Converting to Electronic Ignition
Eliminating the hassle of breaker point ignitions
Restoring, driving and maintaining older vehicles can be a lot of fun. Every car enthusiast has a favorite make or model that they would like to drive and restore, or possibly modify to personalize it. We're not talking about expensive classics—just special-interest vehicles. This current trend is being called "Restification" or "Restomod," and one of the most popular modifications is to convert the antiquated breaker-point distributor to a solid-state electronically triggered distributor. This easy conversion provides a solid boost in performance, eliminates breaker-point maintenance and greatly improves spark plug life while maintaining a stock appearance.
Pertronix has been the leader for many years with its Ignitor solid-state electronic conversion kits. These kits feature rotating cobalt magnets that trigger a Hall effect electronic switching module. Pertronix also offers low-resistance, 40,000-volt Flame-Thrower coils and Stock Look ignition wires to realize the full potential of the Ignitor ignition module. All of the Pertronix components have an OE factory appearance right down to the factory-style terminals on the plain black wires. Performance is anything but stock. Expect double-digit horsepower increases, quicker starting and increased spark plug life.
At the 2000 SEMA show, Pertronix made a major announcement. They introduced the Ignitor II conversion kit plus a lower-resistance Flame-Thrower II coil. These are not replacing the popular original Ignitor and Flame-Thrower components, these are upgrades that offer more features and are slightly more expensive.
The Ignitor II is actually a small microprocessor that has adaptive dwell capabilities to cope with changing engine and operating conditions. Coil dwell requirements change from engine startup to higher rpm, and the Ignitor II senses those requirements and changes the dwell time. As engine rpm increases, the dwell angle increases; as engine rpm decreases the dwell angle decreases. The Ignitor II's "brain" also sets peak current buildup to occur just prior to the spark discharge, so there is less current and heating of the system at lower rpm. Many electronic ignitions retard ignition timing at high rpm due to "electronic delay." The Ignitor II adjusts the timing at higher rpm to compensate for this effect. Another new feature found in the Ignitor II is that it discontinues current to the coil if the engine is not running and the key is left on, protecting the coil and other ignition components from damage.
We installed a Pertronix Ignitor II conversion kit and matching Flame-Thrower II in autoMedia.com's '69 Buick GS 400 restomod project. It requires removal of the distributor out of the engine, but even novice mechanics can complete the installation in about an hour. We took a little extra time and totally disassembled the distributor and cleaned and lubricated everything because we could barely turn the shaft when it was taken out of the car.
Our '69 Buick GS 400 engine looks a little rough now, but just wait. The first step is to remove the distributor by removing the cap, undoing the wire that runs to the coil and removing the distributor hold-down. Be sure to remember where the rotor is pointed.
With the distributor removed from the engine, the rotor and breaker-point assembly is then removed. Then the drift pin attaching the distributor gear to the shaft is removed with a punch and the gear slides off the bottom and the distributor shaft slides out the top.
It's not necessary, but we bead-blasted the distributor housing (the point plate is first removed by removing the snap ring that holds it in place), bought a new vacuum advance cannister (less than $10) and installed the new Pertronix grommet in the housing.
The breaker-point plate was reinstalled onto the housing with the snap ring and the distributor shaft was greased and slid back in place. Then the Pertronix magnet ring is installed under the advance weight mechanism. The rotor is fastened to hold everything in place.
Next, the Ignitor II module is fastened in place of the breaker points with the same two screws. The clearance between the Ignitor II module and the magnet ring is critical.
The air gap between the Ignitor II module and the magnet ring must fall between .010-.060-inch. It can be adjusted by bending the Ignitor bracket or by installing .030-inch thick washers between the magnet ring and the advance weight shaft.
Pertronix recommends its 40,000-volt Flame-Thrower II low-resistance coil to complement the Ignitor II ignition kit. It looks exactly like the stock coil but offers much more performance.
The best part about the Pertronix Ignitor ignition kits is that everything fits under the stock distributor cap and, except for two wires exiting the distributor instead of one, the engine still looks stock.
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