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56 Buick Special Sedan died while idling and has not started since..


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Hello members.. I am new to the forum. I am in need of some technical assistance. I will start off by saying that I am not familiar with old style ignition systems with points. I understand how it works but as far as diagnosing my issue I am having some trouble. As a preface I will start off with what I had done to get the vehicle running. Initially I had to clean the carb and rebuild it to get the car running. I was running into an issue with when I would take the vehicle around a turn it would die. I removed the fuel tank and found that it was full of rust and had no sock on the sending unit. I replaced the tank and sending unit, at that time I also added a second inline fuel filter to the frame rail. I also sent the mechanical fuel pump out to get rebuilt. I changed the engine oil and it was off and running. I put probably 50 miles in total on the vehicle. I also replaced the spark plug wires as they were aged and cracking.


The vehicle was running well for a couple weeks, one day sitting outside letting it idle it sputtered and died. Since then the vehicle has yet to start. I tested for spark and wasn't getting any on cylinder 1. I cleaned the plugs as they were fouled and no change. I pulled the cap off and cranked the engine while monitoring the points in the distributor. Spark seemed weak. I replaced the points and condenser and ignition coil as the old coil secondary winding was out of ohm spec. Set points gap and cranked engine. Initially I got a back fire through the intake while cranking and thought that possibly my firing order is off. I also set ignition timing on cylinder 1 5 degrees bdc on the crank. I have verified that the rotor faces cylinder 1 on the cap. Still will not fire. 


Leads me to further the rabbit hole even further... I got to thinking that maybe I am not good with the points style system. So I ordered a Pertronix 1183 negatively grounded coil style electronic ignition system. I installed it according to specified instructions. Before cranking the engine I previously had the engine set on 5 degrees bdc on the crank and turned the distributor counter clockwise and had cylinder 1 fire on the spark test light. I was really hopeful it would start but did not... I am running out of ideas to test theories even further. I can confirm that I am getting spark and am adding gas to the carb. Air,Fuel,Spark. I am trying to keep it simple. However that is proving to be hard. 


Before anyone asks if I am getting spark from coil... yes. I have 12v at coil and 10.36 cranking. According to pertronix kit instructions that falls into minimum requirements. A thought I have had is maybe my spark plug wires are not compatible with this ignition system? I have great spark now that I have bypassed the ballast resistor and have 12v to coil. It's a new coil designed for 12v system.


I look forward to hearing from you guys. I know it has to be something silly I am missing. 





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@TexasJohn55 I am fairly certain I have cylinder 1 at tdc on crank mark. I verified with cylinder 1 spark plug removed and a long screwdriver on the piston. With the cylinder all the way at tdc the valves are closed. So you are saying I can have it line up on cylinder 1 on the cap and still have the oil pump 180 off? I have had the distributor out. Just trying to clarify. I dont think with the rotor lined up on the cap it can be distributor but possibly the oil pump off? I am not ruling it out at all just want to be sure I understand. 

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I suspect that most here will tell you that the original points system is easier to work on than the Pertronix. So if it were me I would take that out.

Since you have had the distributor out start at the beginning.

That would be to pull #1 spark plug and stick your finger over the hole and crank the engine. Stopping as soon as you feel the compression.

This will be pretty close to TDC #1 on the compression stroke. you may have to manually turn the engine a degree or two either way so your marks line up.

Now the distributor rotor will be pointing to where the #1 plug wire will end up, so put #1 plug wire there and install the rest of the plug wires following the firing order in the correct direction.

The distributor doesn't care if number one is where the book says it should be. In reality the rotor just needs to be pointing at #1 plug wire with the engine at TDC on the compression stroke.


When I check for spark I pull the coil wire out of the distributor and check there (The coil wire). Not the #1 plug wire.

In fact I would do this first before all the above.

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I just want to thank @TexasJohn55 and @JACK M for the replies. I went back to square one with setting initial timing on the crank for cylinder 1. Apparently I was in fact 180 off. I went ahead and pulled cylinder 1 spark plug and put a screwdriver down the hole. Sure enough I must not have been properly at tdc before. I set timing and checked where the rotor was facing and I was 180 off. Rotor was facing opposite from where it should. I removed distributor and rotated 180. I turned ignition on and rotated distributor counter clockwise till the cylinder 1 spark plug fired (with a spark tester attatched to cylinder 1) Low and behold poured some gas down the carb and with some cranking she fired. I always try to question myself but apparently I didn't question myself enough. Anyways problem solved! I am headed to the gas station to grab 5 gallons of ethanol free fuel. THANK YOU GUYS again I truly appreciate it. The pertronix kit is really fairly easy to install. I will update the thread with how she is running with the electronic ignition installed. 

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OK, now you have to post a couple of pictures.....


And for goodness sake, where are you going to find Pertonix parts should you have a failure on the road?

Easy to carry an extra one I guess, but a set of points and a condenser would probably be cheaper.

Lots of mixed feelings here about those, but I think most would avoid them.

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@TexasJohn55 Thank you sir. I will check out the Buick forum group when I get a chance. 


@JACK M I will gladly get you some photos tomorrow. From talking with a few people that are familiar with the single point system. The pertronix kit is not prone to failures. Its solid state so no moving parts. The only moving part is the magnet on the cam of the distributor. Which I don't see as a failing point, However it is a possibility. The guy I talked to about my ignition issues. He said he runs the electronic ignition in all his and his customer's vintage vehicles with single point ignition. 

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