Electronic ignition

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    I have a 1929 PA which is having some ignition problems. Mechanic who is working on car (I have limited ability) has determined that the distributor shaft is worn enough to make the timing several degrees out of time and he would like to switch ignition away from dual point set-up to electronic. Neither Mallory or Pertronix has a set up for the Delco distributor listed in their books. Pertronix has agreed to make one for the car if we send them the distributor and $550. My experience is that switching to electronic makes a car run better, more reliably. I would like to avoid reinventing the wheel is someone else has done so. Anybody have any experience with switching to electronic?


    Joe Hensler


    These engines run at 2500 rpm to 3000 rpm. At that speed with dual points and two coils they are not hampered by standard ignition problems found in cars not using electronic ignitions. There are whole lists of things that could make these cars ‘better’, like power steering, increased cyinder pressure ( 5 to 1 increased to 7.5 to 1), hydralic brakes, automatic chokes, Sealed Beam headlights, AM/FM radios, air conditioning, that can be added in such a way that no one would ever suspect the modifications existed. The car would look good but is no longer a “classic” car. The reason a Pierce-Arrow is looked on with such reverence as compared with other classics is that it was so well engineered and constructed. Contact John Cislak (see vendor file) who does an excellent job of rebuilding your model distributer, and stay within the original design. You won’t be dissappointed with the result. My engine is running like a ‘Swiss Watch’.


    I have a 1934 836A.It has an early electronic ignition system(20 years old?).The car starts up well;doesn’t overheat.When it cruises it’s fine,but upon moderate to heavy acceleration the engine sounds

    like it has swallowed a bunch of castanets.Learned

    mechanics have not given me answers,though tell me nothing major is going on.

    Tony Costa



    I too possess limited mechanical ability. The dual points in our Pierce-Arrows were the best technology available at the time. I have owned my 36 convertible sedan 41 years in April. Point failure has caused me to hitchike home virtually every time I have had a mechanical breakdown,with my 36 and my 31 convertible. John Ciselak, and other capable mechanics can beautifully repair and synchronize a distributor. However, the problem will be reocurring, trust me. My other three cars, 41 cad, 47 cad, 58 cad, all have electronic ignitions. Install it, forget it, end of story. The 58 was the first, I drove it to Detroit in 2002 for the Cadillac LaSalle annual meet, several tours since, no problems. If anybody would make an electronic ignition for our Pierce-Arrows, I will purchase two, and I am sure Bob Sands would also. Tony Zappone


    The problem with burned points is the condensers. The distributer sits above the hot engine and in the draft of the radiator. Onan (generators)makes a special condenser that effectively works for long periods in hot environments. Still suggest you keep it original for a while.


    Bad condensers may burn points. The problem most often occurring, is the lack of lubrication on the cam, which wears out the fiber contact, causes the points to close up and cause problems. When a repo is better than the original, and moreover you can’t even see it, I say go for it. Tony


    Wow, this is the classic authenticity versus reliability/convenience/comfort discussion. I can certainly see the merits of each side. To confuse the issue further, here are a few more suggestions.

    First, add to the expert advice that you’ve already received by talking to others who do quite a bit of driving and have kept their cars relatively authentic and maybe a clearer picture will emerge. For example, in my rather limited number of PAS acquaintances, I know that Bill Morris drives his car a lot, has won more than one award for longest distance traveled to an annual meet, and is very knowledgeable mechanically. Certainly he could provide additional insight.

    Second, I have sometimes made a “modern upgrade” to my car for convenience and performance sake, but done it in such a way that the upgrade could be easily reversed should I or the next owner care to do so. Maybe my approach is a decision not to make a decision, but this approach has sometimes made me feel a lot better about making a change.

    Or I guess that you could just flip a coin :-)


    Thanks for the kind words Joe! Just remember that free advice is often worth what you paid for it. However, here goes.

    Personally, I enjoy the challenge of making an old machine run like new using original equipment when I can. The distributor is one of those cases. I use the dual point system as originally supplied but I also use the Onan condensers because I believe that they perform better in the hot environments under the hood in 90 degree weather. It takes time and patience to “get it right” but, when it is you can really feel the difference. If you are mechanically inclined I recommend this approach.

    If you are not mechanical and plan to drive the car an average of at least 1000 miles per year, you might consider the electronic system. Key factors to me would be the nature of the installation and the reversibility. I would not modify (carve up) an original part to accept an electronic setup. However, making a separate adapter plate that replaces the breaker plate and uses the original screw locations is okay with me because it’s a clean “bolt on” change.

    If the changes are completely invisible from the outside, you are not likely to loose points in judging. I’ve never been asked to remove a distributor cap to prove that the point system was there. But, the judges probably have the right to ask.

    If you are building a trailered car, by all means keep it original. You don’t want to open yourself up to the possibility of loosing authenticity points. The most likely time you’d be putting any miles on it would be at a PAS Annual Meet and what better place to get help making it run better.

    Ain’t old cars fun?



    Has anyone installed a Pertronix electronic ignition unit in their Pierce-Arrow? Of course you can find anything on the web, but here is a discussion about these units that includes one person who had bad luck with a Pertronix unit on his 6 volt system: http://www.btc-bci.com/~billben/pertrnix.htm I’d love to hear from someone who has had good luck!


    I have no direct experience with Pertronix or other add-on electronic systems but I have seen many pro and con opinions on their performance in newer cars. The main drawback to any electronic system is that if it malfunctions your car is totally dead until you replace the bad component. With a point system you at least have a chance of a roadside “matchbook cover”” adjustment getting you back running. I’d vote for original.”

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