Goodbye to Points! Hello reliable easy-to-fit electronic ignition

Tips & Advice Guides

A guest piece from Heritage customer and author of The Automotive Restorers Guide, SW Barratt

As most vintage and classic car owners know, points (or contact breakers as they’re sometimes referred to) are often a weak link in the ignition system which can suddenly let you down. Around the early 1980s, coil boosters were often fitted to improve the spark, but of course you still had the points.

Apart from suddenly letting you down, the weakness of points could often be noticed in the engine not starting on a damp wet morning. This in turn would send you reaching for the moisture displacer spray. I am sure many of you being a certain age can remember these joyful times of motoring!

About 17 years ago, I was looking into different electronic ignition systems for my classic Mercedes. My criteria were:

  • Well-made
  • A proven track record
  • Reliable
  • No drilling modifications required to the distributor or engine bay
  • Have a technical advice line and reliable spares back up service from the provider

As the car would be used for hire work, reliability was very important.

There were and still are a number of electronic ignition systems on the market, and some use a small light as the sensing method. These in general are ok, but if any dirt gets on the light it can let you down.

Electronic ignition systems which work off a magnet are often more reliable. The beauty of this system is that it is so simple: one of those cases in life where less is more! Fitting this type of ignition is often a simple operation. Another beauty of this system is that, once fitted, there is no longer any dwell angle or other adjustments. This electronic ignition uses a hall sensor which is switched by another circular magnet that fits under the rotor arm.

Another advantage of these magnetic ignition systems is that you often do not have to replace the distributor, and no drilling or permanent modifications to the distributor are required. Additionally, there are no electronic boxes to be fitted in the engine bay.


Electronic ignition fitting process photo
In the above image it can be seen that in this case both sets of points and the intermediate base plate have been removed. The newly fitted hall sensor and base plate are marked with a red oval. The circular magnet around the rotor arm is marked with a yellow oval. The rotor arm has been left off to show the reader more clearly the new ignition layout.



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PerTronix, who are one of the largest electronic ignition suppliers in the world, supply different ignition systems which are available for most models of distributor. In some cases were a distributor has two sets of points you can of course discard both sets of points, as well as the  intermediate distributor base plate. The external condenser and ballast resistor can also be removed.

All these items, along with their screws and clips can be stored away, so if you ever want to return the car to its original set-up it can be easily done.

PerTronix Ignition Diagram
PerTronix Ignition Diagram

Apart from fitting the ignition system, it’s essential to check for wear in the distributor cap, rotor arm, HT leads and spark caps. It’s a good idea to replace these items at the same time if they are old and worn. Spark plugs should of course also be checked.

Fitting these magnet electronic ignition systems to older cars that are used for hire is a decent idea, as it makes the ignition system far more reliable. I have started the car fine in a very chilly -10C one early morning in Scotland. Once fitted, you will often notice the engine can be more responsive.

You will of course no longer have to replace the often costly points or condenser, or run the risk of them letting you down. It is also a good idea to fit an upgraded coil to produce a better spark. The higher voltage coils will help make the engine a little more responsive and economical, due to the increased spark size and therefore better combustion.

If you found this article interesting and would like to learn more about locating quality automotive parts restoration services, you can visit The Automotive Restorers Guide here.