How to set the static timing on your engine

If you have ever worked on your car where you needed to remove the distributer, this is how you can reset the timing so you can restart the engine. Using this technique it will not matter if you have turned the engine while the distributer was removed since we are resetting the timing based upon the real TDC of the engine. You can set this timing without the use of a timing light.

On your Formula Ford, you should have timing marks on the flywheel or on the front engine crank pulley. You will need to identify those marks and work from there. Typically there are two marks. a single white link to indicate the base timing, and a red/white mark to indicate the max timing ~38-40 degrees.

To set the timing, you will need to remove the valve cover and it helps to remove all the spark plugs to allow you to turn the engine over by hand.

  • First you need to locate TDC on the engine.  This is easier than it sounds.  To find the TDC of cylinder #1, turn the engine until the intake valve on cylinder #1 starts to open.  The intake valve is the second valve closest to the crank pulley.  Once that valve starts to open, rotate the engine a full 360 degrees and you are at TDC (Top Dead Center) on the compression stroke.


  • Once you have located TDC, now it’s time to setup the distributer.  First you want to make sure that the rotor is pointing to the Cylinder #1 position.  Then rotate the distributer until the points just start to open.  Now you have setup the base timing for the engine.
  • To setup the engine for it’s maximum timing, rotate the engine to the red/white timing marks and do the following.
    • grab the rotor with one hand and turn the rotor to get maximum mechanical advance.
    • Then with your other hand, rotate the distributer until the points just start to open.
    • make sure the rotor is still aligned with the cylinder #1, so this might take a few attempts to get it right.  You might have to move the rotor one or two teeth on the distributer to get this perfectly aligned, but it’s not too hard with a little patience.
  • Once you have all that done to your satisfaction, replace the cap and rotor, valve cover, and spark plugs and the engine should start right up!  If not, you are pretty close and all you should need is a minor tweak on the timing to get the engine running.

I found a great explanation from apex speed,com that really helped me resolve my ignition problems and I thought I would share it here with you for reference.  Apex speed is really a great source to keep your formula ford running at peak efficiency

1. Take off the valve cover and move the engine until No. 1 cylinder is on the compression stroke (both valves closed, piston moving up).
2. Continue rotating untill your full advance mark on the flywheel (~38 degrees BTDC) lines up with the pointer.
3. Remove the distributor cap and disconnect the low voltage wire from the negative post on the coil; connect a continuity (ohm) meter from the engine block to the low voltage wire. At this point, the ohm reading should be about zero, since the points are still closed.
4. Grab the rotor with your left hand and turn it counter-clockwise (CCW) against the advance mechanism and hold it there.
5. Grab the distributor housing with your right hand and rotate it until the points just start to open, as indicated by the meter. There is a groove (or mark) cut into the top edge of the distributor housing; the groove corresponds to No. 1 cylinder, and it should be lined up with the tip of the rotor, preferably past the midway point of the rotor or near the trailing edge (remember that the rotor is rotating CCW). If the mark is not lined up with the tip of the rotor, remove the distributor, rotate it a tooth or two and try again. When you have it exactly right, the mark will be near the trailing edge of the rotor tip and the meter will flicker simply by bearing on the rotor left-to-right.
6. Tighten the distributor housing down and replace the wires, cap and valve cover.

This procedure times the engine at full advance, which is really the only setting to care about. It also verifies that the cap and rotor are in phase, and that the advance mechanism is working. A test light with power source can be used in place of the meter. If you have electronic ignition, the same approach works except you leave the low voltage wiring on and connect a spark plug to the center post of the coil, then watch for when the spark jumps.

Hope that all helps.