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How-To: R50 Rear Disc Brake Conversion


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Here’s how to do a rear disc brake conversion for a 96-04 R50 using 88-95 WD21 rear brake parts.


First things first, though: I’m not getting into the drums vs. disc argument here; both have advantages and disadvantages. I’m not advocating one over the other; in fact, I’m fairly neutral about the discussion. I’ll be the first to tell you there’s nothing wrong with the drum brakes...they’re reliable, long-lasting, and quite easy to work with and maintain (in my opinion, of course). Feel free to discuss the merits of either system, or ask any questions later, but I’m not writing this to justify why you should or shouldn’t do this swap. This is just the how-to.


So why did I do it? Curiosity and opportunity. At some point, a few people asked me directly about whether I thought it was possible. And I know it’s been discussed heavily in the past. A fellow NPORA’er gifted me a set of WD21 axle assemblies after I helped him out with some info. I’ve been sitting on this project for about a year now, only finally deciding to go through with it when I swapped my LSD for a TJM the other weekend. And well, here we are: an R50 with rear disc brakes.


I’m not aware of any R50/QX4 that has done the swap, but the process is essentially the same as what’s already been documented for WD21, D21, D22, and WD22. For the most part, I’ll only be going into detail about the parking brake cable, since this is the only thing specific to the R50. Otherwise, the process and parts are the same as others have documented, so be sure to read those posts linked below (but, I’ll give a brief breakdown of steps, too).


Prime at XterraNation did a great write-up of the process for his Xterra (although he never installed them; he tried selling them, but not sure how that went), and Roastbeef at Pirate4x4 (among other sites) did it to his SAS’d Frontier and provides some decent info, too. Nissan Nut has done it to a D21 and provides some generic info for other models. The parts and process is no different for an R50.


Prime’s (WD22): XterraNation

Roastbeef’s (D22): Pirate4x4, RoninWheelers

NissanNut's (D21/WD21): NissanNut


The gist is that you use the WD21 disc backing plates (and consequently all the brake components that bolt to it) on your R50 axles instead of the drum backing plates (and components), then figure out how to adapt the parking brake cables. To that extent, one major note is that it’s basically bolt-on, but by no means a direct swap and is not without some customization. It’s not a practical DIY project unless you have the means and tools (a floor press is required). The R50 parking brake cables get reused, but they are permanently modified, and fabricating a bracket of some sort is required.


If you plan to do this swap, you’ll very much need to budget for parts and labor. If you know a guy, who knows a guy, who has a floor press...get to know that guy. Any driveline shop should be able to do the work (at least as far as the axle/brake assemblies go), but you’ll need to provide them specific instructions on how to reassemble everything. (A couple local shops quoted in excess of $150 for just labor.)


Parts Needed:

  • Rear disc brake assemblies* from a 88-95 WD21
  • If you have a 96-99 R50, you need shafts from an 00-04 R50 (or Frontier or Xterra) -or- you’ll need to have yours lathed down...more info below.
  • Long brake line for passenger side (I used AGS Poly Armour Brake Line, PAJX-351; 3/16” line x 51” length w/ M10x1.0 fittings available from AutoZone for about $9)
  • Short brake line for driver side (I used AGS Poly Armour PAJX-340; 3/16” line x 40” length w/ M10x1.0 fittings, also from AutoZone for about $7)
  • Replacement parts: wheel bearings, oil seals, grease seal, axle o-ring, axle nut lock washer (see my 31-spline axle swap write-up for more info)
  • Brake parts as-needed for your specific donors, setup, and/or liking: rotors, pads, shims, piston, calipers, short hose, rebuild kits, springs, parking brakes, etc. (There are performance rotors (http://www.cquence.net/partfinder/product/list/?cat=16&make=Nissan&model=Pathfinder&year=1995) and premium pad options out there , btw.)
  • 4x Nissan C200 axle studs (p/n 43083-EB000)
  • Optional: 12x wheel studs (Dorman 610-320)...now’s a good time to change them. I’d recommend an open nut (Dorman 611-065), a stack of ½” ID washers, and some anti-seize to aid installation.
  • Optional: 8x axle stud nuts (p/n 08912-9401A)
  • Brake fluid
  • Wheel hub grease

*About the assemblies: you need, at minimum, the backing plate that mounts all the brake components to the axle shaft. This is the most important part, but there are also some parking brake pieces that you need. If you can also get the parking brake cables, do so, but you’ll really need the springs from the end of them. It’s easier/better to just have the whole assemblies just in case, like so:






Below is the backing plate shown, cleaned up with parking brake shoes installed, caliper and bracket assemblies. There was a shroud around the backing plates, but I cut them off because they were damaged (not too tough to do with a Dremel and small cut-off wheel):




If you have a 96-99 R50, your axle shafts are yet another Nissan variant. The wheel hub flange has a greater diameter than other shafts, so the rotor won’t fit it. You’ll need 00-04 R50, D22, or WD22 33-spline shafts or, in lieu of new shafts, you could also have them lathed down.


Larger diameter wheel hub on right:








Doesn’t fit...





  • Floor press — I bought a 12-ton floor press from Harbor Freight for just a little over $100. It’s more than paid for itself doing the 31-spline swap, this projects, and replacing u-joints. Keep in mind, though, you'll need other parts to break down and re-assemble things.
  • Bearing splitter — needed to pull the ABS tone ring and outer bearing off the axle shaft. Nissan Nut shows being able to pop it off with a crowbar or screwdriver, but yeah, that'd didn't work for me at all.
  • Brake line bender (optional) — helpful to get clean bends, but the brake lines can be bent by hand
  • Hydraulic crimper — highly recommended for parking brake cable modification; available at Harbor Freight, but I found one a bit cheaper on eBay and included more dies
  • Brake line flare tool (optional) — depending on how you approach the brakes, you can either use a pre-flared line and bend it, or make your own line using M10x1.0 fittings and a flare tool.
  • Mini-sledge, dead-blow hammer, mallets, sockets, tool aptitude, etc.

In my case, to make the parking brake brackets, I used:

  • Chop saw (well, I have a modified mitre saw and metal-cutting blade that I use)
  • Drill press
  • M6x1.0 tap
  • Dremel w/ metal cut-off discs
  • 1.5”H x 3”W x .125” steel tube (two 2.75”L pieces



Again, I’m not going to go into great detail about axle shaft disassembly and assembly...when you read the other write-ups, you’ll know quickly if you can or can’t do it. But basically, you need to:

  1. Disassemble the WD21 axle shaft and brake assembly to the point that the disc brake backing plate can be removed from the wheel bearing retainer cup.
  2. Disassemble the R50 axle shaft and brake assembly to the point that the drum brake backing plate can be removed from the wheel bearing retainer cup. (This is where you would also want to pull the outer bearing and grease seal, press the bearing race from the bearing retainer if you intend—and you should—to replace them with new parts).
  3. Reassemble the R50 axle shaft and all R50 shaft parts with the WD21 disc brake backing plate. You’ll need to use the C200 axle shaft studs at the top of the plate, and the R50 studs at the bottom.
  4. Bolt the assemblies to the truck.
  5. Remove the OE brake lines, and use them to mirror the bends on the custom lines.
  6. Modify the parking brake cables. (I am grossly oversimplifying this part!)
  7. Assemble the brakes.
  8. Adjust the parking brake.
  9. Bleed the brakes.
  10. Go! (er, Stop!)

Brake Lines


As noted, you’ll need to make two brake lines. The WD21 and R50 ones will be too short. At first, I bought some 3/16” line and fittings from eBay, only to realize it was too thick to flare. The ready-to-bend lines (which are already flared and have fittings installed) are a great solution, although the 40” line I used for the drivers side was a little long, so I cut it down a little and made a new flare...but you could easily add another bend to take up the slack if needed.

My brake line bending skillz need improvement, but they’ll do the trick. I bent my lines using my spare axle housing to mock up, but it would have been much easier to just wait until the OE brake lines were removed and match the bends to them. You can use a cheap tool (HF sells one) or just bend them by hand. Then, just loop them over the axle shaft and into the short flex lines (images shown below with the parking brake brackets).


You could also make an extension line and re-use your R50 line if you just twist the end that goes into the drum about 90°. I don't recommend this approach because:

  1. That 90° twist may weaken the line
  2. The coupler and short line (they have small 12” lengths like the AGS lines I mentioned above) cost more than the longer lines
  3. It adds more connections
Edited by hawairish
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The Parking Brake Cable


So, here’s the real challenge. Unlike the Frontier and Xterra, the parking brake cable assemblies run along the trailing arms and have brackets crimped onto them, which doesn’t allow for any slack...and you need about 2” of it. You can’t use the WD21 cables because they are way too short. If you have the means, you could do custom lines, but I personally wanted this install to require as little modifications to the cables as possible.


I drilled, tapped, and notched steel tube to make an adapter bracket:












This particular bracket would need a little filing to fit the disc backing plate if the OE shroud was still in place, but otherwise provides reasonable clearance to things.


You then need to salvage the spring from the WD21 cables, which just requires needle-nose pliers to open an end and twist it off the cable, like so:




The spring’s purpose is to return the little lever on the parking brake shoe back to its resting position, basically retracted the shoes from the drum (yes, there’s still a drum on the rotor, but only for the parking brake).


Here’s a comparison of the cable ends and return spring, with the R50 on top:






I tried finding a suitable spring locally, but didn’t have any luck, so it was just easier to reuse the spring. As you can see, the R50 cable has an inner cable stop for some reason...which conveniently gets used (just twist it on):




And then, circumcision:




You have to cut off the end piece because it will interfere with the inner lip of the rotor.

Edited by hawairish
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To adjust the parking brake lever, you just tighten the nut under the handle:




It works!




So, the first few parking cable tests were good, and it held the truck while in N on the slight incline of my driveway. But, during one particular hard pull...snap! I had in the back of my mind a possible failure point, so I knew immediately what it was…


When I had determined that I could probably re-use that inner cable stop on the cable, I had wondered about its actual purpose, since that would probably dictate whether it would be reliable or not. I assumed it’s just there to center up the R50 return spring, since the spring just slides over the cable and stops, but it was hard to tell how compressed the stops are because the crimp is uniform; no dimples or compression marks at all. So, I went against my better judgment and left it as-is (and I had the means to assure myself it would hold previously).


Basically, the stop popped off the cable because it was crimped over the insulation and the insulation allowed it to slide off (the actual stop on the R50 is the one that gets cut off, and it’s crimped directly to the cable without insulation). So I cleared the insulation, re-used the stop, and crimped it back on.




This is the hydraulic lug crimper I used. I was originally planning to use in case I needed to put another cable stop somewhere on the line, but didn’t until this point. Re-using the OE metal one was a better option than the aluminum ones I picked up at the local hardware store.




I only did this to the side that failed for now, just to get a better idea if that failure was a fluke or not. That, and I had assembled and disassembled the parking brakes about a dozen times and was tired of it. This is why I highly recommend the crimper, but maybe it’s not required. I was hoping to find a cheaper crimper/swage tool, but this worked well using the “16” die.


Since I also had to tighten the parking brake cable adjuster all the way, I figured it was best that I put a ½” steel spacer in there to add a little more tension.




Installing this is a little tricky...you need to keep the line tensioned above the driveshaft so that when you loosen the nut under the parking brake lever the cable doesn’t slip through the floor. A long quick clamp helps (and so would a picture, but I didn’t get one...can if someone wants it.) Once secured, you can undo the nut, install the spacer, then put the nut back on.


Parking brake is supposed to be firm within 6-8 clicks, but I’m closer to the 8-10 mark. I will re-adjust it once/if the other cable stop fails.


First Impressions?


Putting it simply: they work, and work well. Braking feels good, there’s no detectable degradation, no soft pedal at all. I can actually feel the ABS pulsing on a hard brake. All systems go.


But at this point, I really only have limited first impressions having only put about 15 miles on it since wrapping up the installation due to troubleshooting driveshaft issues. I don’t have anything quantitative that proves it’s better, but admittedly, it does feel better overall, not barring the possibility that the difference is potentially worn drums vs. fresh discs. I did a few before/after hard stops and 0-60-0, and braking is noticeably harder. Not mind-blowing by any means (and, to be clear, I did not expect anything mind-blowing since the FSMs provide specs after comparing the master cylinder pressure and split points for disc WD21 vs. drum R50), but noticeably better.


By the way, there is no impact to the ABS system because the tone rings are retained.


Worth it?


My gut feeling is that some guys will consider this regardless of the costs just to be rid of drums. Interestingly enough, and having worked with drums for quite a while, I’ve never really had any issues with them...except for the very last drum that this R50 might ever see. It was a bitch...shoes were riding on the drum (didn’t sense any brake drag going into the project), couldn’t get the adjuster/turnbuckle to budge (despite greasing them the year prior when I swapped in the LSD; and yes, I disengaged the anti-reversing mechanism), and couldn’t press the drum off using the purpose-built bolt holes (the hold-down pin caps even snapped off)...I basically just went ape-isht via BFH. It was the most effort I’ve ever had to put into removing a drum. Bad omen perhaps?


The true costs of the swap will vary largely. As mentioned, I got my WD21 assemblies for free, but I also paid about $160 for a 2nd set (I collect too much axle $hit), and I’d expect the pair to be in the $120-$200 range from a JY. I went with basic rotors and pads, and rebuilt the calipers myself, cleaned up and re-used all the springs and clips...that was probably the most inexpensive part of the process. Probably spent about $200 in new tooling alone (counting the floor press) just to do the job myself...but again, those items have already paid for themselves multiple times over already in labor costs for this and other projects.


I feel that braking performance is improved. My drums and shoes still had plenty of life remaining, but perceivably still worn compared to these new parts. I do not intend to swap in the WD21 master cylinder, though there would probably be some benefits from the higher split point.


Long term, one notable is that the available pads and rotors are much cheaper than shoe and drums; the latter, though, are more likely to last longer. However, there are no “performance” shoes and drums. I went with DD/economy parts so that I’d know, at a bare minimum, if this is viable (and it is).


Lastly, one of my primary reasons for doing this was less for stopping power, but more for holding power, if we can differentiate the two. While wheeling in Sedona last year, one particular trails had a particular obstacle of rock stairs, and while going down them, it was clear that the drums couldn’t ease into the next step. I plan to re-do that trail eventually and see if there’s some improvement.

Edited by hawairish
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I look forward to hearing how you like them as you get more miles on them, particularly on those rock ledges! This is something I've wanted to do since I got my R50, but wasn't willing to figure out how. Now I've got another thing on the to-do list! :laugh:

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Holy crap, another incredible write up dude.


I too can't wait to hear how they fair as the miles stack on.




Edit: put me on for the first set of those adapters brackets. Name your price!

Edited by ferrariowner123
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Thanks guys!


Kyle: high probability I'll make at least one more set eventually. Will keep you posted!


In other news, I think I've finally (mostly) gotten to the bottom of my driveshaft issues. Was getting some bad vibrations from driveshaft runout (I had changed my u-joints during this project; whole other story), but it's much better now. More importantly, I feel more comfortable putting miles on it.


I've taken it on about 3 short trips so far, and tonight did a really hard-brake on the freeway offramp. Initially, I thought I was slamming it, but in that instant I pressed it harder, and it responded even harder. Extremely pleased with the response. As stated previously, the pedal and system feel solid, and I have no immediate complaints.


For reference, the swap was done at 177,300 miles. I don't put a lot of miles on the truck annually, let alone daily (I lack a commute), but hopefully have some trail trips lined up that I can report back on.

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I took the truck on a 150-mile shakedown yesterday. Included about 20 miles of a popular off-road trail here (Crown King), 50 miles of dirt/washboard road, and 80 miles of highway over about maybe 6 hours (it was a much longer day with family riding along and several stops).


I'm very pleased with the brakes. Holding and slow-stopping power is surely improved. Had one particular "oh-@!*%" moment on a hairpin turn that I didn't see too well in the twilight on the dirt road, and my impression coming out of it was that while the drums would've held, it would have surely been deeper into the turn.


The experience with them has been hard to quantify so far, but driving with them has been like this: there are many times already that I forget that I've even swapped. That's good in the sense that nothing feels degraded or compromised. Driving around in traffic, coming to gradual stops at intersections, slow curves around the neighborhood...you just don't even notice it. But for the few instances I've need a little more (deliberate or not), I've not been disappointed. I've not had similar sensations since owning the truck, but then again, I've not changed the shoes or drums (well, sort of changed the shoes with thicker used ones from my spare axle)...but I have properly adjusted the shoes and bled the brakes several times to be as optimal as possible.


Overall, it's still one of those upgrades that I wonder if fiscally beneficial, though.


I did end up popping the LH-side end stop on the parking brake cable, so it's clear that using these isn't ideal unless you crimp them further. Even then, without removing them, they'd still have the insulation in them. I'm thinking the proper approach would be to cut off both end stops, strip the insulation, and crimp on new end stops (or salvage the end stop from the cut piece...heating it up would likely melt the insulation and allow the stop to slip off easily). It may even make sense to move the crimp point up maybe 3/4"-1" on the cable to take up some slack from adjustment at the parking brake lever.

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 9 months later...

How much more do you figure you could safely tow with rear disc brakes and the WD21 master cylinder? I've heard from a couple people now that the 5000 pound tow capacity is mostly due to the braking efficiency.


I've contacted someone with a 93; I'm hoping it's an SE. My drums need servicing anyways so I might as well make the jump now. I'll post back with how that goes.

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This write up is REALLY well done! Also, thats a really cool mod.


On a side note theres a Facebook club for r50/qx4, and on there there is a guy by the name Shelby Fullen, who has also done a rear disk conversion on his r50 a few years back.

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This write up is REALLY well done! Also, thats a really cool mod.


On a side note theres a Facebook club for r50/qx4, and on there there is a guy by the name Shelby Fullen, who has also done a rear disk conversion on his r50 a few years back.


Thanks Johann. I'd love to hear more about how he approached the setup. I had a few other ideas in mind, but this is about as OE as one can get for us.


Might as well give an update while I'm at it...the truck now has 181K miles, so a little less than 4K since Nov. Truck still brakes well, zero complaints. Only notable is that a few months ago my ABS light came on and I haven't been able to clear it. I don't think it is related to the swap considering that there were a few months gap before it came on, and nothing about the sensing system has changed. When diagnosing, the system indicates it's the ABS module itself. Eventually I'll get a proper scanner that can cycle it, but for now, I haven't even seen an impact.


I did redo the 'stairs' on the Broken Arrow trail in Sedona a few weeks ago. I originally reported that the drums setup was a little sloppy. This time around, I could tell it was braking better, but it's clear now that it's time to redo my springs (I've done a few offroad trips in those 4K miles). The cheap pads and rotors were a little squeaky, but it was clamping well. On a notable, I turned around and climbed those stairs faster than I came down. Group of ATVers said "no chance"...suckers. Lockers are worth every single penny.

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  • 2 months later...
  • 10 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Well, we're coming up on 2 years of having done this project.  Glad to say everything has been holding up really well, despite not putting many miles on the truck annually.  Odometer now reads 185,100, so I've only seen about 7,800 miles on them so far.  At last check, pads and rotors were holding up just fine.  Funny thing is that I took the truck to the nearby Nissan dealership earlier this year for the airbag recall, and their maintenance report said they were wearing low...jackasses probably had no clue what they were looking at.


Still haven't looked into my ABS light, again noting that it came on several months after doing the swap.  I deem them unrelated.


In other news, the torch has been passed to @TowndawgR50 to also do the swap!  I had been sitting on a spare set of discs for a long while now, and just shipped them up to him last week.  Looking forward to seeing his take on the project and expanding this thread in the coming months.

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I saw them sitting on his bench last night. Frankly, even at ~8,000mi, I can’t think of a much tougher test environment than the Sonoran-super hot temps & ceramic hard rocks & dust. My judgement is that it speaks well of their integrity so far.@TowndawgR50 will give them the wet test. Next we need a Canadian or NorEaster to give them the salt test.... :)

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Thanks again for the care package @hawairish!!! Definitely looking forward to this.

I plan on using new OEM discs with HD pads then running the climb and, more importantly, the decent from Crystal Mountain lookout in Liberty to serve as my benchmark.  The drums last about halfway through that decent as the 4.3 differentials in 4L dont have enough gearing to keep speeds down. 

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  • 2 years later...

Four years later...


Truck's at 190K now, still on the same brake setup, and still stops well.  @TowndawgR50 still hasn't swapped his stuff, but now has a nicely repacked LSD to go with it.  He's nearly there.


Meanwhile, I'm nearing the start of a similar disc swap on my 98 Frontier 2wd...which includes swapping out the H190 axle (3.7, open) with an H233B (3.9, LSD).  Axle housing and gears from a D21 V6 2WD, discs from a WD21, and a moderately-packed 105 ft-lb LSD of my own configuration. 

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  • 1 month later...

Started my D22 project a few weeks ago.  The fuel pump failed a few months prior, so I pulled the bed, replaced the pump, and got to work.  I pulled everything off the frame except the tank, all of which got disassembled (even the leaf springs), cleaned up with a wire cup, painted, and reassembled.




The rear axle conversion is nearly complete at this point.






At this point, the main stuff that's left to do is finish up the parking brakes, shorten the driveshaft, and install the catback exhaust.


As far as the disc brake swap goes, this time around the dust shields on the backing plates were in a good-enough condition to keep.  The calipers needed a lot of work...the pistons were toasted by the previous owner (one of them had become molten at one point), so everything got rebuilt.






I ran into a snag a few weeks ago when I realized I nearly all the parking brake hardware was missing.  For reference, this is a complete assembly.




The good news is that a 300ZX disc brake hardware kit (Carlson 17418) is nearly identical, and included almost everything.  RockAuto didn't show any kits for a WD21, and this kit doesn't crossref either, but after a few OE part number lookups, I was able to confirm all the main parts (in particular the spreaders) and a few springs were the same or similar enough to chance.




Left missing was the bigger metal piece near the top that separates the shoes (called a "strut") for both RH and LH sides, and one of those triangular-ish washers.  The washer was also used on 300ZX, but dealers want $55(!) for it, and the struts are NLA...and were only used on WD21s.  I was able to find a parts broker who can get 2 of the washers for $1/ea and a RH strut for a few bucks, but not the LH.  Better that nothing, but there'd still be a problem if I couldn't find another.  Of course, I could just use the truck without a parking brake (which is, unfortunately, typical of many homebrew swaps I've seen...no thanks.)


Yesterday I went to a several JYs hoping to find another WD21, but no luck.  At my last yard, I came across a 94 Honda Passport with disc brakes and figured that since it was another Japanese 6x5.5-bolt 100mm-bore setup from around the same time, maybe it'd be similar.  The rotor's drum shape/size looked questionable, but I pulled it anyway.  The internals looked very similar, but I couldn't confirm any dimensions at the yard, so I pulled the washers and struts and took a chance.  Sure enough, they were practically identical...in fact, the washers were identical.




The struts weren't an exact fit, but they were super close.




The length was nearly spot on, maybe 1-2mm shorter between the throats than the OE piece (not entirely sure because I didn't pull apart my truck to find out), but the only fitment issue was that the throat on the lever side was just a little too narrow.




A few seconds with a flat file, and they fit perfectly now.




So anyway, if you're missing hardware, a hardware kit for a 300ZX, and bits from a Honda Passport/Isuzu Rodeo (and several other related applications) will do.  It may also be the case that a similar parking brake hardware kit for those trucks works, too...looks very similar.  (On a related note, parts from the vehicles have been used on D21/D22 2WD disc brake swaps for a few years.)


With all that sorted out, I'm stoked I can move forward with the parking brakes.  I'm taking a different approach to the cables than I did on the R50, and I think it'll turn out a lot better.  The general idea is to splice the mounting foot from the WD21 cable onto the D22 cable.






I've cut up a WD21 cable enough to get all the insulating boots/shields off it, leaving the foot that's crimped to the cable jacket.  I'll cut the jacket a few inches down from the crimp, and then do a similar cut on the D22 cable (the cable needs to be extended a little during this process anyway).  They'll be crimped back together with a 2/0 compression butt splice connector, then resheathed.  Should look pretty stock when it's done.  More to follow...


Edited by hawairish
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