Breakerless-SE Electronic Ignition Conversion
ELECTRONIC IGNITION CONVERSION KIT
Eliminate Troublesome Ignition Points Forever!!!

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131

 PART #38131

The BREAKERLESS-SE single wire ignition kit is designed to convert all 1957-74 GM V8 engines equipped with window-style distributor cap, screw-on type rotor, stock coil, and single or dual points, to solid-state electronic ignition. These maintenance-free modules will insure your car maintains its maximum performance. By utilizing a fully integrated trigger and power module, the entire kit fits completely under your distributor cap.

How is this module different from others?
Although Lectric Limited did not develop the first electronic ignition conversion, we have developed what we feel is the best. Lectric Limited offers the only electronic ignition conversion kit that has no additional wires protruding from the distributor, only the original point's wire. The result is a reliable, state-of-the-art ignition with an absolutely stock appearance. (See below for more details and features.)

Legal for use on emission controlled vehicles. Includes mounting hardware, screwdriver, step-by-step instructions and 3 year warranty.

Made in U.S.A.

 WHY SHOULD YOU CONVERT YOUR DISTRIBUTOR
TO ELECTRONIC IGNITION?
The choice is obvious.

Lectric Limited's
BREAKERLESS-SE
Electronic Ignition
Original "Point-Type"
Ignition System
Electronic ignition module won't burn out under normal use. Points burn out from normal use and need to be replaced many times over the life of the car.
Module won't burn out if ignition switch is left in the run position (with ignition turned off). Points burn out if ignition switch is left in run position.
Electronic ignition develops up to 30,000 volts at the spark plug when a car is running at 10 mph.  This voltage remains at up to 30,000 volts when the car reaches 100 mph.  In addition, many electronic ignition systems maintain this voltage at speeds of 8,000 RPM.  (The Breakerless-SE is rated to fire at well over 10,000 RPM). Conventional system develop only 24,000 volts when a car is running at 10 mph.  But this voltage drops to 17,000 volts when the car reaches 100 mph.  A detrimental 40% drop in voltage to fire the air/fuel mixture under high load conditions.
Electronic ignition systems can operate as high as 8 amps which further enhances the performance of the overall ignition system. Conventional point's deterioration problems limit the primary current to the coil to about 4.5 amps.
Maintenance-free (with higher ignition voltage, more accurate timing, longer plug life, increased fuel economy, faster starts, and improved performance) Constant adjustments (gapping) necessary to insure peak performance.
Incorporates "Active Dwell" technology.

   Note: "Dwell" is measured in degrees and is
   the amount of 'time' the points stay closed.
   When the points are closed, the coil is
   building up charge (inductive). When the
   points open the coil releases it's charge.
   Electronic ignitions also have dwell - it's just
   controlled by the electronics in the module
   (not adjustable by the owner or mechanic as
   it is with points.) The Breakerless-SE
 
 incorporates "Active Dwell" technology to
   maintain high RPM spark energy; delivering
   up to 30,000 volts with the stock Delco
   ignition coil, while reducing coil heating at
   idle. Active dwell control is a very clever
   [electronic] way to further increase the output
   of the coil. With active dwell control the
   system is constantly monitoring the coil
   output and actively varying the dwell for
   maximum coil saturation. This does wonders
   for actual spark output. Another way to
   describe this would be 'constant on time
   dwell'.
Points need adjusting to compensate for dwell ("dwell" is how long your points stay closed, or "dwell" together, as the distributor shaft rotates).
No maintenance necessary for the distributor cam. Distributor cam requires periodic lubrication so cam wheel lobes can slide past the points.  In addition the cam lobes will wear, eventually causing performance problems.
Very reliable solid-state circuitry. Not reliable (for all of the above reasons).
Condenser is no longer necessary, and is removed. Condenser can degrade and/or fail, needing replacement.

WHY SHOULD YOU CHOOSE THE BREAKERLESS-SE
ELECTRONIC IGNITION CONVERSION KIT?
The choice is obvious.

Lectric Limited's
BREAKERLESS-SE
Electronic Ignition Kit
The "Other Guys"
Electronic Ignition
Single-wire operation - This is the ONLY single-wire module available on the market. Which means to function, only the existing black wire leading from the distributor to the ignition coil is required.  This not only simplifies installation, but preserves the stock appearance of the factory wiring.

There is no chance of mis-wiring your distributor and no need to cut into your existing harness.

The "other guys" conversion kits require 2 or 3 wires to operate.  These additional wire(s) protrude from distributor resulting in a non-original appearance (this more complex wiring method can also lead to a mis-wired and/or blown module).

Ask the "other guys" if their electronic ignition is a one-wire system.  They'll probably dance around the question but in the end, they'll have to say "NO" since we own the patent on it!

Auto shut-off feature protects the coil & ignition, and prevents a dead battery should the key be accidentally left in the ON position. Battery will drain and coil will be damaged if ignition switch is accidentally left on.
Utilizes a Hall Effect rotary-vane sensor (Hall Effect technology is not effected by oil, dirt, contaminants, solvents, heat or vibration - its design also compensates for worn bearings and distributor end play. Uses an "optical" sensor to trigger the spark (optical sensors can fail if oil, dirt or other contaminants are present).
Over-voltage / Over-current protected - This module is protected against damage from high amp battery chargers, reversed battery or improper wiring - operates down to 6 volts for cold weather starting). Their module will be instantly ruined (blown) from high amp battery chargers, reversed battery connection or improper wiring - a very costly mistake.
Active Dwell Technology - This system incorporates an active dwell control that maintains high RPM spark energy - delivering up to 30,000 volts with the stock Delco ignition coil, while reducing coil heating at idle. ???
Works with any type of spark plug wire. Some spark plug wires will work. Some
won't.
Reversed Battery Protection - Insures the module will not burn-out if you accidentally reversed the polarity on your battery. Some have this feature. Some do not.
Moisture and Vibration Protection Some are, some are not.
The entire system fits under the distributor cap. You do NOT have to cut into, or modify, your stock wiring harness in any way. Uses a box that is external to the distributor. You will have to cut into, and modify your existing harness.
Performance not effected by distributor end-play (up & down movement). Performance very susceptible to distributor end-play.
High-Temp. thermoplastic housing provides exceptional resistance against heat, moisture and vibration. ???
We recommend the use of all your original / stock factory components: distributor, cap, wiring and coil (can be installed with distributor left in the car). They recommend using their after-market coil for optimal performance.
Works with either vacuum advance or mechanical advance distributors. ???
3 Year Warranty from date of purchase backs all our claims! Some have a 2 year warranty. Some have only a 90 day warranty.

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Comparisson
For pricing or to order the BREAKERLESS-SE
View Catalog / Order Online.
Then enter the year / make/  model of your vehicle, and scroll-down to the
"Conversion/Update Kits and Modifications"
Part # 38131
 

                   AS SEEN ON...                     
Our BREAKERLESS-SE has been seen in the National Corvette Restorer's Society (N.C.R.S.) magazine, Hemmings Motor News, Corvette Fever Magazine, Vette Magazine, Auto Trader & Old Car Trader publications and "Horsepower" TV.  It is also being used in countless show cars and daily driver cars throughout the country with an impeccable performance record.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ABOUT THE BREAKERLESS-SE

Which vehicles can use the BREAKERLESS-SE? The Breakerless-SE is designed to be used with all 1957 to 1974 GM V8 breaker point type distributors having the following criteria:
1. Windowed-style distributor cap
2. Screw-on type rotor
   
(not the push-on type rotor)
3. Stock coil
    (or coil with stock specs. see below)

If your car has all 3 of the above criteria,
the Breakerless-SE will work for you!

NOTE: The Breakerless-SE is designed to be used with a stock/original type distributor & coil.  It will not fit or work with aftermarket distributors (i.e. Accel, Mallory, MSD, etc.) and will not work with any MSD Blaster coils. See below for more info.

What does the BREAKERLESS-SE Electronic Ignition Conversion Kit include? Lectric Limited's Breakerless-SE single wire ignition conversion kit comes with everything you need to complete your installation.  Kit includes: (1) module, (1) two piece vane assembly, all necessary mounting hardware, screwdriver, complete step-by-step installation instructions. Easily installs in 15 minutes! You do not need to remove your distributor!
How much is the BREAKERLESS-SE Electronic Ignition Conversion Kit? The Breakerless-SE single wire ignition kit is PART # 38131.  For pricing, see our
Online Catalog.
What are the benefits of installing a BREAKERLESS-SE in my vehicle?

 

 

The benefits you'll realize by installing the Breakerless-SE include:
- higher ignition voltage
- more accurate timing
- longer spark plug life
- increased fuel economy
- faster starts
- improved performance
- The most obvious, and important benefit however, is not having to change or adjust your points and condenser ever again!
What do you mean by "single wire operation"? The Breakerless-SE requires only one wire to operate, the original points wire. This not only simplifies installation, but preserves the stock appearance of the original factory wiring and distributor. Similar ignition conversion systems on the market use two or three wires to operate, making installation difficult, and creating a "non-stock" appearance in your engine compartment.
Do I need to remove my distributor to install this kit?  No.  Unlike many other conversion kits, the Breakerless-SE may be installed with the distributor in the car.
Will it work with my Tachometer? The Breakerless-SE is compatible with factory and aftermarket tachs. A tach filter should not be required. However, if one was originally installed in the vehicle it should be left in place. Some low cost, imported and reproduction tachs do a poor job of triggering from the coil's (-) signal and may require additional filtering to prevent erratic or inaccurate readings. The tachometer manufacturer should be contacted to resolve these types of problems.

NOTE: Do NOT connect any devices to the positive (+) side of the coil, such as solenoids, alarm systems, electric chokes, stereos, etc.  They may draw too much power and will interfere with the operation of the Breakerless-SE.

Will it work with a mechanical advance distributor? It doesn't matter what type of advance your distributor may have.  The Breakerless-SE will work with either a vacuum advance or mechanical advance distributor.
How rugged or durable is the BREAKERLESS-SE? The exterior of the Breakerless-SE is molded from PPS, making it impervious to heat and solvent (up to 5000 F). The electronics inside are potted/sealed with thermally conductive epoxy protecting them from vibration and moisture. We are so confident in the construction quality of the Breakerless-SE that we offer a 3 year warranty.
What are some of the important safety features of the BREAKERLESS-SE? 1. It's polarity protected against accidental reverse battery installation.
2. It will withstand battery jump starts and will operate down to 6 volts to insure cold weather starting.
3. It's designed to shut off 1 second after the engine stops. This feature protects the coil and ignition should the key be accidentally left in the ON position.
You state that the
BREAKERLESS-SE  requires a
"window-style" distributor cap.
What does this cap look like and
why is it required?
Click Here for a picture of a window-style
distributor cap. 

A window-style distributor cap is not required, per se, but this type of cap does signify the specific type of distributor needed for the Breakerless-SE to fit & function properly. (These distributors have the correct housing to allow proper vane assembly rotation, proper breaker mounting plate, and screw-on rotor.)

So rather than asking people what type of distributor they have (which many people don't know), it is easier to ask if they have a window-style distributor cap.

Can the BREAKERLESS-SE  
be used in aftermarket- type
distributors?
The Breakerless-SE is designed to be used with 1957 to 1974 GM, AMC or Jeep V8 breaker point type distributors (with windowed-style distributor caps).   It will not work with aftermarket distributors (ie. Accel, Mallory, MSD, etc.)
What type of coil can be used with the BREAKERLESS-SE? The Breakerless-SE was designed for original or restored-to-original vehicles.  Consequently, the Breakerless-SE is compatible with all original/stock GM Delco Remy coils. These original-type coils are high-inductance and have a primary resistance of 1.2 to 2.1 ohms when coil is at room temperature.

Most aftermarket or "hi-performance" coils are compatible as well, as long as their *primary* resistance is within the range of 1.2 to 2.1 ohms when coil is at room temperature.

How can you tell what the primary resistance of your coil is?  You might be able to get this information from the coil's box, or you can contact the manufacturer, or use a quality ohmmeter to check the coil.  To use an ohmmeter, first zero-out your meter.  Then put your meter across the + and - threaded posts of the coil.

Be sure to follow the coil manufacturers installation instructions carefully, or contact them whenever installing a non-stock coil. Before you buy a new coil, you will want to contact the manufacturer for compatibility issues.

NOTE: The Breakerless-SE is designed
to be used with a stock/original type
distributor & coil.  It will not fit or work
with aftermarket distributors (i.e. Accel,
Mallory, MSD, etc.) and will not work with
any MSD Blaster coils.

DO NOT use the Breakerless-SE with any "MSD Blaster" coils or coils with low primary resistance. The primary resistance on these coils is too low (about 0.5 ohm) and will ruin the Breakerless-SE module and void your warranty!!!

What types of performance coils can be used with the BREAKERLESS-SE?

Any high-inductance coil with a primary resistance of 1.2 to 2.1 ohms at room temperature. Most "stock" or original replacement coils are of this type. (see above)

Can I use an aftermarket CD ignition box with the BREAKERLESS-SE? The Breakerless-SE will not work for triggering aftermarket CD ignition boxes such as the MSD 6AL, Crane HI-6, etc. Connection to the ignition coil is required for proper operation.
Do I need to remove the ballast resistor or resistance wire from my vehicle when installing the BREAKERLESS-SE?

Because the Breakerless-SE was designed for original or restored-to-original vehicles, you MUST use a ballast resistor (if your vehicle was originally equipped with one), or resistance wire (if your vehicle originally has this wire built into your dash harness or engine harness).

Do NOT remove your ballast resistor, or remove the resistance wire.  This will eventually damage the Breakerless-SE module and void your warranty.

Can I use a rev. limiter?

 

 

Most popular aftermarket RPM limiters will work with the Breakerless-SE. However, it is advisable to check with the limiter's manufacturer, since third party products cannot be guaranteed by us.
Will I need to change my spark plugs to a different heat range? The factory recommended spark plugs should be used.
Will I need to change my spark plug wires? You can use your original-type spark plug wires or hi-performance wires, which ever you choose.
Will I need to change the gap of my spark plugs? Plug gaps should be set to factory specifications. Increasing the plug gap will provide negligible performance gains, but will increase the demand on the ignition coil.
What is the maximum operating RPM? Maximum operating RPM is in the range of 7,000 to 8,000 RPM with the stock coil. Condition of the coil, as well as secondary ignition components (i.e. spark plugs, cap, rotor, wires) and the battery voltage will ultimately determine the maximum RPM. The Breakerless-SE is capable of firing at well over 10,000 RPM.
Should I remove the condenser in the distributor when installing the BREAKERLESS-SE ? Yes.  It is no longer needed.
My ignition coil has a condenser attached to it.  Should I leave it installed? Yes. This is a noise filter for the radio and should remain connected to the coil's positive (+) terminal.
Will the BREAKERLESS-SE work on positive ground vehicles? No. The reverse polarity protection circuitry, built into the Breakerless-SE, will not permit it to run.
What are the most common problems I might encounter after installing the BREAKERLESS-SE ? A bad or marginal ground connection to the distributor's breaker plate is by far the most common problem, followed by poor engine grounds, bad coils, using a hi-
performance coil, or bad/wrong ballast
resistor.

See our F.A.Q. for more extensive troubleshooting tips.

After installing the BREAKERLESS-SE, my engine won't start.  What can I do? See our F.A.Q.
What is the warranty on the BREAKERLESS-SE?

The Breakerless-SE has an incredible 3 Year Warranty!!!
Lectric Limited will repair or replace any Breakerless-SE in the event of a manufacturing defect for three (3) years after the date of original purchase. A purchase receipt, or other proof of date of original end user purchase, will be required before warranty service will be rendered. This warranty covers normal consumer use and does not cover damage which occurs in shipment or failure which results from alteration, accident, misuse, abuse, neglect, installation or improper maintenance. Under any circumstances, the liability of Lectric Limited shall be limited to the original cost of the Breakerless-SE paid by the end user and Lectric Limited shall not be liable for any consequential or incidental damages which occur as a result of the use of the Breakerless-SE. This limit on liability may vary in your state and you may have additional rights and/or remedies depending on the state in which you live.

 

The Breakerless-SE is legal for use on emission controlled vehicles
in all 50 states per CARB EO D-275-1

For pricing or to order the BREAKERLESS-SE
View Catalog / Order Online.
Then enter the year / make/  model of your vehicle, and scroll-down to the
"Conversion/Update Kits and Modifications"
Part # 38131

HOW TO INSTALL THE BREAKERLESS-SE

To view the Breakerless-SE instruction sheets Click Here.
To view or print the instruction sheets, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer.

Download Free Acrobat® Reader
Installation is so simple that we're sure it will take you longer to read the instructions,
than it will take to install the kit. 

This is the era of modern wonders, where everything is transistorized, digitized, and miniaturized.  Yet even today, many classic car owners still use breaker point ignitions on their classic cars.  For other people, the frustration of attempting to keep a breaker point-fired vehicle in peak running condition has been enough of a reason to join the electronic era.  Breaker point systems do have some positives, though.  Points are cheap and somewhat easy to install.  And many owners are comfortable with setting-up their points.  But for the utmost firing precision and maintenance-free convenience, electronic ignition is the way to go.

When it comes right down to it, installing the Breakerless-SE electronic ignition system is every bit as easy as installing a new set of points and condenser.  (Everything also looks stock when put back together.)  All the new components fit under the cap, and the only wire exiting the distributor is the one that was there when you started.

With no moving parts to worry about, you can drive to your heart's content and only have to worry about replacing the occasional cap and rotor. The real payoff, though, is knowing that you won't have to pull off your cap in a few thousand miles to reset the points.

For illustration purposes, the installation below was done on a distributor removed from the vehicle.  But you can easily install the Breakerless-SE with your distributor remaining in your vehicle.

- CLICK ON IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE -
Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation   Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation

The first step is to remove the old points and condenser. We used single-point distributor for this conversion.  If you have a dual point distributor, you will need to use the supplied low-profile screw in the breaker point mounting hole closest to where the wire exits (arrow).  You will also need to snip-off the crossover wire as closely to the spade terminal as possible.
Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation
The next step is to "mate" the two vane sections together so they form a circle.  Place a button-head screw through the mounting ears on one side to hold the vanes together. ...then slip the vane assembly around the distributor shaft.  Use needle-nose pliers to insert the screw into the underside of the rotor mounting ears and the provided small screwdriver to turn the screw counterclockwise into its mounting hole, then repeat on the other side.  The screws should only be in about halfway at this point. After installing the small brass screw into the ignition module, slip the module through an opening in the vanes and position it where your points were mounted.  The point pivot tab on the plate must align with the hole on the bottom of the mounting screws and lock washers.  The flexible wire clamp goes on the screw closest to where the distributor wire exits.

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation

You can then use the supplied Allen wrench to firmly tighten the vane mounting screws.  We suggest that you check the clearance between the vanes and the two halves of the sensor by twisting the advance mechanism.  If you don't take your distributor out and need to rotate it to accomplish this, be sure to make locating marks before doing so. It's now time to attach the point wire to the module.  The spade terminal must be bent up at a 45-degree angle to insure that it clears the distributor cap.  The small wire clamp you installed then wraps around the wire; make sure it clears the vanes. When installing a new rotor with this new system, you may have to enlarge the mounting holes to 7/32".  Another thing to remember is that the square and round pegs must be shorter than 1/8 inch for the rotor to seat properly.  The hex wrench that comes with the kit makes a handy guide.  Our rotor was ready to go, with no modifications necessary.

Breakerless-SE - Part# 38131 Installation

You're Done!  Now we're ready to hit the road with no more worries about points!

Customer Comment:
"Just wanted to tell you how happy I am with the new Lectric Limited BREAKERLESS-SE ELECTRONIC IGNITION CONVERSION KIT. I just installed in my ’64 Stingray’s 327 340HP engine. The installation was, for the most-part, quite smooth. Coupled with one of your companion coils, a new ballast resistor, and a fresh set of your plug wires, the engine cranked right up on first try. Timing is set dead-on now and the car starts and runs like new. I’m so happy to finally be done with changing those mechanical points! And, I couldn’t be happier that the ignition upgrade is completely hidden under the distributor cap!"
Bill Church - Chesapeake, VA
 

 

THE TECHNICAL STUFF

The Basics of "Point-Type Ignition"
When the points close, current begins flowing thru the coil's primary side. This current flow magnetizes the coil's core, which acts as a concentrator, storing magnetic energy. As the core becomes more magnetized, magnetic field lines (called flux) spread out and envelop the windings. As long as current continues to flow, this flux will exist.

About this time, the points open and current flow is interrupted, causing the magnetic field to collapse. This rapid "cutting" of the windings by the flux is what induces a large voltage on the coil output. The faster the rate of this "cutting", the higher the voltage. You may remember this effect from back when your primary means of transportation was a bicycle. If you had a headlight you probably noticed the faster you pedaled, the brighter the light became. This was due to the flux from the permanent magnets in the generator cutting the windings faster and inducing a higher voltage across the lamp.

Getting back to ignitions - one of the fundamental characteristics of an inductor (which is a fancy name for ignition coil) is that it opposes a change in current. How? As the flux is collapsing back into the core; making that nice high voltage to fire the spark plugs, the other end is also generating high voltage trying to suck electrons across the open points. If the voltage gets high enough, an arc will form and bad things will happen.

Like what? Well since current is now flowing across the arc, the flux will stop collapsing and no high voltage will be generated. Further, the points will very shortly look like a pair of charcoal briquettes (if you can manage to keep the engine running long enough). This is where the condenser comes into play. The condenser (which every other industry in the world calls a capacitor) is that little metal cylinder mounted in the distributor with one wire connected to the points.

Like the inductor, it too has a fundamental characteristic. Namely, to oppose a change in voltage, and here's how. When the points are closed, the wire from the condenser is also grounded keeping it discharged. As the points open and the coil tries to suck electrons, the condenser acts as a reservoir, providing a source until the points have time to get far enough apart to prevent formation of an arc. So now all the problems are solved, right?

Well, not quite. Like most things in life, there are tradeoffs. If you were to squeeze a big, fat condenser into the distributor, the points would last a lifetime. This is because the condenser would supply so much current, the voltage would never get high enough to arc across the points. The down side is the magnetic field around the coil secondary winding would collapse so slowly, very little if any high voltage would be produced. Also, the car wouldn't run, which would tend to extend the life of the points.

Going in the other direction, we know that having no condenser causes a current flow in the form of an arc, with the same net effect on secondary voltage. Therefore, choosing a condenser means deciding how much secondary voltage you need and how much point burn you can live with.

The Basics of "Electronic Ignition"
From the previous section, you can see that the points are no more than a switch, which grounds and un-grounds the minus side of the coil. You undoubtedly have begun to suspect the major benefit of electronic ignition. Namely, replacement of mechanical contacts with a solid-state device that is not subject to wear. Solid-state device? Okay, okay - a transistor. So how is this accomplished?

Forgetting for a moment how you control this device or the underlying physics behind it, think of it as a variable resistor. You turn it on, the resistance drops, and current flows (just like the points closing). When it's turned off, the resistance goes up (way, way up), and virtually no current flows. Since we no longer need to slow down the voltage rise to allow time for the points to get out of the way, the coil current can be switched off much faster. This results in a faster collapse of the flux, creating a higher secondary voltage. Additionally, since this thing is a solid chunk of silicon, there is no opportunity for creating an arc (or the erosion that results from it).

Of course the technically elite will quickly point out that the voltage will rise high enough to exceed the breakdown voltage of the device. For this reason, most ignition systems limit the coil primary voltage to the 400 - 500 volt range. Point systems typically hover around 250 volts.

So this takes care of all the problems? Not quite. The points not only interrupted current, but with assistance from the point cam, also controlled when to do it. Some early electronic ignitions (most notably Japanese vehicles of the early '70s) were actually hybrids that used points to control the timing and a transistor to switch the coil current. Although the points lasted much longer, the system was far from maintenance free; dwell shift due to rubbing block wear, contact corrosion near marine environments, insufficient current to prevent oxidation of the contact, etc.

The next obvious step was to create some form of non-contact sensor to generate the timing information.

The big three are: Magnetic, Optical, and Hall-Effect triggering. A fourth, called ECKO for Eddy Current Killed Oscillator (used by Lucas Electric) will be discussed, because sometimes it's fun to take long road into town.

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3 Types of Triggering Methods:
1.)  Optical Triggering  (GOOD)
Optical triggering has seen very little use by automotive manufacturers (one or two years of the Nissan Sentra come to mind). The basic construction is an infrared LED (Light Emitting Diode) facing a phototransistor separated by a small gap. Thru this gap a slotted wheel passes which alternately blocks and un-blocks the light, generating position information. Since light will pass through a very narrow slot, a high degree of positional accuracy can be obtained. So why doesn't everybody use this method?

A couple of reasons, the optics of the LED and phototransistor must be kept fairly clean, particularly as the windows in the trigger wheel get smaller. Failure ranges from a subtle timing shift to complete inoperability. Also, LED's and phototransistors that are rated for the automotive temperature range are not available in low cost (required in cost sensitive applications).

Optical triggering has been used primarily by aftermarket ignition manufacturers. It was the only viable alternative to magnetic back in the 1970's when most of the aftermarket ignition companies were founded. It was attractive chiefly because a simple trigger wheel could be fabricated out of plastic or other household materials and the output required minimal signal conditioning, unlike magnetic.

2.)  Magnetic Triggering  (BETTER)
Far and away the most popular technology has been the magnetic trigger. It has been used by virtually every auto manufacturer since the mid-seventies and is still widely used today. It's construction and operation is inherently simple: Typically a bar of steel is wrapped with several hundred turns of fine wire on one end. A small magnet is attached to the other end, and this assembly is mounted in the distributor facing the distributor shaft. Where the point cam would normally be, a small-toothed wheel is attached. This is called a reluctor. As the teeth of the reluctor approach the coil assembly, the flux from the magnet is pulled in close to the bar. As the teeth move away, the flux springs back outward, inducing a voltage in the pickup coil. Sound familiar?

This voltage is then chopped / filtered / amplified and used to drive a high voltage / high current transistor that switches the coil current. It is a rugged, reliable system that holds up well in a high temperature, high vibration environment. Since it generates a signal without external power, it is especially easy to apply.

The magnetic sensor is gradually being phased out though. It has limited ability to sense teeth that are very close together, which is necessary to gain the positional accuracy required by modern engine management systems.

3.)  Hall-Effect Triggering (THE BEST)  As used in BREAKERLESS-SE
A Hall-Effect sensor consists of a wafer of silicon thru which a current is passed. When a magnet is placed in proximity to the wafer, the current tends to bunch up on one side of the silicon. This concentration is amplified and detected, indicating the presence or absence of a magnetic field.

The advantages of the Hall device are numerous. Since it is an integrated circuit, it can be made very small with a number of features at minimal cost. It exceeds all current automotive temperature specs, and its accuracy is unaffected even when covered in under-hood muck.

Hall-Effect triggering was widely used by Bosch on European spec vehicles since the late 1970's and was sporadically used in the U.S. as early as 1975. In the 1980's it became somewhat more prevalent, mainly on Chrysler imports. Ford was the first domestic manufacturer to embrace the technology with the advent of the TFI (Thick Film Integrated) ignition. Unfortunately, a good sensor technology was coupled with a marginal ignition module, as evidenced by the current class action lawsuit on behalf of owners of TFI equipped vehicles (not to worry though, Ford straightened this out with the TFI II).

Hall-Effect has since become the overwhelming choice for sensor technology as automotive manufactures migrate to Crank Angle Sensors. These typically are placed to read the starter gear teeth on the flywheel providing the high degree of positional accuracy required for advanced engine management systems. Hall-Effect sensors are also widely used to sense wheel spin on anti-lock brake systems.

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Eddy Current Killed Oscillator
This is a technology that is still used today in the form of proximity sensors used in various commercial and industrial environments. Unfortunately, it didn't transition well into the automotive realm. Maybe it was just in the execution?

Basically it worked like this: a pickup with two coils was mounted in the distributor through which an oscillating current was passed. A plastic wheel was attached to the distributor shaft that contained very small iron dowel pins (one pin per cylinder). As the pins passed the pickup, an imbalance was caused in the pickup oscillation. This was sensed by the module (located elsewhere on the vehicle), which fired the coil.

To get the pickup to sense the pins, it had to be close, about .010"-.015". Unfortunately, the plastic rotor changed shape as it dried out from exposure to heat, causing the timing to be anybody's guess. It also had the nasty habit of cracking and flinging a dowel pin into the pickup. Since the pickup and module were tuned to work together, this meant replacing both. That was about $380 in 1972 dollars. Then there were the heat and vibration problems - but lets not be sadistic.

Lucas apparently learned the error of their ways for they began to stuff magnetic pickups in their distributors, and General Motors HEI modules in little black boxes and charge even more money for them.

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Coil Specs - Basic Science or Just B.S. ?
So it's time to replace the coil. That one at the auto parts store is sure to do the trick. Because it's yellow and it has a shiny sticker that says it's a "super-mega-volt-fireball-thunder-spark-deluxe" coil and like most performance parts, it will make you go faster, if only because it lightens your wallet by so much.

Okay, Okay - Let's talk voltage first, since this is the main entrance for most people's trip down the garden path.

Question: How much voltage do you need?
Answer:   Enough for a hot spark.

Question: How much is that?
Answer:   Uh, isn't more better?

Now that some of you have been insulted, let's try to put some real numbers to the problem. Suppose you have a motor with 9:1 compression and an air/fuel mixture of 14.7:1. It's a nice cool day and your driving down the coast about 25 feet above sea level. You've just installed a new cap, rotor, a fresh set of spark plugs gapped at .035", and a new set of plug wires. For good measure, you just changed the oil and washed the car, so it's really running sweet.

So how much voltage do you need?
Oh, about 12,000 volts (12Kv).

What about when you nail it to pass someone going 35 in the 65 zone? Okay, maybe 14Kv.

But that monster coil you just installed is still putting out 60,000 volts (60Kv) to the plugs just like it says in the magazine ad, right? Nope, sorry. You see, once the voltage has built-up high enough to jump the plug gap, its job is basically done. After the plug fires, the voltage required to sustain the arc is much lower than the firing voltage. At this point, what's important is to shove as much current across the gap as possible.

When you get home you discover your annual smog check is due today. So you run out and turn the mixture screws to lean out the motor. Firing voltage just went up to 14Kv. But the motor won't run right because there are fewer fuel molecules to interact with the spark. So you open up the plug gaps to .045". Firing voltage just went up again, maybe to 16 or 17Kv.

So just how do you get 60,000 volts (or even half that) to the plugs? You don't, except maybe in the lab. You see, high voltage is a strange beast. It tends to crawl over things or go through things you'd expect would stop it. If you kept opening the plug gaps, you'd find it increasingly difficult to get the voltage to the plug. At about 25KV, it would much rather run down the outside of the plug though the oil and dirt left from your fingerprints when you screwed it in or arcing through the tower of you new coil.

Does this mean 60,000 volts is complete fiction? Well, that depends on your view of reality. If you string together two car batteries in series (24 volts) and fire the coil a few times with no load attached, and it makes 60,000 volts just before it dies, is that coil not in fact capable of producing 60,000 volts?

One thing you will never see on a coil box or ad is "This coil is capable of producing up to 30,000 volts when measured in accordance with SAE specification XYZ" Even more enlightening would be a graph of how the coil voltage falls-off with rpm. Of course, this would be death in the marketplace. Can you imagine the shiny yellow coil promising nothing short of the ability to arc weld, next to the one that says "Well, I start out at 30,000 volts and go down from there - Buy Me!". Which would you choose?

So by now the question in your mind might be "If it takes so little voltage to fire the plugs, why do I need even a 30Kv coil?" Three important terms to keep in mind: Secondary Available Voltage, Required Firing Voltage, and Reserve Voltage.

Secondary Available Voltage is what the secondary side (or high voltage side) of the coil is capable of producing - say 30Kv.

Required Firing Voltage is what it actually takes to jump the plug gap - perhaps 14Kv.

Reserve Voltage is the difference between the Available and Required voltage - 16Kv (i.e., what's left over).

So what good is this reserve voltage? Well, as the spark plugs begin to wear and loose the sharp edges on the electrodes, the required firing voltage may go up by 1 or 2Kv. Likewise for the cap and rotor. Inspected your plug wires lately? Burned or broken conductors, usually by the crimp area will still function, but may require an addition 3 to 4Kv to overcome the additional gap.

Therefore, one could assert that the primary benefit of a high voltage coil is to increase the service interval of the ignition components, keeping the vehicle in tune longer. This statement will no doubt bring howls from the turbo-nitrous-blown-injected crowd, but that's not really the focus here. Most people's experience is with passenger cars (ouch! It still hurts from when someone called my high school ride that - a nice '69 Cutlass with fat tires, loud exhaust, and really cool stripes), that are unlikely to be substantially affected by a performance coil.

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Spark Plug Wires
The three most common wire types are metal core, resistor core and spiral core. Metal core wires consist of stranded copper or stainless steel conductors. Resistor core is generally constructed with a filament impregnated with carbon or graphite particles, and looks like a pencil lead. Spiral core looks very similar to resistor core, but has a very fine wire wrapped spirally around the core.

Metal Core wires for the most part are obsolete due to the interference they generate with communication systems. However, they are still found on some imports and motorcycle engines (when used in conjunction with a resistor spark plug cap), in part due to their ability to withstand vibration. They are also used in some race applications, such as with magneto ignitions.

Resistor Core has been the most commonly used suppression type wire. Its job is to slow the discharge rate and dampen the oscillations that occur on the secondary side of the ignition. This has the effect of reducing the tendency of the wire to act like a radiating antenna. Its chief drawback is that the core is somewhat fragile and will erode open if nicked. This is commonly seen at the ends where the wire is stripped in order to attach the spark plug and distributor terminals. It also reduces the energy delivered to the plug somewhat, due to its inherent I2R losses.

Spiral Core wire has become increasingly popular in the last several years. Its function is also to reduce radio frequency interference (RFI), but by means of inductive reactance. As current flows through the wire, the spiral windings appear inductive, which by now you know means it opposes a change in current, again slowing the discharge rate and subsequent oscillations. Because this opposition to the current is in the form of "phony ohms", it does not convert as much energy to heat as does resistor core wire. This is primarily of benefit to some capacitive discharge ignition systems that have very high peak secondary currents.

So the choice is obvious, right? By now you probably can guess what the answer will be. Don't be misled by the cute display at the auto parts store that shows how much brighter the flashlight bulb is with the new SUPERWIRE than with the old, evil, low performance "stock" wire. This has little correlation to how the wire will actually work on the vehicle. Also, be aware that while there are some well made spiral core wires, there are also poorly made ones. In an effort to play the "who has the lowest resistance" game (as well as to save money), some manufacturers will put too few spiral wraps on the core which greatly reduces the suppression characteristics of the wire. It is also worth noting that some vehicles will not tolerate the increased RFI due to noise sensitivity of the control electronics.

A common situation is the customer who has put a set of these wires on a late model computer controlled vehicle. The increased interference is enough to cause the vehicle to run erratically. However, the customer is unwilling to remove the wires because he wants the "performance". At which time it's nearly impossible to resist asking whether the performance was better before or after installing the wires. (click here for spark plug wires)

Spark Plug Insulation - Bigger, Fatter, Better?
Just like speaker cables, spark plug wires have undergone the same marketing performance enhancements where big and fat is better. Now if there was some way to carry that over to other aspects of life...Anyway, what's up with these jumbo wires?

When only 7mm was available, life was simple. Then 8mm came along for "high performance", and that was ok. Then 8.8mm showed up, which is about the size of the pencil they give you in first grade, and that was what you needed for even better performance. Recently, some 12mm showed up, which is about the size of one of Clinton's cigars and looks like it must be used to light off the space shuttle.

If you're unfamiliar with the terminology, 7mm, 8mm, etc. refers to the diameter of the plug wire insulation. The larger the diameter the thicker the insulation, and hence the greater ability to contain the high voltage on the center conductor. This naturally leads to the argument that these fat wires will prevent arcing or leakage and deliver more power to you plugs. The fact is the break-over voltage of the spark plug is lower than the breakdown voltage of most average 7mm wires. When you see leakage, it usually is because the wire is old, cracked, ugly, and basically used up. Going to 8mm may increase the service interval since the thicker insulation will take longer to break down.

So should you put on a set of these wires? Absolutely - that's what keeps our economy going. Besides, they look really cool. If for nothing else, sometimes they have nice molded boots that don't fall off when you pull on the wire.

The Bottom Line - as with any performance part, be conscious of the new-parts effect. This is where the motor runs better not because the new part is so great, but because the old part was so bad :-)

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Lectric Limited, Inc.
Manufacturer of General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, AMC & Jeep Wiring and Electrical Products!
6750 W. 74th St. - Suite A - Bedford Park, IL 60638 - U.S.A.
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708-563-0400 Local  -or-  866-624-1850 Toll-Free
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