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Thread: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

  1. #1

    I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Hey fellas,

    First, thank you for all the ideas on timing. I actually sprung for a timing light powered by 2 D batteries and it worked rather well.

    So, I installed new plugs the other day and gapped them at .25 (the shop manual calls for .23 to .28 so I settled for in between.) After I installed the plugs, it started right up again and then I went on to change the wires and distributor cap that I bought from Bob's. During installation I didn't get the plug wires attached firmly and some came loose and I lost the order, but no worries right? I used the spark plug cover which has the firing order listed and the shop manual that shows where each plug goes in the distributor. I triple checked the order and I went back and tried to check and make sure that each plug snapped firmly into place in the distributor.

    I tried to start her up and it tried to "hit," but was accompanied by "cough" and "chuff" through the carb.

    I'm planning to go home tonight and quadruple check the order and may disconnect them all and start again. Does anyone have any other ideas or is there anything I've missed?

    Thanks again guys!

    Cheers!

    Tim

  2. #2
    '39 Buick Team Member Grant Magrath's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Check the gap on the points too Tim.
    It's fairly easy to get a couple of leads switched at the distributor end. Have another look there.
    Cheers
    Grant

    1939 Buick Model 46 LHD
    1935 DU Dodge Sedan
    1974 Corvette Stingray L48 Convertible:cool:
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Mark Shaw's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Your distributor could be 180 degrees out of time...

    I suggest you verify #1 is set to fire on the distributor lobe with both valves closed on the #1 cylinder.
    Mark Shaw BCA #40988
    BCA PreWar Div. Director
    HCCA Member (Skagit & Portland)
    1912 Buick Model 34 roadster
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    1931 Buick Model 57 Sedan
    1938 Buick Model 48 Sedan

  4. #4
    '39 Buick Team Member danhar1960's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Maybe you have the correct firing order but went the wrong direction.
    From memory, the distributor rotates counter clockwise.
    Check the direction you installed your leads.
    Danny
    1939 BUICK 8/40 Special -Holden Body (30 year project) :) :):
    1938 BUICK 8/60 Century-Holden Body (Retirement project) :)

  5. #5
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Confession of a non-mechanic.
    Bought a new distributor cap, years ago. Put the wires back in the same order (I'm sure I did). Couldn't even get a cough or a chuff!
    A mechanic came to the rescue. Put the wires where they should be and hey-presto the sweet sound of a Buick motor again. I'd be looking at your placement of the wires in the distributor cap.
    Terry Stock
    1939 Buick Special sedan

  6. #6

    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Ok,

    Grant, I pulled the cap and checked those points. Charbroiled would be a mild term so I replaced them, and set the gap at .15 (double checking after tightening them.) I also replaced the condensor, rotor, and coil. Tuneup complete, but still no joy. The spark is definitely stonger and the carbs are in working order so fuel, check, air, check, spark, check although I can hear and feel from the vibration that something isn't right. It is definitely trying to hit, but like the order is out of whack. I checked those distributor leads again and they match up to the firing order (counterclockwise) per the plug cover and shop manual which brings me to my next question.

    Mark, you mentioned checking to see if the distributor was 180 degrees out. I didn't remove the distributor, but is it still possible to get it out of whack without removing it? I did set the timing to 4 degrees of advance about a week before I did my "tuneup." If the distributor is bonkers, will I need to remove the valve cover then to check the valves or will the "finger method" work? (I just installed a new gasket.)

    Thanks again guys for helping me through my first botched attempt at a tuneup and yes, if I could find a mechanic to come to the house I would be sorely tempted, though I really do want to try and fix this myself.

    Cheers!

    Tim

  7. #7

    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    I had a similar experience on my 1940 Lasalle. I installed new wires and used the diagram in a Chilton Book. The car had spark, but only would cough and spit.

    As it turned out, I had the order right but had #1 cylinder where it was supposed to be rather than where a previous owner had set it.

    I removed the plugs, rotated the engine until #1 was on the upstroke, and then installed the #1 wire to the terminal where the rotor was pointing.

    After that, I just followed the order around the cap and all was well.

    After, I was finished, I marked the new #1 terminal on the cap with a dab of white paint. It has been fine since.

  8. #8
    '39 Buick Team Member danhar1960's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Tim,
    Why not put the original leads and cap back on and see if the problem goes away. You may have just got a bad cap. Check it for defects, cracks etc.
    Are the leads the modern suppression style or the old copper core style ??
    Danny
    1939 BUICK 8/40 Special -Holden Body (30 year project) :) :):
    1938 BUICK 8/60 Century-Holden Body (Retirement project) :)

  9. #9
    '39 Buick Team Member
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    I'm pretty sure 5219's solution was the answer in my case too.
    There was also a wee squirt of oil in each cylinder to loosen it up after so many dry cranks! It sure smoked when it fired.
    Terry Stock
    1939 Buick Special sedan

  10. #10

    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    OK, I had the wife bump the starter while I plugged the spark plug hole over the #1 cylinder (I couldn't get her to do the reverse as she was sure I was trying to zap her.) I felt the nice "whoosh" of air and had a look at the distributor. While not completely 180 out the rotor was pointing to where #5 should be according to the manual. I tried to re-order the plugs with #1 from there in the counterclockwise order and it hit, but did not fire. I rechecked my points and verified the correct gap. I tried about 6 other combinations and called it quits for the night.

    Pardon me as I slowly lose my sanity and begin questioning myself, but I wanted to verify the numbering of the cylinders. The number one cylinder is the one closest to the firewall and the next cylinder is 6 followed by 2 and so on correct? I should not be counting them sequentially and plugging them into the distributor according to firing order, am I right? Man, the next time I change plug wires I will be sure I'm paying full attention and not yacking on the phone to my mom.

    As for the old cap, it has the copper ends and the new one from Bob's is silvery. I did try the old cap and it still wouldn't work. As for the old wires, they went out with the trash as they were pretty cracked up and were arcing. Still at a loss....

  11. #11
    '39 Buick Team Member danhar1960's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    I think you've found your problem. No.1 cylinder is the one closest to the front of the car (closest to the waterpump), then working back toward the firewall is 2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8. Bring the No.1 piston to the top of its compression stroke. Use a pen or something to feel when the piston is at its top. You should now be able to see the timing mark on the flywheel. Line up the mark on the housing and the flywheel. Rotate the distributor until the points close but are just about to open. Where the rotor is pointing is No.1 on your distributer cap. The firing order is 1-6-2-5-8-3-7-4. Going counter clockwise, your next lead goes to No.6 cylinder, then No.2 and so on. Give that a try and see how it goes.
    Danny
    1939 BUICK 8/40 Special -Holden Body (30 year project) :) :):
    1938 BUICK 8/60 Century-Holden Body (Retirement project) :)

  12. #12
    '39 Buick Team Member Grant Magrath's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    I could be wrong Danny, but I took it to mean Tim was refering to the sequence of leads on his distributor cap?
    Cheers
    Grant

    1939 Buick Model 46 LHD
    1935 DU Dodge Sedan
    1974 Corvette Stingray L48 Convertible:cool:
    1992 Nissan 300zx Twin Turbo:eek:

  13. #13
    '39 Buick Team Member danhar1960's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Grant,
    It wouldn't be the first time I've misread something and/or been wrong. ( your American is better than mine )
    It would still help to verify that he is using the correct terminal as No.1 in the cap and that the leads are in the correct position and order. If the distributor has been removed at some point in its life, there is no guarantee that it was put back in with respect to how the original distributor was set up. With that in mind, the rotor could be pointing anywhere. It doesn't matter really as long as you use the terminal the rotor is pointing to as No.1 when No.1 piston is at TDC on its compression stroke and the firing order is followed on from there.
    Imagine the fun doing this on a V16

    Danny
    Last edited by danhar1960; June 11th, 2012 at 05:16.
    1939 BUICK 8/40 Special -Holden Body (30 year project) :) :):
    1938 BUICK 8/60 Century-Holden Body (Retirement project) :)

  14. #14
    '39 Buick Team Member Grant Magrath's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    I didn't pick it up at first either Danny! I agree with what you say.
    Another trap you can fall into is the leads not seating in the distributor cap. Had that problem with the 38. They looked and even felt ok, but still had more distance to go before they made contact.
    A V16? Damn! The SBC is easy to set up in comparison!
    Cheers
    Grant

    1939 Buick Model 46 LHD
    1935 DU Dodge Sedan
    1974 Corvette Stingray L48 Convertible:cool:
    1992 Nissan 300zx Twin Turbo:eek:

  15. #15

    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Danny/Grant,

    Thanks for keeping hope alive! I briefly played around with changing the wires last night, but the battery was too down to really do anything, plus I had a massive migrane, no doubt caused by my Buick. Going to put it back on charge tonight and test the #1 cylinder to see when it hits TDC. It seems I set the timing off the #8 cylinder (which I thought was #1) a couple of weeks ago, which would explain why she still ran rather ragged and why I got more invasive with tuning her up. If anything good comes of this, at least I found that the set of points on it were bad and replaced those.

    I'm hoping against hope that I'll get to make a rather big car show on Saturday (one of the biggest in the area for old cars) at the Sully Plantation. Rather ironic that the show is 2 miles from the house.

    Love your signature block Dan, but I'm really starting to wonder if I've already died and went to hell in a Buick.....

    Cheers!

    Tim

  16. #16

    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    VROOM! She started last night. I put the old cap back on and had the wife turn the car over until I could feel when the #1 pistion was ready to fire (using a pen.) The rotor was pointing to where I believe #4 would normally plug in according to the manual and I went counterclockwise from there. She runs better with a fresh set of points, but I'll still need to set the timing again as the last time I set it I based it off the #8 cylinder so she backfires a little out the exhaust when I let up on the gas.

    Cheers!

    Tim

  17. #17
    '39 Buick Team Member Grant Magrath's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Great to see a result! Well done Tim!
    Cheers
    Grant

    1939 Buick Model 46 LHD
    1935 DU Dodge Sedan
    1974 Corvette Stingray L48 Convertible:cool:
    1992 Nissan 300zx Twin Turbo:eek:

  18. #18
    '39 Buick Team Member danhar1960's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Tim, goodonyamate. You did it yourself and learned something about your car at the same time.
    There is nothing sweeter than the sound of a symphony of cylinders purring away in a Buick straight 8.
    I've never been a big fan of timing lights on these old beasts, especially if the engine has been reconditioned. I do use them but prefer to use a vacuum gauge. It's amazing how much you can read from such a simple gauge.
    Danny


    Danny
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    '39 Buick Team Member jvelde's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Okay, I am going to open an old discussion to see if someone can shed some light on an issue I am having related to this topic. When I changed the spark plug wires several months ago I noticed the old wires were not plugged into the distributor in the proper order. I didn't have time to delve into that issue then, so this week I have exerted some effort to sort this out.

    The firing order 1-6-2-5-8-3-7-4 as depicted in the manual and on the spark plug cover is how mine is, but it starts with cylinder #8 (at firewall end) wire in the number one firing position on the distributor and continues on around counter clockwise, so the order is 8-3-7-4-1-6-2-5 . So, I found TDC on piston #1 (at water pump end) and rearranged the plug wires according to the manual and could never get the engine started. Tried advancing and retarding timing with no luck starting. Since I need the car for an event on Sunday and no time tomorrow to work on it, I put everything back like I found it and the engine started right up.

    So, is there some reason that this order is working and should I worry about it seeming to be 180* out of time....? I know the PO rebuilt the engine, so is it possible it was set up this way in error? The vacuum advance is on the left side of the distributor, as it should be, else I would think the distributor was just installed 180* out. Anyway, any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    John V.
    AACA & BCA Member
    1939 Buick Special Business Coupe

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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Seems to me the two firing orders you mention above are the same. You just chose to start one off with cylinder 1 and the other with cylinder number 8. If you are sure the engine is ready to fire cylinder number 1 by checking that the piston is at the top of the compression stroke, and you can see the timing mark on the the flywheel aligned with the little pointer in the bell housing window, then the distributor rotor should be pointing to the cylinder number 1 spark plug wire on the distributor cap. It is easy to mistake that the number 1 cylinder is at the compression point just before the ignition fires. Be sure and it should run fine if the order of the plug wires is correct. As stated above , the rotor moves counterclockwise as the engine runs.
    Joe, BCA 33493

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    '39 Buick Team Member jvelde's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Thanks Joe, and you are right - the order is the same. I will check to see if the timing mark is visible as it is now. When I had #1 at the top there was a paint mark visible on the flywheel, so I wired the distributor starting with#1 at the rotor location and got no firing. I will check to see if there is another timing mark where #1 wire is located now when the rotor is in that position.

    Thanks,
    John V.
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  22. #22
    '39 Buick Team Member danhar1960's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    John,
    Where the no1 position on the distributor cap is means nothing in reality.
    As long as you have followed the above the car will run fine where ever you set No1 terminal. It seems to work fine as it is, where it is, as you have already stated.
    If you are really bent on returning the rotor position to be in accordance with the manual you are going to have to remove the distributor and rotate the shaft accordingly. (It should be noted that the car will not run any better or worse for having done so) This is not a particularly hard thing to do but you could be making a bigger problem for yourself. First you have to be aware that the distributor also drives the oil pump. Mark on the distributor body with a marker or something such where the No1 lead/terminal should be located (as per manual). You need to bring the No1 cylinder again to TDC on the compression stroke and align the timing mark as before. Then remove the distributor. Rotate the shaft to roughly point to where you believe No1 lead/terminal should be (as per manual) on the cap. Insert the distributor and when the gears on the distributor shaft and the camshaft engage you will see the rotor shaft rotate a little. You may have to do it a couple of times moving a tooth or 2 on the gear adjusting for this rotation until it points to roughly the place on the cap where you believe No1 should be. You also have to be aware that there is a drive tang on the end of the distributor shaft. You may be lucky and it will just slide in but I doubt it. You need to use a screwdriver and rotate the slot in the oil pump to then line up with the tang on the end of the distributor shaft. You need to remove the distributor and turn the oil pump a little. You'll probably have to remove the distributor a few times until you eventually get the tang lined up and located. Hope that makes some sense. Once you have it in and in position so that the rotor is now pointing roughly to where the No1 lead goes on the cap (as per manual), rotate the distributor to close the points then bring them back to just before opening with the rotor pointing to the correct terminal position. Replace leads as per above.
    As I said, easily done but potential for disaster if you get lost with it all.
    It's like most things, easy when you know how.
    The old saying is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" (or something like that )
    IMHO, I'd leave it be.
    Danny
    1939 BUICK 8/40 Special -Holden Body (30 year project) :) :):
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    '39 Buick Team Member jvelde's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Thanks Danny, I am leaving it as is and appreciate your insight and comments.

    JV

  24. #24
    Senior Member Mark Shaw's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Danny's instructions are right on! The distributor body position stays the same but the #1 cylinder location on the cap can change with the position of the gear that rotates the rotor. The rotor will point to #1 when both valves are closed and the timing mark is visible.
    Last edited by Mark Shaw; November 21st, 2012 at 11:24.
    Mark Shaw BCA #40988
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    1915 Buick Model C-25 "Speedster"
    1924 Buick Model 45 "Roadster Truck"
    1929 Buick Model 29-27 Sedan (Now my son's car)
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    1938 Buick Model 48 Sedan

  25. #25
    '39 Buick Team Member gmorse's Avatar
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    Re: I goofed....(plug wire/distributor cap installation)

    Very interesting thread regarding timing. When I bought my '39 back in 1999, the previous owner had removed the engine and sent it out for complete rebuilding. The engine was returned, and the owner then found another car he liked better, so the '39 sat for all that time until 1999 ( it was started maybe once a week). So, I bought the car, towed it home, and stared checking various items. Regarding the engine, it seemed to run well, but I could not find the timing mark on the flywheel with my timing light. Short story is that the engine shop had installed the flywheel 180 degrees off. I could time the engine with the light, but had to use a different cylinder , and now I do not even remember which cyl. it was. All this has long since been corrected when I was dealing with clutch problems.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Gary

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