Disc brakes where first patented by Lanchester in 1902 but it was not until the series of spectacular Jaguar wins at Le Mans in the 1950’s that their advantages were clearly demonstrated to designers and users alike. Their comparatively less tendency to “fade” compared to the Drum Brakes when braking from high speeds enabled the Jaguar drivers to brake later at each corner and thereby improve their lap times. Adoption of disc brakes for cars was initially inhibited by the high costs of low volumes production, aggravated by the fact that a booster often became necessary because disc brakes produce less torque for a given input effort. Consistency of performance remains the principal reason for the widespread adoption of disc brakes.
The actuation of brakes was mechanical; cable-actuated brakes were prone to sticking and seizing when corroded. Next came the hydraulic actuation, which was easier to modulate, and provided more force per square inch than mechanical systems. Hydraulic systems are broadly used nowadays.
The development of disc-type brakes began in England in the 1890s, but they were not practical or widely available for another 60 years. Successful application required technological progress, which began to arrive in the 1950s, leading to a critical demonstration of superiority at in 1953. The racing team won, using disc brake equipped cars, with much of the credit being given to the brakes' superior performance over rivals from firms like , equipped with . Mass production quickly followed with the 1955 .
Learn the Types of Brakes & how disc brakes differ from drum brakes. Find out what types of brakes your car has at Firestone Complete Auto Care.
For automotive use, disc brake discs are commonly manufactured out of a material called . The maintains a specification for the manufacture of grey iron for various applications. For normal car and light-truck applications, SAE specification J431 G3000 (superseded to G10) dictates the correct range of hardness, chemical composition, tensile strength, and other properties necessary for the intended use. Some racing cars and airplanes use brakes with carbon fiber discs and carbon fiber pads to reduce weight. Wear rates tend to be high, and braking may be poor or grabby until the brake is hot.