Build a Crank Trigger Distributor

Crank Triggers are a very effective way to light the fire in your performance engine. So much so that auto makers adapted the idea to just about everything you have driven since around the year 1995. They use a sensor lined up with a reluctor wheel mounted either on the front or rear of the crankshaft. Timing indication from this location is far more accurate and precise that picking it up from the distributor. Now of course modern engines have either a short coil-to-plug wire or are of the coil-on-plug ignition, all electronically fired from information provided to the computer.

Crank Trigger ignitions for older performance engines have been around for years and normally when a hot rodder puts one of these on their engine, one of the steps is to lock out any advance mechanism on the stock distributor. The distributor essentially becomes nothing more than a “distributor” of the spark energy. This will work just fine as long as the distributor is in good shape and not worn out or sloppy in it’s clearances. In my particular case, I am building a new engine up from bits and pieces and did not have a distributor to start with but looking at the current prices of a crank trigger distributor will make you swoon. Average prices are running between $250 – $350 for a distributor. I will admit it is take it out of the box and drop it in – but where’s the fun in that?

So,, doing a little bit of shopping and spending a touch less than $125 I have a brand new, crank trigger distributor. And I am going to tell you how you can have one too. Now admittedly I am building a Big Block Chevy, if you have a Chrysler or Ford engine or something else, you have a bit more homework to do, but the principle idea is the same.

I started off by looking for a NEW – not rebuilt point style distributors for Chevys. I finally found what I wanted from Rock Auto Parts. A brand new, mid-60’s distributor was available for slightly less than $50. Moving over to Jegs, Summit and don’t ever forget Amazon, especially if you already have Prime membership, I started looking for a MSD Cap-Adapt setup. This certainly isn’t a requirement to build a crank trigger distributor but I prefer these as they allow you to run the larger Ford style distributor cap which spreads out the spark, plus it comes with a spark plug wire retainer system that is a simple, two screw system. The adapter also creates a larger air center which helps reduce the izonation of the air particles within the cap. Each of these items helps reduce or eliminate misfire. And we don’t like our engines to misfire do we?

The next two items on the list kind of go hand in hand but one of them might not be needed for your setup. I am running a Crane mechanical roller cam in this engine and need the bronze distributor gear that works with that type of camshaft. If you are running a standard type production cam or an aftermarket unit that is a hydraulic or mechanical flat tappet cam then you can keep the stock style gear and save a few bucks. You also want to setup the end play on the distributor and will need a shim kit – I went with the Moroso version as I had used their kit before and knew what I would be getting. I ended up setting this distributor up to .009 clearance but anything between .010 and .020 should be good. I am also getting ahead of myself a bit but that’s okay.

With all of the parts gathered up it is actually time to start tearing stuff apart. All of the following can either be deep-sixed or passed along to someone that still deals with points style distributors. The cap, rotor, points, condenser, vacuum advance canister, all of the wiring, the mounting plate for the points and condenser, the advance weights, advance springs and the advance/points cam all have to go. I didn’t bother to weigh all of this stuff but there’s bound to be at least a pound of stuff here. Now to get some of these parts off, you probably already figured out that you need to drive out the roll pin on the distributor gear, remove it, the spacers and pull the shaft from the distributor body. And this is where a welder will come in handy although it is not absolutely required. You will notice with the shaft removed that the advance plate/points cam is a separate piece. You need that piece to hold the rotor in place so I recommend that you fit it back to the main shaft and then on both sides of the oval shaped piece at the top, you tack weld the shaft and the advance plate together. Lacking a means of welding, you could also drill the two pieces and insert a small bolt/nut to lock them together. I have not done this myself so you will have to determine exactly where you can put the bolt without interfering with the rotor button attachment.

Once all the junk is out of the way, you can put a little bit of grease on the shaft, slide it back in and start figuring out how many shims you will need to tighten up the clearances. For the most part, this is a bit of trial and error, but one thing you can do is find a punch that has the same diameter as the roll pin and put that in place to hold the gear on while you check clearances with a feeler gauge. That beats driving that roll pin in and out.

With the clearance set, the next step is to install the MSD Cap-Adapt System. Rather easy as the main part of the system aligns just like the original distributor cap and and is held in place with the same type of push and turn 90 degree arms. Now you can mount the MSD rotor button in place but first check the clearance on the center part of the rotor. MSD now includes a cardboard guide that is sort of a go, no-go type gauge. I found my latest one to be bent down a touch too far. New MSD kits have a couple of choices for holding down the rotor button now, I decided to use the Allen head bolts that came with the kit. And finally the last piece is the Ford style distributor cap. Align the tab and snap the spring metal retainers in place and you’re finished.

What you now have is a fully “functional” crank trigger distributor. Which really kind of makes you wonder why they charge so much money for the darn things. When using a crank trigger setup, the distributor has one job and that is to distribute the voltage out of the coil coming into the center terminal of the cap to the terminals of the cap that are connected to the spark plugs. That’s it. No timing function, no dwell settings – nothing. When setting up your crank trigger, you will set the timing by moving the pickup in relation to the magnet on the crank mounted wheel. You will install your distributor so that you are lining up the rotor pointing to the selected spark plug terminal of the cap. A better way to determine that this is as precise as possible is using “Rotor Phasing”. Search that phrase on the Internet for additional information.

So there you have it – a quick and easy build that saves you at least a $125. Plus you probably had a little bit of fun with the build and you can be absolutely certain that you are going to get the maximum amount of power from your crank trigger setup.

Just Thinking

I was thinking which sometimes isn’t a good thing.

Back when I was a kid pumping fuel at gas stations (16,17,18) I remember Amoco was selling the only unleaded fuel at the time. But also around this time most of our engines were in the neighborhood of 9.8 – 11.1 compression ratios and there wasn’t a lot of pinging and banging going on running the stuff. So now I am wondering what were they putting in that fuel to prevent pre-ignition and why we can’t have that today?
Also, it’s been a rumor I guess for a long time but I worked a Sunoco station for a bit and if you remember there was a dial on the side of the pump that would allow you pick the octane level you wanted. Sorta foggy now but I think the pumps ran from 140-260? Anyway, the whole deal was two tanks of fuel (one hi-test and one regular) that were being mixed right there at the pump. I worked this station mostly on Thursday – Sunday nights and on Friday and Saturday night I would lock out the outer pump to pure hi-test or 280 as it was referred to; no lower octane fuel was mixed with it. I would charge an extra $1.00 per 5 gallons that was pumped and had guys lined up in and out of the gas station. I made a little extra spending money and the guy that owned the station was impressed with how many gallons of gas I pumped every weekend once the word got around. And again, why doesn’t somebody do this now?
Lastly, I was wondering what happened to all of the gasoline, motor oil, battery and anti-freeze commercials that used to be on television? I think the last thing I can remember now is Shell running some commercials about the amount of detergents their fuels contained and their cleaning ability. Other than that one, it seems like its been a very long time since these type of commercials were out there. So the question I have is have the vendors of these products simply decided that either the motoring public isn’t really all that interested in any difference between manufacturers of these products or do they simply sell so much of their product that there is no gain in advertising it anymore?

How Much Should an Oil Change Cost?

To help support our racing habit, I sell Amsoil products on my other site – Superior Motor Oil. Sales on the site are spotty at best as it has gotten difficult for small websites like mine to get to the first 1 or 2 pages of a major search engine unless you are willing and able to spend a considerable amount of money advertising with them. So I was wondering about a different angle and the idea of “how much does the average synthetic oil change cost” came to mind. I searched on that idea and what I found was eye opening. Depending on your location in the county the average runs $55 – $100 for a normal 4-5 quart change with filter. Coupons and special promotions can knock that price down a little bit. There is no mention of brand names pertaining to the oil or filter but one has to assume that the oil would at least be one of the national brands as would the filter, so if you can find a local shop at $55 and you loath the idea of changing oil yourself then this appears to be a reasonable deal.

Amsoil oil products are what I like to refer to as a “Boutique Oils”. In comparison to the national brands, it’s rather expensive but right in line with other similar oil products such as Royal Purple, Redline or Mag-1. While a 5 quart jug of 5w30 Mobil-1 will run you about $30 at most auto part retailers, $30 is only going to buy you about 3 quarts of Amsoil 5w30 Signature Series oil. Five quarts of Amsoil 5w30 Signature Series is going to cost $46.00. The best upside to this is the change interval length. While most of the car manufacturers are now recommending oil changes at 10,000 miles, Amsoil Signature Series is designed to go 25,000 miles. Going the same length of mileage on the national brand oils is going to cost at least $75 so the cost of $46 for Amsoil is a savings of $29 plus you’re also be saving the cost of the additional filters, installation labor and the lost time you incur while waiting for your vehicle to be serviced. Now I realize that a lot of people are going to frown on the thought of going 25,000 miles on an oil change and I have to admit that it is an unusual idea. You should  consider the fact that not so very long ago, oil change interval recommendations were at 500 miles. Then as oil, filters and the technology in engines improved, those change intervals began to lengthen to where they are now in the 10,000 mile range. Amsoil has simply taken it to the next step before anyone else and their Signature Series oils are now ready to go 25,000 miles. One other thought is even if you decide to stay with your manufacturer’s recommendation, should you run into a situation where you go beyond that recommendation, with Amsoil in your crankcase you have nothing to worry about.

So going back to our original question, “How Much Should an Oil Change Cost?”, I believe it simply depends on the vehicle, the normal use of that vehicle and the confidence of the owner in the products that they are purchasing to maintain their vehicle. If we can say that the average motorist puts 12,000 miles a year on their vehicle then $46 and the cost of an oil filter over a 2-year period looks like a good savings to me.

 

 

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

It’s a bit funny but I have probably explained the following procedure to a few friends a half-dozen times in the last few weeks. And honestly unless you too are a diehard drag racer using a GM style automatic transmission and converter setup, the information here is probably worthless. But then again, to a lot of those that do use that setup there seems to be a huge mystery to this procedure. Actually it’s all rather simple. Why this might apply to some of the latest GM stuff, I am specifically talking about Powerglides, TH350s and TH400 transmissions. And this procedure should be used every time you have the transmission serviced or maintenance on the converter performed. You should also use it if you are changing the flexplate for the engine or the bell housing/transmission case.

First things first. The convertor has to be seated properly in the transmission before anything else can happen. I like to call it the  “3-step drop”. What needs to happen is that as you place the converter in the transmission, you need to make sure that the splines of the transmission are engaging the internal splines of the converter and that the converter hub properly seats within the drive tangs of the transmission fluid pump. It’s actually pretty easy although some converters can be a real bear getting them to make that final seating. What you will feel is that the converter “drops” or moves back further on the input shaft as you rotate the converter back and forth. The first drop is almost negligible and is simply the converter hub aligning itself with the outer portion of the transmission pump. The next drop is significant and typically moves the converter back about 1/2″, this indicates that those splines have now engaged each other. The last and final drop again is about 1/2″ and will be the hub engaging the fluid pump tangs. Now at this point, the converter is completely engaged in the transmission but if you were to run it this way, you would find that you will destroy your transmission pump in quick order. This brings up the procedure that needs to be used.

With the transmission installed in the car and bolted up properly to the engine, it is time to take a measurement. Depending on the combination of flexplate, the thickness of the converter mounting pads, the bell housing or transmission case and whether a rear engine plate is used, this measurement needs to end up being somewhere between .125 and .187. With the converter still pushed back into the transmission, we want to measure the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. The easiest way I have found to do this is to take a set of feeler gauges and insert a stack of them until the stack is just snug between the measurement points. Once you have that measurement, you can then take a dial caliper and measure the thickness of the stack or lacking a dial caliper, you can add up the feeler gauges. This measurement will be the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. As an example, let us say the measurement is .234 – well that is a little bit too much as if we were to pull the converter forward and simply bolt it to the flexplate, we would run the risk of pulling the converter hub out of the drive tangs for the fluid pump and in turn we would have an inoperable transmission. What we need to do is a little bit of math. If our desired minimum clearance is .125, we deduct that from the measured distance, which in this case is .234. That leaves us with .109 as the excess distance. We now need to find some hardened washers or spacers to take up the extra clearance. Using the dial calipers again, we should be able to find washers that come close. You can also do this with feeler gauges although it is a bit awkward. Again as an example lets say we find 3 washers that are .090 in depth – three are required for the GM transmissions and we want to make sure that they are all the same. That still leaves us with .019 extra clearance but if we add that to our desired .125, we come up with .144 which is well within the maximum amount of .187. We can now bolt the converter to the flexplate with the .090 washers between them and we have the proper clearance for the transmission to fully perform its job function.

The Joys of Hot Rod Wiring

The Joys of Hot Rod Wiring

There’s nothing like rebuilding your hot rod save for that wiring job you now have to take on. In my case this is Elvira right now and with the circuits that I am changing, adding and deleting all at once, the wiring looks like a colorful pile of spaghetti – and I don’t like spaghetti, just ask the missus. I cannot remember really which car was the first that I even worked on as far as the wiring but an early one that I remember was my mom’s car. I was slowly taking the car over and had added a couple of gauges to the car, one of those oil and ammeter combination deals. Everything worked just fine until she was shopping one day and the car refused to start. After getting a mechanic to look at the car, it seems that one of the wire connections I had made to the ammeter had failed which cut all of the battery power to the car. Not long after this, I learned how to properly crimp a wire connector – squeezing it with a pair of pliers just doesn’t get the job done.

 

Over the years I have added different electrical items to cars including gauges, ignition systems, stereo units, speakers and fuel pumps. I have wired hot rods from the ground up; they didn’t have the first piece of cable in them and when I finished there was an operational vehicle with all of it’s electrical functions functioning. One car that I am still a little proud of was a NHRA/IHRA stocker. It was basically a complete wiring job from front to back but just to throw me a curve ball, the owner wanted his power windows to work. They still do. I am lucky in that I grew up in the phone system so Basic Electricity was actually a course I took at one time and that as the job situation required, I became very familiar with different kinds of electrical components. I learned that assembling things in certain ways, connecting the circuits and using special bits and pieces as you needed let you customize a solution to obtain the results that you want. I was also trained to read electrical schematics and can normally follow the flow of a circuit from A-Z. One of the most recent wiring jobs I performed was on the Monza. If you have looked at any of the photos of the car when it was first purchased, you can tell that the wiring job in it was more of a miss than a hit. The car had everything from 110v light switches in it to solid house wiring. Grounds were simply holes drilled in any roll cage pipe that was close by. Simply put, electrical wiring in a vehicle, whether a race car or not escapes a lot of people. These same people can assemble a race engine, weld a complete chassis together and tune the daylights out of a race car but tell them they have to wire it and they will give you every excuse in the book not to do it.

So back to Elvira. Right now I have about 99% of her wiring completed right now. I have moved some components around a bit which has resulted in shortening the wiring to them and in other cases I am making improvements in the way I connected something before. I have also run a total copper ground system in the car to reduce the amount of electrical resistance that might have been in the frame. While the chrome moly frame was a convenient point to make ground connections, I have learned that it is certainly not the best route to take. I have also added additional grounding to some components in an attempt to reduce any resistance in those particular circuits. I am not sure any of this is going to make the car perform better but at least I will know that each circuit will be at it’s best. There is also some additional items that I am adding that I did not run before and of course these needed wiring connections too. I hope to have all of the wiring completed over the coming week and once everything is tested I will be ready give Elvira her final test firing.

Le Mans

Le Mans

I just finished watching a documentary on Steve McQueen and the making of his movie – Le Mans. The name of this is Steve McQueen & Le Mans. As anyone who is familiar with the movie would know, I paraphrase one of the most moving lines in the movie as the tag line for my site –

“racing is life, everything else is just waiting….”

During the documentary, Steve’s wife of the time Neile Adams makes a comment that during the making of the movie, Steve lost everything, his soul, his family and friends,  maybe so. Steve never raced again after the movie was completed; the desire to do so was gone and without that you endanger not only yourself but others around you, so I respect him greatly for his decision. What he might have never known and I wish there was a way to tell him, was that he created a legion of men who understand, who really understand that “When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.….”

I attended the movie “Le Mans” the very first weekend it was shown in 1971, the movie and Steve changed the way I thought and felt about motor racing. My career, what there was of it, my family and friends, all the things that make me – me ~ all move to a little place somewhere else in my psyche when I step into my racing car. At that moment and until I step out, it is only man and machine. It always has been and it always will be like that for me. Thank you Steve