A buddy of mine recently picked up a 1972 Comet as a daily beater and long-term project. The 302 equipped car popped up in the local classifieds for $1300, and had belonged to the same owner the last 15 years. The high-mileage engine was in fair running order but it felt unusually sloth like. Checking the timing we found that we were getting no advance at all. On further inspection we narrowed it down to a seized up advance mechanism in the stock distributor.
Not wanting to take chances with rebuilding a rusty old dizzy we checked the Summit and Jegs catalogs to price out the MSD combo of a new small block Ford distributor and 6AL box. Have you seen the pricing on this stuff recently? He'd have to shell out about $500, way more than this car needed at this time. We searched for a cheaper alternative, but something better than a stock distributor converted to Pertronix or similar. Searching Summit and Jegs for "302 distributor" we found this - a HEI Ford Distributor PN:669669R
for about $200. This isn't a "chintzy" overseas knock-off from a no-name company however. It's made by Proform
, and has a mix of US made components, while the shaft and housing are built by an ISO-9000 shop overseas.
HEI stands for High Energy Ignition, a GM idea back in the 70's. It is an inductive-discharge system that eliminates points with a solid state module. Along with greater reliability and durability, the solid state system offers significantly more spark energy. In addition, the HEI design positions a high energy coil right on top of the super sized distributor cap. These systems are super easy to install, with nothing more than the original 12V ignition-switch wire the distributor to hook up, and ground. A tachometer output terminal is provided as well.
This unit feels real solid. The body is an all new aluminum casting. The shaft is supported by an upper and lower bushing, making it spin super smooth and yet with no side-to-side play on the shaft. The cap and coil feel thick and heavy duty. Under the cap, the rotor, spring and weight assembly, and HEI module are all high precision pieces with no slop. Furthermore, everything is made for easy advance adjustment should you want to dial in your timing curve.
Because of the greater spark energy and the integral coil, the cap is pretty wide and tall compared to a stock distributor. It is likely to interfere with the underside of a stock air cleaner assembly. We fixed the problem with a cheap spacer that lifts the air cleaner 1" above the carburetor horn. Otherwise, installation is as simple as noting the terminal where the stock rotors is pointing, then pulling the old distributor, and putting in the new one with the rotor in the original position. Wire up the 12V ignition source and ground, re-connect the plug wires, and fire it up.
We set initial timing, with the vacuum advance disconnected, to 14 degrees advanced. We measured full advance of 34 degrees at 4000 rpm. Good enough for this Comet, but you can adjust spring and weights to bring it in sooner if needed.
The distributor made a noticeable difference in start-up and acceleration is much improved, as is the idle. A pretty good deal for $200 in my opinion.