Timing a T-Bird

Q.

I have a 65 t-bird with a 390 and I just changed over to electronic ignition. It runs great and starts right up. No pinging or missing. I want to make sure the timing is right but I cannot see a timing mark on the balancer. I found the indicator but no mark. Is there any other way to check the timing to make sure everything is right on? I can’t check dwell because there is no longer a separate coil.

A.

The timing marks can be tough to locate on the Ford 390’s of that era, although I assure you the marks are there.

You must establish a timing mark on the Harmonic Balancer in order to properly time the engine. Sometimes the factory mark is not pronounced or filled with rust, grease, dirt, etc…

Clean, wire brush, sand, or whatever it takes to properly locate the timing mark.

It is possible to apply a new timing mark, but you would need to bring the engine to absolute Top Dead Center (TDC) on the compression stroke and mark the harmonic at the indicator. But this is really a last resort.

You are correct, there are no points to adjust anymore and therefore no dwell to set… that’s a good thing.

Wrench Safe, Mark

Discussion
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7 Responses to “Timing a T-Bird”
  1. Andre Zlobinski

    Take out sparkplug No 1. Put a screwdriver in it. You als can put in a Micrometer for the best result. Turn the crackshaft. Look at your Micrometer. You can put it to zero. Now you can see when the screwdriver moves up an down again. So when the First cylinder is Dead Top Center, it will not go up again. So whatch verry closely the movement. So see it starting to move down, you turn back. With a Micrometer you can look at it at a one tenth of a milimeter. After that punch a mark for future setups

    Reply
    • Jon

      You need to take off the valve cover to make sure both valves are closed while the piston is at the top (TDC) on compression stroke.

      Reply
  2. James

    I had the same problem with a 62 Tbird. What I did was jack up the front of the car, install 2 jack stands under frame, with the engine running and safety glasses on, I crawled under and wire brushed the crank pulley. I know this doesn’t sound safe but it went very well plus there is easier access to clean the harmonic balancer under the car.

    Reply
    • Bud Hennessy

      Another word of caution. Those old harmonic balancers are notorious for deteriorating and slipping on the hub. That movement changes the marks from the factory setting. Finding TDC and checking the marks is the best way to get accurate timing settings.

      Reply
  3. Alan

    Beware the MSD integral electronic billet distributor for the FE engines. Mine failed intermittently over several months with less than 5K miles on it. MSD refused to back it up. I ended up using an Accel billet distributor as an electronic trigger for an MSD 5A box I already had. This works great.

    Reply
  4. Fred Warren

    A caveat for point replacement systems. If they are installed in a fresh, rebuilt, and equipped with a new point mounting plate distributor, they are as wonderful as you imagine. If they are installed in an original, high mileage distributor, with inherent slop and play from normal use and age, they will give performance problems that are unpleasant, and difficult to diagnose and correct. Start with a fresh distributor and avoid potential gremlins. Fred Warren

    Reply
  5. Jim

    The best way to set the timing is by using a vacuum gauge and setting it for max vacuum.

    Reply