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    Has anyone converted their V-12 distributors to a Petronix ignition system? If so how easy was it and did you also use their coils?

    Thanks Happy New Years


    Why, I have 18,000 miles on my points and condensers on my 36 V12 over the last 20 years. About 5 years ago I removed the distributor and put it on my Sun distributor machine. It was where I set it back in 1994. The car if set up correctly will run and start fine on the points. If you battery is week on the Pertronix it will under volt the system and not start. The Pertronix is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. I have installed several of them for customers in the past. They work fine. If the Pertronix burns out on you on the side of the road you have no chance of running again. Points and condenser are easy to service. The location of the distributor on a Pierce means it’s difficult at best to service anytime. I have a spare restored distributor in a box I carry when on tour. Well…….I use to carry it. I am so sure of my set up now I no longer bring it with me on tour. It is in a box ready to be over night mailed if I ever need it. If you want a spare distributor to keep on hand or in the car let me know, I have several extras and would be happy to sell one. A Pierce V-12 distributor is the most difficult one ever put in a car to get set up correctly if you don’t understand all the issues involved. Properly set up you can remove one distributor and install another in less then three minuets on the side of the road. You could never deal with a Pertronix unit in less than two or three hours. A good spare is the way to go, it’s better, faster, and cheaper. Ed.


    Ed’s advice is on target. If you are having problems starting your Pierce, get the carburetor, starter, generator, points, plugs, coils and condenser up to snuff. Our 1247 and the 8 cylinder 1601 will fire right away every time and I haven’t adjusted anything for literally thousands of miles. But I had to get EVERYTHING right to begin with. Additionally a Pertonix Ignition is fine for a 12 volt car, but not for 6 volt older vehicles like our Pierce-Arrows. They require a MINIMUM of 5.9 volts to fire. If your battery is fully charged and starts on the 1st half crank, you may be OK. But the starter draw to crank a big engine like a Pierce means that the voltage will quickly drop below 5.9 while cranking and the Pertonix unit can probably fire only a millisecond as the starter draw is stopped. I do have Pertronix units on my 12 volt 1967 & 1973 Lincolns and the 1956 Imperial, but they won’t function reliably on a Pierce or other older cars with big engines and 6 volt systems…and I do carry a spare even though I’ve not needed one yet.


    Ten years ago, (at least) I had Pertonix installed in my ’41 Cad, (since sold), my ’47 Cad. and my ’58 Cad. I am older than Eddy, probably not as mechanically accomplished as David, and prior to those installations, I had hitchhiked in with points failure a half dozen times. Never did I have trouble starting either of those two 6 volt cars with the Pertonix. Because of the cam lubrication drying up and points closing up, I had the Pertonix installed. Make sure you buy the new high powered coil that goes with the system. This spring Pertonix made a unit for my 1936 Pierce. I swear it starts quicker, is more nimble, etc. This authenticity stuff is great. But for a guy who use to have all kinds of people to do my work for me, I find Pertonix to be a wonderful addition to my little fleet.


    By the way, if the ignition point system was such hot stuff, why don’t cars have them anymore?


    I use a similar system for ignition, not Petronix but “Pazon”. The nice thing with this is that it uses all of your original components so that if the modern electronic system fails you can easily put the original back in service to get home. The only thing you disconnect is the condenser, which is not needed because there is very little current now passing through the points. Whereas with original ignition you might have, say, 10 amps through the points, with the Pazon you get milliamps. Therefore the points do not wear out, and the only maintenance is making sure the lifter block riding the cam is lubricated and to take up any wear.

    I agree with Tony that an electronic ignition, whatever the design, gives a superior spark than the original. Perhaps if the original is set up perfectly, the results are not noticeable, but the modern system seems to be good all the time. I had a 1920’s Packard that I could just not get to run right on the original system no matter what I did. But as soon as I installed the Pazon system, the car ran great, started very easily, etc. I have one on my 1924 Franklin now, and would like to figure out how to design one to replace the magneto on my brass car.

    I’m all for authenticity, but I want whatever it takes to keep me on the road.



    I have started to consider going to Petronix on my ’35 even though I have a stash of left and right hand points for the original. I agree that the originals work just fine, but the fear is bad condensers. Finally put a Petronix in my ’66 Chrysler after the new condenser failed after a few years, then the cheap new points lasted less than a year and a few hundred miles before wearing down to zero gap (yes, the cam had lube). I have had several problems with new manufacture condensers over the years, and unfortunately condensers are one of the things that age can effect so getting an 80 year old NOS condenser probably wouldn’t be trustworthy either. I think the choice boils down to whether you have a set of good points of old manufacture and a reliable (how do you tell?) condenser. My Packard has done well for 30 years on its original 1936 coil and a 1980’s installed condenser except when I burned the points mis-remembering correct spark plug gap (duh!). My fear is the coil and I carry a back-up coil in the car that I have yet to need.


    I’ve had a Pertronix setup in my ’64 Chevelle for at least 24 years and it has run great with the under-cap system.

    The system has never had a single issue and back when it was installed the car was my daily driver so it has at least 100K miles on it now. I carry a set of points and a condenser in the trunk but I’ve never needed them.

    I guess it all comes down to preference.

    I would have never thought of going that way in the Pierce but at least it’s an option for those that want to go in that direction.


    For me it comes down to is it an antique car or not? I like the idea my 36 Pierce is the way it was when new. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t run radial tires, modern shocks, 12 volt electrical system, more modern Zenith carbs, ect. I Like the challenge of running and maintaining a car that’s 80 years old. Yes, it can be time consuming and frustrating. That’s part of the fun. At what point is it a street rod? How about disk brakes for safety, and air conditioning and power steering it make driving easier? I guess the mystique and mystery of operating a complicated V-12 machine appeals to me. The kinship of my fellow PAS members and the purity of the cars is what makes our club the best. Just a Pertronix unit is not the end of the world on a car that’s on a tour. But how about the guys who take the time and money to keep and preserve the torch of the hobby going? I’m ok with high speed gears, but not a fan of aftermarket over drives or splitters. We all have to take our own path, for me I live by the creed “KEEP IT STOCK””. My best to all. Ed Minnie”


    Tim, I see you have a 66-E. Nice truck. I do understand your question with the dual distributor set up. It’s a complicated system and if you have lots of years under your belt, I would only rate it as terribly difficult! Often a 37 66-E has had lots of changes and upgrades done over the years. You only need one set of plugs to run the truck. If it were mine I would find a V-12 mag and change it over to that set up. They are rare but I do see them once in a while. I thought it would be cool to have a mag on a street car just to mess with some of the members. Hey……it IS factory! I have helped several fire truck owners over the years with the dual distributor set up. Post a few photos of the distributors you are running, as most members have not seen them. My best, Ed


    Electronic ignition became normal when emissions requirements caused car manufacturers to try to run engines very lean. A lean mixture is difficult to ignite, so a much hotter spark was needed. Even before emissions requirements, regular points and condensers needed to be at least checked every ~12,000 miles, And often needed new points and or condenser at roughly 20,000 miles.

    The Government came up with a 55,000mile required ‘must pass’ emissions standard, and this meant that the car had a warrantee for tuneups, spark plugs, points/condenser/cap/wires and all the fussy emissions fuel system add-ons that were needed before our very effective catalytic converters that we have now.

    The car manufacturers scrambled to create an ignition system that would last far past the 55,000 mandated emissions warrantee. Our modern ignition systems are pretty much 100,000 mile trouble free, except for some of the one coil per spark plug per cylinder systems that tend to have coil failures way too often, like Ford V8 engines a few years ago. I think heat damages the individual coils because they are in or on the engine.

    The Hi-Energy ignition systems required better spark plug wires, this is where the silicone rubber 9mm diameter wires came from.

    I’m not completely against an aftermarket point replacement ignition system, but I can get just about any point/condenser system running. But I have no way to check or repair an electronic ignition system when it strands me on the side of the road. Only a backup ignition system or a set of points and condenser are prudent to have on hand.

    A properly set up ignition system will be every bit as reliable as any modern system, it just needs periodic inspection and maybe adjustment.

    I’ve NEVER been left stranded by points or a condenser or coil.. I have been left stranded by a failed fuel pump, a brass carburetor float that age-cracked and filled with gas and sank in the carb bowl, flooding the engine.

    I have been left stranded by flat tires and a flat spare or no jack or lug wrench, and by running out of gas, with no spare fuel can available.. These times I’ve had to leave my car and walk were all preventable if I’d been doing my job properly as the owner and driver of the car.

    One problem with the type of system that Scott is using is that the much lower amperage through the points sometimes causes the points to be unable to burn through a very slight layer of condensation, or oil film, or even a finger print. I’ve messed with some early aftermarket systems using the original points, and had quite a few problems, but also, had some that worked flawlessly.

    On the AACA forum there is a discussion about the Pertronix system just about every month. I’ll make a rough estimate from those discussions that the Pertronix system is about 90-95% reliable. But this is on 12v negative ground systems. I don’t know how reliable a 6v positive ground system might be.

    Dave’s observation that 5.9v is required to fire the Pertronix system makes me think that somehow I’d want to have a way to fire the Pertronix setup with a 9v drycell battery, then switch to the car’s 6v system to run down the road.. but that’s just more complication and more to go wrong.

    Greg Long


    Greg: Guys like you and Eddie are very talented, and can bail your way out of many critical mechanical situations. I have always had someone to do these things for me, especially for the years we were in the car/garage business. Again with three 6 volt installations, 36 Pierce and ’41 Cadillac,(negative ground) 47 Cad, positive ground. I never have experienced any operational problems. The 58 Cad is pos. ground. The unit has not been in the ’36 that long, but hopefully the reliability trend will continue.

    Eddie has a point about where does an old car end, and a hot rod begin. I am a firm believer that if an intolerable situation exists (points obviously being more intolerable for some), and if its hidden do it. We must realize, there are at least 6 20’s and thirties Pierces running around with 1980 Ford pickup Muncie transmission with overdrive conversions. They have permitted people with crash boxes to tour easier, and provide ease of driving. Yes,there is a fine line, one must be comfortable with the idea that most elements of the car are preserved, and outright rods (like the ones at the last Buffalo meet) must still be parked by the dumpster at Tinney Cadillac.


    I understand Tony, I was thinking not only of my cars, but if I were on a tour, and stopped to assist another Pierce on the shoulder. If it had a points/condenser system, and that was the actual problem, then I probably could get it running again, or at least would have a fighting chance to get it running.

    What you would see if it had an aftermarket electronic ignition system would be a new version of the RCA ad of the dog listening to the gramophone.

    As for the transmission conversion, well, for me that’s too far past the line. The transmissions are NOT that hard to learn to drive. Next would be power steering, then A/C, then.. as Ed already posted.

    Here is my version of the RCA Dog:


    I remember going to a CCCA event in Texas a long while back, and an event hall full of beautiful Classics.

    As we all know, CCCA is pretty strict about originality.

    Parked at the event and being shown was an Auburn, think it was a coupe of the mid-30’s, that appeared stock on the outside, but had a LOT of modifications. For example, it had power windows, but they were operated by a switch connected to the original crank handle, so outwardly you couldn’t tell. I don’t recall the precise things done to the car, but it had a lot of other upgrades.

    I was somewhat shocked that the car was allowed at a CCCA event. Found out that it was owned by a fairly affluent and well-respected member of the Texas region, so the “good ole boy” network was at work, and he was allowed to show it.

    I think internal mechanical modifications are OK, if it improves life of the car, but personally draw the line at visible modifications. I also prefer such things points (because, as stated, I can fix on side of road) and mechanical fuel pumps (because I’ve had two engine fires, one of which an electric pump didn’t cut off correctly and almost lost the car).

    I do upholstery work on pre-WWII cars as a hobby, now that I’m retired from the real world, and I’ve been adamant about using original materials, horsehair, cotton, tacks….but I can also say it’s a losing battle, most people don’t care, and the expense to do it the old way is greater…so it’s getting more difficult to be a purist….but there’ll still never be foam in my shop….


    I agree about keeping a Pierce as original as possible since the cars are pieces of history that should be preserved.

    For more modern cars like my ’64 doing some mods are fine with me as long as everything can be returned to stock with minimal effort.

    I plan on keeping my Pierce as original as possible for as long as possible since it is a true survivor with original paint, drive train and interior (except for the driver’s seat). We had distributor problems during the Temecula meet which prevented us from completing any of the tours so we missed out on the judging.

    The car ran fabulous in Oregon at the 2006 meet and around town so maybe we had a false sense of security and didn’t have spare points and condensers on hand. We thought it was a bad rotor but one picked up during the swap meet didn’t completely fix our issues.

    That said, personally, I will not be modifying my Pierce at all.

    I plan to pass it down to the next generation as I am our family’s 3rd generation owner.


    Ed and All

    Thanks so much for the responses and the lively discussion. (Side note Ed sorry I missed you recently when I stopped in John’s shop) Anyway I ws considering the Petronix due to a starting problem. The Problem is the rig starts up fine when cold but when hot it just doesn’t want to start. After much discussion with my motorhead friends I belive I might have a resistance problem. All the wiring is 70 years old. So I guess this winter I’ll have the starter motor rebuilt, rewire the dashboard and install new coils. I should probably also look for a new starter solenoid.

    I don’t think its a vapor lock problem , I have an electrical fuel pump.

    When I get all this done I’ll give a report. But Im always open to suggestions. Happy New Years All.


    Tim, I had the identical problem of not starting when hot in a 1938 Ford flathead panel truck. It’s 6v pos ground wiring system required an external resistor in the circuit to the coil. I rigged a by-pass of the resistor through the starter button so when the button was depressed to activate the starter, the coil got the full 6v. The problem never recurred after setting that up.



    Thanks Ill look to see if I have that.


    Tim, it sounds like you’re definitely on the right track with the resistance problems once the system is hot.

    As was discussed in an earlier thread, make sure all of your battery cables are up to snuff and that your ground connections are fresh and tight.

    I tracked down a warm start problem on my ’26 Rickenbacker to an internally corroded cable from the starter contact to the starter.

    The cable looked fine on the outside but had developed corrosion under the insulation.

    Running extra ground cables also seemed to help as well.


    First of all Greg, I think your dog is a much nicer and not snobby version of the RCA dog, who I knew personally. The picture of Timothy’s (I assume Seagrave) “Cities’ Service” fire engine really brought back memories. In Brockport, N.Y. Two of the three fire companies had Seagrave trucks. When the whistle blew the code for the North end of the village, we would go outside to see where it was going. Chubby Churchill was always the first to reach the 12 cylinder pierce powered open pumper. It was Capen Hose Co. open cab, painted a light gray. They called themselves the Grey Ghosts. He would come over the Erie canal lift bridge doing about 70. a roaring, last vestige of the Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co. I was a volunteer, there was an incredible fascination with riding on the back (can’t do that anymore) and open cabs. No more of that either. Everyone must be inside, strapped inside in child seats. No wonder young people don’t want to be volunteer firemen anymore. Sorry for the aside, but that Pierce powered picture brought back memories.

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