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Technical Flathead helmet distributor help needed

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Squablow, May 26, 2020.

  1. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,379


    Guys, I'm a total amateur mechanic, I'm much more of a sheetmetal/welding guy, so be gentle and I won't be offended if you explain things like I'm 10 years old, in fact, I'd prefer it.

    My T roadster has a '38 flathead in it with the "helmet" distributor. I bought the car running good and driving, but needing complete paint and bodywork and such. What should have taken a year tops ended up almost complete and sitting in my garage for like another 5 years and now it looks nice but I need to get it started again.


    I tried to get it started last year and it would run a bit but very poorly, ran like the points were corroded. I tried to file them with the distributor in the car but that's hard to do, decided to buy new points and replace them completely with the distributor out of the car. I'm just getting to the project now, and I have questions.

    First off, the distributor came off real easy to work on the bench, and that's what I read was the way to do it, so I pulled it off.


    But the first thing that stuck out at me is that this big bolt thing is loose, like I just unscrewed it by hand. The adjuster screw with the jamb nut isn't loose, but the big section was. It's got a spring inside, I assume it puts tension on something, but what does it do and is it supposed to be loose? I've got a couple other old distributors that have that piece on them and they're tight in the housing.


    Second, I had bought a new points set from Midwest Early Ford off of eBay, and when I put the two pieces in place, they clearly do not align, not even close. Would it be normal to have to bend the plate to a proper 90 degrees on new points to make them line up, or is this just a poor quality set of points?

    Both sets of points seem like that plate is way off from 90 degrees.

    I also noticed that the little sleeve inside the other half of the points doesn't seem like it fits right, there's a gap around the little insert on one side.

    I have the whole day set aside to work on this project and now I feel like I'm dead in the water with this points set, unless I should try bending the tab to 90 and just using this set. I would just try to clean/sand/file the contacts but the one side looks like it's got a pretty big pit on it and I was hoping not to half-ass this. Hard to see in the pic.


    Long story short, my questions are

    1. What is the big bolt/tensioner thing for, should the big bolt piece be tight, and does it need some kind of adjustment?

    2. Are my new replacement points junk, or should I try to bend them into shape and make them work? Or am I better off trying to sand and file the old points back into shape? Or send these new points back and hope for better replacements?
  2. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,379


    I took the old points off of the other side to confirm that they're bad and they look poor, pitted pretty bad, I don't think I want to try to file these, correct? I'm kinda glad to find this, that means at least I was right that the points were bad (at least one set, the other side wasn't too bad). But now that I'm pretty sure these need to be replaced, I'm wondering if I should try to make these new pieces work, or if I should send them back and try to find some better ones?

  3. The "big bolt/tensioner thing" is advance adjustment. The centrifugal advance is set for maximum advance. The spring loaded piston will retard the spark advance when the engine is under load and has reduced vacuum. The mechanism is adjusted by starting with the bolt loose and then screwing it in to the point where the engine does not ping under load. This system is sort of backwards to the vacuum advance system with which we are most familiar.
    The points are obviously junk, but since you have them you can try to bend the mount to get the points to align.
  4. TagMan
    Joined: Dec 12, 2002
    Posts: 6,178


    I'm certainly NOT a flathead expert, but I'll confirm your old points are no good.

    The new points set, are more than likely offshore 'junk'. If you have a NAPA near you, try getting a set from them. I've had excellent luck with NAPA points in other engines.

    PM sent.
    Last edited: May 26, 2020
    WB69 likes this.

  5. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,379


    I see, thanks for the info. So there's no reason for the big section to be loose, all the adjustment is made by the bolt with the jamb nut. Good to know, and glad I had the distributor off to find it before the whole thing wiggled itself loose and fell off.

    I have confirmed by the packaging that the new points I bought were made in China. That was not mentioned in their sale listing. I was able to order a set of "made in USA" points from another vendor although no brand name was given and I won't likely have them until the weekend or Monday. I figure worst case scenario, never a bad idea to have an extra set of points.

    I sent an email to the vendor I bought this first set from with pictures and will see if I get a response. They were like $32 so I'd rather send them back than throw them away and eat that cost if they can't be used. Was really hoping to deal with this today though.
  6. alchemy
    Joined: Sep 27, 2002
    Posts: 17,290


    The big bolt thing is the vacuum brake. First screw it out, remove the spring and plunger, then do your points work. Lightly grease the leather and the barrel of the plunger on reassembly. Screw the big bolt down tight and it should be close to adjustment. Do a search on adjusting vacuum brake if you have pinging after you get it running again.
    Squablow and uncle buck like this.
  7. uncle buck
    Joined: Feb 13, 2007
    Posts: 1,659

    uncle buck

    napa echlin # cs47 is in stock at the stevens pt napa warehouse if you want some points sooner
  8. They had a tool in the old days for "aligning" the points but I never saw any that were that out of line.
  9. 0F996A6E-250F-40BC-9EB3-840F06F122E5.jpeg D5792762-3B82-4152-A9D3-7C788E63EFAC.jpeg 9287F0AE-0F44-4FCE-80F4-2C62E4C0AA55.jpeg A83FE3C9-B7D6-4E02-8DBE-34B93325A25D.jpeg Send it off to a professional——pay the money—-reap the benefits! That simple!
  10. I was in a similar boat w/my flatty and my helmet dizzy until I bought this super rebuilt unit from Michael (1935fordtn) on ebay, my flatty runs so much better since this dizzy has the much improved 11 a conversion, well worth the $ to me, comes preset, drop it in and fire that puppy up, has a warranty too. YMMV can be seen here, hes likely a member on this forum and is on fordbarn too
  11. WB69
    Joined: Dec 7, 2008
    Posts: 1,742


    NAPA for electronics for me generally.
    TagMan likes this.
  12. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,379


    As a followup, half of my Made in the USA points were also junk. Check out the second hole from the top on each side, that's the adjuster hole for the little eccentric that you turn to adjust it. Note how the old Ampco piece has a long, tight hole with flat sides, and the replacements have a rounded hole that's oddly offset. That prevented me from getting the adjustment right on the new points.


    Between 3 different sets of points, I now have one set that hopefully will work, I'm going to go try it now. What a pain. I really appreciate the advice, except for "pay someone else to do it".
    stillrunners and Max Gearhead like this.
  13. Hoop-in-JAX
    Joined: Nov 7, 2007
    Posts: 184


    I wouldn't just install points without pulling the distributor apart enough to clean and lubricate the weights ... and make sure they are not sticking.

    How do you plan to time it?
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2020
  14. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,379


    I put the distributor back on and it fired right up, but the exhaust smells like shit. The gas in the tank is 2 years old so I'll be draining that tomorrow and putting in some fresh stuff, see if that helps. Distributor seems to be working though.

    Since the distributor just has a big flat blade on the back that fits into the face of the cam, I figured the timing would not change, as long as I had it flipped the right way (it's either right, or 180 off, best I can tell) unlike a later style distributor that has a gear on the bottom of it and can go back on the engine at a different position.
    stillrunners likes this.
  15. tubman
    Joined: May 16, 2007
    Posts: 5,850


    The tang on the back of the distributor is offset, and will really go in only one way. There have been some folks that were able to get them in 180 degrees off, and when they tightened the mounting bolts, broke the distributor housing. I've been on here long enough and seen enough of your work to know you're not one of them.
    Squablow likes this.
  16. BJR
    Joined: Mar 11, 2005
    Posts: 7,155


    I think the tang on the distributor is offset to one side and only goes in one way.
    Squablow likes this.
  17. BJR
    Joined: Mar 11, 2005
    Posts: 7,155


    I type slow.
    Chebby belair likes this.
  18. yeah - you fixed it without too much of the negative reply's......kinda why I hate working on an early 8N, 2N or 9N Ford tractor with the front distributor.......
  19. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,379


    I didn't know the tab was offset but that's really good to know. Makes sense too.

    As frustrating as it was to change these points, due to the crap quality of the replacement parts I got from two different sources, there were two nice things about this design. One is that it comes off of the engine pretty easily so the work can be done on a bench (this would be a nightmare to do on the car) and also that you don't lose the timing when you take the distributor off and put it back on.

    Re-timing it "fresh" (like after a disassembly/rebuild) looks like it takes a lot more effort though.
  20. 35fordTN
    Joined: Oct 25, 2009
    Posts: 7


    The points you mid west sent you are without doubt Dennis carpenter brand. I can assure I have used every brand of point there is for these, and the only three I’d use is echlin, standard, or wells. I rebuild these nearly everyday and I prefer wells.

    This is a job you CAN do by yourself, however if you can find someone with a sub machine and KRW fixture to set it up for you that would be ideal.

    As for that adjuster, be sure to use a gasket on it, and leave it adjusted all the way out.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Squablow likes this.

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