View Full Version : Spitfire Runs, but not well

05-30-2019, 03:08 PM
Now that I got my 1980 Spitfire (1500 Federal, no overdrive) running, I want it to run a whole lot better than it is. It's hard to start (at least, the first time), and it seems to be cutting out when I take it around the block. It also doesn't seem to have a whole lot of power, though I haven't gotten it out of the neighborhood yet. The shop that put my exhaust on says it needs to be tuned. And they may be right, but I don't want to pay somebody else to do it. I mean, isn't that the whole point of a project car... to do it yourself? It has new everything on it -- Weber carb, new wires, plugs, filters, oil, cooling. It doesn't seem to be leaking anything, but I question whether the seals on the engine are as good as they should be. I haven't touched any of the factory settings on the carb. Any ideas where I should start?

05-30-2019, 04:04 PM
To start, check for vacuum leaks in the manifold, intake and exhaust. Spray carb cleaner around the areas the manifolds join and lessen for the engine to speed up.

05-30-2019, 05:02 PM
Glad you got it going--- I remember how much effort you put into it. My trouble shooting is better on a tr3. Anyways, check the obvious like firing order, dwell, valve adjustment, and timing. I like to pull the plugs often on a fresh start to see what they look like, and with Triumphs the problem is often running rich often because the choke is stuck, but again you cannot correctly set a carb until the other stuff is addressed. I would add also in my experience if the motor is popping the problem is often in the ignition cutting out and coming back blowing up the unburn fuel, and if the motor is doggy it is fuel delivery—but not a hard fast rule. You will get it; I would pick up 3 sets plugs to keep after fouling problems and some new points, rotor and cap.

05-31-2019, 03:54 AM
When checking the ignition timing, also check that the centrifugal advance is working as expected. Hook up a timing light, shine it on the mark, and watch what happens as you slowly rev the engine up and let it back down. The mark should move smoothly with rpm (up to some maximum, which I don't know offhand). If it jumps around at any speed, or doesn't move, you need to get the distributor serviced.

I would also run a compression check, just to make sure there isn't a problem there.

A stock 1500 is no barn burner anyway; always seemed short on power to me.

05-31-2019, 03:33 PM
To show my ignorance, I'm not truly sure what compression is, and I don't know how one checks such a thing.

05-31-2019, 03:53 PM
I was going to point you to several YouTube videos on how to do a compression test ... but each one I found was preceded by four or five ads running from 30 seconds to 90 seconds. Yeesh.

Basically, you want to see if the pressure created by the upstroke on the piston inside the cylinders is approximately equal for all the cylinders.

There are different ways to do a test. The gist is: Disconnect ignition wire from distributor. (You'll want to crank the engine, not start it.) Then remove all spark plugs, screw a compression tester hose into a plug hole, crank the engine, and read the compression number on the tester. Do this on all cylinders, to see if they're all about equal. You want to have each number be the same, or +/- 10% different from the others. Example of a good test: 120 psi, 125 psi, 120 psi, 118 psi. Example of a bad test: 120 psi, 60 psi, 70 psi, 118 psi.

Here's a general overview:


Also a good idea to hold the gas pedal to the floor (put a brick on it) so there's free flow of air in manifold.

Tom M.
Edit: you're looking to see if each cylinder is "tight" and develops maximum power each time its fuel/air is sparked, or if it has pressure losses due to cracked head, sticking piston rings, stuck valves, etc.

05-31-2019, 07:10 PM
The nice thing about the kind that screw in: you don't need a helper or a starter switch. Just screw the gauge in, then lean over and turn the switch to the 'start' position (after making sure the transmission is out of gear and the ignition is disabled). The gauge has a valve in it, so it will hold the reading until you get back to the gauge. There should be a pin or button that you press to release the pressure before doing the next test.

Since you are only looking for the comparison between cylinders, the gauge doesn't need to be strictly accurate (and most of them aren't, in my experience). I picked up one of these
last summer (mostly because it had the 18mm adapter to fit the tractor I was working on), and it seems to be a reasonable kit for the price. No idea how long it will last, but it did what I needed.

On an older car with electronic ignition (your Spitfire may or may not still have the factory electronic ignition, an aftermarket electronic ignition, or have been converted back to points), I think it's best to disconnect the low tension side of the coil rather than the high tension wire (as the link Tom gave suggests). The Pertronix aftermarket electronic ignitions in particular are sensitive to being left on for a long time with the engine not running; but the coil and points will get hot even with points. Then you don't need to worry about the high tension wires, as there won't be any spark.

Obviously you have to reconnect after you're done, along with reinstalling the spark plugs, putting the plug wires back on and anything else you changed.

06-01-2019, 10:25 AM
IMHO it is best to set the valves before doing a compression check. Get a manual on Spitfire and it will have simple way to set the valves. Regardless, I always pull the plugs out so I can turn the engine easily over by hand.

06-04-2019, 11:24 AM
Great link. I just bought a timing light. Now it looks like I need a compression guage. Thanks!

06-04-2019, 11:28 AM
My car has points. This all seems like it's not very hard to do... once I know what I'm doing. You've been a lot of help. I have a whole list of things to check. Thanks!

06-04-2019, 11:30 AM
I'm making a list, and setting the valves is now on it. Looks like I got my spare time filled for the next few weeks. Thanks!

06-04-2019, 01:07 PM
It's all pretty easy, and gets easier with repetition. The downside is when the compression test tells you something you didn't want to know!

06-06-2019, 10:58 AM
Before I can check the compression, I need to get the car to where it will idle without dying. That's not asking too much. I'm thinking it could be the coil, the rotor, the points, or the wires to the sparking plugs. My guess is it's all four.

06-06-2019, 11:10 AM
The engine is not running when doing a compression test..

06-06-2019, 11:47 AM
You have to check and probably set the valve lash first before you do any other stuff; it is easy to do. You do it with the engine cold. Read up on it and ask questions if it is not clear. You basically just need to have the valve closed that you are setting and then putting a feeler gauge between the valve stem top and the rocker so there is some room for the engine to expand when it warms up, and IIRC spitfires were .010 cold.

06-06-2019, 02:46 PM
If it doesn't have compression, it's not going to idle right.
Running under load actually puts more stress on the ignition, because its harder for the spark to jump when cylinder pressure is higher. Not impossible for it to be an ignition problem, but less likely IMO.

06-06-2019, 03:31 PM
Turning back the clock....

Last month I believe I sent you a marked up schematic showing how to change the coil wiring to eliminate the ballast resistor and properly power your 3 Ohm coil. Did you make those wiring changes yet? If you did not and the ballast resistor is still in the coil's low tension circuit you may have a very weak spark at the plugs. Let us know if you have updated the ignition wiring and/or if I need to send the marked up schematic again.

06-07-2019, 12:15 PM
I've already set the valves. For the most part, they were fine (my engine has less than 40K original miles on it... that's what happens when your car sits in a garage for 25 years). The timing is way off, though. Numbers three and four sparking plugs were fairly well toasted when I checked them, so they've all been replaced. But I can't get it to idle anywhere near specs. And I'm pretty sure my ballast resistor shouldn't be smoking. I'm thinking I need to replace the rotor and points, at a minimum. Heck, I've had to replace everything else so far.

06-07-2019, 12:16 PM
I just got a compression tester, so that's my marching orders for today. We'll see what we see, then go from there.

06-07-2019, 12:23 PM
I've got so much stuff it's hard to tell what is what. So if you could, send them again. I have a ballast resistor on my car right now, but I'm pretty sure it shouldn't be smoking. I'm also probably going to replace the coil... just in case. I've replaced everything else as it is. But, yeah. It runs, but really... REALLY poorly. I drive it about a mile and it just dies. After it sits a few minutes, it'll start back up (which tells me something is overheating). As well, it will not idle without dying. So right now, I'm not driving it further than I want to walk home. I know that could be the dwell, or the points or rotor could be bad, so I'm probably going to replace both of those. It could also be the coil... or so I've been told by me knowledgeable FLAP. Today, though, I'm checking the compression!

06-07-2019, 01:13 PM
IIRC, you said you had a points distributor installed. The original setup used resistor wire, running over to the starter solenoid, for the ballast resistance; plus a "drive resistor" that was only for the electronic ignition.

Are you saying that the resistor wire (pink with white tracer) is smoking? Or do you still have the drive resistor connected somehow? Although it looks rather like a discrete ballast resistor, the drive resistor is a higher resistance and has no use with points. If you are using it to pass power to the coil (or points), it may well be your problem.

06-07-2019, 03:38 PM
That's what it sounds like to me Randall and it's why I asked if the OP had made the wiring changes I had suggested earlier.

06-12-2019, 02:37 PM
The compression was good -- right at 125 on all four cylindars.

06-12-2019, 02:40 PM
The problem was with the ballast resistor. It was bad. Such a simple thing to go bad. I am using a ballast resistor in my car because I don't have a drive resistor, and I need a ballast resistor with my coil. I've got twelve volts going in, and nine coming out, just like it says I should.

06-12-2019, 02:44 PM
The previous owner probably did all sorts of things that he shouldn't've. Once I found out the compression was good, the distributor was top on my list. Thing was, my car originally didn't come with a distributor, but the PO put one in. I had no idea what brand he put in, so to make a long story short (too late), I replaced it all. And now my car is running a heck of a lot better. I'm going to warm it up today and set the timing, and I think it will be solid. And then that will leave me all sorts of time to figure out why my turn signals don't work. Thanks!

06-12-2019, 02:46 PM
The gaps were pretty much where they needed to be.

06-12-2019, 03:41 PM
You should be fine; spitfires are very small and light and go pretty good. What impressed me about the one I had was the steering radius; that thing would just pull right off the curb at an almost 60 degree angle