Carl Heideman
Carl Heideman
9/14/09 9:46 a.m.

We have been talking about ignitions and distributors quite a bit lately, since their workings are so critical to a car’s performance. A properly operating ignition system can make or break a classic, as all of the events must occur at the precise moment.

Even though these components are often sealed in boxes or hidden under distributor caps, the process of getting a spark to each cylinder isn’t too complicated. The ignition system is made up of a coil, distributor, plug wires and spark plugs. Each part has a specific job and helps move the electricity to its final destination.

At the beginning of the system, the coil converts low voltage to high voltage to make a spark. This spark then passes through the distributor, which has been charged with three tasks: It has the switching mechanism that tells the coil when to make sparks; it has an advance mechanism to vary the time when the switching/spark occurs; and its rotor and cap tell the spark which cylinder to fire. The plug wires connect the distributor to the plugs, and the plugs handle firing the spark in the combustion chamber.

While we have been focusing on stock ignition systems, now it’s time to talk about upgrades. Distributors and ignition systems have improved greatly since many of our cars were built and thanks to a strong aftermarket, many products are available to upgrade our cars.

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