Installing HEI distributor on 1985 460 Ford, F-250
Well guys, for those of you that helped me with my no spark-no fuel problems I was having on my son’s breaker point equipped 1985 F-250 with a 460, I would like to thank you. The thread started out as a mere question about a fuel selector valve and quickly developed into all of us diving into the real problem of No-Spark-No Fuel. Well, I’ve finally have it all worked out. Electric Fuel pumps were bad and the ignition system needed to be replaced. Thank you for all your help! I couldn’t have done it with out all the expertise that came from this site.
It was suggested in the previous fuel selector valve thread that I try one of the low cost HEI type distributors in lieu of trying to piece the original system back together. Since that seemed like the easiest option available, I went that route. First let me say that when it was all said and done, the end results made an amazing difference in how this truck ran as opposed to the point set-up. However, it was not as simple as just dropping in the distributor and hooking up the power wire. It was still easy….just a few things needed to be considered. So for those who might be interested, I’ll let you what problems I ran into and how I had to address them. Maybe someone has ideas on a better way to solve the problems involved.
First, I ordered a new Pro-Comp HEI distributor for a Ford 460 from EBay. I cost me $93 shipped to my door. The distributor housing looked good and well made, but seemed to have economy brand level components (coil, cap, rotor, module, etc) installed on it. It definitely was NOT the quality one would see with the HEI distributor available from Davis Unified Ignition, but it also didn’t cost over $400 like the D.U.I. model. The D.U.I. is a 55K volt system and the Pro-Comp is a 50K volt.
As for the install, it almost just dropped right in except for the last 1/2” or so. That’s when I found out that my thermostat housing was in the way. A quick search on the Davis site revealed that I indeed needed a different housing to make this work. They recommended NAPA</ST1 part #6051090 as an off-set housing that would allow enough clearance for the big distributor. I ordered it in for a cost of $10.99 + tax. Not too bad as Davis</ST1 wanted $25 for the same thing.
While waiting two days to get the new housing shipped in, I pulled the old one and installed the distributor. It looked really nice…but then I noticed that the coil was too high to allow my air cleaner to fit properly. The connection end of the coil was pointed straight back toward the Carb. I was going to need an offset air cleaner base…but I’ll talk about that a little later on.
The thermostat housing arrived, and I went to install it thinking it would just take a minute and the truck would be up and running. That’s when I noticed that one bolt would be very close the bottom of the distributor housing. There was not room to get a wrench on the bolt…at least not the wrenches I had on hand. I ended up having to shave the ends and sides off an open end wrench with a grinder and cut it down to about 2” to make it work. Short of pulling the distributor, this one bolt on the water outlet would have to be tightened down about 1/16 turn at a time and you would work for each one of the small turns. This could really prove to be a headache if you were ever trying to change a thermostat on the trail somewhere. There has to be a better way…special tool, maybe shorter bolt, allen head bolt, ect…I don’t know. I do know that it was tough to get it in and it is something I will need to plan in advance for.
Once the thermostat housing was installed, Murphy found me once again when I tried to connect the upper radiator hose. The hose connection on the new housing was pointing right at the Air Pump. There was no clearance between the air pump and the housing to allow the hose to be connected. Maybe a swivel head type water outlet housing would work better. The ones I looked at cost over $150 so I ruled out that option. Since I live in an area that does not require emissions testing, my EGR valve already gone, and none of the other smog equipment was working anyhow, I decided to just pull off and eliminate the air pump. I pulled the pump and bracket only to find out that I would need to leave the empty bracket to provide spacing for the alternator bolts (I’ll figure out how to eliminate that later). To plug the metal lines coming from the back of the heads to the Air Pump I simply just added a 3/4” pipe plug to where line T’s off. Later on I’ll pull the metal line and plug the heads off directly. For now, this was easy. The vacumm ports on the manifold were capped with rubber caps. Also, the distributor’s aluminum housing was just barely touching the thermostat housing enough to rub slightly when rotating the distributor to adjust initial timing. Nothing a few strokes with a file to bevel the edge that was touching wouldn’t take care of.
Now it was time to start the engine and set initial timing. I was hoping for the best but prepared for the worst when I cranked her over. This time, I was not disappointed. The engine fired and was idling the instant I turned the key. I put the timing light on it and found that it was about 6° BTDC. I rotated the distributor slightly and adjusted it to 8° BTDC like the emissions sticker recommended. It ran better, but not as smooth as I would like so I kept playing with the settings. I found that at 12°BTDC the engine idled smoothly and responded well. With timing set, it was time to address the air cleaner issue and call it done (for now)!
Because of the size of the big HEI distributor cap and the plug connection pointing directly back at the carburetor, my 14”X3” air cleaner would not clear. I thought about using a smaller air cleaner, but in talking with the folks at Edelbrock, they recommended that 14X3 as the minimum size to allow their 750CFM AFB carb to breathe efficiently. This meant that I would need to move the air cleaner up or out of the way. Due to limited clearance under the hood, I opted to offset the Air Cleaner by changing out the filter’s base. Most offset bases I found (Moroso, Edlelbrock, etc) were about $50 to $75 or so. Again I turned to EBay and found one for the cost of $15.80 shipped to my door. It worked great and the installation looks nice.
So, to summarize the issues I had in installing the HEI distributor to 460 Ford engine here’s what needs to be considered:
1. You’ll need a different Water Outlet (thermostat housing) to allow the distributor to fully seat.
2. You might need to bevel the portion of the distributor housing so it doesnt touch the water outlet when fully seated. You can use a file or dremel tool for this.
3. You'll need to obtain or make a special tool that will allow you to tighten the bolt closest to the distributor on the water outlet (or figure out a better way such as changing bolt styles).
4. You’ll need to figure out some way to allow the upper radiator hose to clear the air pump when you connect it to the new water outlet. Maybe an adjustable head type outlet might work if you can’t remove your air pump.
5. You’ll need to plan to move your air cleaner to clear the big distributor cap/coil (raise or offset it).
Thanks again for all the help everyone provided! It is appreciated. If you have any comments or suggestions on how I can improve my installation I would like to hear them.
I looked at the DUI units for the 300I6 but opted to go with a detached HEI system. I took about a day to figure it out, build the system and tune it. Works very well. But I had the run new ignition (start and run) wires from the switch the coil.
Price was the factor for me coupled with the challenge of DYI! I invested about $50.00 in the setup.
Glad it worked out for you. Woud like to see pictures!
interesting tactic? you should have lifted the distributor back up and tighten down water jacket? any who i also did a similar install, weiand stealth intake HEI distributor and 650 thunder series on my 86 460. my question to you is how did u dial in the advance curve? idles and runs great till bout 1800 2200 rpm during P.O.T. power mode, falls on her face but doesn't die either.