Chapter 26: Ike’s Distributed Frustration

It’s started with an innocent little squeak.

At idle, I could hear a short chirp…chirp…chirp as the engine rotated. Sticking my head under the hood, I focused on the distributor. The timing of the noise made sense. A quick internet search yielding a common issue of a possible bent shaft on the distro.

Seems simple enough. Go searching for parts and discover that most are rebuilt units. Sure, why not. Click, buy, wait.

Once I get a visit from Brown Santa, I crack open the manual to see what all is involved. Not too difficult. The system doesn’t have any timing adjustments on the distributor, just set the engine to #1 TDC and replace. THAT’S EEEAZEY! (Monte Python reference)

Set the engine to #1 TDC. Or I’m mostly sure it is right. Locating the timing mark on the pully is fun through the tiny gap of serpentine belt and pulleys. I could have removed one of the fans to make it easier, but naw. If not at exactly TDC, it is within 0.5 degrees.

Pull the old and insert the rebuilt. It goes in almost smooth. There is a bit of twisting and the tightening bolt hole doesn’t line up perfectly, but adjusting the driving slot allows it to go together. I pull the plastic pin that holds it in time for install and it lines up a little better.

Rehook all the connections, reinstall the spark plug, hit the key. Crank, crank, crank. No joy. Huh. Recheck all connections. Yep, all good. No burnt fuses. I hand spin the crank twice to return to 1TDC, but same issue.

I double check that I’m on TDC and not the exhaust stroke. Fairly confident on that. Pull off the dizzy cap and the rotor is pointed towards the #1 spark plug wire on the cap. Weird.

I even double check that I’m getting fire out of the coil. Sure am, but it still isn’t helping.

While researching possible idiotic screw ups, I ran into a fix for the squeaking. It involves polishing the main shaft of the distro to help remove small ridges that can develop over time. Ok, sounds easy enough. Just remove the helical gear and clean up the shaft. So, I grab the old dizzy, tap out the old retaining pin and pull the helical gear. I get to polishing the shaft.

Reinstalling the helical gear, goes much smoother than removing it, so I feel that I actually did clean it up as opposed to just playing with my shaft for fun. Slides on effortlessly and install new pin.

Since the new distributor wasn’t working, let’s try throwing the old one back on. Put the alignment pin in and reinstall the one I just rebuilt. Reattached everything. Crank, crank, crank. No spark, only misery.

At this point, I take some time off. I was going in circles trying to figure out how I jacked it all up. No bad fuses or relays. All wires connected and in their proper places. And crank and no boom makes Dave go nuts. I flip off the engine and turn out the lights.

About 2 weeks later, the pain has lessened a bit and I’ve got enough courage to fight some more. At this point, I try assessing where I left it. I have the old bad (newly polished!), with the new cap and rotor on the top. I rip it all out. I take the Frankenstein moster apart and put all the new components back together.

This time, I remove the electric fan so I can actually see the timing marks line up. I also install a new, deep cell battery as the old one was so nearly dead that I had to have it continually on a charger in order to crank it over 4 times. And then it would be dead again.

The new battery was also fun to install. It was a common sized, deep cell replacement. But was 0.5″ too long. Yup, Chrysler and their weird sizes. Also doesn’t help that the plastic battery tray has a sensor on the bottom. Unbolt the battery tray, use the grinder to remove one offending edge and reinstall. Looks totally professional.

Reinstall the new distributor, but this time, without the alignment timing pin. I notice that the holes do not line up between the rotor base and the body of the distributor. Huh. That should be at least close. Naw, it’s noticeably off.

Now what? There is not timing adjustments, but the timing is off. On one of my trials, I cranked the engine over until the rotor lined up to the #1 post of the cap. Checking the timing marks on the crank pulley…not close. Aaarrrggg!

Getting close to my breaking point, again, when I grab the old distro. I’m stumped that it isn’t working. I mean, all I did was pull of the helical drive gear, clean and re-install. It’s not like I could have fucked that up. It can only fit on one way…right? RIGHT??

I flip it over. I flip it back. Over. Back. Wait. Wait a fucking minute. On one side, the pin lines up with a gear tooth, and the other side…flip…lines up with a valley.

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Shitting. Me.

I mark the pin, gear and shaft and then tap the pin back out. Looking over the gear, there are no markings. Not indications. Just an odd number of teeth. I flip basically spin the gear 1i0 degrees on the shaft and reinstall the pin. Looks almost identical to before. Almost.

I pull the new one back out, after removing all the little shit that’s in the way. Mark the gear, tap out pin, spin gear 180 and pop the pin back in. I don’t even have to remove the gear from the shaft. 3 minutes tops.

After more than 3 minutes, I have the new and improved dizzy back in. All wires connected. Again. Spark plug in and torqued, again. A extraneous cables put back into routing clips. Again. At this point, I could do it blindfolded. I don’t even need the torque wrench. Get the fan reinstalled. Put back in all the fuses and relays that I was messing with.

Grab the key. Inhale. Pray. Exhail and turn the key. Fucker fired up on the second hit of the starter.

What transpired after that was a long, swear-filled tirade that covered topics of why there is no mention of this in any manual or online forum, the cheapness that is Chrysler and their dumbass engineers, and the general unfairness of the 50-50 bad luck coin toss I lost. Ike, didn’t seem to care and idled happily along.

At least I know my spare is ready to go.

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