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by Jon Mikelonis

Introduction
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 article

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 the Mallory 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 maintenance.

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.

Mallory Ignition E-Spark
Part No. 61002M
Summit Racing Retail Price
- $59.95
www.malloryracing.com


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 for
$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 article.

Crane Cams Fireball XR-i
Part No. 750-1700
Summit Racing Retail Price
- $64.88

www.cranecams.com

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 to install.

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 resistance
prior to installation. Again, more on that on page 2 of this article.
   

Pertronix Ignitor
Part No. 1281
Retail Price
- $74.95
www.pertronix.com

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 mentioned.

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 kit.
 
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 install.


(Are You Resisting the Resistance Check?)
Requires Subscription

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In This Article:
There's more than one player in the points-to-electronic ignition conversion kit market these days. FordMuscle compares three popular kits and delves into the mysteries of verifying ballast resistance.


I'll point out the differences and contents of three popular points-to-electronic ignition conversion kits: The Mallory Ignition E-Spark, Crane Cams Fireball XR-i, and Pertronix Ignitor.
 


By honoring the highlighted precautions found on the instruction sheets of all three manufacturers, I'll attempt to make sense of the testing procedures required to verify ballast resistance prior to installing each kit.

 

On page three, I'll show you how simple it is to install a points-to-electronic ignition conversion kit.


 

 

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