Mike Wolfe "The river Queen Refit" 2006
Change your Points- of View.
Twice in as many years I have been waylaid at the dock with an engine that would not start. Itís embarrassing! With company waiting in the wings, I tear into the distributor and check point gap and so on. Not the impression a skipper likes to exude. I just wish the damned thing would start every time thatís all. Is that so much too ask? When itís cold, my newly rebuilt 1969 Chrysler 383 cranks and cranks before it will kick. This canít be good for the starter either. But you know, the reason it acts this way is probably my own fault. Iíll try to explain it in my round about way. If youíre of the old school like me, you can remember the days when you could look under the hood of your car and name all the key components, as well as count them on one hand. Now that Iíve gone and taken you this far back, remember that yearly trip to the auto parts store? That once a year routine replacement of the most basic parts. The rotor, ignition points and condenser. Remember it now? Man that was a long time ago. I remember going back to our garage, parts in hand and toiling half the day away, tuning and tweaking. Then Iíd take that gratifying trip around the block, feeling that big change in performance. I used to burn rubber! The neighborís hated it. Alas, youth.
Yep. So nowadays, how come I donít do the same thing for my boat? The technology is nearly the same isnít it? I would venture to use the excuse that I donít use the boat as often as I do the car and the parts are not yet worn out. A true statement to be sure. I also tend to replace things only when they break. Maybe not such a good practice on a big boat. Well, confession time. I have decided to change my worrisome ways. I came up with a plan. I heard some time back from a friend about a product you can just drop in your existing factory distributor. Itís called a Breaker-less ignition. Instead of having points that spark open and closed on a cam, you have a sensor and a magnetic collar on the rotor. No parts rubbing on parts. No gap worries and no exposed components. Sounds like my kind of hardware upgrade.
To start off I chose Pertronix Performance Products for this seemingly minor upgrade. They claim that their Ignitor Electronic Ignition has been proven for over thirty years. Thatís a long time to work the kinks out I would think. Some features the Pertronix Ignitor boasts are twice the voltage to the sparkplugs. No point contacts to burn, pit or corrode. Also the electronics are molded in epoxy to prevent deterioration from dirt, oil, grease and moisture.
I liked the idea of using a drop-in style module. It installs in minutes and it does not change the looks of my stock engine restoration. Iím sold, letís do it. The only other addition to this new set up is the replacement of the old coil. I went with a new Flame Thrower coil. Also from Pertronix, itís engineered to match up with the electronic ignition and work together for optimum performance (or so says the catalog). I installed the whole thing in a matter of 30 minutes. But Iím rather slow. That would be 10 minutes for anybody else. Yep, 30 whole minutes and I still got it wrong. I put the positive wire from the coil on the wrong side of the ballast resistor and didnít know it. She just wouldnít fire up. I called the technical support number at Pertronix and got right through to Marvin. He managed to point me in the right direction right away. I like it when that happens. I guess I should have turned the instructions page over and read the back panel. But again, Marvin was great and I could not wait to correct my problem and turn the ignition key.
When I did turn the key I was surprised at the speed in which the engine caught and started. Before it was a turn-turn-turn, then cough. Now itís just one turn and she fires quite nicely! I could also swear that the engine runs smoother and quieter as well. I enjoy just standing there listening to the engineís throaty rumble at 500 rpm. You ever do that? Man I love that sound. ďPower at my Command!Ē
Well itís one thing to run the engine up and down at the dock, but quite another to run it down the river. Time for that trip around the block! The following weekend my family and I went for a short day trip. My engine started with a mere twist of a key. We spent an hour out underway, then a lovely lunch and rest. After that, an hour run home. Before the upgrade, running with the old points and condenser set up, I used to be able to detect a slight miss in the engine now and then, kind of like a little quiet spot in the hum of the engine. Iím happy to report I could detect no miss after the upgrade.
I must admit, I canít believe I didnít do this change out sooner! I could actually hear and feel my engine running better than it has ever has. I also see another upside to using a drop-in electronic ignition solution. Should you ever have a failure in the electronic unit, all you would have to do is remember where you put the old breaker plate assembly and change it back! 10 minutes topsÖ.30 minutes if youíre like me.
In conclusion, this project was a relatively small and easy upgrade for big results. I will also say to all my buddies out there that are still running the old stock points, ďTry the upgrade, youíll like it.Ē
Mike Wolfe ďThe River Queen RefitĒ www.mikewolfe.us