As you may know, I’m a big fan of safety. As far as I’m concerned, the two items that you should never be cheap about are brakes and tires. These are the main things that can kill you if something goes wrong while you’re driving. (I’m also careful to make sure my wheel lug nuts are always torqued to spec!)
It all started with a bad wheel bearing on the 850 – the usual groaning around corners, always on the side opposite of the direction your turning. It actually appeared to be two bad bearings, and since they all looked to be original, I replaced all four.
To access the wheel bearings, I had to take off the wheels, brake rotors, and calipers. I knew the rotors were approaching the end of their lives and so I did a bit of an upgrade. The early P80 cars, up through 1998, had 280mm front brakes. The later 1999-00 cars, had 302mm front brakes. They use the same calipers, but bigger rotors and a bracket that moves the caliper outward.
There are a lot of ways to piece a kit together from junkyard parts, but I needed new rotors and pads, so I just got the whole kit from FCP Euro here.
There are a lot of ways to upgrade Volvo P80 (1993-2000) brakes. From 2001-07, P2 chassis cars can just put on S60R/V70R brakes. But for the earlier cars, you’ve got to cobble something together.
The easiest, and least expensive setup is the 302mm kit. It’s all factory parts, it’s easy to install, and it’s not terribly expensive, especially if you can get the rotors and brackets off of a junkyard car. And, it will fit behind many 16″ wheels (just not most of the designs from 1998 and earlier – for example 16″ Perfo’s will fit, but not the older 16″ Columba’s). Another nice thing about this kit is that it makes the front and rear rotors about the same size (the rear’s are 295mm). You can get the kit from FCP in a few different configurations.
If you want a bigger kit, another option is 320mm brakes, done by fitting brake rotors and calipers from S40/V50 models onto the car. They require 17″ wheels on P80 cars, but will fit behind almost any of the stock 17″ rims, including the popular Titan, Pegasus, Propus, Volans, and Canisto wheels. More stopping power, but more costly than the 302mm upgrade (unless you can find some rotors and calipers at the junkyard). Various 320mm kits are available from Viva Performance.
If you really want to go really big, and spend big, 330 mm kits are available from Yother.com. Alternatives are the 330mm Stoptech kit from Viva Performance, or a 325mm kit from AP Racing. The Yother kits use powerful Porsche calipers, and you would probably want to upgrade the rear brakes (Yother also sells rear brake kits) and the master cylinder in order to maintain brake balance. These kits typically require 18″ wheels.
Of course, braking performance also depends significantly on your tire quality and width, and to a lesser degree, on the condition of your brake fluid, brake lines, and master cylinder. Upgrading to a $4,000 330mm brake kit won’t be worth it if you haven’t also upgraded the rest of your stopping system.
Overall, the 302mm brake upgrade is a solid choice for a brake upgrade that doesn’t break the budget. Part of it is the better rotors, part of it is the better pads, and part of it is the better position of the front calipers, further out on the edge of the rotor. The pads themselves aren’t any larger, but the rotor is bigger and can absorb more heat.
Further, the kit really improves the cosmetics of the car. The Zimmerman rotors are zinc-coated, so they don’t rust. The front rotors are now slightly bigger than the rear instead of noticeably smaller. And, I’m not significantly limited in what wheels I can fit, unlike larger kits. (I haven’t checked that spare tire though, hmm…)
The 302mm upgrade was originally developed for UK police cars, according to this article. I wouldn’t say I’m ready to outrun the police, but it’s a nice improvement.