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[Datsun 1200 encyclopedia]

Ignition Timing

From Datsun 1200 Club

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Category: Engine Electrical System

Engine ignition timing (distributor spark timing) is the foundation of any tune-up. It is generally the first step you need to perform as all other tune-up and carburetor adjustments depend on ignition timing being correct.

See also: Timing Chain Alignment for camshaft installation/timing chain orientation



If you have the distributor out of the engine, see Installing Distributor.

The stock Datsun 1200 distributor orientation — vacuum advance pointing nearly straight forward
245.jpgAlbum 245

The exact orientation is not important. Because the A-series has a gear drive, you can set the timing correctly at most orientations as long as the plug wires point to the correct plugs.

General Procedure

  1. Check the gap on the plugs then put them back in. Spec is 0.028-0.032 inch for the A12. Use 0.035" for the smoothest idle. Re-gap if necessary.
  2. Set the point-gap or dwell. Use a dwell meter if at all possible as it is much more accurate than the points gap, Set dwell 49 to 55 degrees.
    • If the points are brand new, a feeler gauge can be used to set the gap to 0.020 inch. Incorrect Dwell can cause rough running, as does bad points. For example, it might only run at high idle, and not very smooth at that.
    • NOTE: If the points are used, do not set them via feeler gauge. They pit during normal operation will which render gap measurement incorrect.
  3. Double-check the Initial Timing (per section below). Spec is 7 degrees BTDC (5 degrees North America) and safe for any A-series engine. This must be done after setting the dwell -- because changing the dwell affects the timing, but not vice-versa.

724.JPGAlbum 724

Set to 7 degrees BTDC (worldwide) or 5 degrees (USA)
730.jpgAlbum 730

NOTE: If you use the older pulley with the newer cover, then you could get really weird timing readings

Ignition Timing Specifications

With Contact Points

point gap (new points): 0.018-0.021 in (0.45 - 0.55 mm)
dwell (new or used points): 49-55 degrees
Spark plug gap: 0.31-0.35 in (0.8 - 0.9 mm)
static timing: 7 degrees BTDC
static timing: 5 degrees BTDC (with north american Distributors)

Late 1200 Electronic Ignition

point gap: Not Applicable
dwell angle: Not Applicable
Spark plug gap: 0.35 in (0.9 mm)
static timing: 7 degrees BTDC

Firing Order

Almost all inline 4s have a firing order of 1-3-4-2 -- and certainly all Datsun fours.

NOTE: If the distributor is out of the engine, see Installing Distributor

First locate #1. Trace the wire from the forward-most spark plug to the cap. In a factory orientation, #1 is as shown in this A12 photo
22317.jpgAlbum 22317
The direction of rotation (Yellow arrow) is always opposite the direction that vacuum advance points (green arrow) -- for all engines, not just Datsuns.

Next, following the direction of rotation (Yellow arrow), count off 1-3-4-2.

Here is the 1974-up distributor:
22318.jpgAlbum 22318

Initial Timing


Before checking or setting the timing, make sure the #dwell is correctly adjusted. Dwell setting affects the timing.

To set the timing follow these steps:

  1. turn engine off. Set parking brake. Put transmission in neutral so that the engine will turn by hand.
  2. turn engine by carefully turning fan clockwise, until the timing marks line up (5 or 7 degrees BDTC). If the fan belt slips, you are turning it too fast -- or the belt is too loose (tighten it!)
    730.jpgAlbum 730 724.JPGAlbum 724
  3. Pull cap off distributor. Is the rotor pointing at the Number 1 spark plug wire OR #4 wire? Good.

With Points

With engine turned to the correct timing mark (as above):

  1. pull coil wire from cap. Lay atop the engine or strut tower, with the metal lead 1/4 inch from bare metal
  2. turn Key to IGN (do not start engine)
  3. Loosen the distributor hold down bolt slightly, not so much as to rotate the distributor
    174_619445a382694.jpgPost 496207
  4. Grab the distributor housing and rotate it clockwise slightly until points appear closed
  5. Rotate housing anti-clockwise -- slowly -- until a spark appears at the coil wire
  6. Tighten distributor hold-down bolt
  7. Replace cap (ensure rotor still points to #1 or #4)

With Electronic Ignition

With engine turned to the correct timing mark (as above):

  • Are the teeth aligned? Good, timing is correct.

If the timing needs adjusting:

  1. Loosen the distributor hold down bolt slightly. Be careful not to rotate the distributor while doing this
  2. Rotate housing clockwise slightly until the teeth align
  3. Tighten distributor hold-down bolt
  4. Replace cap (ensure rotor still points to #1 or #4)

Line up teeth (Vanette, E-series, and Sunny Truck)
17193.jpgAlbum 17193

Matchbox Type: Line up teeth (blue lines)
22319.jpgAlbum 22319
Rotor should point to line (180 degrees opposite is OK too)

Setting Dwell

If your 1200 still has the factory contact points (if you haven't converted to Electronic Ignition) you must set the dwell for perfect tune. To accurately check the contact points Dwell angle, use a dwell meter. This is far more accurate than simply setting the points-gap.

The gap should be checked every 3,000 miles (5k) as part of a Tune-up.

1972 USA Owners manual (Page 36 ... 36):

29357.jpg   29362.jpg
Be sure that the contact surfaces are clean and not burned. The correct gap of 0.018 to 0.022 in (0.45 to 0.55 mm) should be checked with a feeler gauge.
From the 1973 Factory Service Manual:
* Dwell angle: 49-55 degrees
* Point gap: 0.45 to 0.55 mm (18-22 thousands inch)

NOTE: The same specifications are used for B10, B210 and B310 with contact-point ignition as well.

These days we recommend a dwell meter instead of a feeler gauge. The feeler gauge is fine with new points, but inaccurate with used points -- because the pitting/cratering that occurs with used points will throw off the measurement.

Older style (analog) Dwell-Tachometers are inexpensive $20 up
20098.jpgAlbum 20098

  1. New points are gap-set to 0.018-0.021 inch. In a pinch you can use an old-fashioned matchbook cover, which is typically 20 thousands of an inch thick.
  2. Check the dwell
  3. Readjust the gap until it reads 49-55 degrees

NOTE: On this type of scale with only 8-CYL and 6-CYL, 4-cylinder reading is DOUBLE 8-cylinder scale. 20099.jpgAlbum 20099

Be patient when setting the dwell. You may need to slightly re-adust the gap and re-check the dwell many times before it is 'right on'. This involves starting and stopping the engine multiple times. But it will be worth it when your 1200 purrs like a lion.

To adjust the dwell, turn engine to TDC, remove the distributor cap, and turn this screw:
29356.jpgAlbum 29356

  • If the dwell is too much, make the gap slightly wider
  • If the dwell is too little, make the gap slight narrower

Re-tighten the lock screw (marked "loosen" in the photo) before starting the engine.

Setting Timing with Timing Light


Note the timing marks on the A12 plate. These are fine-tuning Advance and Retard marks
3231.jpgAlbum 3231

These are NOT used to time the engine (the marks on the crankshaft pulley are). But they are very useful for advancing or retarding the timing a degree or two.

  1. With engine in running condition with engine OFF,look down past the #1 spark plug, between the engine and the distributor to view the marks. Note which mark it is on
  2. Slightly loosen the distributor hold-down bolt, just enough so that the distributor will turn a little
  3. Rotate the distributor to change the timing. Turn distributor clockwise to advance, or anti-clockwise to retard
  4. Verify the timing mark, then tighten the hold-down bolt

General process to find optimal timing after the timing has been set to "spec".

  • Advance it two degrees (turn distributor clockwise), test drive, repeat until it pings at part throttle
  • Retard it one degree (turn counter-clockwise) to remove the pinging

Once you have this, you can note the exact timing and next time use it instead of the factory specification.

Advanced Timing

Base timing

Stock base timing is 7 degrees before top dead center (BTDC).

Stock base timing for EXHAUST emission controlled engines is 5 degrees before top dead center (BTDC). Because this is factored into the distributor curves, do not advance it further at risk of exceeding the maximum advance at high RPM. The emission controlled distributors have more mechanical advance to make up for the lesser base timing.

Tuning for Power

The stock distributors have a mechanical advance tolerance of +- 2 degrees at the crankshaft. That's a huge difference -- up to 4 degrees retarded is still within specs -- and is why you should tune your A12 for power.

Whether a stock engine, or a modified, check this out! You can possibly increase hp AND fuel economy at the same time for free!

* Dialing in Distributor Spark Curve
* Spark Retard, for boosted engines
* Fully electronic spark timing 

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This page has been accessed 408,630 times. This page was last modified 21:23, 27 December 2023. Content is available under Datsun 1200 Club.