In which I try to explain things that you can’t see, and I fit a new ignition thing to the 1977 Land Rover…
Christine was driving with Alex (now 5 years old) when the old Series 3 Land Rover decided to breakdown at the side of the M3 motorway, junction 6….
The points had failed…
“Points?” – you might ask… Well hold on – I’ll try to give a simple explanation of what they are, and how you can put something in place that’ll avoid some of the issues you get with a ‘Points Ignition’ system.
Older car engines mainly use a really simple electromechanical ignition system. Very basically an electric charge is sent to a distributor which then ‘distributes’ this electricity to each of the engines spark plugs – in the right order and at the right time.
There is a good write-up in more depth HERE.
This has to be set up so that the sparks fire off at the right time. If the sparks fire off too soon or too late then the engine will run really poorly… or not at all. A great deal of this set up is based on gaps and sparks and electricity zapping across between bits of metal at the right time.
Where sparks occur, you will get erosion, so these gaps get slowly bigger as the sparks wear away the metal, and the engine starts to falter. Some of these gaps are designed to open and close (like a switch) as the engine runs. Where sparking bits of metal touch you will find that the metal bits can end up welding/sticking to each other… and that means the engine won’t run because the switch has stuck…
The ‘switch’ is a major component in the ignition system – and is known as a contact breaker or ‘the points‘. The points are the bits at one end of the contact breaker that open and close to allow the electricity to do its stuff… or not… on/off/on/off etc…
In this video you can see the metal arm going up and down causing a small spark at the end. It’s this opening and closing part that can weld and stick shut. It is totally manic in here as the engine is running, with the points opening, closing and sparking thousands of times per minute, so you can see why they are very prone to wearing out. (Note: The big spark to the top right represents the engine spark plug).
You would often find that if your car broke down on a journey and you had to call a breakdown truck, the breakdown truck driver would be able to swap out a set of points at the side of the road to get you motoring again – or at least he’d be able to un-stick the points and set them up to get you home or to a garage where they could be replaced. They are really simple and pretty easy to work with…. not like the modern electronic computer controlled units…. If they go wrong, then you are likely to be towed home and then face a big garage bill…
To make setting the ignition timing up easier, and to avoid points wearing out and ending up stuck at the side of a busy motorway (as happened to my wife and our little 5 year old lad in our Land Rover) there are several solutions.
There are many electronic conversion kits available that remove the contact breaker/points, although some require lots of work and cost quite a bit of cash. Some swap out entire chunks of your ignition system with new parts. They pretty much all do the same thing in the end though, so rather than going down this route I was suggested by a good friend a way can be done cheaply if you have a little bit of sense and some very basic tools.
I checked. I had a little bit of sense and basic tools…. so I looked into his recommended route…
There is a ‘pointless’ module that can fit straight into where the original points unit sat. It is a very simple module that uses the Hall effect to trigger the electrical signal to the spark plugs, rather than using points (this is too much information, but there if you want to confuse yourself)
Very simply put: 4 magnets in a black plastic ring (the trigger) spin and as they pass the red electronic ‘pointless’ module, the module releases bursts of electricity. There are no switches or parts touching each other, so there is nothing that can wear out or weld/stick together. Also this means setting the timing doesn’t require having to reset the point gap if you rotate the distributor – because there are no gaps to set… in fact there is nothing to adjust as it can only attach in one place.
From this video you can see the spark to the top right that represents the feed to the engine spark plugs… but there are no points or touching parts in the unit itself. It’s like magic or something…
Fitting ‘Pointless’ Ignition
An idiots guide…
Yes, the part came with instructions… but they were slightly incorrect in my case, so I figure an easy to use photo guide would help some people. Our old Landy has a Lucas 45D type distributor.
The module I chose is a Britpart component from MM-4×4.com I purchased for £12.75 (at time of writing). The first module they supplied to me had a manufacturing fault, so MM-4×4 replaced it. These things happen, but the customer service was fast and great, so no harm done.
- All I really needed was a flat blade screwdriver and cross point screwdriver (No.2 size) (Or use one screwdriver with interchangeable heads…!).
- The large screwdriver and 11mm spanner are for tweaking timing if required AFTER fitting the module.
- The kit came with the module, an all in one rotor/trigger and a separate trigger (depending on your distributor type) all the required wires, coil tab (if required), cable tie, grease.
- Loosen the small brass ‘wing nut’ on top of the air filter clamp and move the air filter to one side. This gives better access.
- Don’t let the filter touch the battery terminals though…. unless you need waking up…
- Attach the supplied (red) wire to the coil. It should only fit one way due to the end fitting.
- Un-clip the top of the distributor. (Leave all the spark plug leads plugged in, they don’t need to be touched).
- Remove the black central rotor (the bit with the brass strip on top – It pulls straight up and off).
- Disconnect the contact breakers black wire from the black extension wire that comes down from the coil.
- Remove the old contact breaker and condenser (the little metal cylinder to the right).
- Keep the screws safe – you’ll need them again. (Leave the wire that was attached to the condenser screw – you’ll attach this end again later).
- Lift the old contact breaker and condenser out of the distributor and pull the black wire carefully out through the distributor body as you do so. (It is worth keeping this unit safe in the car somewhere, just in case you break down and need to fit it…. You probably will never need it, but hey, it doesn’t take up any weight or much space!).
- Use the supplied white grease and coat the base of the new module. This makes sure it has a good contact with the distributor body.
- Using the screws removed earlier, fit the module into the distributor body.
- NOTE: Don’t forget to refit that wire that used to be on the condenser (under the cross head screw).
- Select the new supplied combined black rotor and trigger assembly (on the right in the photo below).
- Feed the black and red wires through the hole in the side of the distributor.
- Connect the black and red wires up to the red and black wires coming down from the coil. They should only fit one way – red to red, black to black – (see note 1 in the photo below).
- NOTE: The supplied instructions state to fit the new trigger (the black plastic ring) to the distributor, and refit the OLD rotor arm (the black plastic thing with the brass strip on top – Left on the photo above).
- This DID NOT work for our Land Rover (the vehicle totally failed to start).
- Instead, fit the combined rotor and trigger part into the distributor (the part on the RIGHT in the photo above).
- Make sure the lugs line up. (see note 2 in the photo below).
- You are almost done….
- Make sure that the red and black wire have some slack in the distributor body. Pretty much make it look like the photo below, otherwise the wires can pull tight or foul the units operation when the engine is running.
- Clip the cap back on securely – Make sure you don’t trap and of the wires.
- Double check that the black wire goes to the black wire, and the red to the red.
- Make sure the red and black wires are secure on the coil.
- Now, you could drop the air filter back in place and tighten the brass wing nut up BEFORE trying to run the engine…. or you could now to run the engine, make sure it works, and THEN put the air filter back in place… It’s up to you!
Does it run?
From what I understand, and from ALL the data I have found on the internet, the part should just drop into place and bingo, job done. Nothing to set up and it should run straight away.
If it doesn’t, try re-checking all of your connections, wires and spark plug leads (you might have dislodged something). If it still doesn’t work you could try removing the rotor and fitting the supplied trigger (the black ring) and fitting the OLD rotor on top of that.
Failing that, maybe drop me an email or message via this blog and I’ll see if I can help.
11mm spanner and big screwdriver?
You might have been wondering what that was for. Well, lower down the distributor body (just below the catches that hold the cap on) there is a nut and bolt (a pinch bolt) that allows the distributor to be rotated to advance/retard the engine timing.
A bit more info HERE.
Very, very basically – This changes when the distributor sends the spark to the spark plugs – and therefore when it ignites the fuel in the engine. Too soon or too late can effect performance and economy – and damage the engine.
Our Landy (and for all I know, all early Landies) can be set reasonably well by just using the charge light on the dashboard as a guide.
If the engine ticks over and the light is on, or flickering, then you have too low an idle speed.
From what I have learnt the best thing is for the engine tick over (once warmed up) to be just fast enough to not have the charge light illuminate or flicker.
- Run your engine until it is at normal operating temperature (about midway on your temperature gauge).
- Turn your engine off and carefully (it is HOT now), loosen the distributor pinch bolt. Just enough so that the distributor can be rotated.
- Turn the engine ON again and let it run.
- Wear insulated gloves to rotate the distributor so the engine slows until the charge light flickers or comes on.
- Now rotate it the other way until the light just goes out.
- Tighten up the pinch bolt.
- Job done.
The reason you wear insulated gloves is because you don’t want to wet yourself, burn your hair off or kill yourself whilst touching the distributor, which is full of angry electricity that doesn’t mind giving a loving Landy owner a bastard kick last time I did it…. ahem….
I don’t actually use gloves myself, I use the LONG INSULATED HANDLED SCREWDRIVER to gently tap on the distributor cap catch lugs to carefully rotate the distributor clockwise or anti-clockwise. This way I can stay away from the HOT engine and easily get to the distributor without reaching over all of the engine components, wires, muck etc…
Well, if that hasn’t confused you too much, I think I’m done!
If you have any comments/improvements or techniques you’d like to add, please feel free.