Ford y block timing marks

Ford y block timing marks DEFAULT


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Join Date: Jul

Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

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DefaultRe: Y-block Timing question

Here's something to think on. I believe it to be true and correct. I run manifold vac on my street built Ranchero engineRooDog
Re: Ported vs manifold vacuum advance
March 21st, , AM
This was the post I found on a MOPAR forum during a google search.

This was written by a former GM engineer as a response to a similar question on a Corvette board:

As many of you are aware, timing and vacuum advance is one of my favorite subjects, as I was involved in the development of some of those systems in my GM days and I understand it. Many people don't, as there has been very little written about it anywhere that makes sense, and as a result, a lot of folks are under the misunderstanding that vacuum advance somehow compromises performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. I finally sat down the other day and wrote up a primer on the subject, with the objective of helping more folks to understand vacuum advance and how it works together with initial timing and centrifugal advance to optimize all-around operation and performance. I have this as a Word document if anyone wants it sent to them - I've cut-and-pasted it here; it's long, but hopefully it's also informative.


The most important concept to understand is that lean mixtures, such as at idle and steady highway cruise, take longer to burn than rich mixtures; idle in particular, as idle mixture is affected by exhaust gas dilution. This requires that lean mixtures have "the fire lit" earlier in the compression cycle (spark timing advanced), allowing more burn time so that peak cylinder pressure is reached just after TDC for peak efficiency and reduced exhaust gas temperature (wasted combustion energy). Rich mixtures, on the other hand, burn faster than lean mixtures, so they need to have "the fire lit" later in the compression cycle (spark timing retarded slightly) so maximum cylinder pressure is still achieved at the same point after TDC as with the lean mixture, for maximum efficiency.

The centrifugal advance system in a distributor advances spark timing purely as a function of engine rpm (irrespective of engine load or operating conditions), with the amount of advance and the rate at which it comes in determined by the weights and springs on top of the autocam mechanism. The amount of advance added by the distributor, combined with initial static timing, is "total timing" (i.e., the degrees at high rpm that most SBC's like). Vacuum advance has absolutely nothing to do with total timing or performance, as when the throttle is opened, manifold vacuum drops essentially to zero, and the vacuum advance drops out entirely; it has no part in the "total timing" equation.

At idle, the engine needs additional spark advance in order to fire that lean, diluted mixture earlier in order to develop maximum cylinder pressure at the proper point, so the vacuum advance can (connected to manifold vacuum, not "ported" vacuum - more on that aberration later) is activated by the high manifold vacuum, and adds about 15 degrees of spark advance, on top of the initial static timing setting (i.e., if your static timing is at 10 degrees, at idle it's actually around 25 degrees with the vacuum advance connected). The same thing occurs at steady-state highway cruise; the mixture is lean, takes longer to burn, the load on the engine is low, the manifold vacuum is high, so the vacuum advance is again deployed, and if you had a timing light set up so you could see the balancer as you were going down the highway, you'd see about 50 degrees advance (10 degrees initial, degrees from the centrifugal advance, and 15 degrees from the vacuum advance) at steady-state cruise (it only takes about 40 horsepower to cruise at 50mph).

When you accelerate, the mixture is instantly enriched (by the accelerator pump, power valve, etc.), burns faster, doesn't need the additional spark advance, and when the throttle plates open, manifold vacuum drops, and the vacuum advance can returns to zero, retarding the spark timing back to what is provided by the initial static timing plus the centrifugal advance provided by the distributor at that engine rpm; the vacuum advance doesn't come back into play until you back off the gas and manifold vacuum increases again as you return to steady-state cruise, when the mixture again becomes lean.

The key difference is that centrifugal advance (in the distributor autocam via weights and springs) is purely rpm-sensitive; nothing changes it except changes in rpm. Vacuum advance, on the other hand, responds to engine load and rapidly-changing operating conditions, providing the correct degree of spark advance at any point in time based on engine load, to deal with both lean and rich mixture conditions. By today's terms, this was a relatively crude mechanical system, but it did a good job of optimizing engine efficiency, throttle response, fuel economy, and idle cooling, with absolutely ZERO effect on wide-open throttle performance, as vacuum advance is inoperative under wide-open throttle conditions. In modern cars with computerized engine controllers, all those sensors and the controller change both mixture and spark timing 50 to times per second, and we don't even HAVE a distributor any more - it's all electronic.

Now, to the widely-misunderstood manifold-vs.-ported vacuum aberration. After years of controlling vacuum advance with full manifold vacuum, along came emissions requirements, years before catalytic converter technology had been developed, and all manner of crude band-aid systems were developed to try and reduce hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen in the exhaust stream. One of these band-aids was "ported spark", which moved the vacuum pickup orifice in the carburetor venturi from below the throttle plate (where it was exposed to full manifold vacuum at idle) to above the throttle plate, where it saw no manifold vacuum at all at idle. This meant the vacuum advance was inoperative at idle (retarding spark timing from its optimum value), and these applications also had VERY low initial static timing (usually 4 degrees or less, and some actually were set at 2 degrees AFTER TDC). This was done in order to increase exhaust gas temperature (due to "lighting the fire late") to improve the effectiveness of the "afterburning" of hydrocarbons by the air injected into the exhaust manifolds by the A.I.R. system; as a result, these engines ran like crap, and an enormous amount of wasted heat energy was transferred through the exhaust port walls into the coolant, causing them to run hot at idle - cylinder pressure fell off, engine temperatures went up, combustion efficiency went down the drain, and fuel economy went down with it.

If you look at the centrifugal advance calibrations for these "ported spark, late-timed" engines, you'll see that instead of having 20 degrees of advance, they had up to 34 degrees of advance in the distributor, in order to get back to the degrees "total timing" at high rpm wide-open throttle to get some of the performance back. The vacuum advance still worked at steady-state highway cruise (lean mixture = low emissions), but it was inoperative at idle, which caused all manner of problems - "ported vacuum" was strictly an early, pre-converter crude emissions strategy, and nothing more.

What about the Harry high-school non-vacuum advance polished billet "whizbang" distributors you see in the Summit and Jeg's catalogs? They're JUNK on a street-driven car, but some people keep buying them because they're "race car" parts, so they must be "good for my car" - they're NOT. "Race cars" run at wide-open throttle, rich mixture, full load, and high rpm all the time, so they don't need a system (vacuum advance) to deal with the full range of driving conditions encountered in street operation. Anyone driving a street-driven car without manifold-connected vacuum advance is sacrificing idle cooling, throttle response, engine efficiency, and fuel economy, probably because they don't understand what vacuum advance is, how it works, and what it's for - there are lots of long-time experienced "mechanics" who don't understand the principles and operation of vacuum advance either, so they're not alone.

Vacuum advance calibrations are different between stock engines and modified engines, especially if you have a lot of cam and have relatively low manifold vacuum at idle. Most stock vacuum advance cans aren’t fully-deployed until they see about 15” Hg. Manifold vacuum, so those cans don’t work very well on a modified engine; with less than 15” Hg. at a rough idle, the stock can will “dither” in and out in response to the rapidly-changing manifold vacuum, constantly varying the amount of vacuum advance, which creates an unstable idle. Modified engines with more cam that generate less than 15” Hg. of vacuum at idle need a vacuum advance can that’s fully-deployed at least 1”, preferably 2” of vacuum less than idle vacuum level so idle advance is solid and stable; the Echlin #VC advance can (about $10 at NAPA) provides the same amount of advance as the stock can (15 degrees), but is fully-deployed at only 8” of vacuum, so there is no variation in idle timing even with a stout cam.

For peak engine performance, driveability, idle cooling and efficiency in a street-driven car, you need vacuum advance, connected to full manifold vacuum. Absolutely. Positively. Don't ask Summit or Jeg's about it – they don’t understand it, they're on commission, and they want to sell "race car" parts.

PS: The combustion chamber don't care what name is on the valve covers


Most camshaft timing sets for the Ford Y family of engines (////) requires that there be twelve pins between the timing marks on the sprockets and for those marks to be on the oil filter side of the engine when doing the initial chain installation. The exception here is that this only applies to Y engines that actually use a timing chain and does not apply to right hand or reverse rotation marine engines that use a gear to gear setup. While the Y is not the only engine to use the pin or link count between gear marks to time the camshaft, most V8 engine families simply align the timing marks on the cam gear and crank gear with the centerline of the engine. Due to the infrequency of engine manufacturers using the pin or link count for camshaft timing, it does leave the door open for mishaps by those not familiar with this.

There have been too many instances recorded where Ford Y engines have been assembled with the cam and crank gear timing marks aligned with each other rather than counting the pins between the marks. Even some very reputable shops have been blindsided by this. Unfortunately many of these incorrectly installed timing sets were not discovered until the engine was installed in the vehicle. In these cases, the engine simply spins over quite easily without any compression and obviously doesn’t fire up. Once the problem is isolated to ‘cam timing’ (which usually takes awhile), it’s an ordeal to either fix this in the vehicle or actually pull the engine back out and return the engine to the shop that did the work.

While it is an embarrassment for anyone that does this, it’s easily prevented by knowing one basic cam design nuance. For most V8 engines and with the #1 piston sitting at or close to TDC, either the #1 or #6 cylinder intake and exhaust tappets will be caught at the overlap cycle.  (An exception to this rule would be the Nailhead Buick V8&#;s which would be cylinders #1 and #4 being at TDC simultaneously.)  This is where both lifters on the same cylinder are in the process of moving but will be approximately level with each other when the timing set is correctly installed. The exhaust tappet will be going down (almost closed) while the intake tappet will be moving up (just opening); both will be approximately the same distance off of the heel of the camshaft. This also applies to the Ford Y with the following additional detail. With the timing set installed with the twelve pins between marks on the oil filter side of the engine and the #1 piston at or close to TDC, it will be the #1 cylinder intake and exhaust tappets being close to level with each other although both are in the process of moving. This is simply a good double check for anyone installing a camshaft in a Y engine without going to the trouble of actually degreeing it in. For those of you that are going to that next level and degreeing in the camshaft, this lets you know that the cam is in the right neighborhood before actually getting some real numbers on where it’s really residing.

While the Rollmaster roller timing set for the Ford Y-Block family of engines comes in a variety of flavors, they all share a crankshaft gear that has nine different key slots in which to install on the crankshaft. Only one of those key slots and a corresponding outer tooth is marked though. There are eight other key slots on the crank gear that are unmarked and this can become a mind teaser when the camshaft needs to be either advanced or retarded beyond that zero marked position. To simplify moving the crankshaft gear to another position, here are some illustrations to facilitate advancing or retarding the camshaft a given number of degrees.

Click on pictures for larger images.

Until next issue, happy Y motoring. Ted Eaton.

This article was originally published in The Y-Block Magazine, Jul-Aug , Issue #

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Adjusting Ignition Timing

When checking engine timing with a strobe type timing light, disconnect the vacuum line from the carb to the distributor. Engine should be at idle speed. Connect timing light high voltage lead to wire going to Number 1 spark plug and the appropriate low voltage leads to the battery connections per timing light instructions. Be sure to check polarity of connectionsstock electrical systems are 6 volt positive ground through , and 12 volt negative ground from onward. Loosen distributor hold-down bolt and adjust timing by twisting distributor until timing marks line up between groove on pulley and indicator. Tighten distributor hold-down bolt and re-check timing. Re-connect vacuum line to distributor.

When setting breaker point gap be sure to check ignition timing after making the adjustment. There may be an oiler on the stock distributor body to provide lubrication for the distributor drive shaft. Also, a light film of breaker point grease should be applied to the eight-sided cam (or rubbing block) when the points are serviced.

The condensers are generally rated at to microfarads. This can be checked properly with a meter designed to read condensers and capacitors. A simple ohmmeter can test for complete failure, but will not give an accurate reading for specified ratings. If moving a condenser to a more remote location than its original mount in the distributor, be sure to check its rating with the longer lead wire.

The Engine That Replaced the Flathead -- Ford Y-Block Build

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