How to Replace a Ford Point & Condenser Ignition Systemby John Stevens J.D.
Whereas modern Fords feature an electronic ignition system, older Fords relied on a mechanical breaker points and condenser ignition system. While an engine’s “timing” determines when a spark is sent to each of the spark plugs, it is the breaker points and condenser that determine the length of time the spark is sent to the spark plugs. It is critically important to keep the ignition system in good condition to prevent a decline in power and fuel efficiency due to an insufficient spark. The points and condenser do need to be periodically replaced, but doing so is fairly straightforward.
Remove the distributor cap. The distributor cap is held in place with two metal clips which connect to the base of the distributor. The clips fold from the sides of the distributor over two plastic tabs on the sides of the distributor cap. Insert the blade of a standard screwdriver between each clip and the side of the distributor cap, then twist the screwdriver to disconnect the clips. Lift the distributor cap off of the distributor to reveal the rotor.
Remove the rotor from the distributor. The plastic rotor slides onto the top of the metal shaft located in the center of the distributor, sometimes called the “cam.” Pull the rotor off of the cam.
Remove the condenser. The condenser is the metal cylinder which has one wire protruding from its side. Trace the wire from the condenser to the metal tip on the end of the wire. Note that the metal tip is secured to a threaded stud on the side of the breaker points with a small nut. Loosen the nut with an open-end wrench and pull the wire off of the threaded stud. At the other side of the condenser is a standard screw, which secures the condenser to the distributor. Remove this screw with a standard screwdriver, then lift the condenser out of the distributor.
Remove the breaker points. At each end of the breaker points is a single screw. Remove both screws with a standard screwdriver and lift the points out of the distributor.
Coat the ribbed base of the distributor cam with engine assembly lubrication.
Lower the new breaker points assembly into place within the distributor, then install, but do not tighten, the two screws which hold the assembly in place with a standard screwdriver.
Install the new condenser. Insert the condenser’s single screw through the top of the condenser and into the distributor, then tighten the screw with a standard screwdriver. Slide the condenser’s wire onto the threaded rod on the side of the breaker points assembly, then tighten the nut over the tip of the wire with a wrench to firmly secure the wire to the points assembly.
Set the gap of the breaker point’s two contacts with a feeler gauge. “Gap” refers to the distance between the two tips of the points assembly when fully opened. To fully open the points, twist the distributor cam. Note that the base of the cam is not perfectly circular, instead featuring points and valleys. These points and valleys are what open and close the breaker points. Twist the shaft until the points open to their greatest distance. Measure this distance with a feeler gauge. The correct distance varies from as narrow as 0.015 mm to as wide as 0.50 mm, depending on the engine. Refer to the engine’s specification’s manual for the correct setting. If the distance needs to be expanded or shortened, pry the base of the points assembly in the appropriate direction with a flathead screwdriver, using the slots within the base of the distributor as a leverage point. Tighten both of the points’ assembly screws after setting the distance.
Slide the rotor onto the top of the distributor cam. Lower the distributor cap onto the distributor, then fold each of the distributor’s two clips onto the sides of the distributor cap until the clips snap into place.