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distributor vs. electronic ignition


car_dumi

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The original distributor on the early 240's used points, these were basically carbon metal contacts that would be separated by a hex head cog on the base of the distributor which in turn would cause a spark to travel to the spark plug. Over time the dwell or the angle of separation for the points would change due to the wear and errosion of the points, this would change the timing and intensity of the spark. You then needed to get a tune-up. Since the parts were basically being "shorted" in order to create the spark, they would also wear out. Distributor caps, rotors, points, capacitors, all would require periodic replacement in order to maintain the engine in tune.

Electronic ignition replaces the points, and capacitor with an electronic sensing unit which tellls the "brain" the electronic module that it is ok to release a spark through the coil /distributor to the spark plugs. Since the sensing unit isn't being shorted or subjected to constant mechanical impact it lasts pretty much indefinitely. This results in accurate timing and spark hence a properly running engine.

I've generalized concepts and ideas but you should get the concept. At least understand that it is a GOOD idea to replace your original points distributor with an electronic unit. Besides, it is getting harder and harder to find tune up kits for those point dizzys.

Enjoy and Z-Ya later.

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Very good description! I am going to throw out some more general Z distributor speak as well. I am not a distributor expert but as you know many of us like to replace parts from other years of cars instead of rebuilding parts! It's an artform really and since some of us have a few extra parts laying around from various year Z cars it is fun to swap them out and see what happens. The distributor is one such part. Conceptually the electronic distributor should provide more powerful spark, because you can eliminate the balast resistor that saves the points from being burnt up, and it should not require as much service. However, one thing I have heard to be said for the early Z distributors is that the ignition advance curve is more favorible for performance. Some of the later Z electronic distributors are designed more for economy than performance. That being said you can have the curve modified on any distributor to suit your needs. In fact on some of the Z web sites I have seen instructions for doing this yourself. I have never seen a comparison of the curves for the various L6 distributors. But I've got quite a few around and have been thinking about taking them in and having each checked. Has anyone already done this?

You can replace the points with a electronic module, like the Pertronics Ignighter. I haven't done any modifications to my distributor but this is one I am considering. Also, there are after market electronic distributors, like Mallory Unilite, but that is a different story all together and it requires more $$$.

Have fun!

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Last week I got a lesson on this subject from a buddy of mine that is an engine builder for GM.When you put the key in the start position it sends 12v to the coil across a seperate wire from the normal run position.When the key returns to the run position it then supplies the voltage( 6 to 8 volts) to the coil across the ballast resistor.The reason is to stop the coil from burning out.The electronic does the same thing it just provides the necessary voltage drop internally.Although electronic is VERY dependable when it dies,it dies.Points get sick first.I have found points to be like a spare tire.If you carry an extra set with you you'll never need them.Thats the same reason I carry my old radiator hoses under my spare tire.That way I'll never need them either!Oh yeah ,I also carry the little plastic top plungers that go in the carb. tops.A guy told me once his broke on a road trip,I guess cause of age?Anyway he was down hard with no chance of finding the part. Have Fun!! Daniel

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Hey thanks a lot.

How do you guys learn these things? Do you just mess around with stuff and pick it up as you go? I've tried this and learned (rather quickly) that I'm not good at this. I've broken three different things in one day just trying to figure out how something worked!

Anyways I do appreciate the help.

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It is just one of those things. You can learn a lot from talking to people and reading. I wish all this web stuff was around when I was learning about my car. But at some point you just need to get some dirt under those finger nails. There is no substitute for experience and there is no other way to get it other than to do it. Then you go talk to more people and read more stuff. Sure, you will make some mistakes as you go, but that is the cost of education! Some call it tuition! It always helps to have a second person around to help! Besides then you can place some of the blame on them when things go wrong! ;)

Have fun!

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Now you know what is required to break those 3 things.Thats more than you knew before.Just remember things are not assembled in factories by surgeons,just people.Take your time and keep in mind the key is to be able to put humpty dumpty back together.Draw pictures,make notes before and as you do it.Also remember this.It doesn't matter if your working on a car or a toaster always begin by looking where human hands can touch it.Most of the time that will lead you to the problem. Have Fun!! Daniel

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We learned the way you are, by asking people who have done it already. Why? So WE didn't make the same mistakes THEY made when THEY were trying to figure it out. One of the first rules of mechanics in my opinion.

BTW, I would have to agree with Daniel on his point about the one advantage of having points instead of electronic. Unless it is a dual point like what was in the later cars and the automatics, they were a major PITA! The early distributors were the best by far. If and when I ever get to the engine on mine I am going to give the electronic ignition unit in the old distributor a try. It's been in my drawer out there for 5 or 6 years, might as well use it. I think mine is the Crane set-up from MSA. It's been so long since I was in that drawer I don't even remember what kind I have.

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On the three things you broke, I'll be willing to bet at least a buck each that they broke cause you a) used too much force

B) rushed it

c) pushed when it was a pull or vice versa

d) forgot a screw / bolt / glued surface.

I could go on and on, but THESE are the kernels of wisdom you need to remember. This is what's called the School of Hard Knocks, and if you want to consider yourself a freshman in it, that's fine.

Just remember these basic points: (I'm sure others will add / modify / deny some of these, but that's all part of the schooling)

If a screw / nut / bolt / fastener won't move, turn, budge, a BIGGER wrench is NOT necessarily the answer. This goes for a hammer also.

If it was put together by humans in a factory, there ARE ways of disassembling it. Just remember that a few of those ways CAN be considered destructive.

BEFORE you "improve" upon the design / function / scope of an item / mechanism / process, make absolutely SURE you know how it works, and think THROUGH what you are going to do. Failure to do so can render something inoperable for it's original purpose.

Look around you and your work area. Put yourself in the mindset of an anal obsessive OSHA inspector. If you find anything that's "marginally" unsafe, just remember its your butt / body / knuckles / head / or other tender spot on YOUR body that's going to suffer the consequences. If you have little people running around (kids, pets, real little people) get down at THEIR eye / hand level and now get really REALLY crazy and imagine what they might pick up / touch / grab or get UNDER and get it out of harms way. You know the expression "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" ? Well trust me on this one, YOU AND your wife (if applicable) will make your life a living hell if you don't abide by this one.

Lastly, if there is such a thing as instructions or a manual for it, it was written to HELP you, not just to make a few bucks. A few minutes reading the Hayne's, Chilton's, Clymer's, or the Factory Shop Manual may in fact give you a SIMPLE solution and save you both time and money.

Oh, and I almost forgot this one:

If you post a question on 240z.org, it helps those who can help you if you identify the model of the car, the year, and SPECIFICS to the problem you are dealing with. Trust me, a question such as: "I put the key in the ignition and the car won't start, what do you think it could be?" will NOT get you the answer(s) you are looking for.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have had a Malllory Unilite for many years now, and I have to admit I have had to replace the light mechanism several times. I don't know how the pertronix unit compares, but the unilite doesn't last forever. Beware of anything electronic, because if it goes out..you get stranded.

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  • 4 weeks later...

guy_geo:

If your question is about installing an electronic ignition, and that ignition is something like the Mallory Unilite, the short answer is you can do it yourself in an hour or so.

I have the Mallory Unilite electronic distributor and a Promaster coil on my 240-Z. The whole installation took less than two hours, and that was double checking everything as we went along, (plus the required beer breaks). No "playing with electric stuff" worries - an electrician is not required. The units come with step-by-step instruvtions and easy-to-read diagrams.

As was pointed out in an earlier post, the after-market electronic ignition systems aren't cheap - paying a mechanic to install it would be a little like adding insult to injury.

OBTW, I used to keep lots of the old parts for "emergency replacement" too. Don't do that any more. Replaced all that old junk with an AAA card and a cellular phone.

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