Ignition Issues

A new ignition system was supposed to fix our Model A's ills.
It was hard to stop buying new parts.
Step one was disassembling the distributor, which requires a special tool. Luckily, it's only $1.25.
The distributor was completely original, and completely temperamental.
New vs old distributor guts.
The finished product.
The Model A doesn't have timing marks, instead relying on an indexing pin that is removed, then turned around to find the TDC indentation.
Once the exhaust manifold was off the car, I realized it was nearly cracked in two.
I purchased a new intake manifold in case mine had been previously machined. As this straight edge shows, mine hadn't. I'll be returning the new intake.
 <i>I'm a 19-year-old kid named Tom, and my great-grandfather sold this very car new at his Ford dealership in 1929. Now I'm using it as my daily driver.</i>

My last trip ended with me making a pilgrimage to a Model A parts store, Jerry’s “The Model A Store.” I would link to their website, but (I know this is shocking) they don’t have one. However, if you’re looking for parts you can call (877) 350-0796.

I spent $400 on new intake and exhaust manifolds, a new set of almost every ignition part on the car, a new floor mat, and a few other odds and ends that I’d need to install everything.

I immediately dove into the car after I got back. Step one was renewing the ignition system, as I wasn’t getting spark, and suspected a bad condenser was my original issue. I took this opportunity to upgrade to a modern top plate in the distributor, which changes the points and condenser to something I’ll be able to buy at any Autozone. Is this cheating? Well, not in my opinion–this uses the same system to make sparks, just in a slightly rearranged fashion. It’s not like I added fuel injection.

With the new ignition components installed, I tried to fire the car up–and was met with only the occasional sputter. So, I suspected the coil. It was getting power, but I wasn’t getting spark. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to buy one at the Model A store. So, I went into the attic and grabbed a leftover coil from our Project Ranchero.

True, that car’s elecrical system is 12 volts with negative ground, the antithesis of my Model A. But the Ranchero uses an external ballast resistor, which means that this coil is basically a 6-volt coil that needs the resistor when used in a 12-volt system. I simply used the plain coil, and it worked like a charm. My A was getting spark, so I tried to start it up.

It still only sputtered and immediately died.

Defeated, I moved onto the cracked exhaust manifold. Replacing it was actually a breeze, and I was even able to re-use almost every fastener. I finished this job in a tad less than an hour, and the only thing I have left to do is re-torque the manifold bolts after one heat cycle.

At this point I trudged back inside and gave Carl Heideman, owner of Eclectic Motorworks, a call. I told him what I’d done and what had happened, and he laughed and asked a single question–is the distributor turning?

Well, I mean, of course it… is it? I told him I’d call him back in a minute, and ran back to the shop. I stuck the hand crank in the engine and slowly turned it over, watching the distributor rotor the entire time. It never moved.

I called Carl back, and he explained that Ford made the timing gear on Model A’s out of pressed fiber, which is a fancy word for cardboard. Not surprisingly, these often fail. This was the perfect explanation for my weird sputters!

Unfortunately, the Model A store isn’t open again until Monday. Hopefully he’ll have the gear.

Read more about crazy old cars in issues of Classic Motorsports six times a year. Subscribe now.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more project updates.
View comments on the CMS forums
Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
7/7/13 1:26 p.m.

Fiber gears... Volvo used those in the 122, 142 and 1800 engines into the 70's. Also known to fail...

Sponsored by

Classic Motorsports House Ad

Our Preferred Partners