Ok Guys and Gals:
I need to make a decision on coils or dist.
I have nothing at the moment. A good friend suggests I keep it original. I am mainly looking at cost. It appears that I can get a 12V Dist, colis, wires et all for $375. Then I can de magnet my fly wheel to give Lizzie a break. Am I correct that it would take more money to go original? Remember I am starting from nothing.
This should be an interesting discussion. I vote coils.
Oh, and don't I also need a generator if I have a Dist ? So what do I need?
I favor coils. Love the sound of the coils on my 11 and 15 since they are on the passenger side of the fire wall.. But I have a later model with a distributor. All three run very good. If dad had not removed the magnets I would go back to coils with the third one.
What year & type of T are you working on ? Not that it matters much as there are folks from both "camps' here that will be happy to offer their opinion.
I have two with distributors - one I installed (Racer) and three all stock. Your choice and whatever your pocket book will tolerate !
What year is your car, and how original is it now? Also, do you know whether the magneto is good? Why do you mention 12V? There are 6V coils aplenty, and the disturbutor doesn't care.
Sorry guys - My T is a 1920. I do not know if my magneto is any good. The engine is one of those " has not run in 65 years" cars. Needs a rebuilt. No electric on it at all. I am not going for super original. I guess what I'm confused about is the cost. What would it cost to go original and what would it cost to go 12V Dist? I think with a Dist I need an ALT too right? Looks like we are talking $700 for all dist, coil and alt and related wires and parts. Am I going to be cheaper going original?
Another big question is how much rebuilding are you doing to the engine? Is the magneto mostly there and appear to be intact? (You did mention being able to remove the magnets, so I would guess it is) You can usually "go cheap" with a used distributor and get by for a bit less there. If you don't have to "go major" rebuilding the magneto, you can probably get properly rebuilt coils for under $300, a Fun Projects coil-box kit and wiring and timer for another couple hundred for about the best available. You could also "go cheap" on some of that stuff if you want to. Cost, realistically, is close to the same ballpark for either type.
When I got into this hobby over forty years ago, many people went with distributors because few people could figure out how to make the timer and coils work right. But thanks to people like Ron Patterson and John Regan, a lot more is known and can be done right today. Forty years ago, almost everyone running T coils kept trying old coils till they found a few that worked. Now, proper capacitors can be bought and put in to replace the failed originals and hundreds of Hand Cranked Coil Testers are being used to adjust them at least close to properly. Thank you Ron and John and others for helping us to fix our Ts right.
So timer and coils are now a truly good choice. I like them. That is my opinion.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Again, the disturbutor doesn't care what voltage. I recommend you stay with 6V with a nearly stock engine. If you are content with hand cranking, you will need a small battery to feed a coil, or four.
If your magneto is good, then you can charge the battery with it, or power the buzz coils.
First, determine if the magneto is good.
If I am buying a Model T, or advising anyone else on buying a Model T, I devalue the car by the amount it would take to make the ignition system functional in the event that some non - stock components are installed.
There's no performance or reliability advantage to a distributor, or any other type of non factory ignition system. In the case of a distributor system, properly installed, they are fairly reliable, but don't offer the incredible redundancy of the original system.
It simply devalues the car in my opinion. The heart and soul of a Model T Ford is the original ignition system.
I have had many Model T's both with coils and distributors. Without a doubt stay coils for a number of reasons
first in my opinion reliability. If one coil fails you get home on three If the distributor fails you are stuck
All of the Model T's with distributors I have bought to fix up with distributors have been a real pain due to the fact of identifying the distributor to get reliable new parts. Even if you put a new distributor in now, 50 years from now the new owner will go "what the heck is this?
The sound with coils is great
Much easier to hand crank with coils
with coils you get a continuous spark with the number 1 plug out to set the proper timing advance
The original 6 volt coil system works so well, I can't imagine why anyone would want to change it. The second half of Wayne's post above says it all.
I have and have used both the original coils and timer system as well as distributor ignitions. In my experience, the distributor ignition has required less maintenance and has been more reliable. You experience may be different. In either case, 6 volts work just fine although I've switched my speedster over to 12 volts for a variety of reasons.
Regardless of the ignition system, it is good but not necessary to have a functional charging system. I've run my speedster (electric fuel pump, distributor, electronic tachometer, brake lights and GPS)for two full days of touring between recharging the battery with an external charger and it worked fine but was a bit of a hassle. A 1920 motor can easily use a stock generator or an alternator if you choose to go there. I've used both and a good T generator works fine. Some alternators were/are not of the quality they should be.
If you need to rebuild the entire system (mag coil, coil box, coils, and timer, it will cost more than a distributor setup if you need to send the pieces out rather than redoing them yourself.
There is some real charm to the buzz of the original coils but it's best if you have the tools/skills to keep them properly tuned. Some folks may swear that a good set of coils will run forever with little care beyond occasionally cleaning and lubricating the timer but that has not been my experience. Again, you mileage may well vary.
Whatever you choose, drive the T and enjoy it safely.
Its your car, go the way you want.
IMHO a T without coils is not quite a real T.
Alexander, the cost will be similar either way, but, IMHO the original system can be more easily maintained because it's has been around the same way for a hundred years and everyone knows how it's supposed to be and what it takes, and all the vendors carry what will work. Every time I have to replace a cap or rotor or points or condenser, I have to figure out what fits! Once you start deviating from stock, there's opportunities things will happen and you'll be on your own, because your car is different from everyone else's--you'll need extra wires that aren't in any wiring harness you order nor covered in any service manuals, etc. You'll need a charging system, or frequently recharge your battery regardless of which way you go.
I have one car with coils, timer, magneto and it runs good but it lacks the timing response of the car with a distributor, i have been running the distributor for ten years with 0 problem, i have not had a problem with the magneto system so whatever you decide is best for you.
Run coils, the price is close to the same. Don't be in a big hurry to modify your T, it is tons of fun in stock configuration.
Bud your Humble Opinion has the potential of causing another long "discussion"
Coils adds tremendously to the enjoyment of owning a model T. To me the charm of a Model T and uniqueness of each one can be found in its' "voice", which can be heard in the undulating buzzing of each of the four coils. Hearing those variously pitched buzzing coils is like the car encouraging me to "keep on cranking I'm almost ready to start". Gives the car its' personality and makes me one with the car. Jim Patrick
I agree that if starting from scratch the cost of one system over the other is probably a wash. The distributor system has a few slight disadvantages in that parts might not be readily available. I also agree, especially if you are knowledgable about how both systems operate they actually offer no real performance difference. The distributor is common enough to be acceptable on a T (my opinion) and requires a bit less in maintenance (again, my opinion + experience). I'd go with coils. Parts, new & used are readily available. The system is reliable and it works well. I would however find out if the mag works. It's definitely a plus if it does.
Alexander, you do not need a generator or an alternator to run either ignition system. I prefer coils, however I have run both systems for hundreds of miles on a good battery without a charging system on my old truck. 6 volt or 12 volt, it doesn't matter, just get it running and go from there. Your magneto might even work, or maybe just be weak and an in-car magnet re-charge might help.
If you plan to tear the engine down at some point, then I would fix the magneto and go with coils at that time, but in the interim, either system will work fine.
My old truck had a distributor, no generator, and a 6volt battery when I got it and I drove it on several long tours of over 100 miles and used the same battery to light the brake light and run the starter each time we stopped. I would charge the battery every couple of tours when it got low enough that the starter was too slow. Even then it fired the coil fine. I changed the coil once when I developed a new oil leak that I traced to a hole rubbed through the side of the coil from a loose mounting bracket. It was then that I discovered that it was a 12volt coil running on 6 volts without a problem. I replaced it with a 6 volt coil for a VW and it ran the same, no change!
As I said, I prefer coils, and I eventually rebuilt a coilbox and changed to coils but they are still running on battery only. I also changed to a 12 volt battery since I think the coils run better on 12 volts, however you will find many here on the forum that run coils on 6 volts too. I have been driving this truck nearly 7 years now without a charging system. I limit my night driving to short trips, but like I said, the brake light and the starter are used frequently without a problem.
If you have no electrics on the car now, (no starter either) I think your car will hand crank start easier on coils than with a distributor. A good coilbox, a set of coils, a 12 volt battery, and change your light bulbs to 12 volt and you are in business.
I also have a touring car that had a distributor and no magneto when I got it. It had been changed to 12 volts and had a 12 volt generator too. I drove it thousands of miles without a problem, but I wanted coils and got tired of answering the question of why it had a VW distributor. I put in a set of coils and a good timer and have driven several thousand more miles on 12 volt battery, no magneto.
Get it running, as cheaply as possible, drive it and get used to it and learn about it before you tear it down for a major rebuild. If it drives reliably, there are other areas such as brakes and babbit thrust washers that need to be taken care of first.
Alexander, welcome to the forum. As you have seen your questions elicit many different responses. It can only add to your confusion as to which way to go "electrically" in your car. Perhaps you could post a pic of the condition of your car so we could get a more accurate view of your predicament. You've stated you have no electrical and the car has not run in 65yrs. Is your car a rust bucket basket case with no wires, or a car with original wiring that is dilapidated beyond use, some rusty body parts but "straight" as an arrow with original paint and upholstery ??? An engine that has not run in 65yrs is not necessarily a candidate for a rebuild or the possessor of a bad magneto. Cost really should not drive your decision to go with the original coil ignition, or distributor ignition(new or old). Perhaps your decision could be based on what you want in your Model T. Are you a "purist" who restores a Model T exactly as it came off the assembly line ??? Or, are you a "non-purist" that will use any type of available ignition system invented to fill the electrical holes in your T at a perceived lowest cost??? It truly has to be your decision. Either path will get your car running for a price, and folks here can help you down either path with recommended parts for the path you choose. Depending on the condition of your car also can delay the ignition decision as a result of higher priorities that need to be addressed first.
4 coils are great. 1 coil is also great. We have a member of our club who often tries his T for it's top speed. The straight through carb was worth 2 or 3 MPH and the distributor was worth another 2 or 3. You do get a slight improvement in performance with a distributor, even over top performing T coils, but for my money the 4 coils are a big part of what makes a Model T a Model T. I personally am not concerned about 2 or 3 MPH better performance on the top end. I like 4 coils. M2CW.
A few things about that club member:
1. He drives his T fast.
2. He drives on freeways at near freeway speeds
3. He goes everywhere in his T. (Carson City, Portland, etc.)
4. He has way more mechanical issues than anyone else.
And Ralph, his T is a well maintained flat (shaved) head T (not a Z )
Coils if one goes bad you can still make it home on three coils, on distributor coil goes out, call the tow truck,Bob
Disturbutor coils last a lifetime with no attention. Had one fail on a Corvair 50 years ago; but it was failing at high power demand only, so got me home, and around quite a bit before figuring it out.
If the claptrap timer hiccups or the coil box gets wet, call the tow truck. Note how many threads here are about timers.
The above advice covers the details so well all I wish to add is this.....Either way can work, not a huge cost difference, but I am interested in a model T, not a toyota corolla. Coils is my vote, original is preferred.
Two weeks ago, we traveled a little over 700 miles round trip on tour. Our T has four coils that got new caps and points about 5 years ago. They were tuned on an HCCT at the time. I double checked them a year ago on a Strobo-spark looking for a problem that turned out not to be electrical. They were fine then. I installed the Anderson Timer I got from Frank back in 2006 at Chickasha. I cleaned it once since then just because I wanted to see the inside condition. I have never lubed it. I routinely drive 2000+ miles/year. My claptrap timer and coils performed flawlessly. Oh, before I forget, I have the Fun Projects wood kit in my coil box. YMMV.
I love to hear those singing coils. A Model T is not a Model T without the coils. My opinion of course.
Others will have other opinions of course.
When you restore a Model T you do it to bring back a bygone era.
Model T's have a unique place in American history.
The 3 pedals and the coils make it unique for me anyway.
Plenty of modern coils fail but last a lifetime,the life of that coil!! Bud.
Hmmm, been driving over 50 years and haven't had a coil distributor setup fail but once and that was an electronic control piece in a Chevy S-10. I think coils and distributors have a mighty good reliability record. I'm not saying we should all put distributors on our T's, far from it. Just don't use a lack of reliability of coils and distributors as an excuse for avoiding them.
A timer is nothing but a distributor laying on its side with four coils instead of one,there were some after market units that placed the timer up on top like a distributor, there is also the magnets and a mag ring, but thats the T system, both work well but whatever you are comfortable with. I would suggest going to the Texas T Parts website and read the article about ignition systems.
Coils is always cheaper than distributors because I had looked in to it for my 26 besides I think coils work better
Coils arenít any problem at all. If you suspect yours need adjustment, send Ďem to The Coil Doctor and for a very reasonable fee, heíll have them singing sweet as Nat King Cole. The coils require no maintenance, but the timer may be another story. Now, hereís where you need to ask yourself what it is you want from your Model T, Ďcause no matter what anybody says, your Flivver has to suit you and no one else.
No doubt, a distributor setup will require almost no maintenance, whereas a stock, Ford roller-timer is going to need an occasional wipe-out with a paper towel. The hardest part of doing that job is unbending the stupid little cotter-pin that holds the actuating rod onóand if you dislike messing with cotter-pins, brother, you have got the wrong car! The whole process takes maybe fifteen minutes if your tools are laid out where you donít have to search for them and thereís a decent source of light. If not, add five minutes.
Now, you already know that any Tin Lizzy is going to require a lot of greasing and oiling and adjusting and tightening and tinkering and hand-dirtying and forehead smudging and shirt-ruining. And if anybody tells you that not having to wipe out a timer is going to make you notice a difference in the amount of time you spend with a wrench in your handÖ well, thatís just plain ridiculous, because there will ALWAYS be something on the car that needs doing. Itís just the nature of this cantankerous little beast.
But Model T owners LIKE to fitz & futz and putter around their cars, and aside from the sheer joy of looking at these beautiful automobiles is the ability, at a momentís notice, to eschew the modern stuff with its 8-way seats, power-windows, remote side-mirror adjusters, computerized fuel-injection, satellite-radios, electric fanny-heaters (oh, please.) and fold-away cup-holders, and travel back in time to experience what it was really like, back then.
Now, if you decide to keep the original roller-timer, most probably it will do something a distributor is less likely to doóeventually fail. This is why youíll want to keep a spare timer in your storage compartment with your spare coil. I havenít yet needed to replace my timer, but Iím told making the switch-out is a non-traumatic experience. Hereís a link to a page with photos and an explanation of how to do it:
But if itís a distributor you want, donít let anybody talk you out of it, because in spite of what the purists may say, having a distributor isnít any more shameful than having arthritisóI just donít know why anyone would volunteer for it.
Respectfully submitted with tongue firmly in cheek,
I'd say go with coils. When I bought my '24 Touring, as was a little upset to see that it had a distributor. That was the first thing to go for me.
A T just isn't the same without the "ticka-ticka-ticka..." of the buzz coils. I leave the lid off of the coil box while I'm driving so I can hear them better!
In the end, the choice is yours. I certainly won't bash you for choosing something else.
Oh definately,....go with coils and a timer! I have a '27 depot hack, but I'm so sorry that it had a distributor on it when I bought the car. You see,....because of that distributor, it's not a Model "T" anymore! I'm not sure what it is now, but I feel so bad when I drive down the street and people laugh and point and snicker and talk behind my back and whisper things like,....."oh, what a shame! That used to be a Model "T" but alas,....it isn't a Model "T" anymore! I just don't know what you'd call that car now! Oh,....it's just a terrible old thing now!"
I've seriously thought of tearing out that awful distributor and going back to coils and timer, but I guess I'm just too lazy to pull the engine out, tear it down, re-install magnets and coil ring, and put the engine back in just to have it run as well and dependably as it does right now. I do miss the fun of cleaning out the timer on a regular basis, so maybe in the meantime, I'll just carry a spare timer and a rag and some solvent under the seat with my tools so I can get the timer out once in awhile and savor the experience and the nostalgia of cleaning out and oiling the timer like those ol' timers did back in the day!
Sheeesh,.......gimmie a break! Most people anymore don't have any idea what a Model "T" Ford is, let alone what fires the spark plugs! You want to know what question I'm asked most often about any of my 3 Model "T's? (one of which has 4 coils and a timer by the way) They want to know what kind of gasoline mileage it gets! And they're astonished when I tell them the truth about that, because for a 20 hp engine, somewhere between 16 and 20 mpg sounds terrible to them, and frankly, it really is terrible! So then ya' hafta' explain the low compression, crude carburetor, etc.
Seriously, if it runs good, run with whatcha' got! Any of my three "T"s make friends everywhere I go with them, and it makes no difference to almost everybody how ya' fire 'em!
Sorry for the rant, but frankly, my point is that nobody but the purists and fanatics give a darn what fires the spark plugs! And I'd argue with anybody that it really is pretty nice to know that whatever might go wrong with a distributor ignition system, it sure won't require draining the cooling system, removing the radiator, pulling the engine, tearing the engine down, and then doing it all in reverse again, just because der puttershparken ain't schparken!
Ughhh. I am 58 years old and when I bought my first T at 19 years of age I know that it would not run properly unless it was equipped with a distributer.... and it did run great. As the years passed I was fortunate enough to have several T mentors and I was able to learn a bit more about T's, and I discovered the simplicity and good karma of the original ignition system. There is a unique and liberating feeling when listening to your coil box sing 1, 2, 4,3,1,2 4, 3....as your T struts along in the slow lane without need for batteries, generators or alternators. 3 of my 4 running Tís are running on the original coils and the fourth came to me with a True Fire and no magnets on the fly wheel. The next time the engine comes out of it I will install magnets and coils in it as well. Somewhere in the attic above my shop there is a white cardboard Bankers box with several different and unique distributers in it. I would bet you that whoever settles my estate has to figure out what the hell they are sell them. Just saying.
I should have read Haroldís post above mine. I don't much care if you use a distributor, high tension mag, True Fire, E Timer or whatever as long as you are driving and ENJOYING your T. Just because I think the original system is the cat's meow doesnít mean your car should be devalued in any way in my opinion. Itís your car and you should drive and enjoy it. This is not a pointís game to me as long as it is safe to drive. Letís drive and enjoy the diversity of our hobby.
I should also enjoy proof reading before posting late at night!
One good thing about coils is this. If you have a distributor, you can take it off and sell it for the price of a set of coils and then you won't have any distributor problems again. You can always carry an extra timer and a coil or two with you and should you have a problem, you can fix it in a jiffy and off you go. Also when on a tour with club members someone is apt to have an extra coil or a timer. However, if you have a distributor, you will need to find a source for the points, condensor, and cap. Since many different types and brands of distributors have been used over the years, it is less likely someone on the tour would have the parts you might need.
One thing nice about coils, you can change them, on the older T's, without stopping. You can change them on the fly. LOL
We have two T's on coils and 1 model A with a dizzy.The model A has a self commencer so a free start is not needed.Both T's are stem winders and a free start is nice espc after sitting a few days.Once i learned how both T's will also crank start on mag so i'm not dependent on a battry.I have to agree with Harold that after the rant i don't give a poop what fires his plugs!! Bud.
My 1915 that I am still finishing is a coil car without a starter, generator or battery while the other three T's are all distributor.
I REALLY like hand cranking that old car starting and running it on the mag and coils.
So... like many here I have both, I like both and if I were looking at buying a T whether or not it ran coils or a distributor would not be a deciding factor in the purchase.
I haven't taken time to read all the posts, but if you go distributor, it doesn't mean that you have to go to 12 volt. Six volt coils are available as well, and you wouldn't need to change your six volt generator, unless you wanted to. By staying six volt, you don't need to use a special 12 volt starter that you'd need with a 12 volt system. Removing the flywheel magnets is OK either way, as you can still hand crank with a 6 or 12 volt coil on the battery setting, but if your battery craters, it is to your advantage to have the magneto available. The only reason that I can see for going to 12 volt is if you have money to burn; want to run a lot of 12 volt accessories; or some similar reason.
Bob Coiro. Next time you want to wipe out your timer. Skip he step of removing the cotter key and control rod. I am able to remove my timer from its' seat just by loosening the center clamp and pulling the clamp aside which allows me to pull the timer away from its' seat with the control rod attached. I can then wipe it out and lubricate it, then return it to its' seat and position the clamp and tighten. If I was in a hurry, I could do this in a minute. Try it next time. Jim Patrick
There isn't enough wiggle in my actuating rod to allow me to wipe out the timer without pulling the cotter-pin. Wish I could do it that way, 'cause you're right; it'd be a one minute process. Thanks for the advice, though.
I see everybody is pretty locked in to either coils or distributor but I haven't noticed anybody mention the 3rd option: high tension magneto!! I have a Bosch DU-4 driven off the front of the cam. It has all the benefits of a distributor in terms of consistent spark, but it feels more old school like the coils. There are tons of different front plate drive systems and even more types of high tension mags. The other thing I really like is that they look super cool on the engine. Also, just FYI, I had a regular timer and coils but my low tension mag got wiped out by some trash in the transmission pan. I really liked the way the coils sounded but the high tension mag makes for a MUCH smoother running engine. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to what you get, just wanted to throw an option out there that nobody is talking about much.
You guys that say nobody asks what fires the plugs or cares what fires the plugs are missing one of the greatest things about a T: Educating people about how a T originally was. I go to a car show, open the hood, lay out my tools, jack one wheel up with the gear driven jack, and remove the lid from my coil box. It makes people ask questions. Then I get to tell them all about it. Educate them.
Don't just DRIVE your Model T. EXPERIENCE it!
Good advice Hal. Showing folks just how revolutionary and unique the T was/is may just spark a curiosity and interest in the Model T that we all experienced first hand, whenever someone took the time to teach us about it. Apart from the appearance, the transmission and controls, a Model T with a distributor is just another car that runs on the same principle as a modern day car. Jim Patrick
Modern day ignition systems are so closely related to a T's that it's almost a joke. A "timer" (OK that's usually on the crank nowadays) triggers individual coils one per cylinder. That's more T-like than a distributor or any other ignition system you can name.
When buying a T, if it has a distributor, you might find that the crankshaft bearings are worn and too much endplay. That is usually the reason why a distributor was placed because it wouldn't run on mag anymore. So if you are looking to buy a T and it has a distributor, be sure to check for endplay before you decide whether it is worth an engine overhaul.
Hal is right. Anytime a spectator was interested enough to "sit though" the lecture about fifteen-million built, inexpensive but not cheap, no water pump, no oil pump, no fuel pump, no accelerator pedal, no kidding ó the thing that made their eyes pop wasn't when I opened the hood, but when I opened the coil box. That surprised me.
If it is a rather young guy, I will even tell him that the timer is pretty much a crankshaft position sensor. It makes sense to them that way. And I DO point out how it has one coil per cylinder.
I agree with Bob. the coil box looks and sounds cool. Sort of reminds me of Robby the Robot of the 50's classic "Forbidden Planet" where his computer brain, with its' clicking, whirring and buzzing, is on display for all to see and hear under the clear dome. He still enthralls us even if it is just in the parking lot of the grand opening of a new mall, just as the hundred year old technology of the Model T still does. One of the few things that are timeless. Jim Patrick
PS My college age son brought over several of his friends and was showing them some of the antiques in my house. One of the things that most intrigued them was my old wind up Victor III phonograph. These young men had never seen a record player and could not get over the fact that there was music in the platter and were speculating on how it worked. It was almost like seeing the public's reaction to the first time seeing the demonstration of a "Talking machine" over a century ago.
Hi Bob. If you sren't a purist and are in search of something that is much easier to install than a cotter key in your hard to access timer control rod, perhaps you would like to consider a retainer clip. They have them in different sizes in the fastener section of Lowes, here in Florida. Jim Patrick
Jim, I us those clips everywhere on my T that require normal maintenance. Much handier that a cotter pin.