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Electronic Ignition Upgrade for your Datsun 320 Truck

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I have done a lot of upgrades over the years, but I have to say right now this is hands down the best upgrade I have ever made to a 320, my 1963 Datsun L320 has been a bitch to start for years, everything had to be perfect for it to start and I still had to turn it over quite a while before it would even try to hit/start, well yesterday and this morning I modified a matchbox distributor, put it in the truck, wired it and I removed everything(wires) that would smoke my harness/generator as it is still positive ground, wired the EI distributor to the EI coil(neg ground), made it so the starter would work, pulled the choke on, pumped the pedal 2 or 3 times, I left the key in the off position and made sure it was in neutral as I am doing all this from the engine compartment, gave the coil power, hit the starter trigger and that thing started in less than a second stone cold, never in the entire time I have owned it has it started like that even after it was warmed up, shut off, and started again.

OK, this is how I did it, first you need a matchbox distributor from an L block(Hitachi D4K) from a 1979 Datsun 620 or a 1980 Datsun 720, and you need your E1 or J13 series distributor, there are likely other L block cars that had the matchbox also.
The Matchbox I used had been in a pile of distributors outside on a shelf under my patio roof for years.
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You need to remove this gear from you 320 distributor(it's a bitch, has solid pin).
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or from your J13(a lot easier, dowel type pin)
DSCN6465.jpg
then you need to remove the gear from the Matchbox distributor.
DSCN6466.jpg, Now you put the 320 E1 or J13 drive gear on the matchbox, I also used the J13 mount bracket, I believe that is the easiest one to modify.
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This is Mikes photo, you have to file this hole open a little on the J13 mount bracket to fit it to the matchbox housing, I also cut the other end of the bracket off just past the other oblong hole.
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You can see where I cut it in this photo.
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This is what the plate looks like mounted on the block, you can also see better how I cut it.
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OK before you put the dowel pin in your going to have to buy one at the hardware store as the solid pin I hammered out got ruined as it did not want to come out, and the dowel pin for the matchbox gear is too short, you are going to have to orient the drive gear in the correct position on the shaft, standing at the side of the engine you want the rotor pointed at around 2pm with the vacuum advance pointed the same direction, around 2pm, you can also see in the photo below that the matchbox gear pointers inside the distributor are aligned.
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The small side of the drive gear will be towards the front of the engine, by the way your engine should be at TDC.
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The mounting plate needs to have the oblong hole pointed towards 2pm also, this is the bolt that mounts the plate to the distributor.
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Now if the plate is on correctly, the rear oblong hole will be towards the rear of the engine, and that is the hole used to mount the distributor to the engine.
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Now if everything has been done correctly, the top front spark plug hole on the cap is number one, the firing order is 1, 3, 4, 2 counter clockwise.
Now you also need an electronic ignition coil, and I repeat, this is a negative ground setup.

I will update this post when I think of things I should have put in the post, or when you good folks point out something I have forgotten. icon_e_smile.gif
 
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nice upgrade,for some space savings can get a remote electronic, then do a prw2 with gm coil upgrade i did. or others

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Make sure you also increase your plug gap.  .035" should be fine.  

 

Funny thing is that our race motor fired right up on points, first try, despite ridiculous compression and never having run before.  2nd revolution of the engine.  This is just a good sign that you have some extreme wear issues in your original distributor, so replacing it with any good distributor would have resulted in the same outcome.  It didn't improve because of the electronics.  Its a matter of stability that provides a clean signal to the coil.  

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Probably benefits from the hotter spark too. Runs on 12 volt not 6-8 like points. 'Dwell' time is also consistent and self increases with RPM. Doesn't draw power through the coil if engine not running but ignition left on. No mechanical parts to constantly adjust or wear out other than cap and rotor. Truly... set and forget. Plug gap is 0.038"-0.042" . The EI system will show any weak spots in your ignition system so be sure cap and wires are good.

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All I know is that it never started that easy ever in all the years I owned it warmed up or cold, fact is it has the points distributor back in it now because it is a positive ground truck with a positive ground generator, and it is back to turning over for 10 seconds or more before it even tries to hit.

I thought this truck had sold, but the buyer flaked, so right now I am trying to make a decision on what to do with the truck, but I don't want it half apart, either it runs and is derivable, or I am not happy.  

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I can hardly believe all the crap I have went thru with the stock 320 distributors over the last few years, especially with all the options out there.
Today I decided since no one has called me about my MG Midget engine(1500 Triumph engine) I was going to tear it down and get it out of my way, I was going to save all the parts I thought might work on something else, especially the new Weber carb on it, well I pulled the electronic distributor and looked at it, the drive gear looked like a 320, but the pedestal was wrong but removable, so I took it off and it looked just like a 320 distributor, I had a 320 dist. in a parts box so I took the mount bracket off it and installed it on the MG distributor and it fit perfect, so I checked the distributor shaft length and it was exactly the same, so I decided to pull the 320 dist. out of the truck again and see if this fit.
It fit perfect and is 360 degree adjustable like the stock 320 distributor, so I pulled all the wires again to make it run on negative ground and wired it all up again to run, this engine is stone cold, I pumped the pedal 3 times, pulled the choke on, made sure it was in neutral, moved out front, powered the coil, hit the starter trigger and the damned thing started right up and ran great, I timed it and just like the matchbox dist. above, the engine ran way better than with the stock 320 distributor, and what is awesome about this is that it is a bolt in with the stock Datsun 320 mount bracket.
DSCN6639.jpg
There is one drawback about this electronic ignition, it is an aftermarket Jacobs Electronic Ignition, it is a very complicated setup, but there are other MG Electronic Ignitions out there that could likely be exactly the same except way less complicated wiring wise, here is a photo of all the crap that came with this high performance system, I am lucky I ever got it to run with so many wires to sort out.
DSCN6640.jpg
Every distributor I put in this engine works better than the stock distributor, what's cool about this EI dist. is that it was a bolt in using the 320 dist. mount bracket, there is nothing to change, the drive gear is exactly the same as the 320 drive gear.
I wonder if all of that crap could be replaced with a GM Module?

 

There are other MG Midget electronic distributors with just one box as I sold the other MG Midget 1500 engine a few weeks ago, it was way cleaner.

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I can hardly believe all the crap I have went thru with the stock 320 distributors over the last few years, especially with all the options out there.

Today I decided since no one has called me about my MG Midget engine(1500 Triumph engine) I was going to tear it down and get it out of my way, I was going to save all the parts I thought might work on something else, especially the new Weber carb on it, well I pulled the electronic distributor and looked at it, the drive gear looked like a 320, but the pedestal was wrong but removable, so I took it off and it looked just like a 320 distributor, I had a 320 dist. in a parts box so I took the mount bracket off it and installed it on the MG distributor and it fit perfect, so I checked the distributor shaft length and it was exactly the same, so I decided to pull the 320 dist. out of the truck again and see if this fit.

It fit perfect and is 360 degree adjustable like the stock 320 distributor, so I pulled all the wires again to make it run on negative ground and wired it all up again to run, this engine is stone cold, I pumped the pedal 3 times, pulled the choke on, made sure it was in neutral, moved out front, powered the coil, hit the starter trigger and the damned thing started right up and ran great, I timed it and just like the matchbox dist. above, the engine ran way better than with the stock 320 distributor, and what is awesome about this is that it is a bolt in with the stock Datsun 320 mount bracket.

DSCN6639.jpg

There is one drawback about this electronic ignition, it is an aftermarket Jacobs Electronic Ignition, it is a very complicated setup, but there are other MG Electronic Ignitions out there that could likely be exactly the same except way less complicated wiring wise, here is a photo of all the crap that came with this high performance system, I am lucky I ever got it to run with so many wires to sort out.

DSCN6640.jpg

Every distributor I put in this engine works better than the stock distributor, what's cool about this EI dist. is that it was a bolt in using the 320 dist. mount bracket, there is nothing to change, the drive gear is exactly the same as the 320 drive gear.

I wonder if all of that crap could be replaced with a GM Module?

 

There are other MG Midget electronic distributors with just one box as I sold the other MG Midget 1500 engine a few weeks ago, it was way cleaner.

Most do not know and I didnt even think about till you brought up the mg. The british were tasked with helping the Japs get there auto industry on track, so the Brits used what they had.  This is why the SUs look similar to theres.  The J series engine is actually a souped up MG engine.  Theres a budding in AUS that is using a intake slight tweaking but he now has is able to run a weber.

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Lucas made a CEI distributor, used in 1980 Spitfires and MGBs.  It has a remote amplifier box with a GM 4-pin HEI module in it.  Simple and effective, but like all HEIs, the signal is distorted below 2000 rpm and above 4500 rpm.  Great for a daily driver, not good for performance.  Retrofitting a Ford or Mopar sensor and electronic ignition would be more consistent at all rpms.  Then again, if you want it to really, really run well, a properly set up points distributor will always offer a better spark than electronics.  I wouldn't be caught running anything else in our race truck.  Electronics are an easy way to get a relatively clean signal in a loose distributor.  

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... and yet every auto maker has moved on to electronic ignition systems over 30 years ago for better performance. Hotter spark, reliability, low maintenance. I don't think NASCAR or Daytona cars run points or all those roundy round trucks. There's nothing stock about them so they would run points if there was an advantage. The theory of evolution would indicate that things move towards an improvement or give an advantage over the old.

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I sure would like to get rid of all these wires and boxes, but I would need some kind of diagram to do that, as there are a lot of wires, 3 wires go to the distributor, all the diagrams I seen about the GM Module had 2 wires.

I have not been able to find a diagram of the Jacobs EI like mine, otherwise I would likely already rid myself of that yellow Crane Cams box, so many wires. :(

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For my l16 I have a prw2 ignition module with gm coil might be simple enough

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I just found out that the Crane Cams Ignition can be setup as positive ground with way less wires, I will do some reading to see if this is really possible and update on this subject.

It turns out that this is an optical electronic ignition, at least that is what I was told, don't think the GM module will work with optical, but I don't know that for sure.

I already did this with the matchbox, that is why I started this thread, don't need GM module with a matchbox, but I don't believe a matchbox can be wired for positive ground either, but I could be wrong, as I didn't try.

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thats is just the gm coil, the prw2 is the ignition module

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OK, I took a couple chances today, first I wired up a matchbox distributor on the bench normally and got it working, then I tried wiring it positive ground every way I could think of and could not get it to throw a spark, and I tried a lot of ways, good thing is that I didn't smoke it either.

 

My second chance was to get out the MG Midget electronic ignition optical triggered distributor, wired it up normally and it worked fine on the bench, then I wired it for positive ground on the bench like the instructions said to do for the XR700 Crane module that Driven posted a link to, even though I have the XR3000 Crane module and it worked, it is kinda confusing as the black ground wire is connected to the ignition switch, and the positive side of the coil is grounded to the body.

 

Anyway it worked on the bench, so I pulled the stock 320 distributor out and put the MG Midget electronic ignition optical trigger distributor in, I wired it for positive ground, I wrapped a rag around the coil so it was not touching any metal just in case, got in the truck and it started right up, now one really confusing thing is that the black wire coming from the Crane XR3000 control box goes to the ignition switch only, it does not go to the coil, the positive coil side goes to ground and the control box(red wire), the negative side of the coil goes to the control box(yellow wire), and if you want a tach, your supposed to use the black ignition wire that goes to the fuse block, very strange.

 

So here it is mounted.
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 Here is the control module behind the battery, the mount tabs are plastic, it is not grounded to the body.
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 And here is the coil, it says "No External Resister Needed", not sure if the control module is going to like that, I will check the coil for heat, if it gets hot, I will install a ballast resister, oh and I tested the coil housing while the engine was running by grounding it out to the body, no sparks, so I used the coil already in the truck this last time.
DSCN6701.jpg
 I am leaving it this way this time, as I changed nothing in the wiring harness this time, I am hoping this works long term.

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... and yet every auto maker has moved on to electronic ignition systems over 30 years ago for better performance. Hotter spark, reliability, low maintenance. I don't think NASCAR or Daytona cars run points or all those roundy round trucks. There's nothing stock about them so they would run points if there was an advantage. The theory of evolution would indicate that things move towards an improvement or give an advantage over the old.

In 1974 auto makers were mandated to switch to electronic ignition, under assumption that too many people were letting their points ignition get out of tune.  Ignition signals were corrupted by that act.    Come about 1986, auto makers figured out that if you want to use electronic ignition, coil on plug eliminated the plug wire noise, and crank triggers could be properly shielded to reduce signal corruption.  By then, onboard computers had advanced just enough to pull it off.  Jump forward another decade and onboard computers had advanced enough to have more than a 3-step timing table.  With that system, an electronic ignition can now do what a points distributor can do, and more.  It took the removal of the distributor to outperform points.  Just for the fun of it, when my race engine is at the dyno I'll bring along a matchbox distributor and do back-to-back runs so you can see what happens.  I already know what happens.  I guess you won't believe it anyway so maybe I won't waste my time.  

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First line of your reply.... they go out of tune. If you want to constantly fuck around with your distributor and have less output, get points.

 

We would never come to an agreement that the distributors are equal other than one has points and the other EI.

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This is all about distributors for 320 trucks, or more specifically the E1 engine as it never came with electronic ignition, and 320 ignition parts are getting very hard to find.

320 distributor caps come up on ebay every once in a while for $25.00 plus each plus shipping, I have never seen a new rotor for a 320 on ebay, and points are also hard to find, while the MG Midget/Triumph parts I am using here are available used, new, or aftermarket, this is a good thing for use 320 owners as I doubt we will ever have an aftermarket source for any 320 parts.

I also am talking about a positive ground truck here, I successfully figured out how to do electronic ignition on a positive ground Datsun 320 truck, the distributor I used is an optical trigger type as I tried to wire the matchbox as positive ground but the distributor housing is dedicated to negative ground I believe and there is no way I know of to work around that, it's like a radio in a positive ground truck, you cannot wire it to work on negative ground, the antenna will not work any other way unless totally isolated from the battery, neither will the magnetic trigger type like the matchbox, the distributor housing cannot be isolated from the engine, so I am stuck with optical type distributors so far.

There is a Mallory optical type distributor on craigslist right now for $150.00 that is made for the L20b that might work positive ground that I can modify to fit the 320, but it doesn't have the ignition module separate, so I don't know if it can be wired positive ground if the distributor housing is a dedicated ground for the unit, but it will likely work in a 320 as negative ground with the drive gear changed out.

I have never had any 320 with a stock distributor start easy, and I own 3 of them, the NL320 I bought from Mike starts the easiest, it has a matchbox EI distributor in it, the other 2 Datsun 320s I have are a bitch to start, they have every ignition part new in them, new points/condenser/rotor/cap/wires/spark plugs and the engine is still a bitch to start, it turns over forever before it even tries to hit let alone start cold, and it turns over several times when warm before starting, but when I put the matchbox in the L320 it started on the first revolution cold, that had never happened before cold or warmed up, it left an impression on me when it did that, it's like a different engine also, it don't miss or back fire like it has the whole time I have owned it.

The 320 distributors I have don't seem sloppy to me, and I know how to install and gap points, I even have started J13 engines that have sat for decades without issues, but these 320 positive ground distributors have given me nothing but headaches.

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I believe this is a bolt in using your stock 320 mount bracket, it is for positive ground.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Pertronix-D178600-Distributor-4Cyl-12V-Positive-Ground-BMC-A-B-MG-Triumph-Austin-/390665147320?fits=Make%3AMG%7CModel%3AMidget&hash=item5af57513b8:m:mMC0U_lHrTMLrT4sDSaMVLg&vxp=mtr

It says there is only one left, it's the first time I ever seen this one, and is a Pertronix, if I wasn't already good I would likely buy this.

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First line of your reply.... they go out of tune. If you want to constantly fuck around with your distributor and have less output, get points.

 

We would never come to an agreement that the distributors are equal other than one has points and the other EI.

I have around half of my customers with the same attitude.  Half of them come around when they try points set up properly.  That's around 500 people a year whose opinion I change when they feel the difference.  I adjust my own points once a year - at around the 6000 mile mark.  Everyone thinks they solve the problem with electronics, when they replace the bad ground wire, bad electrical connections.   Its rarely the points that were the problem when you convert.  Its corrosion where you forgot to look for it.  

 

Almost every vintage racer I build a distributor for and convert them to points will make a point of calling me back to let me know they shaved off 2 1/2-3 seconds per lap, and they're more fuel efficient.  No electronics on the market will match that.  If you ever have a chance to read Classic Motorsports magazine, there will be a distributor dyno shoot-out in one of the next 2 issues.  Next issue will have a page about my race truck.  After that is the distributor test.  Given that one of their biggest sponsors is Pertronix, it'll be interesting to see how they announce that I beat them with points...

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The change is most likely messing with the mechanical advance curve weights and the vacuum advance can. You can't have a hotter spark running a ballast resister.

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I have around half of my customers with the same attitude.  Half of them come around when they try points set up properly.  That's around 500 people a year whose opinion I change when they feel the difference.  I adjust my own points once a year - at around the 6000 mile mark.  Everyone thinks they solve the problem with electronics, when they replace the bad ground wire, bad electrical connections.   Its rarely the points that were the problem when you convert.  Its corrosion where you forgot to look for it.  

 

Almost every vintage racer I build a distributor for and convert them to points will make a point of calling me back to let me know they shaved off 2 1/2-3 seconds per lap, and they're more fuel efficient.  No electronics on the market will match that.  If you ever have a chance to read Classic Motorsports magazine, there will be a distributor dyno shoot-out in one of the next 2 issues.  Next issue will have a page about my race truck.  After that is the distributor test.  Given that one of their biggest sponsors is Pertronix, it'll be interesting to see how they announce that I beat them with points...

I will say, I would gladly run points if it meant not having to install all that extra BS.

 

Which is why I like the Pertronix. I know you don't like them, but as I've said before, I've never had a problem with them.

 

Edit - I have had problems with them, but that was a long time ago and I've figured it out and not had a problem since.

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This thread is not about what you guys are talking about, this is about keeping an engine running when you cannot find parts for the stock distributor.

I only know one person selling rotors for the 320 distributor and they are not going to last forever, she doesn't have caps anymore but they come up on ebay every once in a while.

I used to sigh when I went out to the L320 to start it and warm it up, I always wondered if it would even start, several times it didn't start, now it starts on the first revolution, 2 pumps of the pedal and pull out the choke, hit the key off you go, it's like a new engine.

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Enough of these trucks are popping up and guys are interested in rebuilding them, maybe it's time for someone to make a simple adapter plate to run a more modern distributor.

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Enough of these trucks are popping up and guys are interested in rebuilding them, maybe it's time for someone to make a simple adapter plate to run a more modern distributor.

 

That is what this thread is or at least was about. 

 

First I started with the Matchbox dist. which is easiest to do with the J13 mount plate, this has already been done by Mike K, actually it's pretty easy, then I figured out that the MG distributors bolt in using the stock 320 mount bracket, one doesn't even have to change the drive gear, one can even buy a Dist. with a side entry cap that looks a lot like the stock 320 cap, buried deep down on the side of the engine one would have to know what they were looking at to say it was not stock.

Then it became a mission for me to see if I could find a way to make one of this MG electronic ignitions positive ground so one could keep their generator instead of having to convert over to negative ground and use a alternator, well that is possible too, I did it using a MG Midget distributor I had with an optical trigger Crane XR3000 ignition box, it can be positive ground, it was a miracle that I had this 1500 MG Midget engine with this Crane EI system in my garage.

Then just recently I found a new Pertronix positive ground dist. that is a bolt in with the 320 mount bracket, now the only thing to figure out is if that Pertronix dist. can be fitted with a side entry cap or if them guts can be transferred to a dist. with a side entry cap which I suspect both can be done but I am set now, I don't see a reason to buy any more distributors as I only have one positive ground 320 truck left that has already been converted in this thread and I have another Crane setup if I need it.

I did buy a negative ground ground EI distributor with side entry cap to replace the stock 320 distributor in the U320 as it was converted to negative ground with an MG alternator before I bought it, as it's also hard to start.

 

I don't know how this thread became a debate about points verses electronic ignition, and I am not going to go back thru it and find out, to me this is about getting more 320s to the meets and on the road for that matter because they finally dependably start.

 

I can hardly wait till I start fitting MG dual SUs to my 320 trucks, can you imagine.........................................

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