The following information is derived from the opinions and experiences of the thousands of Magnecor customers with whom we discussed ignition systems over the years. Magnecor does not manufacture anything other than ignition wires, but it’s important for Magnecor to investigate, evaluate and test the ignition systems with which Magnecor Race Wires will be used on all sorts of engines and under all sorts of extreme or otherwise conditions.
In recent years there has been a huge increase in aftermarket products which can improve the ignition performance of race and street engines modified to increase horsepower, and although the basic ignition systems providing the spark energy are essentially the same (inductive, CDI and magneto) as ever, the electronic control of such systems to further benefit engine performance and reliability has been significantly improved.
Like better ignition wires, improving an engine’s ignition system is a means to an end. A high-output ignition system will rarely increase engine horsepower by itself, and any noticeable increase is usually the result of the new system reviving horsepower lost by a failing original ignition system. However, if an engine is modified to gain additional horsepower, little will be gained unless a high-output ignition system and ignition wires capable of delivering the additional spark energy (without effecting other engine components) are installed to enable the engine to take advantage of the modifications.
Original equipment inductive ignition systems with distributors and the more recent direct ignition systems (DIS), that eliminate the distributor by controlling the ignition with a computer, are designed to output spark energy moderately in excess of what is needed to fire spark plug gaps under normal operating conditions and to control timing and spark duration to improve the engine’s ability to control exhaust emissions, as well as ensuring the engine is not over-stressed during the vehicle’s warranty period. Ignition systems fitted to production vehicles are not designed to encourage consumers to modify the engines to gain extra RPM and horsepower.
The following is aimed at providing general information for individuals who are considering replacing their production vehicles’ original ignition system with one of the many higher-output systems available in the performance aftermarket:
Although original equipment ignition systems fitted to most recent production vehicles will provide adequate spark energy if no modifications to gain additional horsepower are made to the engine, we are not aware that any of these ignitions is suitable for a race engine or a highly modified production engine used on the street. In some instances, an original ignition system, as an integral part of the electronic engine management system, can thwart a power increase expected from mechanical modifications and/or a chip replacement.
Generally, aftermarket high-output ignition systems are designed to enable a production engine to reach higher RPM, and provide the spark energy that will be needed to fire an engine that will be combusting different fuels at a greater rate than a production engine. In choosing a high-output ignition systems to use on your modified production vehicle it’s important you investigate what works on your vehicle, taking into account its engine type, year model and the purpose for which you modified the engine.
Fitting any of the most recent high-output ignition systems available in the USA to most production engines older than about 1986 is usually not difficult, and generally, any capacitor discharge ignition (CDI) system such as those available from Accel, Crane, Holley, Jacobs, Mallory, MSD and others in the USA will prove to be ideal. CDI ignitions create sparks that are compressed (and intensified) into shorter duration and are specifically designed to produce the extra spark energy needed by race and modified street engines that will reach a higher RPM than standard production engines, and use fuels more difficult to fire than pump gasoline (petrol). Most CDI ignitions incorporate multi-spark circuits to enable the engine to run smoother under 3,000 RPM.
Unfortunately, with late model production vehicles sold in countries where emission control laws are enforced, finding a suitable high-output ignition will be more challenging, and any attempt to fit just any aftermarket high-out ignition system to these vehicles, without a thorough investigation as to its suitability, could drastically effect the drive-ability of the vehicle on the street. Unless you know someone who has been successful in fitting a particular type and brand high-output ignition system to a vehicle identical to yours, you first need to contact the ignition system manufacturer to confirm whether or not they have a ready-to-fit system (with precise fitting instructions) that can replace the original ignition on your particular vehicle without upsetting the whole engine management system. No doubt, someone knowledgeable who works on vehicles similar to yours will also know what’s best from experience.
From what we have recently observed and tested, a high-output inductive ignition system is more appropriate than a CDI ignition system for most late model production engines (modified or not) because this type of ignition provides the longer duration spark needed by these engines. Basic high-output inductive ignition systems are available in the aftermarket currently from at least Accel, Crane, Holley, MSD, and a menu driven high-output direct ignition system is available from Electromotive.
Often, on vehicles used exclusively on the street, replacing a tired ignition coil with a more modern higher-output coil from Accel, Crane, Holley, Jacobs, Mallory, Moroso, MSD, Nology, Torque Master and others can improve ignition performance, particularly under load and at higher RPM. Again, it’s important that you confirm, in particular, that the primary side of the higher-output coil will be compatible with the vehicle’s original ignition controller (e.g. primary resistance is not substantially lower than the original coil primary), to prevent overloading and failure of the ignition controller.
Never be fooled by any device that is fitted between the ignition coil and the distributor, and/or distributor and the spark plugs (in place of ignition wires) for which claims of increased power, multiple sparks, and better fuel economy are made. Like “capacitor” wires, many of these devices have come and gone over the last 50 years, and usually consists of a sealed container in which the spark is forced to jump an additional gap on its way to the spark plug — thus increasing the coil output voltage! Also, like “capacitor” wires, these devices can produce sparks which (when cleverly demonstrated) are usually perceived by the human eye as being “more-powerful.” The only “increase” a gullible consumer can expect from any of these devices is an undesirable increase in load on their vehicle’s ignition system!
If you own an older vehicle that has a distributor points type ignition, by far the best investment you can make is an electronic ignition system which eliminates the distributor points. Distributor points have a rubbing block which wears down, causing the engine timing to change and engine performance to deteriorate. Electronic ignitions which eliminate distributor points are possibly the best thing that’s happened to improve ignition performance. Not only is the nuisance and expense of continually replacing and adjusting distributor points eliminated, engines fitted with pointless ignitions will maintain perfect ignition timing! In the USA, a good supplier of kits to convert points distributors to an electronic system is RML in Daytona Beach, Florida. These people specialize in bolt-on conversion kits for Alfa Romeo, and they can supply kits for other older vehicles with points ignition.