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Electronic Ignition Conversion - Factory Datsun "matchbox"


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Replace your points-based distributor with a High Energy electronic ignition using the 1979-up USA Datsun factory "matchbox" distributor. This is the Hitachi D4K distributor for four-cylinder engines and Hitachi D6K for six-cylinder engines. D4K or D6K is stamped on the distributor body.



* 2-wire hookup



* Large cap for less chance of crossfiring

* genuine Nissan/Hitachi ignition control modules last 30+ years

* No more replacing of you points & condensor on scheduled 12 months/15000 miles.



* $40 at Pick-n-Pull without cap/rotor/coil

* $75 to $125 at traditional wreckers

* $125 distributor with cheap module at RockAuto.com



* See Electronic Ignitions For L motors (4 cyl.) or Electronic Ignition for A motors


D4K "matchbox" distributor for L-series engines



D4K "matchbox" distributor for A-series engines



NOTE: Earlier factory Datsun systems used a "remote ignitor" system (Hitachi D4F). The Matchbox discussed here is a cleaner setup using only two wires and no external box. If you really want to the use the 1974-1978 system, use the search box.





Be sure to get

* Distributor with module attached

* Matching coil (optional, but recommended)

* T-shaped Connector with two wires (at least a few inches of the wire)

* External condensor (optional to reduce AM radio interference)


For L-series engines (L16/L18/L20B or L24) also get:

* Matching distributor Support Base (pedestal)

* Matching timing plate

IMPORTANT: These are similar but different to non-Matchbox distributors. With the matching items, the swap is very easy. Without the matching items, you will need to do additional modifications.





If buying used, there are two things to watch out for:


* Advance plate bearing gone bad

* Vacuum advance canister not holding vacuum


CAUTION: These often go bad after 20 years. Inspect carefully before buying. The good news is the electronics almost never go bad!





Look for the matchbox bolted to the side of the distributor.


Look on the distributor body. The type is stamped on it: (e.g. D410, D4K, D4F, D4N etc). D4K or D6K is the matchbox type. Wipe away the grease to see the stamped numbers.


It also has the Nissan part number (starts with 22100).





Rotate engine to the timing mark. Remove the cap & note where rotor is pointing. If it is pointing to the #4 spark plug wire, rotate engine one more turn. This is TDC for #1 cylinder


Remove old distributor, Insert new distributor. Rotate the housing to align the teeth of the new distributor. Ensure rotor is pointing to the #1 position on the cap.


On the L-series engine, you must ensure the matchbox unit is not facing the exhaust manifold. Overheating is a sure way to cook the box. By using the matching Support Pedestal and timing plate it will fit in the correct way.





2-wires attach to the Matchbox distributor. Connect:

* Black/white wire to 12V side of ballast resistor (the side not directly connected to the coil)

* Blue wire to coil negative terminal


That's it!




The condensor is optional, it is to reduce radio interference. One end goes to coil+, the other to ground.


Optional (but highly recommended) is to run a dedicated ground wire from the body of the distributor to bare engine metal (such as to a timing cover bolt).




If you got the matching high-energy coil, then you can jump the ballast resistor (connect a 14 gauge wire across both terminals of the resistor) to enable high-energy mode.



Alternatively you can remove the Ballast Resistor and connect all three wires together.






You can re-use your 1975-1978 distributor Cap & Rotor (75mm inside diameter). For older distributors with 70mm cap, get the matching used Cap & Rotor for the Matchbox system. You can buy new, but genuine Nissan 75mm cap & rotor almost never go bad.


Also see: Matchbox four-cylinder Cap & Rotor Part Numbers


Matchbox D4K uses the same 75mm cap as earlier D4A/D4F distributors.



The smaller cap is used by 1960s/early 1970s distributors (e.g. D40, D411 and D412).





Should you need them, see Hitachi D4K distributor PARTS for four-cylinder engines





Matchbox with its matching coil works fine with points-type spark plug gap (.031 to .035 inch), but also can reliably fire larger gaps -- which fire lean mixtures better. Use 0.039 to 0.43 reliably for all Datsun engines. Higher gaps are possible (see the late model repair manual for specific recommendations which work with certain engines).


If using a points coil with a resistor, set the gap to 0.35 inch.

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Here is more information on inspecting the matchbox distributor. If buying used, there are two things to watch out for:


* Advance plate bearing gone bad

* Vacuum advance canister not holding vacuum


To ensure you obtain a good unit:


1. Make sure the 'teeth' line up evenly, evenly spaced (gap is equal with all four). Also wiggle the teeth with your finger. If you use a tool, you can get them all to move, but it shouldn't move with your fingers and in any case should snap back to perfect teeth gap alignment.


bad: 14075.jpg



2. Check vacuum advance -- most are bad! -- bring a vacuum gun with you and ensure that vacuum stays steady (does not slowly leak) and that it rotates the advance plate. A stuck advance plate is the result of bad plate bearings (see point #1).


good: 14074.jpg


The good news is you can buy a new can for $30 to $100 from RockAuto.com or other local parts stores.



3. Wiggle the shaft from side to side. It should have no or a tiny bit of play. If it has enough to allow the stator teeth to hit the reluctor teeth, that's way too much. That being said, the shaft bushings rarely wear out.



4. Test the mechanical advance: hold the end of the distributor shaft (at the bottom) steady, and try to turn the rotor (or top of shaft). The mechanical advance is spring-loaded:

* If it flops a little back and forth, the mechanical advance is broken

* If it doesn't move one direction, and moves a bit the other with some tension, it is good



About the teeth alignment: most of the used Matchbox distributors I have purchased have this problem. In the photo, note the mis-alignment of the reluctor. It is caused by a bad "breaker plate" assembly (vacuum-advance plate), which you cannot see without disassembly the distributor. In some of the distributors you can see ball bearings loose in the housing. In the others I couldn't see, but they are all broken. That's the problem, the BBs are held in by a plastic race.


Nissan have new breaker plates, but they are a $72 part.

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.032 inch is fine and works with any ignition system.


If you have an Accel coil suitable for a points distributor, it probably won't work without a resistor (not without overheating after some time).


When you get the "new dizzy" also get the matching high-energy coil that goes with it (see post #1 above). For most Datsuns that is Nissan part number 22433-H7285 or 22433-H7280 or equivalent. It is a hotter coil than an Accel points-type coil. If you really love the Accel yellow look coil, I'm sure they sell one which is compatible (contact them and ask). The Accel coil won't make any more HP than the Nissan matchbox coil.




Get the matching high-energy coil that goes with the matchbox distributor.


For example, if you get an L20B distributor from a 1979-1980 Datsun Pickup, get the coil that goes with it too. From any local auto parts store. From Nissan. Or from RockAuto.com. Ask for a "1979 Datsun Pickup coil".


Or if you get an A14 distributor from a 1979-1982 Datsun 210, get the matching coil too. Or buy it from any local auto parts store. From Nissan. Or from RockAuto.com. Ask for a "1979 Datsun 210 coil".


There is no need to buy a "Blaster" coil, a "GT" coil or any other aftermarket "performance" coil. The Nissan unit is a high performance, high-energy coil, suitable for built engines, and good for 7000 RPM use (and higher RPM on a four cylinder).


Any coil will work that is:

* designed to be used without a resistor (they have different cooling specs than others, even if they use the same resistance)

* has primary resistance in specfication (check the Datsun Factory Service manual for the year the distributor is from)

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  • 3 months later...

You have to run the dropping resistor if you keep the old coil. This will prevent it over heating and possibly burning out. If you get a '78 and up coil from a 620, 200sx or HL510 it is designed to work with the EI dizzy and can handle the extra current. The extra current gives a greater output voltage to the plugs... so you can take advantahe of this by increasing the plug gaps to between 0.038-0.042".  

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  • 2 months later...

Just an FYI.. I replaced a stock '80 Matchbox dizzy with a "Cardone" one from Advance Auto Parts. This distributor DID HAVE an OEM HITACHI spark box on it. If you choose to go the new route and you want the bulletproof Hitachi spark box, this brand might be the way to go.. This is especially true due to the very pricey advance plate replacement part.

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  • 2 months later...

Thank you much for this write-up!  I just did this to my '76 620.  The donor vehicle was a '80 720.  I'm not so good with electrical stuff but this thread made the process less intimidating.

There was a difference in the wire colors coming off the matchbox distributor; the one you have labeled as blue was white.  But your pics made it easy to figure out.  My truck starts and runs great.  Once again, thanks!

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I did this to all my 510's way back the mid 90's. I did it in some fashion where I had to use the shaft from the stock distributor with some washer type shims because of the gear on the shaft of the electronic one. I believe I did a writeup for 510 Again back then. It took some figuring out but it has worked well all these years. Back then I did not have the info like there is today. If I can find the write up I did I will put a link to it. All I can say is it was like night and day after the change. The electronic one is so much better.

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If you DD your car with points you would want to check, file/adjust them at least twice a year, and then set the new timing of course. Been so long since I've changed them... I think with luck you can get almost 10K out of them? But in any case the points are constantly eroding down with use, with the dwell and timing changes, slight though they may be, constantly changing along with them.


My '78 came with remote igniter, which is just a non miniaturized matchbox. There is a tendency to just drive the EI and forget about it... which I did for over 5 years when suddenly it failed to start with no warning. The carbon rod that make contact between the cap center electrode and the rotor had warn completely away. (I snipped a piece of fence wire and set it in there for the ride home) The point is that without points to inspect it easy to overlook the cap and rotor.

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I just found the write up of how I did this for my 510's in vol 7.9 of the 510 Again news letter. There is also a write up by Marc Sayer of performance eng In Vol 4.6 on how he did it with the same type electronic ignition distributor. I have to say I will NEVER MISS the points set up from befor, the electronic ignition distributor is the way to go for sure. I'm glad to find so much more info on this conversion. So far I have not had a lick of trouble, all has been fine. After looking at the info in the op, it looks like what I did was on a couple of my cars used a distributor from an A motor and did my mod to work on a L motor. At the time I did not know that.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Yes, you can use a GM HEI ignitor with a matchbox distributor, it is just as strong as the Hitachi high-energy unit, so it will work well. Search Ratsun for information on how to do it. This thread here concentrates on the Datsun unit. There are many existing threads on it, for example http://community.ratsun.net/topic/195-hei-wiring-pics-w-writeup/

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  • 1 month later...

Replace your points-based distributor with a High Energy electronic ignition using the 1979-up USA Datsun factory "matchbox" distributor... On the L-series engine, you must ensure the matchbox unit is not facing the exhaust manifold. Overheating is a sure way to cook the box. By using the matching Support Pedestal and timing plate it will fit in the correct way.

I have a problem. I think.


Installing my matchbox diz and running out of light out there. I have a work light but I hate that scenario.


ANYway, I read the how-to and it says don't cook the matchbox. I only have 1 option for mounting with the matchbox pedestal and that puts the matchbox near the exhaust manifold. If I spin it 180 the vacuum diaphragm (heh) hits the thermostat housing.


Am I reading too much into it? I can see the old pedestal is at a slightly different clock position so maybe that puts the plastic box right on the mani?


Here's my part




It looks like the right pedestal to me.

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Actually you can set the dizzy anywhere that places the vacuum advance and the matchbox safely out of the way, yet allows timing adjustment. Try one of the 90 degree positions. You will have to drop the spindle down and reposition it. I think there are twenty teeth on it so 20 possible positions.. not all are going to work obviously.

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