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Brake Failure


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Last October, Christine and I decided to do a mini RBRR in Ruby, our 1963 Herald 1200 Saloon, over a distance of some 225 miles. During one section about half way round we got held up in a long queue of traffic edging forward very slowly for a considerable period of time - stop/start, you now the kind of thing. Following that Christine (who was driving at the time) said the brakes didn't feel "quite right". Then as we approached a T-junction to a major A-road we had complete brake failure. Christine had the presence of mind to use the handbrake and we slewed across to the centre of the road, where there happened to be a filter lane, where we stopped. Thankfully there was no traffic coming from the right just as we  slid across, nor did we travel across into the traffic travelling in the other direction.

We managed to get the car off the road and my first thought was to look in the brake reservoir, but this was full. (I checked the other one too just to make sure I wasn't looking at the clutch fluid!! My mind was a bit frazzled at the time!) So I was perplexed.

We got Ruby home and put her in the garage and there she has stayed all over the winter and spring. I've now checked again and the reservoir is definitely full. I checked the brakes and they seemed fine so I took her out for a careful road test (there's little traffic where we live) and the brakes functioned perfectly well. (Just to say, she fired up first time of asking having been sat idle for 7 months.)

So... Question: What might have happened on that day last October? What should I be looking for by way of necessary repairs?

Any thoughts, advice, help appreciated.

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First of all is it a completely standard brake system?

If all the system checks out mechanically including pedal and operating linkage then a strong possibility is that the MC piston to reservoir seal didnt function correctly and fluid was pushed back to the reservoir instead of out to the brakes. When this happens (and if theres time!) you can try releasing the pedal and pressing again repeatedly as it might start to work properly and seal again so that you have brakes. However I wouldnt drive the car again without replacing the MC or at least overhauling the original....

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How old is the fluid?

I had a complete brake failure on my first car (Vitesse 2L) when it was fairly new to me. I'd been driving enthusiastically so got the brakes nice and warm, then suddenly the pedal went to the floor with no resistance and no effect. I did find I could get some braking by pumping the pedal as glang said. It remained that way as I very gingerly pootled home. The next morning everything was perfectly normal again. The only fault in my case was that the fluid was old and saturated with water, which boiled in the hot calipers.

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I've had that happen to me. The master cylinder was about two months old and the brakes had been fine since fitting. I was approach a roundabout at the end of a dual carriage way at... speed. No brakes and the pedal went to the floor. Luckily I'd decided to brake far earlier than I normally would have done and so the handbrake saved me.


I stripped the cylinder down and found nothing wrong. I've never worked out what happened and the brakes are fine again. This happened last February. I also have a servo fitted and stripped this down to find no problems too.

Edited by ferny
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Thank you everyone for your helpful comments. It's reassuring, though rather scary, that I'm not the only one who has experienced this. It sounds as though none of you had accidents when your brakes failed, and I'm pleased to hear that.

I don't recall ever having this issue before either when I owned Heralds in 70's or since owning Ruby.

A good overhaul and replacing MC and the fluid sounds in order. Not sure how old the fluid is. I'll check with the guy that does the servicing as to whether he has replaced it any time. If not then it'll be some years old.

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