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Electronic Ignition conversion report
#1
Just can't stay away
Just can't stay away

Mark Buckley
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My 1950 Standard Eight had been running rough, so I had my mechanic check the points and adjust the timing. He made some corrections and the car's performance improved. As he was tinkering with things I mentioned I'd been looking at converting to an electronic ignition module that fit inside the distributor. He expressed surprise that I could get one for a 6-volt, positive ground system but went on to recommend the upgrade.

I had been looking at a conversion kit offered by First Street Ignitions, of Ponca City, Oklahoma:

http://www.fsignitions.com/FSI_CONVERSION_KITS.html

I read the online literature carefully and then called the business, telling them about my car and making sure they sent me the right stuff. The people on the phone were helpful and seemed competent.

My car's starter, generator and distributor were all by Delco, so I wanted to keep things that way. I contacted Dave Moe, at Seattle Packards and asked him to send me a rebuilt Delco distributor. My plan was to install the new electronic system in the rebuilt Declo and then return the 'old' Delco to Dave. That way if the new system refused to work right out of the box then I could just put the old one back in and be mobile again.

My problems with the First Street system began the moment I opened their box and read the instructions: the system was designed to work with Autolite distributors only. This was never mentioned on the company website nor was there any hint of that when I spoke with two First Street people on the phone. So now I had to swap the "new" Delco distributor for an Autolite, which was a bit of a nuisance but not a huge hassle. I ended up driving the ~40 miles to Seattle Packards (and back) because I had an appointment at the shop and I didn't want to miss it.

Once I got everything assembled I handed it all to my mechanic, who is a very competent man. He charges me $65/hour but it's usually money well spent. Jerry went to work and in a reasonable amount of time he had things ready to go, except for one problem: the existing rotor wouldn't fit inside the newly upgraded system. Nowhere in the instructions provided by First Street was there any mention of this. I later found out that this was addressed in a separate, trouble shooting guide. However I believe they should also have noted this in the instructions.

Jerry had tried to squeeze the old rotor onto the new system provided by First Street but all he succeeded in doing was breaking the rotor. He was apologetic when he called me--he didn't understand why the rotor broke. I located the replacement part number and he called his local NAPA store and was told it would take a couple of days to get the rotor delivered. In the meantime I called First Street and reported the problem. I spoke with one of the owners, who gave a merry chuckle and informed me that this was a known problem and that all Jerry had to do was file down the base of the rotor. I was so surprised by his response that I didn't ask him why this was never mentioned in the company literature. The instructions are below, verbatim:

"Install cam then place magnet sleeve (white side up) onto the point cam from the top and push the sleeve down firmly. Air gap between magnet sleeve and ignitor is not critical. It must not rub and can be up to .060" clearance. Place your rotor onto point cam (above magnet sleeve).
Distributor can now be installed in engine."

I gave the First Street guy Jerry's phone number and the two men talked. The Oklahoman told Jerry that he needed to shave 50/1000ths of an inch off the rotor and all would be well. When Jerry got the NAPA rotor he did that and tried to put the system together. This rotor broke, too.

Jerry then did some searching and found a rotor that was made a little better than the NAPA one. He ended up shaving 120/1000ths from the base. Everything went together well and he then installed the system in the car.

I figure that Jerry put in between 1-2 hours of time, chasing down the rotor issue.

First Street's literature claims that their conversion system preserves the car's original appearance because the guts fit snugly inside the distributor housing. This is a misrepresentation because a very modern-looking relay or switch is bolted to the firewall. There is no way that device looks like it belongs in my car!

With the new electronic ignition system (including a new coil, supplied by First Street) in place, I decided I might as well replace the ignition wires and spark plugs. After adjusting the timing the car fired right up.

I suppose it would be a fitting end to this story if I reported I didn't notice any difference with the new system, or even that it turned out to be a fiasco. But that is not the case. I'll be honest and say that the car has never run better since I've owned it. It's my understanding that my spark plug voltage has doubled and it seems that I have a noticeable jump in power. Also, it sure seems to accelerate more smoothly.

So am I happy with First Street? No and yes. No because their instructions were lousy and cost me time and money, not to mention the tacky relay or switch I now have to look at. But on the positive side the improved performance is a real treat.

So maybe this story has a happy ending after all. But just between you and me, I've got that old distributor tucked away in the trunk, just in case....


All the best,

Mark

Posted on: 2011/6/1 15:12
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#2
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HH56
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Interesting. Will be keeping a look out for any updates or longer term issues. How big is the relay and any chance it could be disguised by some kind of old but proper looking empty enclosure like another voltage regulator or horn relay box or some such. Are the wires long enough to mount it inside under the dash.

Posted on: 2011/6/1 15:37
Howard
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#3
Home away from home
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Mike
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There is no need for a relay; i have a 6v positive ground pertronix setup in my spare distributor right now. It ran great until i put solid core wires on it. They're just bundling a pertronix setup with some other parts.

If you do a pertronix lookup, they do show autolite only, i've mentioned it a few times here about my 50. I still have the spare delco dist, and 2 autolites.

However, my install went flawlessly, click on the round thing under the rotor, put the original rotor on, original cap on.

The reason they don't work on an autolite is because the breaker plate rides on roller bearings and the whole plate is advanced when the vacuum pulls on it. They'd have to make a custom plate to fit that, and i doubt there is demand enough.

On the delco, the whole distributor jumps and turns when vacuum is applied, so you can just stamp a plate and put some holes in it.

The only difference from the outside that there needs to be is one wire goes to the coil and one to ignition, and one end of the coil to the ground. In a regular setup, it's not wired like that. No relays, etc. are needed.


However, some cars (not 6v i don't believe) didn't give the ignition full 12v, it stepped down with a resistor or resistor wire to like 9v. I don't think our Packard has that issue, but selling a relay with the kit would work around that, easier to build a kit on their end than troubleshoot old ignition wiring.

My packard's ignition wire has full voltage, so to switch back and forth is literally just switching some wires around when swapping distributors, no relays etc needed.

FWIW, i do champion pertronix products, some have had issues with some not working or whatnot, but i don't know of anyone having issues where it literally didn't fit. Sorry for your trouble.

Posted on: 2011/6/1 16:58
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The relay switch
#4
Just can't stay away
Just can't stay away

Mark Buckley
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The switch is roughly cube-shaped, about 1.25 inches on a side. It has gaudy plastic-covered wires coming from it (I have opted to stay with the original, fabric-coated wires) and those wires are too short to permit its being mounted anywhere safe and out of sight. It might be possible to camouflage it by hiding it under a larger cabinet. That's not a bad idea. Thanks!

Posted on: 2011/6/1 18:00
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The relay's function
#5
Just can't stay away
Just can't stay away

Mark Buckley
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I'm not sure, but I believe the relay I've described above has something to do with the kickdown function of my R-11 overdrive. If I understand things correctly, hitting the kickdown switch initiates a process that temporarily cuts power to the engine, permitting the overdrive solenoid to disengage. Somehow the old relay won't work with the new, PerTronix system--hence the need for the new relay or switch.

Posted on: 2011/6/1 18:04
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#6
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Mike
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Gotcha, missed the overdrive part. I would still think that you could use your stock relay if it cut power also. Cutting power to the pertronix, or grounding the wrong side would achieve the same. I used the stock relay switch on my boat with a pertronix, it cuts power while you kick in and out of gear so it doesn't grind gears or make it to hard for it to shift and hold you out of a gear.

Maybe someone that knows the OD relay can help with schematics to use it instead of the new one that's ugly?

Posted on: 2011/6/1 20:15
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#7
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HH56
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R11 kickdown doesn't use the Packard or B-W relay. That's just for solenoid load.

For the coil, there are a set of contacts in the solenoid that are made when solenoid is engaged but circuit is not complete because of the kickdown switch. As soon as kickdown switch is activated, that coil circuit is completed while the relay simultaneously loses power and drops the solenoid power. With the solenoid dropping out just after the coil circuit is complete, the interrupt is only active for the few milliseconds it takes to drop torque and release the solenoid and open those contacts.

I wish the complete schematics were on that install page the company offers. They mention a tach could be added to that terminal but no mention of overdrive. With all the cautions about reversed polarity and hooking up things properly so as not to damage the unit, would like to know exactly how the OD is done. Using the original circuit, the electrical "noise" would be horrific to the electronic module so they must have a "clean" ground supplied thru the relay. Would be interesting to know what they did and if that relay uses any of the original circuitry for it's command. Might be useful if you have to troubleshoot something.

Posted on: 2011/6/1 20:42
Howard
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#8
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Not too shy to talk

ineffabill
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I don't know the details on this particular electronic ignition, but I've seen several designs that specifically didn't want you to short the short the ign coil primary to ground- doing so would damage the module (esp. on positive gnd designs). Since I believe that's how the OD relay limits engine torque for the kickdown shift, I'd imagine the new relay momentarily interrupts ign power instead.

Posted on: 2011/6/6 2:03
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#9
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Mike
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Really any way to get the engine to "miss" for a split second would work. Cutting power to the power side of the ignition module (ign circuit) would be fine, that's what the key does.

The question is, like HH56 was saying, is the feed coming through the solenoid to the electronic ignition going to be too noisy or dirty and somehow affect performance or damage the electronic ignition.

If so, before we figure out how to fix that, we could find a better hiding place for the current, new, working solenoid.

Posted on: 2011/6/6 9:32
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Re: Electronic Ignition conversion report
#10
Just can't stay away
Just can't stay away

John Sauser
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Folk's
To correct some miss information Re, Pertronix ignition for 6v pos, ground.
They are for Autolite distributors not Delco. #1585 P6 for 282-288-327 and #1586 P6 for 356.
If used on O/D equiped car insert a 6ohm 10w resistor inline with the wire from the O/D to prevent a direct short.

Also, since electronic ignitions are voltage sensitive, they have a voltage level below which they don't work at all, If your have a no start and feel it.s from a low battery voltage, try jumping from the black wire from the Pertronix to the battery negative term. This will raise the voltage approx .2 to.5 volts at the Pertronix and may be enough to fire the coil.

It is important to have your electrical system in tip-top condition to run an electronic ignition system on a 6v car.


John
Projects, P.I. PNR

Posted on: 2011/6/7 12:07
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