One thing that has always baffled me about our cars and this hobby is, changing over from a stock timer and coils to a distributor. Is there some underlying electrical reason why someone would choose this route? Why would you purposely want to deal with points and condensers if you didn't have to?
Perhaps it's about a move to familiar territory or a distrust in 100-plus year old technology. I kind of wonder if that sort of thing will slow down now that modern cars also have a timer (albeit electronic instead of mechanical) and one coil per cylinder and the distributor has become old technology.
Tim, you may be right about "distrusting" the old technology,..but it works very well when it works correctly,...i still don't get the reasoning behind it.
I see these 35-60 year old guys riding around town on kiddy BMX bikes, the
oversize ball cap cranked sideways, and a backpack, typically with rats nest hair
and a lot of tattoos. They appear to be unfamiliar with soap, but they move with
a look of commitment to a lifestyle. And this isn't just a few guys ... it's a regular
army of them everywhere.
When you figure out why people nix the coils for a distributor, let's try to figure
out what the world looks like through the mind and eyes of these guys. I am at
a total loss.
I love my distributer. When you read this forum and all the problems associated with the original set-up I'm glad the previous owner went this way. I file and check my point gap every couple of years and drive my car 3000 to 5000 miles a year and don't worry about 4 coils going wonky or the roller or brush going bad in the timer. Don.
Don, to each their own. I was just curios why you and others like the setup you have. Have you tried running your car at the proper setup to see how it runs?
Burger, you're killing me..maybe you should move to someplace less Hippy,..maybe Austin..
Because they either don't know how well coils work or they are unsure how to use them correctly.
John - I think that one thing that hasn't really been mentioned is the fact that a Model T Ford engine doesn't really have to be in very good mechanical shape to run pretty good if you have spark. And if it has spark, that 85 or 90 year old engine can be made to run pretty good for quite awhile. They're tough! However, "no spark", due to something wrong with that 85 or 90 year old magneto means a lot of work and/or money to pull the engine and rebuild (or HAVE rebuilt) the magneto. Much cheaper and easier to leave the engine in the car and just install a distributor. In other words, a lot of the time, a guy might want to retain the original magneto ignition, but limited funds forces the issue here and a distributor is the quick, easy and inexpensive answer. And once the engine is running pretty good with the distributor, the old,...."if it ain't broke,...don't fix it" attitude takes over, and as they say, "time goes by" and the old tough "T" just keeps on keep'n on with the distributor! And one other thing,.....think about it,......a lot of us have Model "T"s instead of old Lincolns, Packards, Cadillacs, and Marmons, etc, etc, because we DON'T have "unlimited funds" and Model "T"s are the cheapest way to get into the old car hobby!
Harold, point well taken, thank you. Cant you just run it on battery if the mag is shot, without having to resort to changing over to a distributor?
As for my view I side with neighbor John, its
like taking the T out of a T. Nothing wrong
with points for vehicles that use them, but
when ya one coil takes a dump, I have three
more coils to get me home. My car runs pretty
quiet and I can hear them clicking away as
I drive, plus all the free starts I get.
By the way John I ran the buses for 20 years
for my uncle there 'Lopes Bus Lines Inc.'
out of George Scotts Norton Center Garage..
Sure can John, and it's been done often. Top speed (that is, higher rpm's) suffers a bit on 6 volts, but they actually do run better on 12 volts and it's common practice to stash a small 12 volt lawn mower or motorcycle battery under the seat just to run the coils. Works pretty good, but again, this is usually done with an engine that's a pretty solid running engine but with a bad magneto. I guess you could say it's a good route to go with a decent running engine that just has a defective magneto, because you can just run the coils on battery until the engine needs removal for a complete rebuild at a later date. It's pretty surprising how long, that is to say, how far you can go on battery before a recharge is needed. And if you hand crank to start, I've known guys to attend several Model "T" club functions, tours, etc between battery charges.
Hey Sam, great to see so many people from MA. here on this forum...
Ok, here's my take. A perfect running car on coils/mag is dead even to a great working distributor. From running both on my cars I see no huge performance difference. BOTH options were available to a T owner back in the day.
Harold brings up a good point, if your mag is not working correctly because of a less than perfect engine or you have no way to properly ajust your coils, the original system can be a lot of work in comparison to installing and maintaining a distributor.
The thing I have always thought of as odd is to why coil/mag owners think so highly of this system? And go as far as to make absurd statments like "the coils are the soul of a model T" or " it's not really a model T if you can't hear the buzz of the coils". SORRY not buying any off it.
Yes I believe that the original equipment can be made to run very well, but it has never defined my car over a fellow hobbyists that has chosen to run a distributor. Plainly put, with all the street rods and post war cars running around, if that little modification gets another T on the road or makes the owner feel a little more confident in his machine. I DON'T SWEAT IT.
A Model T has to have a lot of little things all correct for best running and this is the problem for most people. If you don't understand all of the nuances of the T's timing, then there's no way to correct any fault with it. For most people, instead of learning about the system, it's easier to discard it.
1. You have to have a GOOD timer/contact in good condition - not some timer-of-the-day special. Most timers will change timing a lot as they wear - some don't.
2. Camshaft MUST be dead-centered in the front plate (performance killer if not)
3. Wiring must be in good condition
4. Coilbox wood must be in good condition
5. 4 good coils (another big performance killer)
6. Properly gapped, good plugs
Item 5 is the game killer. A coil has to have a lot of things correct for best performance.
-no internal shorts/opens
-good contact geometry
-proper current draw
-proper cushion spring adjustment
Any one of those will drop your timing performance, but the last one is crucial.
Overall, you can see that there's a lot going on with engine timing - it's not just a case of throwing in a different coil or 4 new coils and expecting 50 hp to magically appear. Every one of the above steps has to be correct - and any one of them will be a performance-killer.
People fiddling and diddling with that springy-thingy on a problematic Model T coil give up due to either their own laziness or general lack of understanding the Model T timing system. They also find it easy to badmouth the system instead of learning it.
As Ron has stated many times over the years here "it's a trap" ... it looks dead simple so it has to be, but it's not. You MUST go through all of the above items one-by-one.
The biggest problem in the entire chain of things is the coil's cushion spring tension, which cannot be set correctly 'by eye' or 'by ear' regardless of what the backyard loudmouths say. You need a handcranked coil tester or one of the two newer methods to do this - anything else is a waste of time.
The bottom line here is that the typical loudmouth will fiddle and diddle with the nut and spring on a coil, and when nothing improves will blames it on the entire system and say 'get a distributor'.
If anyone is offended - you need sum learnin' done
There has been a crowd who want to make their Model T as much like a '72 Vega as possible because that is what they like. It is not about reliability or speed. They just wanted something under the hood that was what they were used to. A cadre of vendors sprang into action because there was money to be made. Indeed, when German and US made Bosch distributors were being used the reliability was OK. You still had to replace the points, rotor and condensers every few thousand miles. This was acceptable to the guy who drove a '72 Vega as his daily ride, because the Vega needed maintenance just as often. He didn't realize that the original Model T system was cheaper and easier to maintain.
Now that we have electronic communication, multiple vendors who service the original equipment, and a better understanding of how a Model T works there is no reason to introduce shoddy Taiwan made distributors and ignition coils that last a few hundred miles into our cars.
I can see only two legitimate reasons for converting to a distributor: 1. The magneto doesn't work and the owner doesn't want to go to the labor and cost of repairing it. 2. The engine is in a speedster and the owner wants to remove weight from the flywheel for quicker acceleration.
The timer, coils and magneto are easy to maintain and the car runs very well on them. They are also a point of interest when showing how the engine works.
It has been my experience that on tours, it's the cars with distributors which break down more frequently, and usually the distributor is at fault.
I'm in the group who wouldn't give up my coils and timer for anything. They've been reliable and trouble free, and, call me crazy, but I love the buzz!
Here's a bit of blasphemy, I have two sets of coils, one set that was adjusted to spec on a coil tester and one set adjusted the shade tree mechanic way, i.e. ammeter and feeler gage. There's not much difference between them. Oh, my girl will accelerate a little faster with the properly adjusted coils (I needed a stopwatch to see it), but it idles just as well and runs just as fast with the shadetree adjusted coils.
The magneto is part of the charm of a T. I have driven both, and other then not having to adjust the spark timing while driving, I see only one real advantage to the distributor; you can use the firewall-mounted coil box as a handy glove compartment.
Wow,a few thousand miles on a 72 vega?? Really well that's a new one lol!! Come on let's at least be honest. We all know thats not anywhere close being right.
You asked: Is there some underlying electrical reason why someone would choose this route?
Speaking with folks I know who have done this seems to be a result of the influence of the “instant” world in which we live….instant food, drive thru restaurants, drug stores, liquor stores, wedding chapels in Vegas, “Instagrams”, everything NOW!
Folks seem to be turned off with the agonizingly slow engine spin with a 6 volt starter, so they opt for the speedy 12 v. and, as others have said, either because they don’t understand – or have maladjusted coils and/or timers, also add the disturberer (R.I.P. Ralph).
Underlying electrical reason ? 6 volts are not fast enough!
I was faced with this decision when I got my doodlebug. When your starting from scratch with a non running engine and no ignition parts on hand, the distributor looks mighty good. Add it up, I did. Truth be known, starting from scratch with all new or rebuilt parts, each system costs almost the same, I believe the distributor came out the cheapest, but not by much.
Yes, coming from a muscle car backround I am more familiar with distributors. I really like the original set up with my Anderson timer too that is in my pickup. I decided to try something different, and while it works great, I do have a little regret not going with coils.
There was another reason I choose the distributor, it sits outside. I felt the weather changes on the wooden coils might be to much for them. Maybe I am wrong. All I know is, I can shut the thing off, walk away, and weeks later go fire it up with zero issues.
That said, I have been considering going back to coils for the doodlebug now that I have another full set that I won at a club raffle. I guess I can just pull them all out of the box when I am done using it. It still won't be cheap, because in my eyes, things like the Fun Projects coil box plastics are a necessity, for longevity. But either way, at least at this point, I will soon have three running T engines, and because I already have the parts now, one will be on a distributor.
You mean the Vega would go several thousand miles on it' stock power train? Wow. I thought they were delivered by wrecker when bought new so the owner could go ahead and put the v8 in it!
Living within two miles of the Pacific Ocean with the prevailing wind constantly pushing in salt air every machine I have with a spark plug except a mechanical injection diesel has to one or more degrees an issue with spark. Leave your Briggs lawn more out from cover for a night or two and the issues start. The coil on plug design is by far the most trouble free. Folks who like original I suspect live and drive in a different climate then I do. To each his own!
You could also install a small block Chev, but why bother?
All I know is; If the timer, coil, mag, system was so good why did Henry, and others even earlier, go to the distributor system on the Model A? Mainly I think because it was less expensive, less complicated, less prone to failure, and easier to keep in tune.
My 1st speedster was built by an old guy in the early sixties. At that time there was no "coilman" rebuilding coils with modern, dependable parts, and very few reproduction parts available. You had to search junkyards, farms, and swapmeets and find the best used stuff you could, or luck up and find the occasional NOS part. He was a mechanic and machinist. Right or wrong, his thought process was to eliminate turning weight by eliminating the magnets and replacing the cast iron pistons with aluminum and balancing all that moved. He adapted an oil pump to go where the generator was. With all the other modifications, he felt the coils couldn't keep up with the higher RPMs he was now able to turn--he'd not consider converting to 12V. That T would run in the low 80 mph range! My friend built it--I'm going to keep it that way. I also have "correct" T's, including one that's a Senior show car. I have one T with no magnets that I run with coils on a 12V battery, and T's that run on mag. The world has not always been as it is today, but, Model T people have had different opinions on what was best or acceptable from when the T's were new until now--and always will.
I built my 21 touring from a pile of parts in 1969. Back then I had noticed that the cars with coils always seemed to have trouble on tours. The ones that ran distributors never had ignition issues. When faced with rebuilding a mag that no one new anything about,or buying coils that were plastic, I decided to go with a distributor. Was able to buy and brand new one made in Argentina for $25. That distributor still works as well to day as it did in 1969. I can still buy cap rotor and points at NAPA. With what we know today, mainly from this forum, my next T will definitely have the mag, coils and timer.
As someone who is fairly new to this hobby, I'm really glad i asked this question, and got both points of view. I consider myself somewhat of a Libertarian on most subjects, including T's, as it is your car and i truly believe you should do whatever the hell you want to do with it. I personally love the idea of keeping it as original as possible with some slight deviations for safety, but that's just me. But the main reason i asked is because i am truly electronically challenged and just didn't understand.
While I really like the original magneto, I'd probably either run on battery or a distributor if my mag pooped out tomorrow. My engine and trans are in great shape and it would be a big investment to tear it all apart just to fix the magneto. Once the engine or trans needed to come out, then I'd fix the mag at the same time.
But there's another consideration that nobody has mentioned. There is such a thing as mind-set. I have a friend who has a really nice 30's car. Whenever something goes wrong, his first impulse is to modify the car rather than chase down and fix the problem. Poor fuel feed ? Install an electric pump. (Later turned out to be an obstruction in the fuel line). Slow cranking ? Put two batteries's in parallel. (Real problem: cables hadn't been cleaned in 15 years.)
I've seen this mind-set before in other people. Don't try to fix what's wrong, just re engineer it. I think some folks are just wired that way.
I don't condemn people for this. Modifications just aren't my way. I guess I figure if something has worked for 100 years and finally goes wrong, then it's my job to figure out what's wrong and put it right. But that's just me. Maybe I'm the one with the strange outlook.
I ran the original timer and coils for approx. 5 years before switching over to a 009 distributor. Have been running the distributor with a Pertronix module for over 10 years with no problems.
Before making the switch, I constantly had problems with the timer. Also like eliminating the magnets which can crack and fly a part. Crankshaft end play is critical when depending on the original mag. set up. Maintaining crankshaft end play using only the main cap (1/2 The Rear Main) leaves room for improvement.
I do carry a spare Peftronix module and coil just in case one fails. Replacement parts for the 009 distributor are available from most auto parts stores.
I do not feel a model T is not a T if it does not have the original timer set up. I bought the car to enjoy and have fun with.
You are wrong if you think I changed over to a distributor because of not understanding how the original set up works.
We need to spend more time enjoying our cars and the friends we share vice criticizing if someone choses to run a distributor vice a timer. It's unfortunate that some folks find it necessary to be critical about those of us who chose to use distributors. When it's time that I no longer can enjoy my model T....the original set up will be included with the car.
I find it funny that some on this forum that are critical of those using distributors but have no problem using modern pinion bearings/seals or other non factory modifications that help improve the life of our model T's.
It seems that using distributors, water pumps or Synthetic oil in model T's pushes the tolerance level over the edge for some folks.
I live just 10 minutes from the Antique Auto Ranch. That's an hour
drive in my TT ;-) Tom and company are wonderfully helpful and most
charitable to the local T aficionados, allowing any and all comers to
invade their shop on Tuesday evenings and use the tools and expertise
on hand to further our projects.
Being new to the T scene, I was hearing different perspectives on this
coil subject and asked about it, and was subsequently directed to show
up on Tuesday night and someone of higher coil knowledge was bound
to be there to walk me through the science.
That night, we rebuilt my points and one of the gurus invited a group of
us out to his place the following Saturday for a workshop on rebuilding
the coils themselves, installing new capacitors and checking output to
ensure all was up to spec.
I got a good explanation of how everything is supposed to work and now
feel reasonably confident about the spark side of my ignition. It is my
intention to work up an extra couple of coils to carry in reserve, but overall
feel that the coils are just fine for troublefree operation. I suspect that
coil skeptics see them as a "dark hole of mystery" and opt for the distributor
as a familiar technology.
Perhaps I am spoiled in living so close to such a great bunch of helpful
T people ?
Very cool Burger, you are lucky to be among such experienced people. Its pretty lonely being a T owner in my town. I only know of one other T owner in my town.
Do what you want with your T. However, there are some whose love for the T goes deeper than some cool looking sheet metal. They love the T FOR its antiquated systems and thrive on making those systems operate as they did when new. To those people, replacing those systems with something new would take all the fun out of owning a T. There are other folks who do not, and probably will not ever, understand this. Modern pinion bearings don't change how the drive train operates. Swapping to a distributor does change how the ignition system works. Now, if that don't bother you, by all means, run a distributor.
I am really amused by those that say that if (Insert the name of your hated original component here) was so great why did Henry go to something more modern later. GET REAL! It's the natural progression of things. If Model T's were so great, why did he go to the Model A? If more modern is so great, why do you even want a Model T? It's an antique car, for Pete's sake. It has antiquated features. You can either embrace those systems, learn how they operate and make them do so, or you can badmouth the antique car for its antique features and "Upgrade" to something else. Some of you will never understand this, and I can't help but be saddened by the fact that you will never have the joy of making this thing work like it originally did. But that's OK. Drive your cool looking sheet metal around and enjoy. I hope that you will come around one day.
I am also amused by those who claim the original system is hard to keep in good working order. I'm betting most of this is based on hearsay rather than actual experience. Some like to make it sound like the original system is in constant need of adjustment. That you have to stop on the side of the road on your semiannual ice cream run just to adjust the coils on your hand cranked coil tester that every T owner must carry with them if they are to have a snowball's chance in Hell of ever getting home. PLEASE! Once the system is set up properly, it will run reliably for thousands of miles with no need for any major adjustments and hundreds with no need to do much of anything but a squirt of oil if you are running a roller timer. Not even that if you pack it with grease or run another type. The original system is indeed VERY reliable, once set up properly.
Now to address the original question. I wonder how many people, not knowing any better, buy a set of points for their coils and swap them out. Then, not having a proper means of adjusting them, end up with a car that runs worse then when they started? Also, I see again and again, folks who, not knowing any better, adjust the points on their coils for the "Proper" gap. Unfortunately, adjusting the gap has likely "Unadjusted" the cushion spring. The point gap on a T coil is not NEARLY as critical as it is on a distributor, but the cushion spring tension is. So, I wonder how many folks have found themselves in the above situation, deemed the original system a POS, and converted to a distributor?
I believe, especially back in the day, that people were told of the "advantages" of a dist system. It's modern, less parts, ect. I also believe the change usually involved an "unsolveable" ignition problem being diagnosed by some one not too familiar with the coil system. There's no advantage. They both work well. Besides it's not a cheap thing to do today. Swapping from one to the other is going to run you in the $400.00 range and if it runs better with a distributor you just didn't repair/understand the coil system. It sure ain't rocket science.
Some people just want their car to run well, and use what they're comfortable with to achieve it.
I don't understand the Ford ignition system very well, have a very weak magneto, no equipment to rebuild or tune my coils, a full-time job, 2 little kids, a wife, and an acreage to take care of so I don't have as much time as some here may have to learn and tinker.
I went with an E-timer for similar reasons some may choose a distributor. It put my car back on the road so I can enjoy driving it with my family. It will not be difficult to go back to the old system later if I choose to when life allows it. For now, a driving car, even if it is "wrong" to some, is better than a non-running project.
If there were 15,000,000 cars made by any one of the other manufactures like Dodge, Chevrolet, Overland etc they would have come from the factory with a distributor and there would be plenty of "OLD CARS" around for fans of antique cars. Because those manufactures did not build the sheer numbers of cars like Ford did, that means the Model T is our choice for many of us if we want to own an "ANTIQUE,VINTAGE" car. Model T's can be gotten for a price that still fits many budgets and parts are still easy to get.
I like the coils but if I didn't have on long term loan a HCCT and was an average non mechanical type person ( I know a number of them) having coil problems, I would put a distributor on in a heart beat. You could counter with there are a number of people that can fix/repair the coils but it's driving season and I want to drive the car not fight the coils, again.
There is more to driving a Model T then the coils, it's just great fun driving an "ANTIQUE/VINTAGE" car. If parts were as easy to get, would I own a different make such as Dodge, Overland or maybe Star, you bet and it would have a distributor to contend with.
I'm with you Mark! Most of my friends owing model T's are running coils. We all get along great and are not critical of what each other are running.
On a tour several years ago, a good friend had a serious failure with a timer and coil. One of the contact screws loosened up or insulator broke resulting in a short and cooked coil. I happened to have a spare timer and coil stored under my rear seat which got him back on the road. It was a good thing that I still carried some spare parts left over from before.
With timers, make sure the insulators are good and the nuts on each contact stud are tight.
I've never had an HCCT, although every T club that I have belonged to had one.
The coils don't have to be set on an HCCT unless one goes bad. I've carried an extra coil under the seat of my '15 since 2003 when Ron Patterson did the coils. Never had to use it, and they have gone 20,000 plus miles.
I recently checked them on an HCCT in comparison to a set of coils that were rebuilt recently by RV Anderson for another car. All the coils, both the set of five done by Patterson 12 years ago and the set of four done by RV Anderson this year checked out perfectly.
I like the black T's. It's a visual, iconic thing. They were just such a large part of the
American road scene when we left horses behind. And for this reason, I find them attractive.
Truth be known, I prefer a lot of other period cars in terms of size, aesthetics, and the
little details. I deeply regret not pulling the trigger on a '23 Packard Twin Six I found in a
basement years ago. What a car !
But the black T is a dirt cheap car (or truck) to buy and own. I hear others speak of "expensive"
aspects of T ownership and roll my eyes. It would be hard to find a cheaper old car to own and
restore. I say this from experience.
If I had my druthers, I wish I had purchased one of the many old big cars that had been cut down
into trucks back in the day. These were fairly common to see being pulled out of barns in the 1970's,
and no one wanted the trouble of restoring a chopped up body, so they were cheap ! But keeping
that big Cadillac truck on the road would be a serious challenge in parts availability and the special
technical knowledge that all vehicles have unto themselves. I have my doubts there is a group
anywhere that meets every Tuesday night to work on and share knowledge on their 20's vintage
In this sense, I am a lucky SOB. I happen to live just a stone's throw from one of the world's
epicenters for T knowledge and parts. And the crazies that frequent the joint are very enthusiastic
about "poisoning" the minds of anyone who shows an interest, thus creating an ever-active group
swarming in the area. Brilliant business strategy AND a whole lot of fun. Takes a lot of the "dark
hole of mystery" out of owning a rolling piece of ancient tech.
Which is why I own a TT or two. Iconic American iron. Easy and cheap to get parts for. A great
bunch of helpful, likeminded nutcases to consort with. All a guy has to do is show up, be genuine,
and ask questions. This forum seems a diluted extension of The Ranch. Maybe not so hands-on,
but still lots of help if you ask.
I owe everyone a big thanks for all the help I've received.
The original question, "is there an underlying electrical reason to convert" (or words to that effect).
The answer is easily no. The original system if restored / maintained to the condition it was when new, has zero to apologize for. A lot of guys convert because they don't understand how to get the original system to work correctly.
I caution against continued operation with a mag that doesn't work (as has been suggested). I fixed one for a chapter member a few years ago as he wanted it right. I used to be of the belief that if it failed, switch to battery and keep going. No longer! His car had tossed three magnet retainers and had two broken magnets. It was waiting to grenade itself. If your mag isn't working, find out why!
If you don't feel like doing it yourself, you can usually find someone for a few bucks to take care of it. I picked his car up on my way home from work on a Friday and returned it Monday. I charged the guy $500 labor which included relining the bands and installed an oil line at the same time. It just isn't that big a deal to pull the engine, swap the field coil and stuff it back in the car. You can easily knock it out in about 12-14 hours. Even less if you have help.
I've got several "T"s...all run coils. Have run National Tours, Regional tours, local tours, and any number of spontaneous "hey, let's drive across the state for a few days" tours. Many thousands of miles in total. If not for this great forum, I'd never have known how unreliable an original ignition system was!