How Electronic and Points Ignition Works

Charging Up Your Ignition With Electronic Ignition

One of the best upgrades you can do to your classic is to switch from points to electronic ignition. While a points style system works still, it has limitations and there are horsepower and reliability improvements by switching over to electronic. 

A distributor is what provides the electronic spark inside the cylinder to ignite the fuel. This is a very calculated process; that spark can’t come too early or too late or the engine simply won’t run. When running a distributor this is done with a cap where all plug wires are attached. Inside the cap is a rotor that spins around giving the spark to each individual spark plug. 

Points Ignition

As this rotor is spinning around and around, it’s receiving power from the coil.  The problem is when the rotor is spinning, the arc will follow around jumping from one terminal to the next inside the hat. Simply put, the distributor would fire all cylinders all the time, not during the compression stroke if it wasn’t for the points system. 

Points Ignition

To solve this issue, Engineers developed a points-style system of ignition. What this would do is turn that electronic spark on and off so that it’s only on when the rotor is at the terminal to send the spark down to the spark plug. This eliminates the arc going around the distributor. As you can imagine, the points are turning the spark on and off thousands of times a minute. 

As the engine rotates, the distributor shaft cam turns until the high point on the cam causes the breaker points to separate suddenly. Instantaneously, when the points open (separate) current flow stops through the primary windings of the ignition coil. This causes the magnetic field to collapse around the coil. The condenser absorbs the energy and prevents arcing between the points each time they open. This condenser also aids in the rapid collapse of the magnetic field.

With a points style distributor and a traditional canister style coil, the spark plugs will see roughly 24,000 volts to ignite the fumes inside the cylinder. However, upgraded systems can send roughly 40-50,000 volts to the spark plug. Not only will you get a more reliable and consistent spark, it’s a much stronger spark that will allow for better combustion which means more horsepower! 

Upgrade To Electronic Ignition

With the ignition switch turned on, primary (battery) current flows from the battery through the ignition switch to the coil primary windings. The primary current is turned on and off by the action of the armature as it revolves past the pickup coil or sensor. As each tooth of the armature nears the pickup coil, it creates a voltage that signals the electronic module to turn off the coil’s primary current. A timing circuit in the module will turn the current on again after the coil field has collapsed. When the current is off, however, the magnetic field built up in the coil is allowed to collapse, which causes a high voltage in the secondary windings of the coil. It is now operating on the secondary ignition circuit, which is the same as in a conventional ignition system.

Simply put though, instead of a mechanical switch turning the coil charge on and off between the cylinders firing, it’s done electronically. This means a more precise charge and a more powerful one. The best part is it’s easy to convert over and can be done where it doesn’t ruin the originality of your car if you’re concerned about that. 

There are several choices to do this upgrade. The  M&H Electric kit shown above which is our most popular and the Mallory conversion, shown below.

There are kits from American Autowire that are plug and play, while in kits from Petronix you have to shim properly and remove the ballast. 

If you have any other questions or want to upgrade your distributor from a points style to an electronic style, give our friendly techs a call at (203) 235-1200 or email them at 

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