This old argument goes on and on, and will never end. I'm in the stock camp, but that's based more on reading than on my own limited first-hand experience. This post isn't intended to rehash all the whys and wherefores. If you've been here a few years you've seen all the arguments, theories, and assumptions pro and con a jillion times. What I want is the testimony of reliable witnesses about their personal experiences. Most T's these days don't see a lot of miles per year, but some folks go on long trips by Model T. I wonder how many do it with stock ignition. If you've been driving long distance that way, here's a chance to tell about it. How far? Any modifications? Ready, set, go!
I've been on perhaps 20,000 miles of Model T tours over the years, perhaps 100,000 miles of total T driving. All with stock ignition (and nearly everything else). Never had to walk or ride the trailer yet for any reason. I have always carried a spare timer and a spare coil, but never needed either for my own car. I have loaned or given a timer or coil to other folks at times. Each time it has resulted in them being able to complete the tour.
I often come across folks with True Fire or distributor failure on tours. I never have anything in my car that can help them, so they typically are on the trailer and unable to continue the tour.
I'm wouldn't convert to 12 volts as it's usually done to correct a problem that can be fixed by repairing the 6 volt system. Same with distributors. My impression from this Forum is that people convert to correct a perceived problem. This may be what happened way back when BUT distributor's are common enough, in my book, to be OK. As far as ignition systems go if you don't understand one the other will be just as big a mystery. You may correct a problem by changing over but the original system works fine IF you know what you're doing. I understand and can repair both coils & dist set-ups. Which ever a T I owned had on it I would use.
Have driven thousands of miles too. Lots of 600+ mile tours over last 10 years.
Stock magneto ignition, coils, timer. No failures other than twice. Coil went bad just couple miles from motel, ran on three cyl to get there and replace with spare. Other time, coil got loose in box, ran missing on three. Time to repair the old coil box. That's it!
Have seen others have minor trouble on tours with stock ignition. Lost spring on timer rotor, busted pin on rotor, bad coils, loose coils in the box, bad or intermittent ignition switch. Some with magneto issue, but switching to battery they kept going on the vibrator coil ignition to complete the day.
But have seen quite a few distributors gone south, burnt points or fried coil, no spares from other T'ers, but visit usually to auto parts stores the next day, they were running again on that non-forgiving, non-Ford, single spark, battery only distributor ignition system.
I run totally stock on my '27 and have for 40 years
I run a mag charged 12 volt battery powering a Trufire on my 13 as the Heinz coils are crap. Now been running it for 12 years and about 8,000 miles (tires getting pretty worn out). Zero problems. Recently went on a week long tour in the mountains and averaged right around 30 mpg. I attribute this to exactly timed HOT spark, stromberg OF, high dome pistons and a good cam shaft. The car runs nicely at 40 mph and I can pass many bigger cars on the hills
Your experience may differ
I have been running a Dist. for approx. 10 years. Prior to that, I ran with the original set up for 5yrs. Had timer problems and just got tired of constantly having timer problems.
There are better choices on timers to day vice when I was running stock. Also do not like running with magnets that can break and fly apart.
When I switched over to a Dist. had 2 coils(Originally Supplied W/Dist.) fail quickly. Bought a Good "Bosch" coil, added a ballast resistor and changed over to Pertronix module. Added a ground wire to the Dist. head. No more problems over the last 9 yrs running. I drive our model T on many tours.
Several years ago, a friend with the stock set up while on tour, had a timer fail(Shorted) out 1 coil which fried.
I just happened to still have an old usable timer and coil under the back seat that I had not removed and was able to get his T back on the road.
I consider a Dist. as being the most reliable if set up correctly.....however, they can fail just like the original timer set up. If I have a 009 Bosch Dist. failure....replacement parts are available at the local parts or VW shop. With the original set up....for "Me" there are just too many things that can fail or cause problems. I have talked to numerous model T owners that spent a lot on making the original Magneto work to only have it fail after sever years of use do to crank shaft end play issues or some other internal problem. Their engines still ran great....but the Magneto no longer works. I like to spend my time working on other things besides maintaining the original Ford ignition.
Steve, do what makes you happy....The timer for our car is hanging up in my shop and will go with our T along with other original parts I have saved.
I have run all three ignition systems on the same 1914 runabout:
1) new stock coils (from John Regan) and timer.
2) True Fire electronic ignition.
3) Texas T distributor and coil.
The best by far IMHO is the Texas T distributor. BUT...DO NOT use the coil supplied by the Model T retailers! It is crap. Mine went out after 2 days. I replaced it with a Blue Bosch coil, and no problems for about a year now.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but here is one man's experience with all three of the main types of ignition systems.
Plenty of Ts were driven from coast to coast on the stock ignitions. I would figure tire blow outs were the main issue with long distance driving rather than ignition issues.
I drove my '15 Touring from NW AR to Richmond for the Centennial and back, a total of 1,800 miles. Then that fall, I drove it to Vicksburg, MS for our club's fall tour, total 1,300 miles.All on stock coils and an Anderson timer, and with no problems at all.
I see lots of folks having trouble on tours, and almost always the cars will have a distributor or water pump or both. I can't say for sure that a distributor setup is more trouble-prone than the stock ignition, but it sure seems that way to me. The only time I remember someone having trouble with the stock system is after a downpour when a club member's car wouldn't start. The coil box was saturated and the spark was very weak. He later replaced the old wood with a Fun Projects kit and never had any more trouble with that.
Occasionally someone's coils will vibrate loose in the box, but that's always an easy fix and I don't really consider that to be a problem. Other than that, all I can say is that the stock system works great for me so I see no reason to try anything else.
I have no clue how many miles were involved because it was all on a ranch and the truck has no speedometer or odometer, but my grandfather used the ol' TT on his ranch from 1946 until 1963. It and the tractor were the main equipment. The truck was used all spring, summer and fall to move things and harvested crops around. During the fruit seasons it was in action most of the long days.
The truck was 100% stock (it did have an aux. brakes and a Muncie, but no other changes)) with a '23 engine, including stock 6 V generator, starter and battery (starter didn't work). He always started it using the hand crank on battery, then switched it to magneto once it started. Over the entire 17 years it never failed once.
Interestingly, his idea of maintenance was that once a year in spring he'd ceremoniously remove each coil one at a time, look it over, blow the dust off the top, then return it to it's place in the coil box. Each spark plug was removed one at a time, got a little emory cloth cleaning, then returned to it's spot. Oil was added if needed and tire pressure was checked.
I'm sure his thorough maintenance program was the main factor in the consistent reliability of the truck.
I have had my T since 1988. I have put at least 40,000 miles on it myself. My configuration has matured to standard coils (Coilman Rebuilds) , Anderson timer, Fun Projects coil box liner and new wiring harness. My ignition system is set up for reliability as is the rest of the car. I have run an original Atwater-Kent distributor in the past with no problems but I missed the buzz of the coils so I switched back to an original ignition system.
The only thing I do differently is that I run my ignition system on 12 Volts. My ’16 does not have a generator so I have a 12 Volt battery for starting and for the headlights and brake/turn lights. I use the Mag output through a special charging circuit to keep the battery charged. My charging system will keep up with the 12 Volt headlights so I can run all night if I want to.
When I am on tour 1500 miles from home and 60 miles out from the motel, the last thing I want is to be on the side of the road wrenching the car or waiting for the trouble truck.
All of the modifications on my car increase the overall reliability and safety while maintaining as much of the Model T originality as possible so I can truly enjoy the car event that I am attending.
When I want to take the T out, all I have to do is :
Check the water
Check the oil
Check the gas
Kick the tires
Light the fires
AND GO HAVE FUN !!!
Why are you running your ignition on 12 v. D.C., Bob ?
Just asking ?
Ignition on '14 Touring, '14 Fire Chief's rig & '19 Centerdoor all bone stock as originally equipped - '24 TT has an Atwater-Kent distributor installed by my Gramps somewhere between early 1925 when purchased new and 1958 prior to parking it and the '25 Racer has a twin fire Mitsubishi distributor to fire all 8 plugs in the BB RAJO.
They will run either way! If you use a distributor, be sure have your own set of points, condensor, rotor, and cap along when you drive. There are different types of distributors in use and you need to supply your own parts if you have a problem.
My reason for using coils and magneto, is that system is unique to a Model T. That and the transmission make it different from others on the road and are good talking points when visited by strangers.
The cars run very well on the coils and I suppose those who don't like them just don't understand them or don't have a working magneto.
I ran one for 10 years on 6 volt battery without any problems. I used an older New Day timer which is almost foolproof. I like either New Day or Anderson timers. I have never used the roller type so don't have that experience.
While I haven't put as many miles on as Royce I agree with his philosophy. I carry and extra coil and a timer and never worry.
We have a TT and a T. When I first got the TT, it did not have a working magneto. I ran it on 6 volts for several months. I found another engine, rebuilt it, and swapped them out. Man, was I impressed with the increased performance of a fresh engine and working magneto over the 6 volt battery only ignition. Nowadays, I usually start it on mag, but occasionally, I will start on battery and forget to switch to mag. I don't notice until I get out on the road and it just won't go. Acts like the timing is retarded (And technically, that is what is happening, but I won't go into that). I swap to mag and you'd think you'd found another gear. I've seen some claim that they get acceptable performance on 6v and buzz coils, but That is not my experience. My experience shows much better performance on mag than 6 volts.
When we got the T, it had a working magneto and a 12 volt lawn mower battery wired to the battery terminal on the coil box. I would start it on battery and forget to swap it to magneto and never notice the difference. My opinion based on this experience is that running buzz coils on 12v gives very similar performance to running on mag.
Not to go OT, but I'll tell you what I did when that 12v lawn mower battery died....I built a wooden box that holds two 6v lantern batteries. The box has three terminals on top. One ground, one +6V and one +12v. I use 12v for the LED strip I use for a brake light. I use 6v for the coils (For starting when it won't start on mag). When the batteries get weak, I put the coils on the 12v terminal. That is my clue to buy batteries next time I think about it.
BTW, the T acts the same way as the TT when running on 6 volt. I have to wonder if you guys who are satisfied with coils on 6v just don't know what you are missing. You may be sitting on a race car and just don't know it.
Well, I haven't driven ga-boons of miles (yet) in my car, although I'm planning to. But I have had it since 1978 and it's been running on a distributor all that time. When we were putting the engine together my dad and I, we originally set it up for the timer and coils. One day as I was rubbing out the body I must of got some water on the coil box, because when I went to start the car to move it, it wouldn't start. My neighbor who had a 21 touring came over, helped me troubleshoot the problem. He notices that the coil box had some moisture on it and said that was probably the problem. Popped the lid off, took the coils out, got out the hair dryer and dried everything thoroughly. Put it all back together and she stated right up. It got me to thinking, what about rain? Or if I got splashed would the car fail? I was told there were some circumstances that could occur where it "might" not work, but on the whole the timer and coils were pretty reliable. My neighbor also recommended that I get or make a "hood bib", which I was thinking of doing (it's a piece of canvas that stretches from the radiator to either side of the windshield, kind of looks like a "V" only one piece of material. It's supposed to keep water from running down between the body and firewall).
It was my dad who came up with another idea all together...a distributor. I knew I wouldn't be able to use the mag with one, but then the car would be running like it was on mag all the time, the problem was, either finding an NOS aftermarket antique or building our own. We opted for the later solution. And of course we used Volkswagon parts (their plentiful). My car is running a standard VW distributor with a Porshe coil and condenser. We had to fabricate our gearing and linkage set up (my father was a tool designer and at the time head of engineering for an orbital automatic welding company...we got most of the parts for the distributor made by their machine shop...with permission of course ). And it's been running on that same distributor, coil and condenser ever since. The one thing I never worry about with my car is the ignition...man, that thing is bullet proof the way my dad designed and set it up.
That being said...with the advent of Fun Projects new coil box parts and contacts and new coils being sold (something that wasn't so when I got into all this) I'm thinking really seriously of switching back...probably won't been soon, but it's diffidently going to happen...someday.
As Bob said above…
"standard coils (Coilman Rebuilds) , Anderson timer, Fun Projects coil box liner and new wiring harness"
That is exactly what I do to every T Ive owned. And they all run just fine.
I spend most of my time trying to get Model T's running as original. I have much time thinking about this subject and this is my attempt to explain my theory how the use of distributors on Model T's got started and became so prevalent.
The Model T was a very good car when new, easy to maintain and good parts were easily obtainable. but by the end of the 1930's the Model T had, for the most part, fallen into disuse because there were so many better cheap cars to be had.
The Model T restoration hobby took off in the late 1940's and early 1950's. By that time the generation of people who were familiar with keeping them running were, for the most part, gone or no longer cared. The hand cranked coil testers (HCCT) had been relegated to the shop back room if they were lucky, worse yet junked and knowledgeable users were few and far between.
Along came the younger restoration crowd who were very familiar with single point distributor systems and operation. Original Model T coils, as is still today were a trap for logical people and did not respond well to the simple "change the points and gap them" solutions. Along came copies of period distributor conversions. I can remember in the 1960's if you had a Model T and did not use an after market distributor conversion most hobbyists basically thought you were nuts. In some quarters that is true today.
But some Model T owners tried making original coils work as intended, Hand cranked coil testers were hard to find in those days because they were rat holed away and few people knew how they actually worked and what they did. The buzz box coil tester became the popular, its faults not withstanding.
Today, proper coil operation and repair knowledge is commonly understand and HCCT's are coming out of the woodwork everyday, being used as intended and even being reproduced.
Ron the Coilman
I've done around 27,000km in my 26 tourer, with the coils running off 6VDC. I rebuilt the coils in October 2002 when I first acquired the car and never once had a problem with them. Given the original Ford roller timer was very worn, I replaced it with an Anderson. This lasted about 25,000km before timing became erratic. Now, I'm using a TW.
Because of incorrect starter removal, and a screwdriver blade left in the transmission, the magneto windings had been damaged. Some years later when the crankshaft broke and the engine had to be removed for the first time in its life, I thought about restoring the magneto, but then I thought it would still have all the weaknesses of its design, plus it would be a huge amount of work for what? 75km/h is fast enough. I pulled it out and put Texas T Parts oil paddles in instead.
Never understood this idea that you must use a distributor if there is no magneto. That is completely false.
The stock ignition system just keeps working and it's the one aspect of the car I never have to worry about.
The charging system I have uses full wave rectification. It has sufficient current capacity to keep my 12 volt battery charged while using the 12 volt headlights. The increased demand on the Mag causes a high speed miss so, I run on the coils on 12 volts.
I have to wonder how many owners have had stumble on acceleration, high speed miss or uneven idle and simply switched to a non T ignition. I also wonder how many of those same people don't understand how important it is to have the tiny cushion spring on their points properly adjusted. You can learn about this crucial part by watching the MTFCA coils video starring a much younger looking , Ron Patterson. Those with deeper pockets can send their coils to him or one of the other experts. Simply buying new coils from some vendors is not good enough. I have seen some where the points are literally thrown on with no attempt at any adjustment. Another item needed is new capacitors. The stock system can run flawlessly throughout the rpm range. Mine does.
Being's I'm "electrically challenged", I had to ask Bob - thanks.
I converted my 4 T's to 12V, new day/Anderson timer. years ago. they all run great, bright lights, quick starts. Not saying 12 is better or worse that a 6 but I'm staying with 12.
When I bought my first Model T in 1964 it was a restored 1911 roadster, the owners new young wife refused to ride in it so he put it up for sale. It had a distributor on it but an old Ford club member gave me 2 NOS roller timers and 4 coils.
I changed it over and 50 years later it is still running on one of the timers, the second one got so thin I have begun replacing the contacts and insulation with new ones but in the mean time the back up timer is a new Anderson.
I calculated about 15 years ago that I had covered 70,000 plus miles but as I had since restored my Kamper I have lost track of mileage as I use both at different times
When the Kamper was shipped to the USA in 2008 I had a brain wave that a True Fire might be a good idea, with no actual contact between timer and camshaft attachment I reasoned as we were doing long days it would save time as I would eliminate oiling and cleaning of the timer. wrong. only got to the Arizona border before it packed it in.
No easy fix unless you have a second one so I was lent some old coils and timer and away we went.
When in Colorado the high altitude caused the spark plugs to overheat and in the process of trying to find the problem we put on a distributor. I left it on once the plug problem was discovered and used it till Richmond Indiana.
I don't know where the magnets on the flywheel problem comes from, they just don't fly off unless they have been damaged by something or replaced inproperly.. If all the components of the ignition system are in good working order you have a system which is self perpetuating. The magnets supply the current to the coils which spark the fuel the fuel runs the motor the motor spins the magnets and so it goes on forever,
All you need to do is spend a few moments every now and then keep the parts clean and oiled and keep the gas up to it.
Unless you need to go faster in a speedster or other tuned up version of a Model T you don't need to have any thing except timer and coils.
Keep a timer and a spare coils/coils under the seat and you can easily do a road side fix with basic tools.
Like Royce any problem I have seen with vehicles its because the components are rubbish, timers with great big chunks out of them so the roller bounces, never lubricated properly wiring which is frayed and loose, contacts which are dirty, etc.
The Town Car ( formally the roadster) just spent 2 years in a museum. After pushing it outside, oiled the timer turning on the gas, connecting the battery, 4 pulls on choke it started first pull of the crank. and then ran on tour for the next 4 days without any problem. I moved it in the garage last week after a 3 month sit, after the timer etc I turned it on and got a free start.
It is a simple system, learn how it works use good components, take time and wire it up taking care as to how you route and connect the wiring and it will run for years with normal maintenance.
I have used trufire for 10+ years and couldn't be happier. Went on lots of tours and never rode the vulture wagon home yet. They have been very reliable. Have ordered a new Etimer for my new project. Took the magnets out of all my rebuilt engines as they were not needed. Stock is not important in my camp just lots of driving.
I run a stock system, I recharged the magnets (2007), replaced the stock timer with an Anderson per Frank Fenton's advice (2006). I rebuilt the coils (2008)and set them up on a Strobo-Spark. The timer has been in there since Chickasha 2006 and I took it off once to "clean" it. I cleaned it out of guilt because I never touch it. I drive about 2000 miles per year. I do carry a spare coil and my old stock timer that is who knows how old. Just my .02
Each to there own but personally I don't get modernising the ignition system. Doing so in my opinion takes away the very thing that fascinates me about old cars. The fact that the original design was so different yet still (if set up properly) so reliable and functional is great. . I understand that other people are concerned more about drivability /reliability than originality -but as previous posters have demonstrated you can have both -Karl
Use stock coils, and by all means get them rebuilt by Ron Patterson, and have at least two spares just in case. I'm a New Day fan, having put over 50,000 miles on the car. I finally did have to replace the timer because it wore out, not because it wasn't good. I have the same set up in all three of my T's. My take is if you don't like the way Henry built the car, why not just put a modern engine in it? And Les, I'll be glad to come down and help you get that distributor off your car. It just isn't a Model T without the coils!
I've had Model T's for almost 40 years and while I don't go on long tours, the cars are used regularly. That regular use includes several all day weekend drives as well as many 1-2 hour evening drives on back-roads. You can also add the occasional parade along with going to thrashing shows and giving rides for most of the day. All the cars I've ever had used the standard mag/timer/coil ignition system. As many of you do, I carry a extra coil and timer with me but have only had to change a coil once and have never needed to change a timer to make it back home. During the last 20+ years, Ron Patterson has always rebuilt my coils and I have never had one fail that he worked on. As far as timers, in my current cars, I have all three style timers (New day, Anderson and standard roller style) and other than normal clean and lub, I've never had a problem with any of them other than normal wear. The original system works fine for me and while I have a brand new distributor system sitting on the shelf, it will probably just continue to sit there, I see no reason to change what works.
I have had excellent life from the "BEST" timer in my '27. I have recut it once and am still using it. I guess this brand is not available in more new. I keep my eyes open at swap meets