Do ignition systems really do anything?

Max Power

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Jul 31, 2003
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#21
I will be installing a 6AL box soon for an article I've been asked to do. Right now I am running Petronix and a Flamethrower coil. I don't expect much difference, but I sure do like the rev limiter feature. That alone might make it worth it.
 
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Jun 5, 2018
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Abilene, Texas
#22
Finally someone understands the difference between HYPE and REALITY! Zookeeper, you must be an old-timer like me...I am 75 and an old Hot Rodder. As the charter president of the Dallas Area Street Rods club (started 1967), I ran points ignitions for decades with NO PROBLEMS. My degree is in electronics, I am an ASE certified mechanic, ran a city shop working on police cars, ambulances, fire equipment and maintained city PD and officers firearms. I am also a federally licensed gunsmith. Basically, I kinda understand electronics and mechanics. Most do not understand the hotter spark from electronic ignitions is shorter than an old points system. Besides, if the plugs fire at 15K, who needs 50K? So, MSD was invented (Multiple Spark Discharge) to compensate for shorter spark. By matching the coil primary resistance with the ignition resistor, using a good hot coil, the best points-condenser-rotor-cap-wires and plugs (gapped properly), points will fire JUST AS GOOD as any electronic system up to about 4.500 RPM. Watch your tach during street driving and 4,500 will seldom be seen...okay, it happens sometimes, but not often on the street. I raced a chevy powered 40 Ford coupe in the late 60's with points and 6500 was not a problem (Doug Thorley headers, 650 dbl-pumper, Mallory dist., bored to the max, Duntov solid cam, double-hump heads (FI), much more feeding a Muncie 220 low 4-speed to an Olds 4.11 rearend held in place with Traction Masters. With proper setup points can see 6000 with little bounce...but that is the edge of safety. At least for me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a properly setup points system and anyone who says they can tell the difference is not driving a proper points ignition. OH, I never was stranded beside the road with points, but the wife was with her 77 LTD Duraspark II ignition box gone bad.
 

WORTH

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Nov 18, 2002
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#23
As zookeeper said, points work, however I have to disagree that I would keep them. back in the day, every friday after work we'd all meet at the shell station in South Yarmouth pop the hoods and clean and set our points before heading out on the road.Although it was normal and we didn't mind doing it, as soon as Duraspark came out, all my fords got it. And today every old ford I build gets duraspark, it's cheap and easy to install and works great. If I don't want it to show I hide the box. Mostly I don't care so it gets mounted where ever there is room. If you can find the old style box with the aluminum cooling fins you can paint it to match your aluminum valve covers :)
 
Jun 5, 2018
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#24
WORTH, there is no doubt the Duraspark is a better overall system, but in street driving it DOES NOT ignite the fuel-air mix better than a set of properly adjusted points. Adjusting points every week is okay but unnecessary. I checked mine about once a month (1,000 miles) and adjusted them probably once every 3 to 4 months. During the points era, cars that were sitting beside the road were usually there due to tires, gas or transmission. Seldom were they an ignition problem. Even bad points will allow a car to limp home or to a gas station. When I am in a 50 plus year old car 2 to 3 thousand miles from home, I want to be sure I can fix it myself and not blow $$$ on a mechanic. There are advantages to computer triggered ignitions, but they are mostly for people who never adjust anything, plus they work in all conditions (bad fuel, high altitude, under heavy load, etc.), where points need adjustment for optimum operation. The computer adjusts automatically. Having spent 20 years working on electronics as my job while building/driving Hot Rods as a hobby, I totally understand the love of electronics and computers. At street speeds the advantage is minimal...if at all. Fuel Injection is better than a carb. but again, at street speeds using annular-atomization (Autolite 2100 carb) works "almost" as well. A simpler system with fewer components and much less wire and worries, gives me piece-of-mind. I still have a flip-phone, love my HI-DEF 50" TV, am writing this on my HP computer, and do not hate computers. However, in a car ignition they are not necessary on a carburetor motor. My auto-overdrive will have a manually engaged lock-up torque converter without any need for a computer. Finally, I am not knocking modern ignitions when used for their designed purpose...I simply prefer what I know I can fix, even if at 2 AM in Nowhere USA. The 200 SIX in my 65 has Pertronix but points are in the trunk...just in case.
 

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Jun 5, 2018
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#25
Even before electronic ignitions, many car guys were mystified by ignition systems, even stock points. The advantages to electronics are mostly related to less maintenance and working with fuel injection. Points make a longer spark for a more complete burn, when compared to electronic systems at street driven speeds. That is why MSD was invented, to make several sparks to simulate a points spark. The key is matching the parts. By reducing the resistance in the ignition resistor just slightly, we increase the primary voltage, which increases the secondary output to the plugs. By using a slightly hotter coil the output is increased allowing a slight increase in plug gap....035 to .038. Not much, but more. By using the best available components (cap, rotor, points, cond., etc.) and keeping the plug wires as short as possible, we get max spark at the plugs. Remember, I am talking street use below 5000 rpm. If you see much time near 5K or higher, go electronic. As a gunsmith I compare it to a 44 magnum gun. Once the bullet leaves the muzzle, it has no idea what launched it, a Colt, S&W or cheap copy. If a spark is hot enough to light the fuel/air 14.7 to 1 mixture, it has no idea what set it ablaze...it just burns. The Mustang in the movie Bullitt had points. The Mustang in Gone In 60 Seconds had points. The Charger in Bullitt had points. The cars in Mad Max had points. The 32 Deuce in American Graffiti had points. These were all great car movies with special chase/race scenes, before electronic computer controlled ignitions. YES, YES, YES, modern ignitions are better overall...but if one builds them for great on the street use, points get the job done with little maintenance.
 

WORTH

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#26
You may have misunderstood my post. I have nothing against points, and if I used my classics as occasional drivers I would keep the points, however I drive my cars and trucks everyday, and durospark has never since 1975 left me on the road, when they quit back in the day, you could pull over , shut the key off, restart and drive it for a few days til you got a chance to replace the box, and the early ones all did that around 60,000. I have never had one die and stay dead. The first time in my entire life that I have ever been towed was about 3 years ago when I made the mistake of buying a 2003 F450 with a computerized diesel. And if I had a more leisurely life I may still run points, but I don't.
PS. I had a 21' runabout in the 80's and I kept the points. I did however replace them and the condenser every spring and carried the old set in the boat. I do understand the shortfalls of electronics.
 
Jun 5, 2018
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#28
WORTH, I understand what you meant, but I have been shocked at how little most "car guys" know about ignitions. MY reply was targeted more at them than your post...though I should have said that. I run Pertronix in my 65 Mustang but originally set it up for points...which I keep in the trunk, just in case. As the Go-To guy for the Mustang 6 Association questions on-line, I learned more about modern ignitions just to keep up with today's younger guys. After much research, I learned points are not the "Bad old system" many car guys think they are. A good hot spark up to about 4,500-5,000 rpm can be produced, no computer sensors needed, NO DIFFERENCE in the "feel" of the engine points or electronic system, simple and effective if a carburetor is used, and heat is of little concern. Basic answer to Points-Electronic ignitions questions...Points just as good as Electronics if properly set-up, in a carbed motor intended for below 5,000 rpm street use. Fuel Injection or racing...get the hottest longest spark you can get, and it will most likely not be points.
 

zookeeper

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Aug 25, 2001
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#29
Lol, glad to see some common sense being spread here. I still remember the first time I swapped in a Mallory Dual Point and expected huge power gains and got no noticeable change at all. People who claim they feel a difference need to post up some quarter mile times, or MPG improvements or dyno sheets to prove the difference. I've ran single point, dual point, vacuum advance, mechanical advance, HEI, Pertronix, Duraspark and they all work about the same. Wanna know something else? My '68 with stock points and a 2 barrel carb got 20 mpg's on the freeway. My '88 GT with a 5.0 and all the electronic doo dads to make it more efficient got 20 mpgs on the freeway. True, the newer one had more oats, but it also had a roller cam and headers. If the ignition burned more complete, I would expect MUCH better MPG's from the newer car, but practical world use said otherwise.
 
Jun 5, 2018
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#30
When speaking about bigger spark, one needs to understand I do have a hotter than stock spark with my points setup. If your ignition resistor is say 1.5 ohms measured with a multi-meter, change it to a 1.2 or 1.3 ohm resistor. That little difference will increase the voltage to the primary side of the coil, which increases the output, but will not hurt the points. Okay, you may need to replace points at 12,000 rather than 15,000 miles...Big Deal! Add a better coil, say ACCEL 42000 volts street coil, use the best available (BWD Select) points, condenser, rotor and cap, then get the best (lowest resistance per foot plug wires) and use the best platinum plugs gapped a few thousands more open...and hello bigger spark! More power? Maybe, but probably not something you can seat-of-the-pants feel. Better starting...yes. Better MPG...yes. Cleaner running engine...yes. ALL with updated points. I used points ignitions for 50 years using these slightly hotter spark ignition ideas, and it works. Remember, you need oxygen to burn fuel, so a good, even home-made cool-air intake helps. Increase spark, blend in cooler more dense air, time everything properly, make the fuel as gaseous as possible (Autolite 2100/4100 carbs with annular atomization or newer Holly) and unless you expect to go racing, you are good to about 5,500 to 6,000 RPM. The pix's are my 65 Mustang 6-cylinder in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and my shop in Texas. It is a driver and the LH-6 on the hood stands for Long Haul 6 cylinder. Running the AC and getting 25 mpg on the highway without overdrive. A fun six-banger!
 

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zookeeper

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#31
Neat car indeed. I gotta ask, what's the little sports car next to your coupe? What I can see appears to be Datsun 1600 roadster. Or maybe an Alpine/Sunbeam Tiger. Hard to tell, but cool regardless.
 
Jun 5, 2018
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#33
Zookeeper, the little car is a 1967 Sunbeam Alpine. I have 2 to make one. This will sound weird, but rather than a Ford V8 like the Tiger had, I am retro-fitting a 2.3 out of a 1985 Mustang with an A4LD overdrive tranny behind it. Hoping for about 150 HP and mid 30's mpg AND NO COMPUTERS! I have nothing against computers except in older cars with mechanical drive-lines. They are necessary in today's cars to control ignition timing, fuel-injectors and transmission shifting and converter lockup, but older cars do not need them. My converter will be locked to the flexplate manually when in overdrive, and my dizzy will be a home-built points unit re-curved for my use. I am also a federally licensed gunsmith and guns are much older than cars, yet they are still basically the same as in the 19th century. Newer ideas sometimes are better but in very specific instances. With mechanical advance timing tuned properly, and a hotter spark from a points system, plus a well tuned carb, I think I can do what I am hoping for without computers or Fuel Injection. A .75 overdrive, 2" taller tires, the engine tuned for the 2500 - 3500 max torque range, and my thinking looks good...on paper. The Mustang 6 got 24.5 running the AC all the way on a 2,275 mile trip this last summer, and that was with the cool-air intake disconnected. Twenty-five mpg is normal on trips with it connected. If I can find pictures I'll post later.
 
Jun 5, 2018
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#34
I hope this works. The removable hardtop will probably have a 3rd taillight installed for safety. It also has a soft-top that will be tan. The 16 gallon fuel-cell is recessed 3" into the trunk floor, and I am building a "tilt" to flip the car on its side for under-body work. All new fuel lines, brake lines, rear wiring, undercoating and fix any holes before undercoating. This will be a driver for serious trips. It is probably a 2 year project and at 75, I must work a lot...but it keeps me active and out of the old-folks home! With luck I'll drive it into my 80's then give it to my grandson. Plans are: chrome yellow with tan interior, minor body mods, total suspension rebuild, the Ford 2.3 with overdrive, 14" custom wheels, nice sound system with upgrades to cut down on road noise, and a USB input port to play my own music. Listening to "Southbound" and Dicky Betts playing guitar, while zipping down the interstate in a car you built from the ground up, is about as good as it gets! OKAY, there is that OTHER THING...but I am 75 years old guys and been married to the same lady for over 52 years...I hope to live to see 76!!
 

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zookeeper

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#35
Awesome stuff here. Age is relative indeed, I'm almost 57 and still love to hear the small block in my '68 scream up through the gears on the freeway on ramp. My 18 year old son loves it, my wife, not as much. Like you, I'm not too quick to dismiss "older" technology. While I absolutely love the driveablity and reliability of modern EFI systems on modern cars, I'm not convinced enough to spend the money for my fastback. I originally thought about using a vintage mechanical injection and a Big Stuff 3 controller just for the eye appeal. But the cost was just too great to justify. I have a QFT carb on it now and it does everything I could want very well, plus I have never been stranded alongside the road with a carb problem. Can't say the same for EFI, not even in a nearly new vehicle. I can fix a carb with a screwdriver. Not sure how EFI gets fixed. I don't put stuff on my car that's smarter than me. That doesn't mean I'm blind to technology, I'd love to put a 5.0 Coyote in my '68 and think they're worth every penny. I just don't love it enough to cut my car up to install one. At least not yet, lol.
 

Hack

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Mar 23, 2004
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#36
I still after all these years believe that there's a benefit to higher power ignitions as well as electronic ignition. No way would the OEMs keep going higher and higher ignition power unless they saw benefits from it. And electronic is a no brainer just considering the cost of parts versus the cost of labor.

Don't get me wrong, points do work if they are in good condition, adjusted properly and your engine is not high RPM. At higher RPM there are issues with the points bouncing or not closing quickly enough. Back in the day, dual point systems were used to try to overcome some of this.

The best thing about something like a Pertronix under the cap system is that you don't have to replace and adjust and clean, etc. all the time. If you prefer to tinker and adjust your car, sure stay with points. But if you prefer your car to work without a lot of attention, go to electronic ignition. You will also have more power and better fuel economy with a system like the Pertronix unless your points are freshly replaced and adjusted by someone who is good at it.

I agree a carburetor is similar. If you like to spend time adjusting and cleaning parts on your car - sure use a carburetor. They do work great if you have the (rare) ability to tune a carburetor well. If you are good with electronics as well as mechanical parts you can hook up some O2 sensors and use them to set up the carburetor. Just remember that it is temporary. A carburetor needs regular attention - especially if you don't drive the car every day.

Edit: I think the issue is that some people on here are experts at setting up their cars. I am not. I have messed with points a little, and they always seemed to slip a little as I tightened them. So I don't think I ever had them set up perfectly. Same thing with carburetors. My '70 still has one, but it's not set up the greatest. The car runs ok if I nurse the throttle and go through just the right contortions.

Funny how some people say they are getting 20 mpg with an older vehicle. I don't even get that in my 2016 Mustang. It has a relatively small engine and better aero than a 60s car. But it gets about 17 mpg in my daily commute. I think I improved from 10 mpg to 15 mpg in my 250 straight 6 when I went to Pertronix. It was a big change, but nowhere near 20 mpg. Maybe it's the way I drive.

And someone said there's no unburned HCs coming from an ICE. My reply to that is what do you think catalytic converters are for? And unless you have EFI, you are not going to have a perfect F/A mixture. You can't burn fuel if all the O2 is already used up. Even with a perfect F/A mix there are areas where the flame front doesn't reach.
 
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zookeeper

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#37
Getting 20 mpg out of a carbed car isn't magic. My wife's 1969 427 Corvette gets 17 mpg with a carb and points. While my '68 doesn't currently get 20 mpg (too big of cam, too low of gears, to heavy right foot) it gets 17 or so freeway. You also can't stand to run it in the garage. Ask anyone who lives in Los Angeles how they'd like to go back to carbed cars. I remember the smog so thick you couldn't see more than a couple miles on a clear day. I'm not so narrow minded I think carbs and points are the way to go for a daily driver. But if you can't understand how a carb works, you'll never understand how to tune an aftermarket EFI and I simply like to know how ot fix my car. My newer cars? I can't fix them either, but thankfully they're built well enough I never have to worry about it. Technology is great, there's no denying that, and I for one think cars have never been better.
 
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#38
Today's cars are light-years ahead of the older 50 - 60 year old cars, no comparison. What most people today don't realize is the computer in the engine and the one designing the engine, have made them almost magic, and CNC machining is the major cause of improvements. CAD or Computer Aided Design (Drafting) allows better design without on-the-road testing for every little change. Closer tolerances make for longer life and more power. Throw in computer controlled timing, a hotter spark, fuel inserted into the combustion chamber at just the right time no matter what RPM, a denser air charge with factory cold-air intakes, plus better breathing exhaust, and we have better HP, MPG and emissions. But don't forget, while points were the norm they too were being improved. Contacts that last longer, condensers that can hold a charge better, rotor-cap contacts that last longer, and coil-resistor combos that work better for higher voltage output. To compare old points to new electronics one must consider the newer points systems...not the old OEM stuff. Modern parts in a well tuned points system can fire a motor as well as a late system...but not to as high an RPM as the new electronics. The annular-atomization of an Autolite carb is not FI, but it is as close as a carb gets. So I got 24.5 MPG on a 2,275 mile trip this past summer in my 6 Mustang. A trunk full of a weeks luggage, snacks-drinks in a cooler in the back seat, umbrellas and folding seats in the trunk, a tool box with possible hard-to-find parts, and I drove every mile with a smile on my face.
 

Hack

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Mar 23, 2004
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#39
I think if you can get a carbed 427 to average 17 mpg you just might be a magician. I will never be talented enough to make that happen. Especially if the car is geared for performance and has an older non-OD transmission. Anyway, I'm not here to argue about fuel economy. Really don't want to go down that black hole. :)

In my opinion the newer cars are much easier to work on and fix. Plug into the computer, read codes, remove and replace. Adjustment is the thing that you need to be able to do with an older car, and it isn't easy in my opinion. Even things like reading spark plugs - IMO not so easy. However, I think carbs definitely have their place and I like the feeling of driving an older car.

My main point I wanted to make is that I think for the casual user or less mechanically gifted person who also doesn't want to take their classic to a mechanic regularly - electronic ignition is a good option. You will definitely save money/time in the long run, and it can be hidden if you want to keep the engine compartment looking "pure".
 
Aug 25, 2001
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#40
I know it's hard to believe, but it's true and repeats so I know it's not a boo-boo with my math or a big tailwind. Here's the combination: 1969 Corvette (3600 lbs), 427 (390 hp) with a 4speed trans and 3.36 gear in the rear, 295/50-15 tires. The engine is mostly stock except the cam (Comp Cams 280H) and the carb, Holley Spreadbore, Q-Jet replacement. The thing is a dream on the freeway with a ton of torque and 65 mph puts it right in the sweet spot of everything being happy. Personally I think the tiny primaries on the carb and small intake ports of the oval port heads are the secrets to this combo, but since it's been that way since we finished it in '86 I'd have to say it works. It'll also get a whole lot worse if you get throttle-happy, lol