That touchy little evil electric box

I don't know about you but I can still remember back in the old days (1970's) when it was an accepted habit to have to reset your points every 4 or 5 thousand miles, change your spark plugs about every 8-10 thousand miles and constantly stay on top of your ignition if you wanted to go from idle to full throttle without missing a few beats.

One of the greatest improvements to come down the pike was a little self contained electronic device called an Ignitor. The Ignitor was designed as a simple bolt-in device which replaced your points and condensor.

The Ignitor is a simplistic electronic ignition. Though simple it may be, the resulting changes are fantastic.

In Linda's 140 Corsa convertible we got over 100,000 miles on the spark plugs. In my Greenbriar I was a little more conservative and changed them at 80,000.  A mixed blessing has been that I almost never look in the engine compartment any more. Other than to add or change oil or check the fan belt lifting the hood is an antique practice.

An old friend of ours from Virginia said that he didn't like the Ignitors for that very reason - one of his few remaining joys in life apparently is constantly tinkering with his Corvairs on a regular basis.  To each his own.

You would think that all would be rosy with this wonderful device. But if you think that, then you don't know much about the Corvair Community.

Unable to be happy, and leave well enough alone someone posted that there was a problem with the Ignitor that the manufacturer did not warn people about! 

You see, to install one you just take off the cap and switch the Ignitor for the old points plate, hook the two wires to the coil and that's it. But the problem, say the unfulfilled, is that you can't have it so simple.

They say that if you wire to the coil all sorts of horrible, unbelievable things will happen. A direct connection to a full 12 volt source is the only answer, say they. Now at first that concerned me.

With electronic devices oftentimes the worst thing you can do is give it a higher shot of voltage than it's designed for. But the manufacturer came to the "rescue" and gave a revised note that first said 12 volts would not harm the unit. Ok, I guess if you want to go to the extra trouble of messing up your engine compartment and needlessly complicate such a simple beautiful device then you at least won't hurt anything.

Then the factory started to hint that maybe you ought to hook to a straight 12 volts. What's going on here?  All my ignitors (in 20 or more Corvairs since the early 80's) were wired to the coil with no adverse adventures. From the late 70's to the present day the factory has NEVER said that they changed anything in the design of the Ignitor. How does this work out?

Like so many issues there is an easily explainable cause of the few Ignitor "malfunctions" that lead to this superstition.

In all Corvair wiring harnesses (ex 62-64 turbo engines) there is a resistor wire in the harness. This wire goes to the coil and offers a reduced voltage that the points operate off of. These wires (after 50 years - go figure) can start to break down and reduce the voltage going to the points (or Ignitor).  In this sense a points system has a marginal advantage over an Ignitor. The Ignitor requires a "thresh hold voltage" in order to operate at all. Points will tolerate lower voltages and still "work" even though their efficiency is reduced. When the available voltage drops below the threshold voltage an Ignitor will quit working.

Breakdown of the wire is not a common problem, but it can and does happen. And as the vehicles get older and older it becomes more of an issue. So if you find that your ignitor quits working all of a sudden, or works poorly, then check the voltage at your coil. It should be about 8.6 volts. If it's substantially lower then it's time to replace either your resistor wire - or, when running an Ignitor, just replace it with regular wire. I prefer the resistor wire because if in the future you should ever go back over to points then you'll burn your points up.

It's that simple. There is a specific cause of your problem and there is a simple way to fix it. These problems that have hit the boards do not mean that there is something wrong with the Ignitor design - it doesn't mean that they need a revised method of installation. It means that a major component in the wiring has failed and needs to be dealt with.

How many Ignitors are "defective" from the factory?  For about 20 years we sold an average of 50-100 Ignitors a month. Our return rate on them was less that 5% and of those less than half actually had problems. And of those there was usually no way to tell if they were defective from the factory or had been fried by the purchaser (wiring backwards is nasty).

Like I said earlier my daily driven Greenbrier now has over 100,000 miles on it's Ignitor and it's simply wired to the coil.


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