How to Set the Ignition Timing on a 351 Cleveland

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Ford debuted the 351 Cleveland engine in 1970, and it quickly became one of Ford’s most popular small-block V8s. The 351’s ignition system was simple by today’s standards, relying essentially on a coil and a distributor. Like all internal combustion engines, the 351’s spark plugs must ignite the air/fuel mixture at the proper time intervals. Timing this engine is a straightforward task due to its simple design and because the distributor is easy to access at the front of the engine.

Things You'll Need

  • Deep socket
  • Socket wrench
  • Chalk
  • Engine’s specification’s manual (if high-performance model)
  • Distributor wrench
  • Timing light
  • Attach a deep socket connected to a socket wrench onto the single bolt located in the center of the vibration dampener, then rotate the bolt in a clockwise direction until the numbered lines on the edge of the dampener are visible.

  • Scribe a mark across the number "6" on the edge of the vibration dampener, using chalk. Note that the rare, high-performance 351 Cleveland engines uses different timing points, so consult the engine’s specification’s manual.

  • Loosen the single bolt at the base of the distributor with a distributor wrench. The bolt is located where the distributor enters the top of the intake manifold.

  • Clip the timing light’s black alligator clip to the negative battery post.

  • Clip the timing light’s red alligator clip to the positive battery post.

  • Clip the timing light’s third wire anywhere along the length of the spark plug wire, which attaches to the spark plug wire on the front of the passenger’s side of the engine.

  • Locate the metal timing pointer just above the chalk mark, on the edge of the vibration dampener.

  • Start the engine and aim the timing light at the vibration dampener.

  • Pull the timing light’s trigger to activate the light. Each time the light flashes, the spark plug wire that the timing light is attached to fires, resulting in a strobe effect. The chalk mark must align with the timing pointer. Rotate the distributor in either direction to move the mark, then turn the engine off when the marks align; tighten the distributor’s bolt.

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References

  • "Ford Mustang V8, 1964-1973"; Chilton; 1999
  • “Haynes Repair Manuals: Ford Mustang V8, 1964-1973”; Chilton; 1999
  • “Motor's Auto Repair Manual”; Ralph Ritchen; 1972
  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
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