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Technical Advice on electronic distributors

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by White_Attack, Nov 14, 2021.

  1. I was advised to swap my rusty point distributor for an electric distributor if I want the car to start right up. This is exactly what I would like for it to do instead of struggle with each turn of the key. I have a 1961 Cadillac Sedan Deville. My question is whether anyone here has had experience with using electric distributors in their cruisers and what worked well or didn't! I'd like the best that's reasonably priced if possible. Throw me some options and I can take a look. I'd love to get my Caddy on the road already!
     
  2. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 56,615

    squirrel
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Sounds like you might want to take some effort to get the choke system on the carburetor working properly, and make sure the float bowl isn't draining after sitting. That's usually what causes starting issues. As long as the points are pretty clean, and properly adjusted, and the primary wiring is correct (so the ballast resistor/wire is bypassed during cranking), then a point system will fire right up just as well as electronic ignition.
     
  3. tubman
    Joined: May 16, 2007
    Posts: 7,107

    tubman
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    I think it might be a good idea to determine exactly what is causing your hard starting problem before you go throwing electronic distributors and money at it. What if it is a carburetion problem? That would mean that you've thrown $200-$400 at the problem and have not solved it. If I had a dollar for every points ignition car that starts easily and quickly, I'd be a multi-millionaire. By the way, who was it that advised you to make the change?

    Get it running as well as you can with the points ignition and carburetor up to spec, and then consider if you want to go to the expense of adding an electronic ignition.

    Getting you car running as well as it can with the stock equipment is also a valuable exercise for every car hobbyist and generally good for the soul.

    EDIT : Damn "Squirrel", you're quick.
     
  4. gimpyshotrods
    Joined: May 20, 2009
    Posts: 23,566

    gimpyshotrods
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    How rusty is rusty?
     
    VANDENPLAS likes this.
  5. So a while back, I swapped the Carter AFB four barrel for a brand new Edelbrock that was given to me free. I then had a mobile mechanic (30+ years professional experience) advise me to go electric because of my rusty points. He checked the Edelbrock and corrected placement of parts that a previous mechanic goofed on. He sounded like he knew what he was doing and I believed his advice. Being a female cruiser, I can see how I can be taken advantage of when it comes to advice on cars and I am weary which is why I am asking around. I receive many different answers to the same question it seems. I am pretty much at a loss with what to do with my Cadillac. I want to be careful and I'd like to save this car from sitting too long and wasting away. I will research your advice on the choke system and return here if there are any more obstacles.
     
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  6. To the point of being advised for replacement and to upgrade. I live in a high moisture location in the mountains which is why I was encouraged to swap the distributor points out for electric. I have no garage either.
     
  7. You are aware that points can be had new right? They are called tune up parts.
    I may try firing your technician and looking for a mechanic who is willing to teach you how to tune your car up.
     
    VANDENPLAS and Torana68 like this.
  8. jaracer
    Joined: Oct 4, 2008
    Posts: 2,547

    jaracer
    Member

    Guys who blame hard starts on point ignition aren't the best guys to believe. I've got the original point ignition in my 57 T-Bird and if I drive it regularly, it fires up immediately hot or cold. If I let it set more than a week or two I have to crank it a while to get fuel back up to the carburetor. In that case, the long crank has nothing to do with the ignition system.

    A lot of guys don't understand how to properly adjust an automatic choke. Proper choke adjustment make cold starts easy. Every one of my old cars, 64 Chevy truck, 57 T-Bird, 28 Model A with Buick engine, start cold with a very short crank. They also drive off cold without stalling.
     
  9. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 56,615

    squirrel
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Can you post a few pictures of the parts in question?
     
    clem and 427 sleeper like this.
  10. Keep in mind that there hasn't been a factory installed points ignition since the 70's. So to find a mechanic who really knows how to set them up means you have to find someone who has been turning wrenches since the early 80's or so. That's a 40 year career! When I started in the mid 90's, the first dealership I worked at only had one guy left who knew anything about points and carburetors.

    Also, today's points are junk compared to the parts you could get 10 years ago. I have to change them on my 64 Dart about as often as I change the oil.

    I live in a high moisture area too, about 1/2 mile from the ocean. Everything rusts if I'm not constantly maintaining it. But my Dart starts right up in the morning with a couple pumps of the throttle.

    As others have said, the points ignition is probably not your problem. Find a mechanic who actually knows old cars, and have them set it up correctly.
     
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  11. Hnstray
    Joined: Aug 23, 2009
    Posts: 12,356

    Hnstray
    ALLIANCE MEMBER
    from Quincy, IL

    @White_Attack

    Just for clarification.....the ignition system in your Cadillac is already electric and the ignition points are a mechanical switch that 'opens' and 'closes' to complete the flow of electricity through the other ignition system components.

    What you were (perhaps ill) advised to buy is commonly known as electronic ignition. In this application, the mechanical points (switch) is replaced by a contactless method of switching on and off by electronic devices, typically using a magnetic sensor that signals the process to occur.

    Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Generally, the mechanical point system is easier to diagnose, and repair, if it fails at an inconvenient time and place. The electronic versions are generally maintenance and trouble free...until they aren't. In both instances, spare parts and/or simple tools are needed to get you back on the road.

    Ray
     
  12. I went to high school in the Washington Valley. There was no electronic ignition yet. You could spend money on CD ignition "spend money" being the operative phrase. It may not have been as humid as where you are but it certainly was not high desert. it was humid enough for moss to grow on the roof.

    my old heaps always started and run just fine. Granted I did keep them tuned and that helped a little bit.

    There is an old saying, I used to hear it from mechanics all they time. "Electrical problems are usually fuel related and fuel problems are usually electrical."

    All that said, if you want electronic MSD makes a good stand alone distributer. its overkill for what you got but they are a good distributor.
     
  13. It's been covered in other threads, but I will attempt it once again.
    Back in the days of carburetors and points, gasoline from the pump was different from what is available now.

    Today's alcohol laced fuel has a lower boiling point and evaporates fairly quickly. If your car sits a few days (4 or more) between starts, the fuel reserve in the carburetor evaporates. It takes multiple cranks for the mechanical fuel pump to get fuel from the tank to the carb. Once carb is fueled, the engine will start, if all else is set properly.

    To help deal with this problem, many have installed an electric fuel pump near the tank to push fuel to the mechanical pump. Often this electric pump is activated by an on/off toggle switch operated by the driver. The electric pump, in effect, primes the carburetor.

    This is going to be needed regardless of what type distributor you decide to use.

    It's the result of today's fuel.

    Your modern fuel injected auto has a sealed system, unlike the unsealed carb, that tremendously extends the evaporation days.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  14. carbking
    Joined: Dec 20, 2008
    Posts: 3,769

    carbking
    Member

    I read your first post and was going to answer.

    Then I read where you had removed what was probably a perfectly good genuine Carter AFB, which was probably quite dirty BUT CALIBRATED SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR VEHICLE, and replaced it with a shiny new imitation that is calibrated for a small block Chevy, and I decided not to answer.

    Then I continued to read to find you are a female asking for help, so jumping back into the thread.

    Would guess the individual suggesting you replace your existing distributor MIGHT have an electronic distibutor for sale???

    First thought: not saying that the shiny new imitation carburetor will NOT run the Cadillac engine, but to make it run well, someone that understands carburetors is going to have to spend a LOT of time changing parts (some of which are simply not available, they must be fabricated), and quite a bit of money. Hope you kept your original Cadillac carburetor.

    Now, COVID has changed lots of things, but every community, town, city, whatever, generally has "cruise-ins". Find one relatively local to you and drive the Caddy. TALK to other participants with vehicles such as yours (Caddy, Buick, large Pontiacs, Chryslers, etc.) to find out where they have their cars serviced if they do not do it themselves.

    Personally, from your posts, I think you have multiple issues, and a number of tests done by someone that understands vehicles of this vintage SHOULD be done before cubic money is thrown at the car by guesses.

    As far as the electronic ignition is concerned, as Hnstray posted, electonic ignitions are more trouble-free (meaning you don't have to spend 3 minutes adjusting the points every 10,000 miles) until they aren't! I am an old geezer, and don't like to walk along the side of the road. NEVER has a set of points not got me home (not always at cruising speed), but I have never walked. Three times with electronic ignitions, I HAVE walked (once because I only had ONE new spare with me, and the new spare was also bad). So I have an attitude problem when it comes to electronic ignitions.

    However, lots of folks like them, so: get the engine running well on the points distributor THEN if you are convinced the electronic whizbang is in order, go for it. Just really not a good idea to use an electronic distributor for testing.

    Oh, and take a good hard look at the second line in my signature block! ;)

    Good luck, and keep posting.

    Jon.
     
  15. 6sally6
    Joined: Feb 16, 2014
    Posts: 2,537

    6sally6
    Member

    Instead of spouting the virtues of points and the "old skool way of life" somebody that knows about Caddy engines should just tell her what electronic ignition distrib she needs!
    IF I knew about Caddy stuff I would.
    I have had (and adjusted) points distribs...back when the points were USA made....and I switched for many reasons.
    LESS stuff to maintain is one. Install & forget is another.
    Seeing the paint burnt off(In a perfect circle)the hood of my 16 year olds POINT powered ignition(from a carb fire) convinced me to 'move into the 20th century.
    Surely Caddy switched over in the 70-80's like 'Shivel-layz' did!
    6sally6
     
  16. 73RR
    Joined: Jan 29, 2007
    Posts: 7,260

    73RR
    Member

    Also being located in The Peoples Republic of Oregon, and having previously lived in the valley for 50+ years I can appreciate the concern for moisture attacking something like the distributor. If you are on the coast then that is an additional issue for the 'brown stuff'.
    BUT, as has been mentioned, please tell us that you still have the original carb as that is an important part.
    Next, who decided that a 'rusty' distributor was the focal point of the starting issue?
    We would all like to help but really need a few more details.
    Also, if you post your city, there may be a helpful Hamber nearby...:)
     
  17. Wanderlust
    Joined: Oct 27, 2019
    Posts: 826

    Wanderlust

    Old vehicles require a different mind set, if you want to jump in, hit the key and go then you should have a newer vehicle , especially as a daily driver. All old vehicles have a start procedure, depends on engine, age of,temperature, time sitting . First off, if you still have the original carb send it to carb king and get it rebuilt, that carb was extensively designed to work with that engine, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with points ignition for that year/ age of engine, points will always get you home, electronics not so much, they work beautifully until they don’t. As mentioned today’s gas is shit, if you’re not driving often, then you will experience trouble starting any older engine. Another problem is replacement parts nowadays are also shit, especially points and condensers, rotors are also problematic, caps not so much, the oem switch to high energy ignition means that most rotors available have too much gap for points ignition. A solution to this to comb any older junk yards for ignition parts, maybe not something you would be keen on. Otherwise my suggestion would be to find someone, oh 55 + who is into old vehicles or someone with a farm background they should be able to get it running right.
     
  18. tubman
    Joined: May 16, 2007
    Posts: 7,107

    tubman
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Need we remind you that this is the H.A.M.B. which is specifically oriented to traditional hot rods? What happened in the "70-80's" is not relevant here.

    How you can equate a carburetor fire to a points ignition is beyond me.
     
  19. Blues4U
    Joined: Oct 1, 2015
    Posts: 7,590

    Blues4U
    Member
    from So Cal

    You'll have to pardon the guys around here, this is a touchy subject. Whenever it comes up several guys really speak out against electronic distributors for various reasons, often with incorrect information based on their faulty perceptions. You had no way of knowing you were opening a can of worms.

    To answer your questions, yes, lot's of us have had very good experience with electronic distributors, some have had a less than positive experience. The guys that have had good experience tend to be less vocal about it; they guys with bad experience, and some guys that just have a personal dislike for electronic ignition, tend to be very vocal about it. I'm sure you can guess who is who. You're not getting much response from guys that have had lot's of positive experience with them, but trust me, they probably outnumber the other guys, they just aren't as vocal.

    Electronic ignition systems can provide a very high energy, very stable, ignition spark. They can help an engine start faster and run smoother, more efficiently. When working correctly they work very well. However sometimes the module that is the heart of the system can fail without notice. When that happens the engine dies and cannot be restarted until that module, or the entire distributor, is replaced. That can leave you stranded where you are, or cause you to have your car towed home or to a shop to fix it. Contrary to what has been posted here, the same can happen with points ignition systems. The reliability of electronic ignitions is far superior to points style ignition systems, and more cars with points ignitions have had to be towed due to the system failing than cars with electronic systems, so take what they say with a grain of salt. It's their personal bias and that's all. But it is true that most often when a points ignition fails and causes you to be stuck on the side of the road somewhere, it can often be repaired onsite if the driver knows what to do. If that's you, and you feel comfortable popping open the distributor cap and cleaning/adjust ignition point contacts, then that is something to consider. If that's not you, if you're going to have to call a tow truck either way, well, pick your poison.

    Personally, I have 2 classic cars with electronic distributors, and they've given me great service, never a problem. With that said, I'm looking to change back to a points distributor in 1 of them, not because I've had any problems or don't trust the electronic, but because I need a smaller, more compact distributor, and I've already picked one up.

    With all of that said (and I'm expecting I'll get flack from at least some of the guys) your current distributor could be rebuilt, with a electronic system module used in place of the points that are currently in it. Of you could purchase a brand new electronic distributor like this one here: https://pertronixbrands.com/product...th-ignitor-ii-cadillac?variant=32316143468580

    I'd recommend calling the tech line at that place and discussing your situation with them, see what they advise.
     
  20. Blues4U
    Joined: Oct 1, 2015
    Posts: 7,590

    Blues4U
    Member
    from So Cal

    I should add to my above post, that there is nothing wrong with using the stock points style distributor, if it is repaired properly. An electronic system might be slightly better, maybe not, but the distributor that was in the car when new was designed for it and will work just fine if it is in good condition. You could just have your current distributor rebuilt and you would be good to go, nothing wrong with that option at all.
     
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  21. tubman
    Joined: May 16, 2007
    Posts: 7,107

    tubman
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Again, this is a traditional Hot Rod forum. If you want advice on electronic ignitions, Mustang II front suspension, or LS engine installations, this is probably not the best place to get it.

    I am also of the opinion that those on here that cannot get a points ignition running on a time period vehicle correct to this forum is not worthy of the term "Hot Rodder" or even "mechanic".
     
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  22. 2OLD2FAST
    Joined: Feb 3, 2010
    Posts: 5,393

    2OLD2FAST
    Member
    from illinois

    This us what most of us did pre 1965 as well , rebuilt the old one , isn't there something about that around here ?
     
  23. Truck64
    Joined: Oct 18, 2015
    Posts: 5,325

    Truck64
    Member
    from Ioway

    Did Cadillac use an alternator in '61? Maybe, but I know a LOT of people here run alternators in lieu of generators, and they are pretty much right on the cusp of "too new" for a Traditional Hot Rod forum get right down to it.

    What I'm getting at, is we probably shouldn't jump all over someone who isn't quite the 100% purist. It's been 50 years since cars were supplied with point ignition, so it isn't surprising it's getting tough to find a regular mechanic who can work on them. Rust if excessive is a problem if rebuilding a distributor, and another problem is excessive mechanical wear. Points won't tolerate any "slop" or wear in the mechanicals, a serviceable distributor is really important for smooth power.
     
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  24. gimpyshotrods
    Joined: May 20, 2009
    Posts: 23,566

    gimpyshotrods
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    I have managed to recover, rebuild, and put back into service parts that were left directly exposed to New England weather. Unless the housing is outright broken, it can be rebuilt.

    This rarely costs all that much, and nowhere near the cost of an electronic distributor..

    @carbking likely has the correct parts to put the original Carter AFB back right, and tight, of you kept it.

    As @73RR pointed out, you should post your city. We are everywhere.

    Someone will be able to help. If nobody is close, let us know.

    Pay no mind to those who are not actually offering help.

    Points or electronic conversion, either way works. A whole lot of aftermarket replacement stuff is of potentially sketchy offshore origin. There is the potential of it adding issues, instead of fixing them.
     
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  25. gimpyshotrods
    Joined: May 20, 2009
    Posts: 23,566

    gimpyshotrods
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Also, if that distributor is really too far gone to be rebuilt, decent used ones can be had for about $100.
     
  26. MOPAR was using an alternator in '60 GM made the switch a few years after that.

    I personally have no problem with electronic ignition. I do have a problem throwing money at a problem or anyone who calls them selves a mechanic do the same. Any new ignition system if is going to be north of 150 bucks. A set of points to replace the "rusty" points in the caddy are going to run in the neighborhood of 15 bucks (maybe less if you shop a little bit). I guess generally speaking I am a cheap bastard.
     
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  27. Truck64
    Joined: Oct 18, 2015
    Posts: 5,325

    Truck64
    Member
    from Ioway

    No, not cheap! "Frugal". Thrifty! It's in the Boy Scout Motto.
     
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  28. 73RR
    Joined: Jan 29, 2007
    Posts: 7,260

    73RR
    Member

    ...'cost-conscious'...;)
     
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  29. Original poster has not been back since Sunday, so don't think we need more advice.
     
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