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  • Ignition: Before replacing parts...

    First time out of the barn in about a year! Could’ a been longer. Last year was an off-year for me and my Studebakers. I think I made it to only one meet last year and no cruise-in. My mother passed away last year and the rest of the year was pretty much devoted to catching up on stuff that had gone neglected during the lengthy period of being her main caregiver for the last seven years. I don’t regret any of the time spent caring for her, but I did fall behind on lots of things and the catching up continues.

    I recently finished the major repair of one of my buildings and got my garden prepped and planted, and still have many more projects needing attention. My ‘48 Business Coupe ended up blocked in the pole barn by a miter saw, two wagon loads of tools, and a pile of building supplies. Monday, I set the battery charger up and began charging the battery. Later in the day, I attempted to fire up the engine. NO GO! So, I transferred the duty of battery charging to my trusty battery maintainer and left the car charging for the day.

    The next day was to grab my trusty little spark tester and replace the high tension coil wire with the spark tester. Cranking over the engine, I had a spark from the coil to the top of the distributor cap. But, placing another one of those spark testers on a spark plug revealed that the spark was not getting to the spark plugs? Popping open the distributor revealed an almost new looking point set. Gap checked out fine, but still no fire. Once again, I closed up the distributor and attempted to start. Nothing. So, I finally removed the points. Close examination showed some black carbon deposits and a bit of tungsten transfer from one of the points set contacts to the other. Oops...I have misplaced my points file! So, that was Wednesday’s Studebaker effort. I put the points set in my pocket, finished some other chores, and called it a day. Last night, while watching TV, checking this forum, and various “couch tater” activities, I took my points set, a multi-meter, magnifying glass, a piece of sandpaper, and one of my wife’s ceramic nail files and committed a little surgery on the points. Cleaned up the black deposits and got the contacts nice & shiny.

    This morning, I reinstalled the points, set the gap, buttoned everything up, turned on the switch, and using my remote starter button so I could observe the two spark tester lights...hit the switch. I don’t think the engine made one complete rev before firing up! It sat there purring as if it was saying “what took you so long?” While the spark tester light on the plug was crisply blinking, the one at the coil was burning bright and almost appearing continuous due to the high idle rpm from the automatic choke. Much brighter than my previous attempts.

    Here’s the thing...I had assumed that if a coil discharges, a plug should fire! But...apparently when points have some carbon build-up that inhibits and prevents the full charging of a coil by the primary circuit, although the coil will discharge to the distributor cap...it may not have enough stored power to jump the air gap between the rotor to the distributor lug, or fire a spark plug! So...do not just assume that a coil firing should be sufficient. The coil is not defective, Nor is the rotor and/or the distributor cap bad. That tiny little buildup of carbon deposits on those points created enough resistance to prevent ignition and not let this engine run. Almost imperceptible...a little “smudge” from arcing over time can cause some big trouble. I thought I would share this because I have seen (and been guilty) of replacing parts when all that needed to be done was a little housekeeping. Make sure to check the little things before throwing parts and components at your problems.

    So...here’s my little baby after a bath. Now, all I need is to find where my tag sticker (expired last August) is and some fresh gas.
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    John Clary
    Greer, SC

    SDC member since 1975

  • #2
    Really great looking Business Coupe! One of my favorite cars. Sorry for all your troubles but I hope the balance of 2020 & then the coming 2021 will bring you only the best with a lot of Studebaker miles in that outstanding little Coupe! Stay safe!
    Nick

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    • #3
      Very nice looking Business Coupe John!

      Funny story, I looked at that First Pic really hard, trying to figure out WHY I could not see the Right Rear/Side Window, I had forgotten it is not one of the more common Starlight Coupes, and wondered WHAT was blocking that Window!

      It was very clear what was happening, when viewing Pic #2!
      StudeRich
      Second Generation Stude Driver,
      Proud '54 Starliner Owner

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      • #4
        Nice!!!!!!!!!

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        • #5
          Off the original topic, but that's how we do it here. Was the Stude business coupe the last 3-window coupe made in the US?

          (And yes, the early 30s Ford coupe 3-window/5-window nomenclature has always been goofy, because they both have a back window, which therefore does not need to be mentioned to differentiate them. In the case of the Stude, it has a two piece windshield and a two-piece back window, so does that make it a four-window coupe?)
          PackardV8

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          • #6
            Originally posted by StudeRich View Post
            Very nice looking Business Coupe John!

            Funny story, I looked at that First Pic really hard, trying to figure out WHY I could not see the Right Rear/Side Window, I had forgotten it is not one of the more common Starlight Coupes, and wondered WHAT was blocking that Window!

            It was very clear what was happening, when viewing Pic #2!
            Rich, the two-piece windshield could have been a clue...
            KURTRUK
            (read it backwards)




            Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong. -A. Lincoln

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            • #7
              I have had that same issue with points where crankcase vapor has migrated in to the distributor and created carbon on the points, it is almost invisible until you file/replace.

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              • #8
                She's a beauty, and probably very happy to be out of that shed. Great troubleshooting on the no spark issue. I'm interested in professional opinion here when it comes to filing points. I had an old timer tell me that it was fine to file them to get running, and get back home, but that they needed to be replaced after that. He felt that they wouldn't be dependable. Maybe it was just his personal idea.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by tsenecal View Post
                  She's a beauty, and probably very happy to be out of that shed. Great troubleshooting on the no spark issue. I'm interested in professional opinion here when it comes to filing points. I had an old timer tell me that it was fine to file them to get running, and get back home, but that they needed to be replaced after that. He felt that they wouldn't be dependable. Maybe it was just his personal idea.
                  Worth discussing...I think the points contacts (I believe most are tungsten) can be burned so bad that they will no longer be conductive and therefore unusable. Same if they become so pitted and deformed as to not be able to provide a consistent gap adjustment. There are three wear parts of a points set. The contacts, cam rub block, and the spring tension conductor. My experience is that the small tungsten contacts fail most. While points are enclosed under a distributor cap...the caps are not sealed and therefore subject to the atmosphere, humidity, and airborne contaminants, leading to wear degradation and failure. As available and inexpensive as point sets used to be, a replacement made great sense. However, with everything going solid state, computer, closed-loop instant ECM systems...either retrofitting our vehicles or tinkering, repairing, and extending the life of these obsolete parts is our future. We are already encountering shortages of these items in parts stores, and blank stares from young counter clerks who are totally unfamiliar with vintage auto and engine components.

                  Now that we have seen how unreliable some "off-shore" suppliers are at reproducing some of these products...some of us should consider investigating the feasibility of establishing local "cottage industry" type manufacturing or repairing of certain things like point-sets, carburetor parts and other components that are becoming difficult to source. Not necessarily to get rich, but to preserve our hobby and hopefully do a little better than break even.
                  John Clary
                  Greer, SC

                  SDC member since 1975

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                  • #10
                    Good points ( no pun intended) on both the availability, and the quality of the new replacement parts. Many on here have suggested trying to find NOS ignition parts at swap meets or ebay, as they have better quality. Happy to see that you have the car out to enjoy it.

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                    • #11
                      I had the same problem with a 50 Land Cruiser. There was spark at the coil but not at the plugs. It turned out that the rotor was bad and allowed the spark to go to ground through the distributor shaft. Fortunately I had the same problem with a Chevy doing the same thing so the diagnosis for the Land Cruiser was easy. If you have a good spark leaving the coil. then there shouldn't be a problem with the points, condenser or the coil. The rotor may look good, but I'll bet it isn't. If the rotor isn't the problem then it's the cap. Bud

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                      • #12
                        John: While I am glad you got a good result, your results MAY be short lived. I only file points for emergencies, and then only use them short term. On most points the layer of tungsten is very thin, and once you start filing them, it is compromised relatively quickly.

                        I see others have mentioned quality of the replacements. Surely someone has a good source for quality ignition points.

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                        • #13
                          A volt meter can provide a pretty good assessment of the points' electrical health. (not their gap/dwell adjustment)

                          ".... checking the voltage drop at the coil negative terminal when the engine doesn't start:
                          • Key on, points closed-approximately .2 volt. Higher voltage indicates excessive resistance between the coil negative terminal and ground. ............."
                          One of the sabotage tricks used in the Plymouth trouble shooting contests was a thin coat of clear nail polish on brand new points.
                          The voltage drop test would make it clear where the problem was.
                          Parts swappin' without confirming diagnosis netted a poor score, even if the young tech got the car running.

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                          • #14
                            Instead of a file, there is a something called a contact burnishing tool. It's a thin strip of stainless steel impregnated with something. It's used in pinball machine repair and used to be a favorite tool of telephone repair people.

                            https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_fro...+tool&_sacat=0
                            RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

                            17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
                            10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
                            10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
                            4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
                            5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
                            56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
                            60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by RadioRoy View Post
                              Instead of a file, there is a something called a contact burnishing tool. It's a thin strip of stainless steel impregnated with something. It's used in pinball machine repair and used to be a favorite tool of telephone repair people.

                              https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_fro...+tool&_sacat=0
                              Thanks, Roy...looks like using the word "Burnishing," is a lot more lucrative than using the word "file." And...these tools might be more gentle on the material than a file so I'll plead ignorance as to my reason for being a bit skeptical regarding one's effectiveness over the other. But, the commandeering of my wife's glass fingernail file seemed effective and easier to justify than buying a rarely used tool that costs way more than several points sets. When it comes to electronics/electrical stuff, I will always defer to a guy with "RADIOROY" as his screen name and the credibility I have attached to your skillset and experience.

                              Due to contributions to this thread, I was inspired to try a little more internet searching in order to gain more insight into breaker points and their construction. Specifically, I wanted to know if the little dots of material known as the "points," were made of solid Tungsten, an alloy, or some material made of some other metal coated with Tungsten. Off & on, over two days, I have attempted to search with a lot of reading and (somewhat) wasted time. Like a lot of searches, the search terms used lead in many directions. Often, to more information than you want, or nothing close to the information you are seeking. I have yet to find any source saying "contact points are specifically made this way..." But, I have learned that Tungsten is a "refractory" metal, and has the highest melting point of any metal. It is also very difficult to use in electroplating. It is available in drawn wire, rod, and sheet material. So... until someone provides a definitive answer, I am going to conclude that the tiny points are solid tungsten made from either wire or rod (possibly sheet?).

                              One helpful website I stumbled across was this one https://www.hemmings.com/stories/art...t-to-the-point It is a basic review of the traditional points ignition system and I don't think any harm can come from all of us reading it and bookmarking it for future reference.
                              John Clary
                              Greer, SC

                              SDC member since 1975

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