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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a 1971 Firebird with a 350 V8 and automatic transmission. I purchased it used as my 1st car back in 1976.

I have about 80,000 original miles on it and the only issue that I ever seem to have is getting it to start and it appears to be a distributor related issue.

I would like to convert to new electronic ignition and replace the distributor and any related components. I would prefer to purchase a new distributor versus converting a used GM distributor.

What is the best source and manufacturer of the system that I will need to do this?

Is this a relatively simple process to convert the ignition?

I have some mechanical skills but I am not an expert and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You Tire Wheel Car Vehicle Plant
 

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Welcome to FBN ! :welcome500:

Yeah, a self contained HEI is the most popular choice. And the DUI brand has the reputation of being one of the very best units. It's also the highest priced, at about $300.

http://www.summitracing.com/parts/dui-51720bl/overview/year/1973/make/pontiac/model/firebird

The only thing that's needed to hook one up is a 12 volt power source. You can't use your stock ignition wire, because it has an inline resistor, which reduces the voltage for the points type ignition. You must use a wire which does not have a resistor.

A fairly large wire is recommended to supply the 12 volts to the HEI. I think it's either a #12 or #10. I'll try to look that up, when I can. If anybody knows for sure, please post.
 

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The MSD ready run. Is a stand alone distributor I have this and have been very happy. It also has a rev limiter built in.
 

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The MSD ready run. Is a stand alone distributor I have this and have been very happy. It also has a rev limiter built in.
According to what I read, the MDS ready to run dist, is not "a stand alone distrubutor", since it requires an external coil. That's the great part about the HEI. The coil is under the cap. One 12 volt wire is all that's needed to hook it up. The Summit site says that the MSD ready to run requires 3 wires and a coil, to hook it up. If I'm wrong about this, somebody please post links with the correct info. Thanks ! :smile22:

http://www.summitracing.com/parts/msd-8528?seid=srese1&gclid=CjwKEAiA3aW2BRCD_cOo5oCFuUMSJADiIMILsYxAOV6v4F8YC20cCNbtXPPkd2sDHnWVU2xH_AusZBoCS0bw_wcB

Also, MSD makes an HEI module replacement which has a rev limiter. I've got 1 in my 455 bracket engine.

http://www.summitracing.com/parts/msd-83647
 

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I bought a cheap one on ebay, think I paid like 38 bucks for it.. I haven't put any miles on it, but it seemed fine and timed perfect. I just replaced my coil hot wire with a regular wire at the firewall connector, pulled the old cloth resistor wire out of the connector, cut it and soldered on a regular wire, stuck it back in.. good as gold. I don't recall if there was a wire from the starter solenoid (to give it full 12v while starting) or not, if so, you won't need it anymore.
 

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I changed to an HEI on my '71 back in the '80's. In addition to the kits you can get from places like MSD that have a better module and matched coil, center rotor button, etc. You should also record how your points distributor is set up as far as mechanical and vacuum advance so you can match the new HEI timing curve to what matches your engine. I pulled an HEI out of a '76 Grand Prix in a junkyard, and after verifying that the bushings were still fine, cleaned it up, and shimmed out most the endplay, I installed it, set the initial timing, only to find out my engine ran different (in a bad way). I was pissed that the HEI ran worse than the points distributor did. That is when I realized that while both distributors were both set at 12° initial, the HEI had different mechanical advance characteristics as well as way more vacuum advance. So I put the points distributor back in, and recorded at what RPM the timing started to move up (with the vacuum line disconnected), total timing, and a few points in between. Then did the same with a vacuum gauge and timing light for the vacuum can. I then reinstalled the HEI and went to work making the mechanical and vacuum match what the points distributor timing curve did. What a difference, I then had the timing curve the engine liked, PLUS the added benefits of the HEI, and the engine ran great again. By the way, I still kept my plug gap at .035.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for all of the responses.

Sorry I forgot to mention an important detail. Years ago someone had helped me install a used GM electronic ignition and the car runs good but has always been hard to start after that addition.

Currently I can get it to turn over but it will not start and I think that it is finally time to change out the distributor to a new/unused electronic ignition. My thought is to simplify the project by going new.

Sorry to ask such as basic question but is it realistic for me to try to buy a new electronic distributor and just remove the old one and install the new one without a lot of difficulty? I really need to do this myself since it will not start and allow me to bring it to someone to do the work.

Can anyone provide me with some general step by step directions as to how to do this or is it more complex than I thought.

Thanks for any help that is provided!!
 

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You just have to make sure the new rotor cap is facing in exactly the same direction as the old one before you pulled it out. I usually mark the direction with a piece of tape on the firewall or wherever. It's also good to get the distributor body in the same position if you aren't going to retime it. You may have to reposition the oil pump rod so that the new distributor fit over it... down in the dizzy hole. I can normally walk the rotor cap around by bottoming out the dist, then lifting it up and rotate to the next tooth and the bottoming it out again. You will just have to play with it.
 

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For an engine that is currently running, I always rotate the engine until the timing mark is on 12°. Then follow the #1 plug wire up to the distributor cap and remove the cap to make sure the rotor is pointing towards where the #1 plug wire hooks to the cap. If the rotor is pointing towards the other side of the distributor, then you need to rotate the engine another turn and again stop at 12°. If you are keeping the same cap/wires, then remove the cap and make a line at the "base of the distributor to the engine block" to mark how the distributor body to engine block lines up. Then make another mark up on the distributor body "where the rotor is pointing relative to the distributor body". Then take a picture with your cell phone just because you never know, it may come in handy, then remove the hold down clamp and pull the old distributor out.Transfer the marks you made onto the new distributor as close as you can, put the rotor on the new distributor, line up the distributor body about where it was before relative to the engine, then position the rotor to point a bit more in the clockwise direction (maybe 15° or so) than where you want it to end up (pointing to the #1 plug tower mark), because the rotor will rotate counterclockwise as the heli-cut gear meshes with the cam gear. As said above, you may have to pull the distributor out and make another guess so the rotor ends up pointing where you want it after it rotates a bit as it seats. If the distributor does not seem to sit all the way down in the block, it is because the oil pump drive is not meshing with the bottom of the distributor. If you shine a flashlight down the distributor hole, you will see the top of the oil pump drive shaft, You can rotate this shaft with a flathead screwdriver to be in any position you want it. It helps to look at the bottom of the gear on the distributor and see what direction the slot is facing when the rotor is pointing where you want it to be when it is in the engine (aimed at the #1 plug tower). Then you can rotate the slot in the oil pump drive to be roughly in the same orientation with a screwdriver so the slot will line up and make the distributor drop all the way in. Put the distributor hold down clamp back on and just snug it down so you can still move the distributor with your hand. Then hook up the hot wire, the vacuum advance hose, and a timing light and start the engine. You will probably have to rotate the distributor a bit one way or another right as the engine starts so it runs smooth as it warms up. Once the engine is warmed up, pull the vacuum line running to the distributor and set the initial timing at 12° or 14°, or wherever your engine likes it, and tighten down the hold down clamp. While the vacuum line is off, give the engine a rev while watching the timing light and make sure the timing mark moves up the scale and then back down to the same spot at idle. Hook up the vacuum line and drive it and make any fine adjustments.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I think I am going to try the MSD ready run and install that and hope that everything goes well.

I sure appreciate all of the responses and the extensive details provided!!

I will buy the parts now and hope to install when it is warmer in early April.

Thanks Again!!
 

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[quote name="ponyakr" post="1344986" timestamp="1456105913"]
According to what I read, the MDS ready to run dist, is not "a stand alone distrubutor", since it requires an external coil. That's the great part about the HEI. The coil is under the cap. One 12 volt wire is all that's needed to hook it up. The Summit site says that the MSD ready to run requires 3 wires and a coil, to hook it up. If I'm wrong about this, somebody please post links with the correct info. Thanks !

Sorry, yes it takes a coil, my point was it doesn't require an ignition box to run
 

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Thanks for all of the responses.

Sorry I forgot to mention an important detail. Years ago someone had helped me install a used GM electronic ignition and the car runs good but has always been hard to start after that addition.

Currently I can get it to turn over but it will not start and I think that it is finally time to change out the distributor to a new/unused electronic ignition. My thought is to simplify the project by going new.

You might just need a new ignition module for the distributor that's currently in the car. When the module goes they can just quit and you'll get no spark. Have you tested for spark? Also, the hard start problem may not have anything to do with the distributor and you may still have the same hard start condition even if you install a new distributor. Having only put 80 thousand miles on it in 40 years you obviously don't drive it a lot. If the car sits days/weeks between being driven the gas in the carb is probably gone and then requires cranking the engine over to refill the carb with gas while pumping the gas pedal till it fires up. This will seem like a long time and "hard to start" compared with modern fuel injected cars.
 
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