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Help! "Correct" way to install distributor on a 440???

Isaiah Estrada

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Recently got my 440 running for the first time! We ran it at 3k long enough for a cam break in. It is a stock spec cam and nothing special. I just wanted a reliable and rebuilt engine for my cruiser.

Yes, the car is a C Body but I know there are a multitude of engine gurus here who can help me out!

I feel like she is running rough, despite my attempts to "follow" the book and do everything right. I'd like for someone to tell me whether or not I did this whole setup right though.

SO! First line of order, find TDC @ compression stroke. Before I even did this, I took my oil pump drive gear out and primed the 440 with my priming rod and drill and verified I had sufficient oil pressure and saw it coming out of the top end when I pulled the valve covers. All good! For those wondering, I used Lucas SAE 30 break in oil...

Anyways, find TDC on compression stroke of cylinder #1. Bumped it with the starter little by little, friend holding his finger on the spark plug hole till the compression blew it out. I saw visually that both valves were closed, and the timing mark on my damper lined up with the marks on my timing cover. HERE'S WHERE I AM UNSURE OF MYSELF.

Once I verified TDC, I rotated the engine counter clockwise until my mark now lined up with 10 BTDC. Then, I installed my drive gear and got it as close as I could to where the slot was parallel with the crankshaft. THEN, I dropped my dizzy in with the rotor pointing at #1 per the factory wiring diagram. Did I do any of this out of order? I ask, because when it first ran - it sounded like it was misfiring. We cranked it and it started within 3 revolutions of that starter (Original gear reduction style.) Found out, my spark plug wire on #6 was never put on tight, and it was hanging loose. Okay, easy fix. Try to start it again and we are having a very very hard time making it run. When we finally did make it run - it sounded like it was pretty advanced. Not only that, we couldn't get it to run and stay running below 3,000 rpm. In fact, it was roaring at about 4,000 and all the while it just didn't sound right. I put a timing light on it, and I was reading 60 DEGREES!! Surely that can't be right? Something has to be off, could it even run at 60? Needless to say, I retarded my timing way way down to about 35 and we were able to get the engine running at 3,000 and it sounded much happier. I had to back the distributor way off to get it sounding OK.

So, I feel like I did something wrong during my distributor install. I am wondering if I am a whole plug wire off? I'm wondering how it could be though, since I'm pretty sure we double checked that we had the rotor pointing AT CYLIDNER #1 beforehand... Anywho, we let her run at 3,000 for 20 mins and she didn't get hot8 - my T Stat is a 180 degree Milodon (robertshaw style.) I chose that because that is what my car came equipped with. Although the engine hadn't ran in 42 years, I thought I might as well use what the previous owner did!

We can not get her to idle at low RPM now. I am using a thick fel pro gasket, and I suspect that it may not be sealing right and causing a vacuum leak. I am using the stock 1968 4BBL intake and an Edelbrock AVS II (650 CFM.) Didn't mess with the air fuel mixture, just had the idle screw turned in to keep it running at 3K. I appreciate any input and advice on how to remedy my timing issue. Reading 60 on the timing light seems impossible, but I guess it doesn't lie. So something still isn't adding up and I am clueless. Thinking I may have to retry the distributor installation, but I'd like to hear what you guys think! Here is a video of us getting it going. This video was after I found the loose #6 plug wire. I was too busy to record the entire thing, but I've included a video of it running after I fixed my timing and set it to 35 degrees at 3,000.

 
So I guess the first question should be asked. Did you replace the timing gears and chain? Did you happen to install a advance style crank gear?

When I do it. I bring up number one on the compression stroke and the timing mark on 0 on the damper. Drop the distributor in and have the rotor pointing towards the alternator. Then if the rotor doesn't line up to where I want it I will pull the distributor and rotate the drive gear to match the angle I need to have it pointing towards the alternator. Once you do this you can fire the car up and use a timing light to dial it in. You can advance and retard the timing by twisting the distributor. Id say that engine probably wants a bit more than 10 degrees initial. More like 15 to 16. Try advancing the timing a degree or 2 at a time from 10.
 
Like beep beep described is solid instruction use that and drop the distributor again and see how it does.
 
I did a quick read and it sounds to me like you generally installed your distributor in an acceptable fashion. If your car runs, it is close anyway. Check all the wires again to be sure you didn't cross any.

You talked about base timing (i.e. set by twisting your distributor), but you said nothing about centrifugal or vacuum advance. AT 3000 RPM, your centrifugal advance should be "all in", so that will add to the mix. How much centrifugal advance does the distributor have? Does it work smoothly and properly? Finally, running a car at 3000 RPM with no load will generate a lot of vacuum. Was your vacuum advance hooked up? If so, that will also contribute to your overall advance.

Now that the car has been broken in, try setting the timing with the vacuum advance disconnected. Set base timing below 1000 RPM. Once that is set, wing the car up to 3000 RPM and see how much timing it has. The added amount is your centrifugal advance.

Let us know what you find.
 
You probably did the distributor install OK. Only part that sounds possibly suspicious is about aligning the slot in the pump drive with the crank centerline. I know that part is out of a FSM but it didn’t work for my dual points. The tang on the distributor drive is clocked differently on some of them and required that I move the oil drive gear to match. I don’t know how typical that is. But you must be fairly close for it to run. As others have said check the plug wire routing and I would add, double check your carb. If it’s been sitting while it may have some issues. Possibly some carb cleaner needs to be shot through the bleeds and idle mixture screw ports after removing them.

it looks like in your video that the vacuum advance isn’t plumbed - but I’m not sure As it may be hidden behind the pvc hose. A motor with 36 degrees of base and centrifugal timing + 16 deg +/- vacuum advance could show 52 degrees advance at 3,000 rpm’s. If you have the base timing off a little on the high side, close to 60 deg while reved up at steady throttle is not out of the question. But it may be over advanced to the point that the peak combustion pressures are just prior to TDC and causing kind of a slight kick back at TDC which feels like a light miss. You should be able to get the motor running and idling and timed with vacuum advance plugged off. Hooking it up is the last thing I do. But again you may not have it hooked up - not sure.

Even if the drive gear for the oil pump was off some relative to the distributor, you can still position the distributor any where you want or have to, as long as you move the plug wires around the cap so that it’s firing #1 plug when the rotor is pointed at the #1 distributor cap adjusted position.

Good luck
 
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From what I read you did do everything correctly so I'm a bit puzzled about the 60 degree advance as well.
But -45 or -50 is not out of the question.

A couple things I notice:

1. It doesn't sound like it's running at 3,000 rpm to me I think it's lower (maybe I'm wrong)

2. It does sound lean when it quits which a symptom that low base timing gives you.

3. Try backing out the idle mixture screws about a turn and like others suggested I would try advancing the timing a little bit at a time until it starts well and will run at just high idle. Double check the carb studs and PCV setup.
(watch your choke as well)

4. After you can get it to stay idling below 1000 rpm and check the base timing (try around -10 like you had initially)back the speed down and when it's warm you can tune the mixture screws. Sometimes you need to go back and forth between timing and mixture but you need to get the timing real close first.
(ideally this should be done with the air cleaner on but you can do it without it for now just check again later with the air filter installed)
CAREFUL AROUND THE FAN!

It did sound like it was hitting on all 8 which is a good thing.
I think you will win this one.
 
Did you degree the cam? You have the possibility of cam timing or a severe loss of vacuum. You might want to start with a simple compression test.
 
The timing is fine. Yes it can run with 60 degrees at 3-4000 rpm, nut you fixed that.

you can set timing without a light also. Try this on a good running car to get a feel for it. Get the car running with some heat in it. Turn distributor both ways until it starts running rough, now set the distributor in between both of those positions and it will be pretty close.

you MUST turn those idle screws. while counting the turns it takes, screw them in till they srop softly, then go out 2.5 turns and try to start it. You can go out more to see what the engine likes. Especially with a vacuum leak just keep backing them out to see if it runs better. 6 turns if need be just to see what’s up with it.

Please tell is how many turns they were out when you start turning them.
 
OK as stated above some dual points are clocked differentl either the shaft or the advance cam. What number distributor are you using? Also if you are using a dial back timing light do not trust the advance numbers. If it is digital, they usually are spot on. I would time it by ear and see where it ends up around 8-1000 rpm. You can also have had some one in it before and changed the springs inside to the MP ones which advance seriously fast. Also is the vac advance hooked to manifold vacuum. That will also advance the timing at idle. Vacuum leak you have to see if you have one or not.
 
My old standard advice: Make sure that you have fresh, high octane gas. Like everyone said above, keep messing with the timing, mixture screws and idle blade screws until it will idle, then put the light on it and fine tune it. Sometimes the 440s run better without the vacuum advance hooked up. You will find the sweet spot...
 
So I guess the first question should be asked. Did you replace the timing gears and chain? Did you happen to install a advance style crank gear?

When I do it. I bring up number one on the compression stroke and the timing mark on 0 on the damper. Drop the distributor in and have the rotor pointing towards the alternator. Then if the rotor doesn't line up to where I want it I will pull the distributor and rotate the drive gear to match the angle I need to have it pointing towards the alternator. Once you do this you can fire the car up and use a timing light to dial it in. You can advance and retard the timing by twisting the distributor. Id say that engine probably wants a bit more than 10 degrees initial. More like 15 to 16. Try advancing the timing a degree or 2 at a time from 10.

I had the engine rebuilt by a shop, they installed a new timing gear set + chain. I am unsure if they installed an advanced style crank gear! I am all completely new to this. Had the 440 rebuilt when I was 19 and now I’m 21 barely getting it into the car.

Thanks so much for the how to on distributor installation! I may rip it out and try finding TDC all over again and start at 15 BTDC instead of 10.

I did a quick read and it sounds to me like you generally installed your distributor in an acceptable fashion. If your car runs, it is close anyway. Check all the wires again to be sure you didn't cross any.

You talked about base timing (i.e. set by twisting your distributor), but you said nothing about centrifugal or vacuum advance. AT 3000 RPM, your centrifugal advance should be "all in", so that will add to the mix. How much centrifugal advance does the distributor have? Does it work smoothly and properly? Finally, running a car at 3000 RPM with no load will generate a lot of vacuum. Was your vacuum advance hooked up? If so, that will also contribute to your overall advance.

Now that the car has been broken in, try setting the timing with the vacuum advance disconnected. Set base timing below 1000 RPM. Once that is set, wing the car up to 3000 RPM and see how much timing it has. The added amount is your centrifugal advance.

Let us know what you find.

Thanks for the detailed reply! I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge. I had the vacuum advance ports (ported and manifold) plugged off on the carb, as I’ve read it’s better to have no vacuum advance during a break in. Not sure if this is entirely true? Running the car once it’s on the road, I plan to use my ported vacuum rather than manifold.

My distributor is a rebuilt factory unit from Ray at Halifax Shop up in PA. I am unsure of how much centrifugal advance my distributor has. How might I be able to calculate that number?

Ok nevermind, read further into your reply and will do my best to accurately measure the centrifugal advance! Any advice on what my total timing should be for this nearly stock 440? From what I’ve seen around - it should be around 36°. Or, enough advance until it pings - but I don’t think I’m there yet to be able to determine that by ear …
 
You probably did the distributor install OK. Only part that sounds possibly suspicious is about aligning the slot in the pump drive with the crank centerline. I know that part is out of a FSM but it didn’t work for my dual points. The tang on the distributor drive is clocked differently on some of them and required that I move the oil drive gear to match. I don’t know how typical that is. But you must be fairly close for it to run. As others have said check the plug wire routing and I would add, double check your carb. If it’s been sitting while it may have some issues. Possibly some carb cleaner needs to be shot through the bleeds and idle mixture screw ports after removing them.

it looks like in your video that the vacuum advance isn’t plumbed - but I’m not sure As it may be hidden behind the pvc hose. A motor with 36 degrees of base and centrifugal timing + 16 deg +/- vacuum advance could show 52 degrees advance at 3,000 rpm’s. If you have the base timing off a little on the high side, close to 60 deg while reved up at steady throttle is not out of the question. But it may be over advanced to the point that the peak combustion pressures are just prior to TDC and causing kind of a slight kick back at TDC which feels like a light miss. You should be able to get the motor running and idling and timed with vacuum advance plugged off. Hooking it up is the last thing I do. But again you may not have it hooked up - not sure.

Even if the drive gear for the oil pump was off some relative to the distributor, you can still position the distributor any where you want or have to, as long as you move the plug wires around the cap so that it’s firing #1 plug when the rotor is pointed at the #1 distributor cap adjusted position.

Good luck

Thank you much for this great advice. I must’ve got lucky, as my rotor was pretty close to where I wanted #1 to be. I have heard however, that skipping a tooth to make it line up is needed sometimes also!

My firing order is correct (at least I think it is.) 18436572 - I must’ve checked it at least 5 times before fire up, but stranger things have happened!

I had no vacuum advance hooked up during the break in process.
From what I read you did do everything correctly so I'm a bit puzzled about the 60 degree advance as well.
But -45 or -50 is not out of the question.

A couple things I notice:

1. It doesn't sound like it's running at 3,000 rpm to me I think it's lower (maybe I'm wrong)

2. It does sound lean when it quits which a symptom that low base timing gives you.

3. Try backing out the idle mixture screws about a turn and like others suggested I would try advancing the timing a little bit at a time until it starts well and will run at just high idle. Double check the carb studs and PCV setup.
(watch your choke as well)

4. After you can get it to stay idling below 1000 rpm and check the base timing (try around -10 like you had initially)back the speed down and when it's warm you can tune the mixture screws. Sometimes you need to go back and forth between timing and mixture but you need to get the timing real close first.
(ideally this should be done with the air cleaner on but you can do it without it for now just check again later with the air filter installed)
CAREFUL AROUND THE FAN!

It did sound like it was hitting on all 8 which is a good thing.
I think you will win this one.

I also feel like it wasn’t running at that high of an RPM! I bought a Tachometer specifically for this break in, so maybe there’s a possibility it is reading false? Once it read 3K, I just left it there as the engine didn’t sound like it was going to quit on me. As I loosened the idle screw was when she got unhappy and wanted to shut off.

I did retard my timing by moving the distributor quite a ways back to get to 35 from 60 - this may be my problem! But again, I had no vacuum advance so possibly my timing was just way off…

As for setting up my carb - I am going to pull it and set it to a tune where it will at least run (from what I’ve seen on YouTube videos by Junkyard Digs and Thunderhead 289.)

What I plan to do is set my transfer slot to a square. I’ll verify that I have no vacuum at idle with a gauge plugged into my ported advance outlet.

For my air fuel, I’ll turn the screws all the way in and then count 2.5 turns out. Once I get it to run and warm up, I will hook up my gauge to the manifold vacuum outlet and adjust until I reach my highest vacuum reading. That’s what I’ve seen in a few vids and I’m hoping this helps my car idle better!

I will definitely be sure to advance it in small increments until she fires up easily. One trick I’ve seen, is with the coil hot and your #1 wire with the spark plug attached (and near a ground) - rotate the distributor until you can see the spark shooting out. I guess this tells you exactly where the cylinder will fire and from there you could also gauge 10° BTDC? I May have it wrong and it might not even work! Just another method I saw in a YT video.

As you said, going back and forth between adjusting timing and my air fuel will probably be how I can get the timing close! I really appreciate your detailed response as it helps me to better understand this awesome machine…
 
Did you degree the cam? You have the possibility of cam timing or a severe loss of vacuum. You might want to start with a simple compression test.

I did not degree the cam, I received the engine back from the shop essentially put back together save for the water pump, brackets, and other fun stuff (like the dizzy.) Looking back, I understand that would’ve told me exactly where my timing should be!

83C14DAF-0877-41CA-B434-FFA7485FDD8F.jpeg


Here’s how it looked when I got it.

What did your vacuum gauge read during all of this ?

Didn’t have one hooked up! I will be returning to the car shortly and relying on the vacuum gauge to help me tune my carb.

My old standard advice: Make sure that you have fresh, high octane gas. Like everyone said above, keep messing with the timing, mixture screws and idle blade screws until it will idle, then put the light on it and fine tune it. Sometimes the 440s run better without the vacuum advance hooked up. You will find the sweet spot...

Thank you for the advice! I will definitely keep tinkering with it. I believe I have a better understanding of how timing and my carb tune work together to make the engine run at its fullest potential. Very thankful for you all !

The timing is fine. Yes it can run with 60 degrees at 3-4000 rpm, nut you fixed that.

you can set timing without a light also. Try this on a good running car to get a feel for it. Get the car running with some heat in it. Turn distributor both ways until it starts running rough, now set the distributor in between both of those positions and it will be pretty close.

you MUST turn those idle screws. while counting the turns it takes, screw them in till they srop softly, then go out 2.5 turns and try to start it. You can go out more to see what the engine likes. Especially with a vacuum leak just keep backing them out to see if it runs better. 6 turns if need be just to see what’s up with it.

Please tell is how many turns they were out when you start turning them.

Thank you for this advice! It’s my first time putting an engine together like this. I will report back here when I make my adjustments and I can narrow down what went wrong !

OK as stated above some dual points are clocked differentl either the shaft or the advance cam. What number distributor are you using? Also if you are using a dial back timing light do not trust the advance numbers. If it is digital, they usually are spot on. I would time it by ear and see where it ends up around 8-1000 rpm. You can also have had some one in it before and changed the springs inside to the MP ones which advance seriously fast. Also is the vac advance hooked to manifold vacuum. That will also advance the timing at idle. Vacuum leak you have to see if you have one or not.

Thanks for the advice Ray! The dizzy thankfully was rebuilt by yourself. So I know the distributor itself isn’t a problem, rather it’s me and the way I set this engine up to run for the first time.

Both my vacuum ports on the carb were plugged. I have a new gasket to try out (as I believe the carb gasket I have on their now is a prime suspect for my vacuum leak.)
 
Didn’t have one hooked up! I will be returning to the car shortly and relying on the vacuum gauge to help me tune my carb.
That's like asking a doctor to check you without a stethescope. Figure out what you got FIRST before you go trying all these suggestions.
 
Reading your original post the first thought that popped into my mind based on symptoms was timing gear is off by a tooth. If none of the other good advice pans out, I would double check the work of whoever built it and see if they just slapped it together by "lining up the dots" instead of actually degreeing it. Machining tolerances are way better than they used to be but I never rule anything out and also live by the motto of "Trust but verify".
 
I once told a friend how to set up his distributor. He did everything right per my instructions but couldn’t get it running well at all. When I got over there to look at it, I realized that I should have said “point the distributor rotor to #1 cylinder *terminal on the distributor*”.
 
Remember that firing order on a B/RB mopar is CCW, no CW...

Chuck (snook)
 
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