Distributors: Man vs. Machine

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Ken Beck demonstrates the use of his vintage Allen Synchrograph Distributor Tester. (Allen Hess photo)

By Allen Hess

Keystone Region MG Club

January 19th, 48 degrees! Naturally, one thinks about getting the cars on the road.  

Ken Beck must be prescient as he had the perfect day for the club’s winter tech session at K&T Vintage Sports Cars in Allentown.

As in the past, Ken and his able and lovely assistant Cindy opened their shop to members of the British Car Club of Lehigh Valley, Keystone Region MG Car Club, the Austin-Healey Sports & Touring Club and others for a technical session about distributors.

He began by demonstrating a simple method to find “top dead center” on the crankshaft pulley.

Next Ken pointed out the most common mistake made when fitting new points and condensers. (See below for answer!)

He also noted, from experience, that many of the replacement condensers available today are of substandard quality and prone to very early failure. There have also been bad replacement rotors, but the good ones now are red and cost only a little more.

The rubber diaphragm in the vacuum advance also deteriorates with age and can be tested with a “Mighty Vac” or similar tool. A greater range of new vacuum advance units are now available, he said, as well as rebuilding services.

Next topic: Man versus distributor machine. Ken talked about the many advantages to using a distributor testing machine.

[Don't get your hopes up. Sun machines are $800-900 on eBay. Ken’s is an Allen brand and got it at an auction for next to nothing, and had it restored.]

Ed Haas tries his hand at setting the points manually with a feeler gauge. (Allen Hess photo)

Man of the day Ed Haas of the Keystone club took the challenge to set the point gap with a feeler gauge by hand, trying to be as precise as one can be by using the dwell angle on the machine. Ed was close, setting it to 57 degrees dwell, a mere 3 degrees away from a perfect 60 degrees dwell angle (four cylinder engine).

Then Ken demonstrated how mechanical and vacuum advance could be tested and measured using the machine. The conversation meandered to a discussion of motor oil and fuel, and then adjourned for pizza and soda.

*So, what’s the most common mistake made when fitting new points and condensers? Installing the low tension and condenser wires so that they are insulated from the point spring.