by Jon Mikelonis
I spent three days trying to figure out a good name for this
points-to-electronic ignition conversion kit review article.
When I found out that all the good titles I came up with,
"The Points of No Return", "Get to the Points",
"What's the Points?", and "It's Pointless"
had been used more than once, I realized two things:
1) I'm not that funny
2) Nobody needs another points-to-electronic ignition install
Given that, I needed something to spice this piece up. So,
I ran down to Summit, picked up the market's "hottest"
points-to-electronic ignition conversion kits, spread them
out on the workbench, and dusted off a brand new Motorcraft
distributor I had boxed away. With that said, below is some
information on the basic advantages of electronic ignitions
over breaker-style ignitions for the very few who still run
points. If you are already familiar with the benefits, have
already employed a points conversion kit or other electronic
ignition, then go ahead and skip to the product review section.
There, I'll point out the pricing and differing features of
Ignition E-Spark, Crane
Cams Fireball XR-i, and the well-known Pertronix
Ignitor. After that, I'll discuss what I found while performing
the all important "ballast resistance tests" required
by all three manufacturers. Finally, I'll install the Mallory
E-Spark in one of our FordMuscle project vehicles.
Breaker-Style Ignition Systems
Points, sometimes called breaker points or contact points,
are the weakest link in a performance engine. A set of points
is simply a switch that turns the power on and off to the
coil which then delivers spark through the distributor cap
to each spark plug in an engine. With each complete turn of
a distributor shaft, a set of points opens and closes a number
of times equal to the number of cylinders in the engine. Therefore,
that switch opens and closes a lot, a whole lot. With each
opening a small arc occurs across the surface of the points,
quickly wearing the surface away so that spark is reduced.
Subsequently, the time between full close and full open of
the switch is reduced, resulting in increased advance in engine
ignition timing. As the amount of time the contacts are together
decreases, so does the amount of voltage being passed through
the coil. All of this results in poor driveability, hard "hot"
starting, poor fuel economy, terrible performance, and high
Points-to-Electronic Ignition Conversion Kits
A points-to-electronic ignition conversion kit uses a spark
module to replace OEM points assemblies quickly and easily
within your OEM distributor. Technology has advanced far enough
in the past 10 years that there are now a number of manufacturer's,
not only Pertronix, producing kits that can be contained inside
the inexpensive Autolite or Motocraft single point Ford distributor
manufactured between 1957 and 1974. The spark modules used
in points-to-electronic ignition conversion kits are engineered
using modern electronics and circuits that eliminate the moving
parts which wear out from constant use. For example, Mallory's
E-Spark accomplishes this by using an optical switch to control
a signal that fires the coil. Crane Cams' Fireball XR-i and
Pertronix's Ignitor uses a "Hall Effect" sensor
to control the signal to the coil. All three accomplish the
same goal to achieve an electronic ignition without the expense
of a high-dollar billet multi-spark ignition system. Let's
take a closer look at the three kits I picked up.
Part No. 61002M
Racing Retail Price
Mallory's E-Spark is a relatively new player in the market.
Unlike the magnetic "Hall Effect" sensor used in
both the Crane Cams Fireball XR-i and the Pertronix Ingitor,
the E-Spark uses an optical trigger or LED to signal the coil.
This design requires a shutter which Mallory includes integrated
with a rotor. Some believe a Hall Effect sensor requires less
maintenance than an optical sensor, however there's nothing
more than making sure the LED is wiped clean now and then
to ensure optimum performance. The E-Spark, like the XR-i,
includes specialized mounting plates. However, the E-Spark
plates work in conjunction with the existing points plate
assembly while the XR-i plates are designed to replace them.
Of the three kits, the E-Spark is the least expensive, retailing
$59.95 at Summit. Additionally, with the E-Spark, you are
supplied with a
brand new rotor. The kit is made in the USA with durable materials.
While simple to install, speed of installation falls between
the Ignitor and the XR-i.
Here's what's inside the Mallory E-Spark. The primary
components of the kit are the spark module, combination
rotor and shutter, and the mounting plates.
This close-up shot shows the optical trigger LED used
by Mallory's spark module.
The underside of the rotor shows the integrated shutter.
Mallory's E-Spark instructions provide ample warning for
conducting a "ballast resistance check" prior
to install. More on that can be found on page 2 of this
Cams Fireball XR-i
Part No. 750-1700
Summit Racing Retail Price
What separates the XR-i from the E-Spark and Ignitor is its'
built-in rev limiter and included plates designed to replace
the factory points plates assembly. Like the Pertronix Ignitor,
the XR-i uses a Hall Effect sensor to signal the coil, only
the XR-i works without a magnetic sleeve to signal the sensor.
The XR-i works off the "bare" distributor cam lobes.
This means there is no shutter either, it also means you don't
get a rotor with the kit. These kits require use of your existing
rotor even though anybody should buy a new rotor when installing
this unit. The XR-i is priced fairly considering the added
benefit of a rev-limiter and cost of the additional hardware.
Just be sure to add $6.00 and a trip to the chain store to
the $64.88 retail price. In comparison to the Mallory E-Spark,
the XR-i is noticeably more delicate. While no conclusion
can be drawn from this without an endurance test, it is apparent.
I'll admit I have a bias towards the more solid casings and
larger components used in 70's and 80's era microelectronics.
Due to the specialized mounting plates and required removal
of the stock points assembly plate, the XR-i takes the longest
This shot of the XR-i kit shows its' completeness and
specialized adapter plates designed to replace the existing
points plate assembly.
This close-up of the spark module shows the adjustable
rev-limiter. Pretty slick.
The XR-i instructions ask for a thorough check of ballast
prior to installation. Again, more on that on page 2 of
Part No. 1281
Retail Price - $74.95
Whether or not they were first to market with a points-to-electronic
ignition conversion kit or not, the Pertronix Ignitor is nearly
a household name. In fact, their packaging says "Over
2,000,000 sold", and I believe it. Check any performance
automotive forum, import or domestic, and you'll see the Ignitor
As referenced earlier, the Ignitor
uses the magnetic Hall Effect principle to trigger the coil,
except unlike the Crane Cams XR-i, the Ignitor uses a special
magnetic sleeve to slip over the distributor cam. When looking
at the contents and price of the Pertronix kit, you have to
wonder if the market has caught up with them. There's no doubt
that the Ignitor is the quickest install, but there are less
parts. Shouldn't it be one of the least expensive kits? The
Ignitor, while a quality product, does not include a rotor
and in some situations, the pre-crimped terminal
ends are too large to pass through the hole in a Motorcraft
distributor. Not a major concern, but for the price of
$79.95, I'd expect this kit to be installation-ready and include
in a new rotor.
The Ignitor is certainly the simplest install of all three
kits. Nope, there's nothing missing here, that's the entire
A close-up of the spark module is not much different than
the photo of the entire kit.
This is the magnetic sleeve designed to slip over the
distributor cam. Like a points system, it is necessary
to adjust the air gap between the sleeve and spark module
on the Ignitor.
As with all the kits mentioned here, the Ignitor also
warns the enthusiast about ballast resistance prior to