Blue Flame Special

January 7th, 2011

Installing a Pertronix Flame-Thrower/Ignitor III Ignition System

Text and Photos by Matt Emery

There are many ways to get more horsepower from an engine, but not many of them also include adding reliability. For many, a Chevy HEI is the perfect addition to their engine because the coil is part of the overall distributor package. But the HEI is a large unit and for some space is an issue. Such was the case of this Chevy Nova. There’s not a lot of space under the hood on one of these cars, and the V-8 Chevy engine takes up most of that room. As such, there wasn’t enough space (without pounding clearance into the firewall) for the traditional HEI.

That’s where the Pertronix Flame-Thrower billet ignition is perfect. It’s the same overall size as the Chevy stock distributor, but rather than having old-style points and condensers to worry about, the Flame-Thrower is equipped with the latest in electronic trickery in the form of its Ignitor III ignition module. The Ignitor III is the latest from item in the evolution of electronics from Pertronix. It features drastically increased spark energy over the traditional points-based system (especially when combined with the 45,000-volt-capable Pertronix Flame-Thrower coil), improved combustion thanks to throwing multiple spark throughout the entire rpm range. But one trick item that the Ignitor III has is a built-in electronic engine rpm limiter. Accurate to +/- 50 rpm, the new Ignitor III module allows for quick and easy setting/adjustment of the rpm limiter.

Pertronix supplies detailed instructions to make the setting of the rev limiter a simple task, and installing a distributor, on the face of it, is a simple thing. We went to Dave Lange Performance/Fuel Curve West in Upland, California, to watch as he did the swap on this Chevy. Lange is an engine builder who has not only raced NHRA competition events, he was on Jay Payne’s Top Alcohol Dragster for many years. His dad Dave Sr., who runs Fuel Curve West, was the crew chief. Between the two, they have forgotten more about building high performance engines than most people have learned. So it was a no-brainer for us to watch Lange when he told us about the install.

This is an install that can easily be done in a morning, which leaves the entire afternoon for cruisin’. So watch as Dave Lange adds power and reliability to the Chevy engine.



440 E. Arrow Highway

San Dimas, CA 91773


Dave Lange Performance/Fuel Curve West

1247 W. Ninth St.

Upland, CA 91786


The Pertronix Flame-Thrower distributor looks great in CNC-machined billet. Adding to the charge is the 45,000-volt-capable Flame Thrower III coil and a set of Pertronix 8mm plug leads completes the system.

The heart of the matter is Pertronix’s new Ignitor III module. According to Pertronix, the Ignitor III module provides increased and more focused spark as well as a built-in rev limiter.

To control the maximum advance, Pertronix supplies these mechanical limiters, which allow for 12, 16 and 20-degree advance. They also supply two sets of springs, which allow for fine-tuning of the quickness of the advance.

The best thing to do is to bench install the mechanical limiters and springs. That way there is no chance of dropping them down into the distributor housing and/or engine.

With the springs out of the way, the mechanical limiters simply drop over the posts.

A quick check of the limiters and springs assures that everything is working easily and that no binding is occurring.

The Pertronix Flame Thrower distributor is also equipped with a vacuum advance, which is checked to ensure that it is working properly.

It’s always a good idea to grease up the gear prior to installation.

Looking beneath the rotor reveals one round post and one square. This makes installing the rotor incorrectly impossible.

Care is taken to ensure that the rotor is installed properly and that the screws are tight without being so tight that the rotor is damaged.

With the Pertronix unit ready, the engine is “bumped” until the rotor is pointed at an easily marked spot. This will ease installation of the new unit.

The negative battery lead is pulled.

With the old coil removed, the new Pertronix Flame Thrower unit is installed.

It takes a little finesse, but getting the new Pertronix billet distributor into place isn’t difficult. Note that due to the teeth on the gear, the shaft/rotor will spin as it drops, so you have to take that into consideration when it’s installed.

When the distributor is dropped into place, it was a few degrees off. It’s possible to use a long flat-bladed screwdriver to slightly spin the drive gear in order to get the rotor to line up properly.

A specially designed wrench makes it easier to get the hold-down tightened properly. A good idea is to inspect the hold down to make sure that it is in good shape.

The electrical leads are made to the coil.

In their instruction manual, Pertronix shows how to set the rev limiter using a 9-volt battery, but it is easily done in the car, too. The drill is that the LED will blink long for the thousand and short for the hundreds. For this engine, it was decided that 5,200 rpm is a good maximum. That means that the LED is blinking five long and two short.

The plug wires are laid out in preparation of the install.

Going one by one, the plug ends are attached and then routed carefully around the headers and smoothly along the block, ending at the cap.

Correctly attaching the conductive ends to the wires is a delicate operation, as doing it wrong will adversely affect how the engine runs. So having special hardware, such as these MSD wire pliers, are a must-have item. Units such as this will accurately cut the end to expose the inner core, but will also provide the needed “W” crimp.

With the casing of the wire removed, the loose fibers of the insulation are pulled away, and about 1/2-inch of the inner core is exposed.

With the core wire bent over the end of the cable, the conductive end is installed so that the back of it encases the inner wire against the cable.

The conductive end is secured using the pliers “W” crimp feature.

This is what you want. With the “W” crimp in place, it’s doubtful that the end will work loose.

The next step is to slide the rubber boot over the end. Lange uses a pair of needle nose pliers to loosen up the rubber a little. It’s a good trick for you at home, just don’t get carried away and poke a hole somewhere.

Dielectric grease is used on the boots. This will not only help with the conduction, but also will make it a lot easier to remove them off the plugs in the future. Engine heat tends to make them fuse to the posts.

Care is taken to get the coil end of the lead wire fully seated.

The final job is to time the engine. With that, the car is ready for the road and it took less than 2 hours to do the entire job.

A set of Made For You cable guides was used to smoothly route the cables away from the headers and along the side of the block up to the distributor. The result is that the engine will run great and look great, too.


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.