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6V HEI or Pertronix?

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  • 6V HEI or Pertronix?

    I have a 1954 chevy 235 that wasn't running when I bought it years ago (6volt with generator). Since then I have gotten it to run a few times, but it doesn't start more than starts. By following the static timing article on this site, I think I have narrowed my problem down to the distributor shaft or bushing possibly being worn.

    When at TDC, the test light showed that it was getting juice, so I backed the engine up and the light didn't go off. I wiggled the distributor and it turned off. Then as I turned the motor up to TDC, the light would not come on even a few inches past TDC. I grabbed the distributor, wiggled it and noticed that it has some noticeable play, and after doing some research, I found that either the distributor shaft or bushing might be worn. Another possibility is that the grease cup spring and disk might need to be tightened, or the disk is gone entirely? I have not opened up the grease cup yet as I have been doing research. Can a new bushing be bought? I could not find any online. Any thoughts on this one would be appreciated.

    Since then I have come to a point where I need to make a decision. If i drop a pertonix into my current rig, i am sure the wobble will be an issue if I don't correct it first. If I get a new Delco shaft/body I'll spend about $115 then another $100 or so for a pertronix set up. I found a new 6V HEI distributor for about the same price of a new distributor and pertonix set up at $218. I know there are benefits to going with either of these and want to know if one is better than the other. I heard HEI is more forgiving and easier to find parts at a FLAPS than pertonix. Also, does the pertonix need new plug wires (I know HEI needs them).


  • #2
    Sulli, I hope someone else chimes in here because I do not have a favorite 6 volt option. I have a very bad attitude towards 6 volt systems. As a farmers son who spent most of the dead of cold nasty winters trying to get the old truck started, there is nothing redeeming about 6 volts. In my mind, until you go to a 12 volt system, I would go with Pertronix because its cheaper and probably about as reliable as a 6v HEI. 6 volts is not enough to power a decent more modern ignition system. This is why options are so limited. Once you go to 12 volts, you have all sorts of options available that are super reliable. Someone please argue the wonders of 6 volts for Sulli!

    As far as the distributor, You can get small plastic discs with a hole in them in the plumbers aisle at your local hardware store that work pretty well. That only puts pressure on the shaft giving it only slightly less wobble. Wobble is probably not the problem. You may have a loose oil pump drive gear on the end of the Distributor shaft. Also, the vacuum advance is probably bad if you haven't replaced it. These engines are normally driven hard and the Distributor maintenance is often neglected. If you know how to remove the distributor, its not a bad idea to tear it down and take a look at these things. Even though my movie covers 12 volt HEI, the movie will explain how to remove the distributor and replace it again. Here is the link: Hope this helps!
    Deve Krehbiel


    • #3
      Thanks Deve. I want to do the 12v thing, but I have to go in phases for money and learning curve reasons. The previous owner had an 8v in there, so he was partially committed to an upgrade. I figure that it ran as a 6v before I got it, and wanted to make sure that was sorted out first. You make a good point about the 6v not really being able to power a decent HEI system so I'll probably go pertronix in the interim.

      So I pulled the distributor tonight, and found all the grease cup internals and cleaned them out. The drive gear actually looks pretty good and isn't loose on the shaft. (I'm no expert at reading worn gears, but they look to have sharp edges.).

      What at stood out to me was that there was no o-ring to be seen on the shaft or in the hole... I'm guessing that o-ring offers some support, so not having one might make it wobble? If it's not the o-ring or the grease cup, then I need to get a new drive gear? Punch out the shaft like your rebuild shows, replace and reinstall? Do you have pics of a worn out drive gear or can say what to look for?


      • #4
        If the gear is not loose on the shaft, I wouldnt assume the gear is worn. I doubt it would matter that much. I could show you, if you were here, how wobbly a perfect distributor is. GM didnt make these things anywhere near the precision they do today. There is not supposed to be an Oring on the shaft of the distributor. Some rebuilders put one on, but they need to remove it. Its a bad idea because it doesnt allow the oil to keep the shaft lubricated. It seems counter-intuitive, but it works fine without an Oring. If your distributor is tightened down good, and the vac advance is working correctly, you should have no problems with the wider than you would think variance. I think you are probably okay just the way things are for the time being. Set your timing in the middle of that wobble you are seeing. It will run fine until you can get a better HEI 12v system installed. Happy to help if you have further questions. If you remove the top deck inside the distributor, the weights should operate smoothly. If they do, you are good to go. Once you go to HEI on 12 volts, this removes the ballast resistor and eliminates the 12K volt ceiling and allows a 40K charge at the plugs. Total game changer.

        My Dad used to take the 8v tractor battery out of the tractor to get the old truck going to get to school. There is just nothing redeeming about 6 volts. I understand your thinking and applaud it. Learn before just jumping in. Good plan!
        Deve Krehbiel


        • #5
          Ok, sounds good, and yeah, I'm looking forward to the seat of the pants change with 12v HEI after running on 6v and points.

          What do you think the static timing light was telling me when I could bump it on or off at TDC and have it not come on after passing through TDC? I did get a new coil and 6v battery a while ago and have it on a 6v battery tender to keep it topped off. I will check the vac advance if I can get it running again for sure. Since the distributor is out, I'll open it up and clean up the weights just because I probably won't pull it again for a while.

          i have watched your HEI video and read several of your articles that have helped a bunch along with great advice from the stovebolters. The tune up article, with the static tuning and static timing light have been a great help since the darn thing won't start (5 times maybe out of 40 tries is a bad track record for starts). I want to do the pcv thing as well, but this truck's compression sucks (50, 55, 60, 60, 75 and 75 cylinders 1 through 6). A leak down test told me it was blowing past the rings into the oil pan. I'm hoping that I can unstick the rings by doing 5 qts of straight 30 wt oil plus 2qts of Diesel engine to power wash the inside and hopefully unstick the rings (read about it on stovebolt). If that doesn't work, I'll probably tear it down and rebuild it. These things really are simple and fun to work on but this lack of starting is frustrating.

          thanks again for your help!


          • #6
            Timing is usually the culprit when it starts hard. I time my engines like this:

            1) Loosen the distributor (the sideways screw) just enough for it to turn with both hands but have enough tightness to stay in position.
            2) Start the engine. (I know that's the whole hard part)
            3) Slowly move the distributor one way and then the other LISTENING for the highest RPM.
            4) Back the distributor off about the width of one of the distributor cap clamps counterclockwise. (just a little)
            5) Tighten the distributor hold-down screw.

            That is about perfect and if you need to adjust it, chances are it needs a degree or two more counterclockwise. Once you have done that successfully, it should start every time. If not, new points, condenser and rotor may help. As far as your question, I have seen a lot of unexplained anomalies when doing that procedure and that was one of them. Be sure the gap is spec on both the points and the plugs. If too narrow, the light may do that. But then again, with 6 volts, you cant have too wide a gap. Good luck!
            Deve Krehbiel


            • #7
              Thanks Deve, I finally put a multi meter on the condenser just because i hadn't done that yet and it was reading 16 microfarads, which is below spec, so I ran out and bought a condenser. The damn thing fired right up! Wish I had checked that earlier, but I wasn't sure how to determine if the condenser was bad, now I know....

              I had a list of to-do's if it ever fired up again, so I got to work. I had put coolant flush in there beforehand, so I let the thing run, and found that it didn't get over 180 idling for 30 minutes, oil pressure was around 15 and would rise with throttle, it never fell on its face when I hit the gas off idle (which was a problem on previous runs, the vacuum advance needs to be replaced (you nailed that one!), have an oil leak at the fuel pump, and the clutch chattered a little (maybe it's just because it sat for 19 years, or needs adjustment?). I shot some MMO in the carburetor and couldn't get the thing to smoke in that whole 30 minute session. I wondered how the compression could be so low and not have any smoke.

              Drained the oil and added fresh. Drained the coolant, and nothing gross came out after all that running, so I'm not too worried about the cooling system yet.

              Now for the best part. I did a compression test (the right way, with a warm engine, plugs out and throttle mashed) and I have something that is worth driving for a while! It's not perfect, but it went from a cold reading of 55, 61, 70, 70, 75, 75 to an acceptable 100, 100, 110, 100, 95, 105!! I think I can live with an average of 101 for a while.

              Thanks for your help Deve. The static timing article along with your timing tips are great! Now when I get that new vacuum advance, I'll know how to get it running again if I mess up the timing. The stovebolters gave me lots of tips that helped get me on track as well. Those Chevy engineers really knew how to make something simple and dependable, you just need to know how to finesse them. It's a learning process for sure.


              • #8
                Deve, sorry to bother you again on this same topic, but I'm back to a no start situation. Since my last post I have:

                1. Installed new vacuum advance
                2. Reset the timing and it wouldn't start
                3. Got a new condenser (this one is a delco remake), reset the timing again and it fired right up and idled great
                4. Confirmed that the new vacuum advance did work when I bumped the throttle
                5. Let it sit for a week and when I went to start it, it fell back into it's not starting routine. It just turns and turns without a hint of firing

                i'm out of ideas and want to know if anything electrically upstream could be the issue, a ground issue, or if it is simply the condenser again. Should I advance the timing a few degrees and try again? My test of the condenser's continuity was to use a multimeter set on 200 (not 200k) which is the lowest ohm setting, and it came up with 1.4 for this condenser which I'm interpreting as 14 microfarads. I know the shop manual calls for 18 to 23 microfarads and my guess is that the 200 setting is just off by a decimal place. If that is correct, I'll go get another condenser, but welcome any other thoughts...


                • #9
                  Hopefully someone else that knows more than I do about these common ignition problems can chime in. The condenser is cheap, so not a bad idea to try a new one. The coil could be breaking down, or there is a bad wire somewhere. Its not a complex system so you will find it. Very important to turn the ignition off when leaving it sit. The coil can burn out if its left on.
                  Deve Krehbiel


                  • #10
                    Ok. I do leave it on a 6v battery tender still connected to the battery cables, but I always turn off the ignition and take the key out. The coil was the first thing I replaced back in July, but that doesn't mean it's a good coil necessarily. I'll go check the continuity and see if it is in spec.


                    • #11
                      Hi Sulli, I run a 6v setup with alternator, pertronix, and E3 plugs. Also have an electric pump to prime along with the mechanical pump. However, I had just done all the 6v work a few months before finding Deves site! Eventually I will convert to 12v and go with Deves HEI unit. It is a a great upgrade. Terry