There is a new kid on the block when it comes to electronic ignition for the negative earth Traction - the Power Nition unit from Nition Industries in the Netherlands.
Sorry all Slough Traction owners but there is not a positive earth version available.
As electronic ignition has never been tried, tested and written up in Floating Power I decided to do it, especially as I have never tried it either. Nition Industries have a unit for the Perfo engine - the 1401263 - a unit for the 11D engine - the 1401264 - and also the 1401267 which has 16 ignition curves that cover the Perfo, 11D, and all ID/DS engines from 1957 to 1972. There are also units for the 6 cylinder TA and for H vans. As I have a 1949 standard Perfo engined Légère, a 1955 Normale with a standard 11D engine and in my cabriolet an engine that has an ID19 block with 11D head and domed pistons I decided to test the 1401267 unit that has vacuum advance. Firstly in the cabriolet which, after initial testing to ascertain the best ignition curve to use, would get a good run on Drive it Day and then near 1,000 miles on the Holland Trip. I would then fit the unit to the Perfo and 11D engines.
Before fitting the unit the condition of your ignition coil needs to be checked in respect of its primary circuit resistance. As a coil ages its resistance reduces with use. Nition Industries state that for a 6 volt coil the resistance needs to more than 1.2 ohms and for a 12 volt coil more than 2.5 ohms. I have 3 coils on cars and 5 others and the resistance rating of each of them is comfortably in excess of the required minimum.
Secondly if using your existing coil you need to be sure that you have it fitted correctly in respect that the true positive terminal is wired to your distributor. I say ‘true’ because if a coil was manufactured for a positive earth car (and the 6V Marchal coils that have the words ‘Armee Francaise’ engraved on the bottom were in fact manufactured for positive earth cars) then the BAT (i.e. BATtery) terminal would be the connection to the battery via the ignition switch and RUP (i.e. RUPteur = contact breaker) would be to the distributor. As said the 6V Marchal ‘Armee Francaise’ (French army ) surplus coil is actually intended for a positive earth vehicle so, despite what the label on the tube it comes in says, on French negative earth Tractions it should be connected the opposite way to the labelling on the coil. For a negative earth car, which of course the French Traction is, the BAT terminal on this coil must go to the distributor and on a Power Nition electronic unit it must be connected to its red wire.
It is important to connect coils the right way round. Failure to do so gives a weak spark and results in misfiring.
Whilst for a conventional distributor it doesn’t really matter if the power is not jumping in the right direction (from the central terminal of the spark plug outwards) it can damage an electronic ignition unit over time and as John Ogborne reminded me the spark is only visible after ionisation and will be seen to be jumping the other way (just like looking at lightning jumping from the ground up).
Check the coil polarity before removing your conventional distributor as doing so with the electronic ignition unit fitted can seriously damage, if not ruin, the electronic ignition unit.
There are a few ways to check if your coil is connected correctly but perhaps the easiest is by using an analog (moving needle) voltmeter. Pull off all plug leads making sure that they are not able to make contact with or spark to the engine block or car body (especially with petrol vapour around!). Remove a plug (or use a spare), reconnect it and hold or wedge the plug body against the block. Set the meter on the highest volt range. Connect the meter between the block and the plug connection with the negative lead to the plug terminal and the positive lead to the block, thereby connecting it across (i.e. in parallel with) the plug rather than in line (i.e. in series) with it, This means that the majority of the energy is still being taken by the spark but should leave enough to kick the needle. The sensitivity of the meter can always be increased if necessary.
Crank the engine over and you should see an upward swing of the voltmeter needle (don't be concerned with taking a reading). If the needle swings down off the scale, your coil is connected wrongly. To correct it, reverse the coil primary leads. Do not worry about the coil markings; make a note of them for future reference.
Follow the instructions diligently when fitting the unit - do not try to cut corners.
I particularly like the fact that the curve selector hole is in the top of the unit.
Fitting the unit is really basic. Jack up the left hand front wheel off the ground and put the car in 3rd gear. Find the static ignition point turning the left front wheel and getting a 6mm pin that has been put into the hole in the bellhousing to drop into the timing hole in the flywheel.
THEN REMOVE THE 6MM PIN!
Remove the old distributor and fit the unit. Disconnect all wires on the ignition coil and connect the voltage supply wire to the + contact of the coil together with the red wire from the unit. It is necessary on a Traction to take a wire from the negative (ground) terminal of the battery directly to the body of the unit. Use one of the screws that secures the distributor cap clamp. Do not connect any other wires yet. If the red wire from the unit is connected directly to the black wire the unit will get damaged! Change the gear to neutral and turn the ignition on. Turn the unit clockwise until the blue LED flashes and then using a small Philips screwdriver in the curve selector hole locate the curve selector screw and turn it (each click of the selector screw selects another curve) until the LED flashes in a sequence of flashes for the curve required. The LED will flash a number of times that is equivalent to the curve number. First of all I tried the 11D curve, number 16, so 16 flashes. Then turn the unit slowly anti-clockwise. The flashing will stop and the LED will go out. Continue turning the unit slowly anti-clockwise until the LED lights continuously. The unit is now adjusted to the static ignition point. Tighten the distributor clamp. By the way, set the manual advance position fully to the left. Turn off the ignition and connect the black wire on the unit to the negative contact of the ignition coil. Then jack down, distributor cap back on, replace plugs and plug leads, connect vacuum hose.
I had no problems at all in fitting the unit.
When turning the unit in the engine block there are 4 positions where the LED will flash for the selected curve.
This is particularly useful with a vacuum advance unit as it can foul the engine block if your engine has been built 180˚ out and No 1 cylinder is at the timing chain end. A mistake sometimes made because Citroën as usual did things differently and most mechanics will say that No 1 cylinder of an engine is at the timing chain end or non-driving end. In the case of a Traction engine that is 180˚ out you can still use the vacuum advance unit without it hitting the engine block but you only have 3 choices of position.
Also voltage is not a problem as the unit senses whether the feed is 6 volts or 12 volts. My cabriolet is 12 volts and my Légère and Normale are 6 volts.
As I said I initially set up the unit for the cabriolet with curve 16, which is the 11D curve (8˚ before top dead centre). However on the road test the engine was not very responsive an indication of it being under advanced (remember this engine has an ID19 block with 11D head and domed pistons). I would not expect any electronic ignition system to have a specific curve for this engine specification. I then changed the curve to curve 1, the earliest ID curve (which is 4˚ further advanced -12˚ BTDC). All that is needed to do this is to jack up the front wheel and put the car into 3rd gear. Remove the distributor cap and turn on the ignition. DO NOT START THE CAR. The LED will either be off, on or flashing. IF off or on then turn the engine over until the LED is flashing and use the Philips screwdriver to turn the curve selector screw until the unit is flashing the required number of times.
With the unit set to Curve 1 the car was much more responsive. I then decided to try Curve 2.
As it turned out the car pinked on this curve and I changed back to Curve 1 - the curve for ID engines up to February 1964.
On Drive it Day I covered 137 miles and on the Taste of Holland tour just under 1,000 miles both with no ignition related problems. I shall now fit it to my 11D engined Normale and set it to curve 16 and then later to my Perfo engined Légère and set it to curve 15 and I’ll let you know how the unit performs. However I see no reason for it to be problematical with them.
My thanks go to Nition Industries and to CTA Holland for their assistance.
These units are available from TOC Spares and of course from CTA.