brackets move the caliper position further out to accept the larger diameter rotor, mounting right to the C5 spindle all with the same hardware. While this upgrade doesn’t provide an increase in braking force, the larger rotors will help improve heat dissipation. Given the increased cost, the required upgrade to 18” front wheels, and the resulting increase in un-sprung mass, this upgrade only has a small niche spot in between maximizing the full OEM brake setup and a true brake upgrade to the C5.
First up is the Wilwood Superlite SLC56 (front) and DPC56 (rear) 4 piston calipers. This Wilwood caliper set is a direct bolt-on to a C5 Corvette spindle and utilizes all the original rotor sizes. They will even clear the C5 Z06 17” wheels up front, keeping the supplemental costs around a caliper upgrade to a minimum. All that is required is a type 7416 pad, which is available from Wilwood and other popular brands. While this upgrade won’t provide an increase in braking force, the 4 piston fixed caliper is much more robust than the original 2 (front) and 1 (rear) piston floating calipers. The result is a firmer and more consistent pedal feel under stressful track conditions. Front and rear calipers, with pads, retails for around $1,400.
The next step up is the Wilwood AERO6 front caliper kit. This 6 piston caliper utilizes either the 13.4” front rotor from a C6 Z51 or the 14” front rotor of a C6 Z06. Regardless of the rotor used for the setup, a C5 Corvette will need to size up to at least 18” wheels in the front. Even then, it is important to check that the backspacing of the wheel will clear the caliper. A popular choice among C5 track cars is to run the C5 Z06 rear 18×10.5 wheels on all four corners, which also allows the tires to be rotated. The AERO6 caliper uses a 6617 brake pad type which has an array of options from Hawk and Wilwood. The increased braking surface, combined with the robustness of a 6 piston caliper, provides a nice bump in braking performance to the C5 Corvette. The AERO6 front caliper kit with pads retails for around $1,100.
It should also be said that the C6 Z06 or Grand Sport brake setup, also known by the J56 option code, are another bolt on option for the C5. The J56 uses a 6 piston caliper with a 14” rotor up front, and a 4 piston caliper with a 13.4” rotor in the rear. Again, a C5 Corvette will need to move up to at least 18” wheels with proper backspacing up front for clearance. Finding a nice used set of these calipers can get expensive, often nearing $2,000 or more once solid rotors and pads are added to the shopping list. Even more once you consider the wheel upgrade. At this price, many view this upgrade as form over function. The increased un-sprung mass of the heavy caliper, 14” rotors, and larger wheels is not offset enough by the increased braking performance of this setup.
If you are working with a larger budget, the Essex/ AP Racing Front Competition Brake Kit (Front CP8350/325) is an excellent upgrade from a well-respected manufacturer in the Corvette track community. At $2,900, the kit includes four piston calipers, two piece racing rotors, and stainless steel brake lines. All in a kit that fits under the front 17” C5 Z06 wheel with caliper piston sizing intended to work with the rest of the OEM C5 brake setup.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the C5 Z06 has front and rear brake ducts as original equipment while all other C5 trims have just the front brake ducts. These brake ducts though just duct air a bit aimlessly into the wheel well area behind the wheel, not directly to the wheel/rotor hub itself. The cooling functionality of the OEM ducts is not great. AAF and DRM both offer front brake duct kits that connect to the existing ducts and continue to move air all the way to the wheel hub. This maximizes air flow through the rotors to functional cooling, but ultimately this upgrade would follow after upgrades to the rest of the braking setup first.
Brake upgrades, especially with all the products available for the C5, offer a great progression for every budget and driver skill level. Start simple with a good set of brake pads and a high temperature brake fluid or get race ready with a serious caliper upgrade. Either way, your C5 Corvette will now be better prepared for the task.