Whether trying to nail the punchline on a joke during Thanksgiving dinner or make a tired old engine run properly, timing is important. My 1930 Ford Model A is out of rhythm and yielding crickets from the audience, as it were, so it’s time for a freshening.
The process of getting the very simple Model A ignition system set up properly is actually quite complicated, because it is the breaker point cam is that is adjusted, rather than a simple turn of the distributor body like in a more modern engine. This job requires some disassembly and extra tools.
Rather than grabbing a timing light from the toolbox, I start with a 9/16″ wrench to remove the timing pin on the front engine cover. Using that pin allows me to know that the number one cylinder is at top dead center on its compression stroke. From there I use the process laid out by Les Andrews in his Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook. A simple test light clipped to the points allows me to know the exact point the gap opens as I turn the breaker point cam.
The one big key in this process is an easy one to forget—only turn the breaker points cam counter-clockwise. Gear lash and tolerance stack up means you could set the cam perfectly, but as soon as the engine starts, the tolerance stack up will effectively retard the timing, sending you back to step one.
It’s not an incredibly difficult process, but I have to admit it tested my patience this time. I think most of that was due to the tired nature of a lot of the parts on my coupe, specifically. Following the book to the letter just wasn’t working, so I had to switch to using the instructions as more of a guideline and adjusting the whole system by feel rather than measurement. Now and again, this approach is necessary.
The end result is not perfect, but it’s definitely better than before. I have a multitude of other items to deal with on this car, but picking off projects one at a time is how to make progress over the long haul. I’m gonna keep at it, and if you want to follow along, be sure to subscribe to Hagerty’s YouTube channel to receive a notification with each video that goes live.