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In 1949, the Chrysler Corporation introduced a new disc brake system, but it was nothing like the disc brakes we know today. Here’s how it worked.

Shown above is Chrysler enginer W.R. Rodger with a friction element from the new disc brake setup the automaker introduced for 1949. However, the system was not conceived at Chrysler but by Homer T. Lambert for the Auto Specialties Manufacturing Company of St. Joseph, Michigan. This company, known to the industry as Ausco, supplied the brakes to Chrysler. And so it was that the unusual system became known as the Ausco Lambert or Chrysler-Ausco Lambert.
As we can see, the Ausco Lambert bears no similarity to the caliper-type disc brakes developed for aircraft in the 1940s, or those later adopted by Crosley, Dunlop, and ultimately the entire auto industry. In its basic configuration, the Lambert design sort of resembles the familiar clutch-disc and pressure-plate arrangment for a conventional manual transmission (as do the Milan and Kinmont brakes) but there are some important differences there, too.

Externally, the Ausco Lambert setup looked more like a conventional drum brake system than a modern disc brake. The deep-finned cast-iron brake drum was constructed in two halves, inner and outer, that fastened together with 10 machine screws. Inside were two conventional hydraulic wheel cylinders and a pair of steel discs. When the pedal was applied the two discs were pushed apart by hydraulic pressure and into the friction faces machined in the inner and outer drum halves.

The exploded view above provides more detail, including the two brake discs, which were faced with conventional brake lining material. A key to the system’s operation: Six hardened steel balls of approximately .750 inches in diameter were captured between the back sides of the two discs in matching, carefully machined pockets. When the two brake discs changed in relative speed under deceleration, the balls climbed up in their pockets to push the discs apart and add braking force. When the pedal was released, the discs and balls returned to their resting positions.
The ball-and-ramp arrangement between the discs provided self-energizing and self-releasing, and it also gave engineers a powerful tool for tuning the force and sensitivity of the braking system. No booster was required, as the Lambert system needed only half the pedal force of conventional drum brakes of the time. Selling points also included no need for adjustment, greater surface area, better heat dissipation, and reduced fade.

Lambert was awarded numerous patents for his braking system, which he called “Double DIsk” in the filings. In 1947, Lambert Disc Brakes were advertised in the automotive trade journals (above) as the products of a division of Ausco before Chrysler adopted them. (In the ’50s, Orenstein & Koppel of Germany offered a similar system.) Ausco Products is still in business today, still in Southwest Michigan, offering a highly evolved form of the original design. These multi-disc brakes, sealed and liquid-cooled, are engineered for extreme environments that quickly destroy conventional brakes, such as mining and excavation.
Chrysler introduced the Ausco Lambert system at all four wheels on the 1949 Crown Imperial (below) where it was standard equipment through 1954, and also included the feature on the 1950 Chrysler Town & Country. On other Chrysler division cars, it was a costly $400 option. While the brakes had some reputation for grabbiness they were well regarded overall, but it doesn’t seem car buyers found added value in them. Chrysler reverted to standard 12-inch drum brakes in 1955 and didn’t offer disc brakes again until 1966.

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