Electrical or gas? Cruiser won't start.

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May 16, 2010
Madison, Wisconsin
4 weeks ago I purchased a 73' FJ40 to become my daily driver thus replacing a piece of my soul which was lost nearly 20 years ago when I sold my first FJ40 and have missed it ever since.
Drove it 160 miles home through rain and night with no problems. Strong starter, strong runner, looks like the previous owner did a good job of keeping it original, clean, and well maintained. Then one day it would not start after heavy rains- I tried many things over the next two weeks to get it going consistently to no avail.
Here is my journal - I am hoping someone can give me some new insight into what may be wrong.
  1. Replaced fluids (engine, axles, transfer, transmission) no problems.
  2. Installed cheap tach from parts store. Ran well no issue.
  3. Rained for 2 days steady and hard...cruiser started running rough and hot after starting. Noticed it would no longer idle on it's own, had to keep my foot on gas, felt like one cylinder or more was not firing.
  4. Cleaned distributor cap, rotor, points, and plugs. Just to keep it running for diagnostic purposes I adjusted a course throttle cable adjustment screw on the carb.
  5. Disconnected tach completely. No difference - still ran rough and was becoming increasingly difficult just to get it to "pop" and start until eventually it would not start at all.
  6. Replaced cap, rotor, plugs, and plug wires with best quality I could find at local parts store. I was not impressed with the quality, but figured it was better than the old...maybe. Made no difference.
  7. Put old cap, rotor, plugs, and wires back on.
  8. Verified fuel pump was operational.
  9. Ohm'd the windings on the coil, not sure if my readings were good or bad. Figured maybe I had shorted out the coil and damaged it with the cheap (maybe wet) tach. Purchased new coil.
  10. Noticed spark from plugs and coil was very weak - light orange to orange. Put back on old coil and new plugs - the spark was the same.
  11. Purchased new points and condenser. Points would not match up so I could not install them. Condenser was physically different than the one that was in there. The original was smaller and provided grounding between distributor body and advance plate. I managed to put the new condenser in - No difference so I pulled it out and put the old one back in.
  12. Adjusted point gap to .035" Statically timed cruiser with test light. Did not run. At this point 5 days went by since it last ran. The next day I went out and it started, I quickly had to turn it off since my throttle cable adjustment screw was set way too high. I backed it down to it's original location, cruiser still started up great. Took opportunity to check my timing with a light and dwell meter. Spot on. took it for a 5 mile test ride. No problems.
  13. Figured I was out of the woods for whatever reason and I never wanted this to happen again so I put the new wires, cap, rotor back on. Also I hooked the tach back up. It stopped running again.
  14. Put old stuff back on, disconnected tach. Verified wires were correct between cylinders and distributor cap. Firing order 1,5,3,6,2,4. No change - still would not run.
  15. Took a day and removed and cleaned all grounds from battery to frame, frame to fender, frame to starter, frame to firewall. I even removed the starter to clean it's mounting face to the bell house. I pulled the distributor after setting the engine to TDC to clean it's contact surfaces with the engine block. The rotor was pointing at the about the 6 cylinder, and I was careful not to rotate the engine or distributor at this time so I could put it back about in the same place.
  16. Put dist. back in. Adjusted timing and dwell statically. I reinstalled new coil. Put new condenser back in adding a wire to ground the distributor body to the advance plate. Additionally ran ground wire from distributor body to ground.
  17. Traced coil + back to fuse block. Cleaned all these connections. Battery was low...about 11 volts and only about 11 volts was at the coil +. When I crank the engine over it dropped even lower to about 10 volts and about 3 on the - side of the coil. I measure about 30 volts coming out of the coils HV lead going into the plugs.
  18. Charged battery, jumpered battery to another car, jumpered hot wire directly to coil from battery.
In the end it still does not run. Their appears to be fuel in the carb. I noticed a auto electric choke or fuel limiter on the carb that gets it's power off of the coils + side - it appears to be actuating... could this be the problem?

I have all new parts on order from Spector. Coil, points, condenser, cap, rotor.

I am at a loss big time. I am considering taking it in to a mechanic, but this is so fundamental - I feel like I can and should do this myself. Any suggestions?
Check your ground cables and clean their contacts
I have cleaned as many grounds as I can think of. I am thinking maybe I have some bad wiring in between not carring enough current, but I bypassed and went direct from the battery and that did not help.

I will pour some gas to see if that makes a difference.

I will check the timing again... how can I verify that the engine is firing on the compression stroke?
buy the electronic kit and dont worry about it any more.i have had this happen more than once with points and condensor.usually new points fix the problem but i got tired of that years ago and went to electronic ig.it goes right in the stock dissy and marks off road can help you out.
Two ways to check for TDC (piston at the top of its stroke) on compression stroke.

1) Lift the valve cover and watch the intake valve (lined up with the intake manifold) on #1 cylinder. Turn the crank with a ratchet, pretty sure it is counter clock-wise sitting in the seat. You can always look at the fan for rotation direction, it pulls air thru the radiator. Anyway, rotate the crank until the intake valve opens, rotate until the intake valve closes, the piston should be at the bottom of the stroke. I usually put a piece of (long) wire in the spark plug hole at this point and continue cranking until you feel the piston push the wire to its peak. You can also see the piston on a 6 cylinder, not so much on a V8.

2) If all the plugs are out then TDC can be found by replacing #1 spark plug and cranking the engine by ratchet until you feel compression, this can only be #1 cylinder on the compression stroke. Then pull the plug and do the wire thing or view to find TDC or.
Have you tried the points condenser. I had some of the same problems with an old chevelle went through head aches and lot's of parts ended up a quick fix.
Thanks for the help guys. I have new points and condensor on order from Spector. I did not get a chance to work on it last night so no update today. Since I had pulled the dist. to clean the grounding to the block, my next steps are verifing firing order via finding TDC and being sure the rotor is lined up with #1 on the distrubtor cap. Checking my static timing again, and verifying fuel is getting through the carb.

That will be in the intirum while I wait for my parts from Spec.
Dude, pour some gas or starting fluid in the carb and try to start it. It takes 30 sec and eliminates half of the things it could be. The problem is that youve changed so many things that you can't tell if you've introduced another problem.
Battery to Keyed Switch

You may had done this, but I would check the alternator gauge wiring - if this connection is not good it can create starting issues. I had all sorts of issues until I replaced the wiring leading to and from the alternator gauge in the dash.

Electronic ignition is the is the way to go for a long term solution to more dependable starting...if you ask me.


I can't believe what the problem ultimately was. I poured gas in the carb - nothing. I cleaned the amp meter contacts - nope. Checked for if distributor was 180 off - no improvement. My ignition parts still have not arrived from Spector and figured that would be my last play before I towed it to a "real" mechanic and have them repeat everything I had done and charge me a bunch on labor for it.


Went in the house, grabbed a beer, went to the lap top and for whatever reason started looking at pics of my old cruiser from 15 years ago which I sold when I moved and broke my heart. A fluke - I notice in one of my pics that I had taken a marker and labeled the cylinders on the engine block...1,2,3,4,5,6. Huh? From what I read in my Haynes manual (you know the one we all have) page 92 " Firing order is 1,5,3,6,2,4 (No. 1 cylinder nearest radiator)" You see where I am going with this? In my clouded young middle age mind I repeated what I had done 15 years ago (when I was 21 years old - and all my cylinders where firing), except this time I labeled my engine block 1,5,3,6,2,4 and hooked up my plug wires accordingly as you can see evidence of in one of the pics below. I had even rechecked the order this past two weeks probably 5 times - never second guessing that was also the cylinder order.

So there you have it. I rearranged the wires and if fired right up as if to say...."Finally, I have been waiting for you to figure this out".

The point of when this occurred was when I got my cruiser going after it was running rough. Determined to make my cruiser even better I swapped out all my ignition parts with new. When I pulled the plug wires and put in the new ones... I looked in the book for the cylinder order (I thought this was the same as firing order) and installed the new wires.

Dogh! I took it for a 15 mile night ride and it was as sweet as ever. I have only had this cruiser for 2 months... I knew we were going to have to go through a experience like this eventually in order to create the new owner bond which will sustain us through many many years of ups and downs.

You guys have been great. Case closed. Here are some pics of my 1973 FJ for you. Cheers!
Thats great. Funny but great none-the-less.

Thanks for posting a conclusive ending to this. I'm sure there'll be another who walks this same line.

Nice rig btw!


So there you have it. I rearranged the wires and if fired right up as if to say...."Finally, I have been waiting for you to figure this out".

The point of when this occurred was when I got my cruiser going after it was running rough. Determined to make my cruiser even better I swapped out all my ignition parts with new. When I pulled the plug wires and put in the new ones... I looked in the book for the cylinder order (I thought this was the same as firing order) and installed the new wires.

That's funny.. something I would do.. except I'm such a newbie and a photo nut, I take pictures of everything! I think I read somewhere about labeling everything before disconnecting anything. Good lesson.

Nice rig.. is that a horn on the passenger side of your radiator? My rig has no horn, and I'm just starting to try and figure out what's stock, removed, modified, etc..

No friggin way! Re-arranged the wires? Oh my God... Let the mud abuse begin!


Lesson learned... you need to either cut out the :beer: altogether or drink a little more.

Nice looking truck. :)

I won't raz you I'm sure it could have happened to any of us at some point.
Well, the case is never closed... but at least it got running again and my firing order mislable was the root cause.

I was so engrossed in what possibly could be the matter, that I missed the most obvious. AND YES, I am checking my lug nuts this week!

Yes, that is the horn on the passenger side.

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