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Do-It-Yourself Projects
Installing Electronic Ignitions
By Jim Smart/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyModerate
Estimated Time180 minutes
180 minutes
Ditch Point-Triggered Ignition in Your Classic Car and Get New Reliability and Performance -
Electronic ignition is one of the great innovations to come in the history of the automobile. Transistorized ignition came along in the early 1960s as a means of reducing and eliminating misfire, primarily in high-performance applications. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s when auto makers began installing electronic ignitions as original equipment to help reduce emissions, improve fuel economy and lower maintenance costs.
Installing Electronic Ignitions
Electronic ignition typically consists of a magnetic pick-up coil inside the distributor, an external control unit, ignition coil and ignition wires. The pick-up coil and control unit perform the same basic function as points.
Although an electronic ignition might seem complex, it’s not that hard to install one in your vintage automobile. You may opt for factory electronic ignition or go with one of the aftermarket systems available today. Either way, you get a hot spark, fierce reliability, improved performance and better fuel economy by ditching your old point-triggered ignition system. Factory electronic ignitions offer the greatest durability and performance when they’re installed properly. Aftermarket electronic ignitions tend to be easier to install and can be hidden once installed.
Most factory electronic ignitions get their power right off the ignition switch via a straight lead or resistor (resistor wire or ballast resistor). Some auto makers call for a 0.8 to 1.6 ohm resistor wire between the ignition switch and coil, or you may go with a ballast resistor like you see with other ignition systems. As long as you use some form of required resistance, you’re good.
When you opt for a factory electronic ignition system, you’re going to need compatible components, including the ignition coil and heavy-duty wires. Spark plugs will need to be compatible with high-energy ignition systems and have larger gaps in the .050-inch+ range depending on the manufacturer. Ideally, you will go with platinum tip plugs and virtually never have to disturb them again.
Most ignition systems consist of the distributor with a magnetic pick-up multiplex plug that ties it to the module.
This Ignition System Has a Distributor with a Magnetic Pick-up Multiplex Plug
An ignition coil with easy clip-on painless harness makes the conversion a no-brainer. Color-coded wiring and detailed instructions also make this easier.
Ignition Coil with an Easy Clip-on Harness
Most factory point triggered ignition systems have either a resistor power wire or a ballast resistor. If you’re going with an aftermarket ignition, you may have to bypass this resistor wire and get power right off the ignition switch.
Resistor Power Wire
This is a ballast resistor wrapped inside a finned aluminum heat sink, but ceramic resistor holders are more common.
Ballast Resistor
A tunable electronic ignition retrofit for classic car distributors offers adaptive dwell technology for peak spark intensity, which reduces and eliminates misfire, easier cold starts, improved performance, better mpg and a built-in rev limiter.
A Tunable Electronic Ignition Retrofit
Vacuum advance is disconnected and removed first.
First Disconnect and Remove the Vacuum Advance
The breaker plate assembly is removed with two screws and disconnection of the negative coil lead. While you’re at it, check the vacuum advance for proper function.
Remove the Breaker Plate Assembly
This is the time to inspect the centrifugal advance function and proper assembly.
Inspect the Centrifugal Advance
We’re installing a new breaker plate assembly for optimum function. The red and black lead through a common grommet and need to clear the breaker plate and rotor. This breaker plate provides a plastic gap gauge to set air gap.
Installing a New Breaker Plate
Leads are crimped with heat-shrink insulation. Red goes to the positive side of the coil and black goes to the negative side. Follow the instructions on your lead because some applications have a resistor or resistor wire and the ground strip inside the distributor must be connected.
Crimp Leads with Heat-Shrink Insulation
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