Big-block Ford ignition, starting and charging systems aren’t any different than the small-block systems already addressed earlier. All standard Ford big-block engines, ranging from the 332 to the 460, were equipped with a single-point Autolite or Motorcraft distributor equipped with vacuum and centrifugal advance. From 1958–1974, these distributors didn’t change much, with the exception being a vacuumadvance/ retard unit beginning in 1968 on some engines. Equipping some applications with a spark advance/ retard (dual advance) unit improved emissions on deceleration by retarding the spark. Step on the gas and the spark advances. Back off and the vacuum shifts to the retard side of the unit to retard the spark.
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Ford DuraSpark electronic ignition was introduced in 1975 on all big-block Fords and used until SEFI was introduced on the 460 in the 1980s. This means you can upgrade your pre-1975 Ford big-block with ease because DuraSpark was available on both the FE- and 385-series engines. FE-series engines were in production through 1976.
Big-block distributor identification is easy. Just follow the nearby chart. The distributor identification number is stamped in the housing, which tells at a glance what the distributor’s application was in the beginning. This doesn’t mean that particular distributor won’t work on another application. The identification number tells how the distributor was “curved” or calibrated to begin with. The centrifugal- and vacuum-advance rates, with engine RPM and load, are the two factors in calibrating “spark curve.” Each distributor type was curved at the factory for a specific vehicle type and environment. Centrifugal-advance curve, for example, was curved with springs and weights. Vacuum-advance was calibrated with shims that controlled spring tension. Any FE distributor, for example, fits any FE block. All you have to do is adjust the spark curve.
Like the small-blocks, there was also Thermactor and IMCO emissions control systems. Thermactor was the smog pump system first used in 1966 on California- bound Fords and Mercurys. IMCO (short for “Improved Combustion”) was a combination of spark curve and fuel mixture. Thermactor and IMCO are two different systems.
Both the FE and the 385-series bigblocks enjoy the availability of aftermarket ignition systems. The easiest aftermarket ignition modification is the Ignitor electronic ignition retrofit from Pertronix. The Ignitor installs in singleand dual-point Autolite/Motorcraft distributors in 30 minutes and it is not visible externally. No one knows it’s there but you.
If your desire is to install an ignition system that can take high revs or severeduty conditions, the aftermarket has a wealth of ignition systems available for off-road and race-track duty.
When it comes to big-block Fords, starter identification and selection is pretty straightforward. Autolite threebolt starters are more common to the FE big-block than the two-bolt, although starter interchangeability is quite vast.
From 1958–1964, most Ford FE-series big-blocks were equipped with generators. Alternators first witnessed use in 1963 on some FE big-blocks, but not all of them. Application depended upon vehicle type and options. See the following chart for specific generator and alternator applications.
Autolite/Motorcraft alternator application boils down to the proper combination of amperage and pulley configuration. First, it is important to understand original-equipment alternator types and what they were replaced with. There are seven basic alternator types. The only real differences are pulley sizes and types. Use the conversion table for quick facts.
Several fans were used on these alternators. The D0AZ-10A310-A (GP-473A) 10-blade fan was the most common, used on 38-, 42-, 45-, 55-, 60-, and 61-amp alternators from November 1969 on. The older C5AZ-10A310-B 13-blade fan was used from 1964 until October 1969. Two other fans were used for the largest 65- and 70-amp alternators: D0AZ- 10A310-A (GP-496), used from 1967–1970; and D2OZ-10A310-A (GP-510), used from 1972 on.
Several pulley types were used on the 38-, 42-, 45-, 55-, 60-, and 61-amp alternators. Pulley diameter, width, and number of grooves are the most important concerns. Several types were used for FE- and 385-series engines. The C5AZ-L (GP-494) piece is a dual-groove pulley with a 2.84-inch diameter and a 1.40-inch total width. The C5AZ-K (GP-493) pulley is 2.84 inches in diameter, like the C5AZ-L (GP-494). However, it is a single-groove pulley with a 1.015-inch width. The D1ZZ-A (GP-465A) pulley is 3.05 inches in diameter and just shy of 1 inch wide, with a single groove.
High-performance FE engines like the 390 and 427 engines had the C5AZ-H (GP-580) pulley, which was large (3.90 inches) with a single groove. The large 3.90-inch pulley was sized to keep alternator speed down at high revs to reduce the risk of winding failure.
There was also the C7TZ-B (GP-485) pulley, a dual-groove, 3.17-inch-diameter piece with a 1.53-inch width. This large piece was common to the large 65- and 70-amp luxury-car alternators. This large-diameter pulley was sized not to keep alternator speed down, but to turn the huge armature more efficiently. Three other large pulleys were used on 65- and 70-amp alternators. The D1AZ-A (GP-508) pulley had a 3.12-inch diameter and .85-inch width in a singlegroove design. The D2OZ-A (GP-511) pulley was 3.15 inches in diameter with a .91-inch width in a single-groove design. And finally, there was the D2AZ-A (GP-578) pulley with a 3.15-inch diameter, 1.49-inch width, and dual-groove design.
Written by George Reid and Republished with Permission of CarTech Inc