Static Timing

By A. Savage (

I do static timing like this:

1) Turn crank so the engine is firing No. 1 (check rotor) and the
crank/cover timing marks are aligned to the correct idle timing setting.

2) Connect some device to the coil's neg terminal and ground.  12v
light, voltmeter, whatever.  Ground the coil high tension lead to
avoid getting shocked, starting a fire, or damaging the coil.
(Note 1)

3) Turn dist. body in retard direction (Note 2) until
the light goes OFF (points closed), then a bit farther.

3) Turn dist. body in advance direction (Note 3) slowly until the
light goes ON (points open).  The coil fires when the points open.

4) Lock down distributor.

5) "Back up" crankshaft about 1/8 turn, then watch the light while
turning it in the "run" direction.  Stop turning when the light goes
ON.  Where is the timing pointer?  If necessary, unlock & move dist.
body to adjust.  Repeat this step until you're happy with the timing

Assuming that both the timing chain and distributor aren't
completely thrashed, this will get the idle timing very close
(within a couple of degrees).  I've had it spot-on several times.

In the old days -- going back 60+ years here -- this was the way a
lot of folks timed cars, if they didn't want to just twist the
distributor/magneto around until it "sounds good".  Stroboscopic
timing lights weren't cheap, and with points you had to retime
("tune up") the ignition system frequently for best performance,
like every six months.  Points' rubbing blocks wear, the contacts
wear, and the timing retards.

If I have an old, points-equipped engine apart such that I have
disturbed the distributor, I still static time it.  There is NO
reason to crank and crank (ie, more than five seconds) on a
newly-assembled engine; if it doesn't light off immediately,
something is wrong.

If you use a gun on an early Falcon, and don't remove and plug the
vacuum line to the distributor's vacuum diaphragm, you will have
severely retarded timing.  Hot.  Slow.  And your idle will probably
be slow as well, though it will idle smoothly.

As soon as you step on the throttle, the timing will drop back a further 15°
or so, and it will have trouble getting out of its own way

The Ford manual does tell you to disconnect the vacuum line, but it
forgets to tell you to plug it; at that time, anyone who'd worked on
cars would have known that, I guess they figured.

Adjusting the ignition timing by ear is a time-honored tradition,
even if it takes a bit of practice to "hear" the sweet spot.
Generally, I prefer to use the OEM marks, and then adjust the timing
in two or three degree increments off of that, over the course of
several days.  Our fuel is different now, and the wear state of an
engine can wildly affect octane requirements (carbon buildup,
hotspot preignition, worn mechanical parts, etc.), so I don't think
that you _have_ to have the timing exactly where the pointer/manual
says.  But it's a great place to start, especially if you have
driveability problems: eliminate variables first!

Ford's system of vacuum-advance-at-fast-idle is unusual, even for that
timeframe.  Everybody stopped doing that after '64 or so, for
emissions reasons.

Note 1: The coil cannot be harmed by grounding the secondary (high
voltage) lead, but it _can_ be damaged by leaving it in free air, so
that a spark cannot occur.  This forces the coil voltage to "try" to
generate even higher voltage to fire, and this can cause internal
arcing; once the internal insulation has arced, it tends to break
down rapidly.

Note 2: Falcon Six: clockwise for retard

Note 3: Falcon Six: anti-clockwise for advance

Comments?  Email Al about this

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Last updated 15-Mar-2001