View Full Version : Question on distributors: Buy, rebuild, upgrade?

01-14-2007, 10:32 AM
The the Winter Special catalog from VickyBrit has me wondering about the decision criteria for a new distributor.

I know there several excellent re-builders out there (which I try to support whenever I can).

I know that Mallory Unilite comes highly regarded from a couple of the people on this board (Mickey and Todd and others).

Pertronix makes a Flame-Thrower brand new distributor for $170

Lucas 45D are all of $150 bucks...

I imagine that ANY of these is better than a 30+ year old original distributor, but all of the choice is hurting my brain. (not that it takes much to have that happen)

01-14-2007, 12:08 PM
I'm almost afraid to chime in on this as I've only heard good things and never seen the unit. But don't rule out the 123ignition https://www.123ignition.nl/brand/Triumph.html

sorry about the brain strain

01-14-2007, 12:31 PM
<smoke coming out of Tom's ears>


You are right Peter, some people swear by them.

01-14-2007, 12:34 PM
If your dizzy bushings are good it's hard to beat the simple $80.00 Pertronix conversion....

Unilites have a rather jaded reputation in the hot rod world...good when they work...not so good when they don't. Some guys refer to them as "Lucas-wannabes" or worse.

I had a Uni-Lite in a 351C Ford powered stock car for two years. It always worked but my Chevy friends pretty much gave up on them.

The Pertronix unit is pretty highly regarded among traditinal rodders who run Caddys, Rockets, Nailheads and other "vintage" engines where there are few choices for an improved ignition system. Some even convert old Mallory dual-points to Pertronix to have the "look" with reliability.

01-14-2007, 01:32 PM
This is my story and my recommendation. Mine has never run better than with the recurve and Pertronix. Good luck in whatever you decide to do.


01-14-2007, 02:04 PM
Having disassembled and tested virtually every replacement distributor on the market, I can feed you a little more information. The Pertronix distributor and the currently available 45Ds have steel composite shaft bushings which tend to wear quickly. The Mallory has good bronze bushings, similar to what you'll get with a rebuild. If you want the tach drive, I think a rebuild is still your only choice. The quality of Lucas factory parts is very good and can be improved in the proper hands. While the Pertronix is a great option, its only a maintenance reduction - not a performance increase unless your distributor is really worn.

I know plenty of high-end engine shops that discard the UniLite system in Mallorys and install Pertronix in them to reduce failures. They don't do that because its fun!

Factor in the cost and availability of replacement parts as well. The Mallory and 123 are the most expensive. The 22D is probably the cheapest.

01-14-2007, 02:09 PM
You can retain the tach drive on any distributor that fits in the TR distributor base becase the drive is separate from the distributor. That includes Mallory's and the Lucas replacements.

Probably enough for the ol' brain today, huh?

01-14-2007, 02:23 PM
Peter, how would you do this? The tach drive is cast into the base and you would have to cannibalize a new distributor to fit the shaft and internals into an old housing, or did I miss something? I thought that the Mallory and 123 replacement for the 22D did not come with the tach drive in the housing.

Maybe this one piece housing is only on the 22D units like mine that are used in the TR6? That separate drive unit that you speak of may be for other distributors?

01-14-2007, 02:56 PM
I think he's referring to the TR4 setup that uses a sperate distributor pedestal with the tach drive built into it. Its a cast iron base used with a 25D rather than a 22D.

01-14-2007, 03:17 PM
yep, I was thinking of the tr4cyls not the 6's. My bad, Paul.

01-14-2007, 03:25 PM
No problem. I just learned something new about the earlier models that I didn't know. Thanks for the info!

01-14-2007, 05:43 PM
Hi tdskip,

As the other responses have suggested, this is partly a decision that depends upon which car you're working on.

On the 4-cyl. cars it's a bit more of a straight shot to change out to a more modern dizzy, because the tach drive isn't part of the dizzy housing. With the 6-cyl. cars, you are looking at having to spend additional $$$s converting the tach to electronic, if you choose a modern, replacement dizzy. Whether you want to do that or not is up to you.

I don't know too much about the Pertronix replacement dizzy, so can't really comment.

Pertronix electronic ignition conversions to the older dizzies seem okay in many cases, but also seem to have a high failure rate. I suspect this has a lot to do with what coil is used. I am guessing the trigger units can't handle higher voltages of, say, a "sport" coil. So, with a standard coil this might be a good choice. The old dizzy might still need to be rebushed and recurved, though.

I'd suspect something similar with the reports of problems with Unilites. There are specific Mallory coils that are recommended for use with those, and doing otherwise may cause failures.

Another deciding factor, if you ever plan to use something like a capacitive discharge/multi-spark system (MSD, Mallory, Accel, Crane, Jacobs, etc.) it would make a lot of sense to upgrade to a more modern, electronic dizzy, too. When making this kind of change, personally I prefer to stick with one manufacturer as much as possible. This is because I think it's more likely that they will build compatible parts, while mixing different manufacturers' stuff introduces a lot of variables that could lead to problems.

A capacitive discharge system can be triggered with points, which will last a lot longer thanks to a much lower voltage crossing them. But, an electronic trigger is likely more accurate and might also benefit from not carrying the higher voltage.

If you don't mind replacing and adjusting points and aren't really looking for significant preformance increase or working with some sort of high compression and/or Weber carbed setup that demands changes to the dizzy, the original Lucas might be your best choice.

If that's the route you go, personally I'd opt for rebuilding whenever possible, since it gives you some say in the quality of the parts used. A repro/replacement part might be built who knows where and corners might have been cut that lead to problems eventually.

01-14-2007, 05:49 PM
While the Pertronix is a great option, its only a maintenance reduction - not a performance increase unless your distributor is really worn.



Now Jeff, I am going to give you a wee bit of argument here regarding the Pertronix. Don't overlook the fact that even though you retain your original coil the pertronix will enhance performance. This is because the time rate of change of current through the coil using the Pertronix is so much faster than that of a set of points. Consquently, the output voltage in the coil's secondary will be significantly higher-Thats a performance improvement in my book!.---Keoke

01-14-2007, 07:22 PM
A very good point indeed. I did make the switch to the Pertronix coil, just to get the higher voltage. I'm happy so far and as long as you don't leave the key on for an extended period of time, the ignition should last a good long time.

01-14-2007, 07:29 PM
If you are referring to the Pertronix electronic ignition that fits inside the Lucas dizzy, I have one I will sell, cheap. It comes with the appropriate Pertronix coil. I used it for 100 miles and went back to points. Everything is as new, in box. 50 bucks, American. I will even pay the 8 bucks or so it costs to ship.

01-14-2007, 07:35 PM
I'll take it for a backup if it will fit my 74. Is there a difference between 73 & 74 due to ballast resistors? How do you want to be paid?

01-14-2007, 07:38 PM
Bill, I just checked the TRF site and the coil is the same 73-76, so I'll take it if no one else has contacted you. Email me for method of payment that you prefer.


01-14-2007, 08:54 PM
Paul, I just checked and I do indeed still have it. In fact, I am not really sure that I ever installed it, doesn't look like it. I do remember shortening the two wires when I was gonna install it, too much loose wire hanging around. Anyway, it is brand new. I am sure that it works. I will send the coil and the ignition (2 boxes) in one package. When you get it, just send 50 bucks. Send me your address again in a PM.

01-15-2007, 03:37 AM
If you are referring to the Pertronix electronic ignition that fits inside the Lucas dizzy, I have one I will sell, cheap. It comes with the appropriate Pertronix coil. I used it for 100 miles and went back to points. Everything is as new, in box. 50 bucks, American. I will even pay the 8 bucks or so it costs to ship.

Doggonit TR6Bill, I got back on the forum too late!.

WOW!! Brosky! thats better en E-bay huh?---Keoke- /bcforum/images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/grin.gif

01-15-2007, 06:39 PM
Keoke, it seems that I'm always 10 minutes too late on ebay as well. I got lucky this time. Your turn next!

01-15-2007, 07:10 PM
I have the capactive discharge system in my '70 TR6 along with the sports coil. I got rid of the ugly advance retard system and put a vacuum unit off a TR4A on the advance, Not able to use the micro adjust and I might figure that out soon. The plugs are set at .032, the timing at 6 degrees before TDC and will redline without a miss. The vacuum advance was an 11 degree and with the 6's advance it gets there in a hurry and still idles at 700 RPM's. Now to get the overdrive unit in and I can finally get on the '37 MG. Wait till the wife finds out how much the parts for that sucker are.


01-15-2007, 09:22 PM
Jeff curved mine for the European PI, non emission advance. I have it set at 16 BTDC and have the Pertronix Ignition and Flame Thrower Coil. NGK plugs at .030". I run 92 octane all the time. No ping and goes like a bat outta he-- with the PaceSetter headers and carbs set a bit rich.

01-16-2007, 12:18 AM
food for thought:

1) it's cheaper to carry a spare set of points than a spare module.

2) personally, I think it's a good precaution to use module grease when installing a pertronix, just like any other ignition module. Advance and autozone sell small packets at the register for 99 cents.

3) should be pretty cheap and straightforward to freshen up the bearings in your old unit.

01-16-2007, 09:16 AM
1. I had a spare plate made up with points and condenser installed and preset, when Advanced rebuilt my distributor in the event of failure. Now that I have a second module, that will go into the trunk as well.

2. Good advice on the grease.

3. I'm not sure how easy it is to get to the bushings in the house and getting them in and out without ruining the housing would be a concern of mine. Jeff's prices were very reasonable for all of the work done, the measurements and checks that are performed during the rebuild and the final setup is so nice, that I went outside to get it done.