Project Midget Masterpiece: Initiation To The Vertex Magneto

One of the components that we have been looking forward to working with on this project car is the magneto ignition system. We found ourselves wanting to know more about the legendary Vertex-style magnetos.

Our Midget race car project has opened up several doors to the overall motorsports experience. Previously, we had little experience with magneto ignition systems, but we needed to get up to speed quickly. In our pile of parts we pulled out a vintage Scintilla magneto and started down the path of discovery.

A quick internet search led us to Taylor Cable Products, the manufacturer of many high-performance ignition and battery components for motorsports. The company also makes the Scintilla Vertex magneto. So, we reached out to Susan Weimar and Justin Askren at Taylor Cable to help us understand what we were dealing with. As it turned out, we had a lot to learn.

We took a snapshot of the data plate on our magneto and asked if they could help us figure out what we had, and what we were going to need for our project car. What we ended up with was a grade-A education on the topic. If you are big fans of motorsports history and want to know more about magneto ignition systems, read on!

The Beginning

The humble, but very reliable, magneto ignition system has stood the test of time for well over 100 years, and is still used in high-performance applications today. In aircraft and high-performance racing engines where a dependable hot spark is needed, magnetos are the solution. These ignition systems work best when size and weight restrictions limit other types of ignition systems powered by an external battery.

The best description of a magneto ignition is simply a distributor and generator combined in one single unit. Unlike a typical distributor ignition, the magneto creates energy for a spark without an external electrical power supply. In this regard, a magneto is an electrical generator. Using a series of rotating magnets that break an electrical field to charge the primary circuit, then transfer the current charge to secondary windings. The number of windings in the secondary circuit are greater than the primary circuit, the current is multiplied in the secondary windings.

The multiplied charge produces a spark with higher voltage – as much as 20,000 volts – a hotter spark than conventional distributors can produce. First introduced on the 1899 Daimler Phoenix, several other car manufacturers followed shortly after. Even after 120 years, magnetos are still being made for motorcycles, performance, and classic cars with very little change.

Vertex magnetos have been around for decades and are available for practically every application. Even submarines have been equipped with Scintilla magnetos. Photo from eBay.com.

Scintilla Magnetos

The Scintilla magneto has roots back to the World War. Not the second one, which spawned many technological advancements, but the First World War in 1914. World War One is where aviation first saw major involvement in military conflict. With the increased use of aircraft, the allies wanted their aircraft to be as reliable as the enemy’s airplanes. “They contracted with Swiss engineers to create a magneto that was as good as the ones being used by the Germans,” Justin states.

The cap on a Vertex magneto is similar to a conventional distributor cap, yet so different.

The magneto was named Scintilla for the brilliance of the flashing sparks it produced. Scintilla had a number of divisions within the company. Many of these divisions have gone on to great things, like the Vertex magneto division. Their power tools division is now the Bosch Power Tool Corporation.

The aviation and automotive magneto divisions were completely separate. Scintilla aviation magnetos produced for the war effort were manufactured in Sidney, New York, and were immediately adopted by Wright Aeronautical Corporation, Curtiss Airplane Motor Company, and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft.

The new automotive magneto design proved itself through the war in tanks, trucks, and other military vessels. The Scintilla magneto was credited with contributing to the reliability of these military vehicles. At the same time, Scintilla’s aviation magnetos became known as “The world’s most trusted name in ignition” in the aviation industry. Even Charles Lindberg made his historic Trans-Atlantic flight in 1927 with two Scintilla magnetos providing the spark for his engine.

Scintilla Vertex Magnetos

Scintilla Magneto Company was producing 10 magnetos a month at the end of World War One. In 1929, the Bendix Aviation Corporation purchased Scintilla’s aviation magneto division, adding this division to their group operations. This separated the Scintilla aviation and automotive magneto manufacturing into two unique branches. By January of 1942, the production rate of Bendix and Scintilla magnetos had grown to 17,000 a month. Things continued like this through the 1970s.

During the period of public company takeovers in the early 1980s, the Bendix Corporation attempted a hostile takeover bid of competitor Martin Marietta, who in turn launched its own takeover bid of Bendix. United Technologies joined the fight, supporting Martin Marietta in its takeover bid. Bendix was rescued by Allied Corporation in 1983, and later merged with Honeywell, with the Scintilla aviation magnetos becoming a Honeywell brand.

Here is where the magic happens.

The Scintilla automotive magnetos prospered under the Vertex name and became well known by automotive enthusiasts. Hundreds of thousands of the Vertex magnetos were sold world-wide, many to automotive companies like Volkswagen.

Engines equipped with the Vertex magnetos were used as industrial equipment due to their dependability and low maintenance requirements. While most combustion engines of the time were built with contact breaker points which required routine maintenance, the Vertex magnetos were virtually “hands-off.”

Many of these units were sold under the F. T. Griswold Mfg. Co. name during the early 1950s. Griswold was an exclusive distributor in the United States, and had over 75 different applications for the Vertex magneto. They also sold a Vertex relay switch that bore the Griswold name. Boat enthusiasts with flathead Ford engines bought the Griswold Vertex magnetos in record numbers for the time.

Ronco Corp

According to company literature, Ronco Corporation of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, obtained the sole distributorship for the Vertex automotive magnetos in the U.S. in 1953. This is exactly the same time when racers and hot rodders were finding magnetos as a valuable ignition system for their high-performance engines.

The company experienced tremendous growth, and by 1978, the entire manufacturing operation was transferred to Ronco Corporation because of the high demand from motorsports. Vertex Performance Products was formed as a division of Ronco in 1988, where it operated as a separate entity in Oreland, Pennsylvania.

Vertex Performance Products was acquired by Taylor Cable Products in 1994, where the magnetos continue to enjoy a strong reputation in the world-wide market of high-performance racing engines, boats, aircraft, and rugged industrial engines.

What We Have

We went through the history of the Vertex magneto because it is important to understand how many variants of the magnetos were manufactured over the decades. Many of these are still in service today, which is a statement of their durability and design. As with any product purchased over the internet, it is vital to identify the part you are working with.

From the photo of the data plate we sent to Justin at Taylor Cable, he was able to tell us our magneto was an original Scintilla Vertex unit built in Switzerland. He could tell because the data plate had a model number and not a serial number on the tag. “Our serial number log goes back to 1953, but only for the U.S.-built Ronco units,” he explains. “This unit was most likely used in some type of industrial engine since it has a speed limiter. My best guess on its age would be sometime in the 1960s.”

According to Justin, the blue cap is not an original piece with this unit. The originals were tan color and the blue caps are from the Ronco era (mid/lat- 1970s through late-1980s). He also explained we could probably use this magneto, but he strongly advised to have it serviced and remove the speed limiter for racing. He also pointed out the timing advance will probably need to come in earlier for our purposes.

Much like a conventional distributor, timing is critical when using a magneto. The timing advance, which allows the engine to start easily, is not the same as the advance timing necessary to make the magneto work at its peak at higher rpm.

Here is the breakdown of our data plate:

Model # – Description

O – Vertex type magneto

A – Internal construction

P – Speed limiter

4 – Cylinders

L – Rotation (left hand)

4 – w/o radio shield, w/o impulse start, w/ advance

02 – Shank diameter / length, w/ oil return groove

Z144 – Engine / base type

0° advance @ 800 crankshaft rpm

25° advance @ 3,500 crankshaft rpm

1,900 – speed limiter rpm 3,800 crankshaft rpm

Stay tuned as we will follow up with care and maintenance of magnetos, as well as an in-depth article covering factory service of our magneto as it goes through inspection and repair at the Taylor Cable facility.

Article Sources

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

Dakota Digital’s Retro Series Gauges For First Gen C/K Series Trucks

We were fortunate enough to get one of the first Dakota Digital RTX gauge panels for the 1960-1963 Chevy C-series trucks. We left the protective plastic covering on the lens to prevent any damage. You’ll have to come back and read the installation article to see the dash panel in its full glory.

If you are the proud owner of a first-generation Chevy C/K series truck from the first three years (1960-1962), then you already know there is a dearth of aftermarket parts for your truck. Considered the orphan of the C-Series trucks, these models featured torsion bar front suspensions with trailing arm rear suspension. Many owners choose to change their suspensions and body panels to the 1965-and-later parts simply for availability. Those of us too stubborn to change, just make do with what is on the market, or what we already have.

When a manufacturer comes out with a new product for our much overlooked series of truck, it gives us a cause to celebrate. In the case of Dakota Digital’s new RTX series gauges for the first generation C-series trucks, it is much more than just a new product release. It is exactly what we have been asking for.

Our stock dash set looked alright, but there was hazing in the lens with a crack on the lower right side. The needles were faded and numbers were worn off of the odometer. For a 59-year-old part, it wasn’t bad, but we could do better.

Digital Or Analog?

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. There is a stigma attached to the word “digital” when it comes to automotive gauges. Most of the “seasoned” generation of hot rodders hear digital gauges and immediately think of the early-1980s Toyota displays.

Not exactly what you want in your vintage car or truck in most cases. If the motif and theme suits those gauges, we understand. But in the case of our project truck Geronimo, we just want a set of gauges with modern technology, yet looks like the stuff that rolled out of the factory.

Don’t get us wrong, traditional analog gauges and meters have their place in the world. Most are direct reading devices and require no power to the gauge for display. Water temp, oil pressure, fuel level are all direct reading from the sending units and easily displayed on a needle gauge. They are easy for most technicians to diagnose and repair. They also have a mature, traditional look that many hot rodders like.

When the old unit was taken apart so the bezel could be used on the new dash panel, the years of service really showed.

Digital gauges are more precise and the displays tend to be more compact. A single digital display can replace an entire group of analog gauges, with very sophisticated features which old school gauges could never achieve. As a result, digital gauges can be presented in a variety of different styles.

A comparison between the old (top) and the new (bottom) gauge panel clearly shows how Dakota Digital has kept the OEM styling that many of the early C10 truck owners like.

What Dakota Digital has done is combine the two technologies into a hybrid circuit. Using micro controllers to interface with analog circuits using analog-to-digital converters and digital-to-analog converters, Dakota Digital captures the best of both worlds.

The RTX Series

Dakota Digital’s RTX line of gauges, while incorporating the modern technology, is focused on retaining the stock look of the original instruments. The design crew has painstakingly duplicated the OEM design, with all the original design elements, right down to the stock layout, face styling, and indicators.

One of the favorite features of Dakota Digital fans is the clean look behind the panel. The wire clutter is eliminated. Anyone that has ever had to dig around behind the dash of one of these old trucks can appreciate this benefit.

There is no visual difference noticeable when looking at the replacement panel. Only when the system is powered up is there a change. The backlighting and color scheme gives away the technology behind the panel.   

We peeled back a little of the protective plastic to show what the panel looks like in its real form. You’ll have to check back for the installation article to see how our upgrade turned out.

Stay tuned as we continue our project upgrades on our 1960 C20 Apache Project Truck we call Geronimo. The Dakota Digital RTX dash panel is our next upgrade. We’ll show you how easy it is to install and what differences you can expect. Let us just throw this teaser at you: The dash panel has blue tooth connectivity, and you can change things on the fly from your cell phone!

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

Making A 1962 Rambler Wagon A ‘Fuelie’ With FiTech

To me, the pinnacle of modernizing your vintage car is installing fuel injection. It makes it more reliable, more efficient, and ultimately a better driver.

Through a series of unfortunate events, my 1962 Rambler Ambassador Station Wagon is now my daily driver… er well, it was until a major backfire ruptured the accelerator pump in the factory Autolite 2-barrel carburetor. It was at that point I had three options: 1) A rebuild kit, 2) Upgrade to a modern 2-barrel carburetor, or 3) Fuel injection conversion.

The problem…

So . . . carburetor or fuel injection?

This has been a question plaguing enthusiasts since the dawn of fuel injection. In the 1940s, Stu Hilborn came out with his mechanical fuel injection which could be seen on flathead V8’s roaring down the Bonneville Salt Flats or Lions Drag Strip. With General Motors debuting fuel injection on several of its 1957 models, we started seeing the influx of more sophisticated factory fuel delivery, eventually eclipsing carburation after the last gas crisis.

For those enthusiasts who want to keep their hot rod, custom, or muscle car period-correct (or at least as traditional as you can get it), the carburetor has been the go-to fuel delivery system. Everything from a big-honkin’ 4-barrel to multiple Strombergs, carburetors have been providing our mills with fuel for a hundred years. In the rodding scene, carburetors still reign supreme due to their simple installation, basic tuning, and ability to handle big-horsepower numbers.

But today, computer-controlled fuel injection such as FiTech is making great in-roads by calculating all this through a multitude of settings such as air/fuel mixture, idle, and map. And, the prices are now comparable to that of a carburetor.

Why The 2-Barrel?

Ultimately, I wanted fuel injection. This is my daily driver, so I wanted to have the reliability it offers. Since the wagon has a 327 AMC V8 in it, I need all the help I can get when it comes to fuel economy.

The guys over at FiTech helped me out and sent the GoEFI 2 barrel 400HP system. What I really like about the product specifically is the traditional look, which is something I am keen to retain on George Romney’s brainchild. Lastly, if you’re on a budget like me, it’s the best bang for your buck.

FiTech’s GoEFI 2-Barrel System

My Rambler wagon has the factory-cast, 2-barrel manifold. The factory did offer a 4-barrel manifold, but since I have owned the wagon I have only seen one in the marketplace, and it was cracked. The only other option would be building my own intake, which from a few of the forums I frequent, a small-block Chevy tunnel ram can be adapted, but that’s a little outside my skill level. And again, I want to keep the car as factory as possible.

FiTech offers the 2-barrel version of the well-known 4-barrel, so this wound up being a bolt-on setup with no modifications needed to the intake. The FiTech 2-barrel GoEFI can also be installed on a tri-power setup. If you have a GTO with a rare factory tri-power intake, and are building a restomod, you can install three GoEFI units. It will definitely turn heads when your hood is popped.

2-barrel cast-iron manifold on the 327ci AMC V8.

The Install

When I talked with the representative over at FiTech, we went over the basics of the GoEFI 2-Barrel Fuel Injection. First, there are a few boxes you need to check off to see if the GoEFI will work on your application. It has to have a 12-volt system, and you can’t be using those pesky points in your distributor. For me, the Rambler wagon was factory 12-volt already, and I recently converted the distributor to electronic ignition with a Pertronix kit on my quest to build a reliable traditional driver.

Next, a decision needed to be made regarding the fuel tank and fuel pump. I was still running the factory fuel tank and mechanical fuel pump, so I decided on using the Hyperfuel Single Pump G-Surge tank. The Hyperfuel G-Surge tank is used in applications where the fuel tank doesn’t have any baffles in it.

Why would you need baffles? Fuel injection’s worst enemy is air in the line. When you are cornering, and the fuel is sloshing back and forth, the pickup may catch air — which is much more forgiving if you are running a carburetor. The G-Surge is a billet tank with a built-in fuel pump and regulator. This allows you to keep a mechanical pump which feeds fuel to the surge tank. It is a compact two-wire setup, making installation a breeze.

First, you have to pull off that pesky carburetor. You can leave the throttle cables, springs, and vacuum lines in the place because the GoEFI unit will use all of them.

The GoEFI system bolts on exactly the same as a carburetor. With the provided gasket, it bolted snuggly with new fasteners I provided. The linkage and vacuum line reconnected with ease.

The GoEFI system works by monitoring your exhaust with an O2 sensor, your tach signal, and coolant sensor. FiTech provides a pretty slick bung setup for the O2 sensor which makes it so you don’t have to weld. You will need to drill a 7/8-inch hole about 2 to 4 inches from the exhaust collector to mount your bung and gasket using hose clamps, which instructions promise won’t leak.

Unfortunately, the hose clamps provided were too large for my application so I had to supply those. I still would like to upgrade my exhaust system at some point, so I will probably have the bung welded in for peace of mind, but so far the hose clamps have been working as advertised.

The O2 sensor installed with the supplied hose clamps.

Next, install the coolant sensor. You can either patch into the head or manifold. With my 327 AMC, the only place I was able to plumb it was the passenger-side head. The factory steel plug ended up giving me a seven-hour battle to get out since it was stripped, but persistence paid off and the coolant sensor went in with ease.

After my battle with the factory steel plug, I was finally able to install the coolant sensor in the passenger-side head.

At this point, I moved on to the installation of the G-Surge tank. You will most likely need to build a bracket for it to mount in the engine compartment. I utilized the horn bracket since I was in the process of relocating them. This gave me a strong mounting surface that would take whatever vibration the fuel pump would put off. I made a simple aluminum bracket with four mounting spots to the G-Surge tank and two to the fenderwell.

I found a secure location on the inner fenderwell for the G-Surge tank.

Time To Plumb

Once the G-Surge tank was mounted, it was time to plumb the entire system. I was provided the GoEFI In-Line Frame Mount Fuel Delivery Kit which includes the fuel lines, fittings, fuel filters, and an additional electric pump, which I did not use due to the surge tank. The first thing I noticed about this kit is if you are using the surge tank, it doesn’t include enough AN fittings.

I ended up using some AN fittings my dad used to run back in the 1970s — period-correct, right? But, the ones included were very nice, lightweight, and anodized black. They were push-on style which don’t require hose clamps (more on this later).

Now, on to the part I was dreading — the return hose into the fuel tank. I will say this right now, and please listen — I don’t endorse drilling into a tank full of gas and fumes — I highly encourage you to drain it and fill it with water. That being said, I drilled into the fuel tank very carefully and did not have any incidents.

I was provided the no-weld, return-hose bung. The instructions tell you to place the O-ring bung into the hole you just drilled into the tank and tighten the bolt until the bung collapses to create a seal. Well, sure enough it worked. I think it is a great design, very easy to install, and changes the way we can add bungs into fuel tanks while they are still installed in the vehicle.

Finally, I wired up the system, which was very self-explanatory. The already-marked wires went like this: Battery, coil, fuel pump, key ignition, and ground. That’s it, and it almost felt too easy.

Initial Startup

FiTech provides a handheld device which allows you to control the new and beautiful fuel injection. You have to answer a few easy questions to have the vehicle start. After that, it begins to self-tune.

Those questions go as follows:

  1. How many cylinders?
  2. How many cubic inches?
  3. What cam?

Once you input those numbers, it’s time to start the engine. I opted to prime the surge tank first by unplugging the power to the tank and letting it fill up from the mechanical pump. Once I was ready, I turned the key, pushed the starter button, and it fired right up. I will tell you, the Rambler wagon has never started that quick.

The GoEFI will start self-tuning once the engine reaches 170 degrees. It will constantly learn while you drive, making it as efficient as possible, and ultimately giving you the most performance. You can also go into the Pro Tuning section and have complete control of the settings.

First 100 Miles

Like any install or modification to your ride, it is always good to double check hose fittings, bolts, and clearance after initial startup. When it comes to fuel lines you want to make sure nothing is rubbing such as belts or linkage so keep a close eye on them. 

An observation I made was one of the AN fittings (that do not “require” hose clamps) began to get loose. I decided to put hose clamps on all the fittings of the surge tank and the GoEFI unit. This is your opportunity to make any necessary adjustments to the install before its’ initial shakedown run. 

 

The handheld device, while handy, has the cables plug-in from the top which makes installing it in the cabin a little obtrusive, and since it takes a parasitic draw from the battery, you need to unplug it when the car will sit for awhile or overnight. The unit is partially touch screen and partially toggle-oriented, so it takes time to know which buttons do what, which makes it tough to learn while driving.

The system has been working flawlessly though. The Rambler wagon has been starting up right-away every time, and even in the morning when it has been 40 degrees out, it fires up and runs smooth. Throttle response is quick and crisp, and driving feels much smoother. The G-Surge tank is a lot quieter than I thought it would be. You barely hear it compared to some other electric pumps I have used in the past.

Having the Rambler wagon back on the road is an amazing feeling, and knowing it has the reliability and performance of fuel injection gives me the confidence I need for a daily driver. I have already found myself bragging it has fuel injection when someone comes up and asks about the wagon. Their positive response solidifies my decision to convert to fuel injection.

Like it says on the FiTech box:  “Never buy a carburetor again!”

About the author

Dimitri Lazaris

Dimitri keeps it traditional: he shoots 35mm film and races a ’58 dragster.
Read My Articles

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