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Thread: Difficult to start when Atomic controls ignition.

  1. #1

    Lightbulb Difficult to start when Atomic controls ignition.

    I rebuild my '64 Pontiac to all MSD product, and can't get the Atomic to control ignition correct. My setup is:
    MSD-2900 Atomic EFI Master Kit
    MSD-6201 Ignition Box
    MSD-2922 Fuel Return Line Kit
    MSD-31189 Spark Plug Wire Kit
    MSD-8207 Ignition Coil
    MSD-8563 Distributor
    MSD-84211 Rotor Phasing Kit

    First of all, if I run the Ignition, and the EFI separate, it works perfect, easy to start every time, cold or hot, and smooth idle,
    And the motor doesn't get warm, around 185°F. But when I connect the Distributor to the Atomic, and connect the yellow cable to the white at the ignition box, and enable timing control in the handheld, it's almost impossible to make it start, it's hard to crank, backfire a bit, and my MSD timing light doesn't show any spark at Cylinder #1. Except when it start,
    But sometimes, it starts, and then it run great.

    I've adjusted the distributor in three different ways, after different tips from your phone support, but all results are the same. In the end, the rotor is pointing at Cylinder #1 terminal at the cap, when the engine stands at 30° BTDC. I've locked the distributor. Phased in the rotor. (I've got a spare cap, that I have drilled a hole into.) Checked all groundings, voltage, cabling connectors, over and over again, all cables are new, and over sized measured ground point, to ground points and so on. I triple checked TDC at Cylinder #1. Locked timing in handheld at 15° and adjust the distributor to 15°. Tested the Ignition box, both with the white wire, and the Green/violet - OK. Ordered a new ECU since we taught that was the problem, but still the same. I'm running a non-PWM system, with return line, and pump in-tank. Upgrade the handheld.

    My current settings:
    Cubic Inches: 389
    # of cylinders: 8
    Camshaft Type: Mild
    Fuel Pump Type: non-PWM with Regulator
    Air Pump Equipped: No
    IDLE RPM Target: 700
    Rev Limit: 5500
    Timing Control: Enabled
    IAC POS: 10-11 at idle hot motor
    Fuel pressure 48 PSI
    A/F Targets:
    Idle: 13.5
    Cruise: 14.0
    WOT: 12.8
    Nitrous: OFF
    Boost: 11.9
    Pump Squirt: 25%
    Power Valve Enrich: 25%

    Camshaft is:
    Intake Duration at 050 inch Lift: 213°
    Exhaust Duration at 050 inch Lift: 219°
    Duration at 050 inch Lift: 213° int./219° exh.
    Lobe Separation (degrees): 112°

    Heads, Stock '64 Pontiac 10.5 C.R.
    Rest of the car is stock.

    So when I connect the Atomic to the distributor, and enable timing control, it seems that the ignition is getting way off, of just disappear from time to time, if it starts, it can idle as long as I want, without problem. So all help I can get is very much appreciated.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2


    Quote Originally Posted by stefan View Post
    I've adjusted the distributor in three different ways, after different tips from your phone support, but all results are the same. In the end, the rotor is pointing at Cylinder #1 terminal at the cap, when the engine stands at 30° BTDC.
    The crank should be at 15° BTDC when you set the rotor to pointing at cylinder #1 position (see page 16). Then you adjust the rotor. The "30°" BTDC position instruction was in the old MSD Atomic manual. The newer manual is dated 04/15 (date on last page). I assume MSD realized some where having problems with their (pre-2015) instructions, so they revised the instructions and printed a new manual.

  3. #3


    An update. First, I did a test today, after three days of downtime, set the ignition to 10°. The Atomic does not control the ignition, the temperature is about -9° (16°F) and turn the key. I've changed the camshaft myself, but I was really careful, triple check everything, and have triplet checked TDC, so I'm sure nothing is wrong with the engine, and this must prove that all inside the engine is correct.

  4. #4


    I've now tried to set the ignition among other ways like this:

    A: (The Sniper way).
    Engine at 45° BTDC.
    Install distributor Set rotor wherever you want.
    Adjust the reluctor wheel against pickup.
    Lock distributor.
    Set engine/crank at mid curve ignition.
    (Where max output is expected - 30°).
    Phase rotor, two cylinder #1 cap terminal.
    Install cap.
    In handheld, set reference to 45°.
    (I can't do this at my Atomic).
    And static timing for 15° in handheld.
    Start and adjust ignition to 15°.

    B: (According to MSD support by phone).
    1. Set the engine 15°.
    2. Adjust the rotor 15° (retard or counter clockwise at my Pontiac).
    3. Lift the entire distributor out of the engine and reverse it 15°.
    4. Lock Timing in handheld to 15°.
    5. Start and fine tune to 15°.

    C: (According to the manual).
    Set the engine to 15° BTDC.
    Adjust the rotor back 15°.
    Adjust the distributor so that the rotor points to the Cylinder #1 connection at the lid.
    Lock Timing to 15°.
    Start and find tune distributor.

    D: (Regarding FB friend).
    Set the engine to 50° BTDC.
    Rotate the distributor so that a tooth on the reluctor wheel points to the magnetic sensor in the distributor and forget about the rotor.
    Look at how the tooth at the reluctor wheel stands against magnetic sensors.
    Turn the engine to 30° BTDC.
    Release the adjusting screw on the adjustable rotor. adjust it so that it points to cylinder #1 connection at the lid.
    Start the engine and lock the ignition. Handheld at 15°.
    Adjust with the ignition lamp until you have 15° on the strobe lamp.
    move the distributor until you reach this.
    You can move a lot. Stop and redo the rotor phasing.

    E: (Test setting everything to 0°.)
    Put the crank in 0°.
    Rotor at 0° (center).
    Set the reluctor wheel exactly against the "magnetic sensor".
    Adjust the rotor so that it points to Cylinder #1 in the cover.

    And every time it has not started I have tried to set the ignition to 0°, 4°, 15° & 25° in the handheld with no result. But can not let go of the thought that when the engine is warm, and happy, it actually starts, but behaves as if the ignition is too high!, and that it runs so nicely, when I run the systems separately!? If I start, it even behaves like the ignition is to high, and I retard the ignition (adjust distributor) or in the handheld, it will not start!? why this? Extremely strange for me, so if anyone have any tips, I'm really glad. Another small thing, when it runs, it always run fat, it gets to much fuel, but my taught was that this should be better, when the system has tuned it by itself.
    Last edited by stefan; 12-09-2019 at 04:46 PM.

  5. #5


    Thanks, but I have already tested that, I've got the manual dated 04/15..

  6. #6

    Default New Update

    I don't remember all I did, but I think it was something like this I tested today. I disconnected the Atomic, connected the gray cable to the white, and distributor to A6-Box, set the engine at 15° started and fine tune 15°, then I reconnect all, Yellow to white, distributor to Atomic, Enabled timing control, and locked it to 15°. Then the engine started, but it ran really bad, but I get the time to check and adjust the Timing, it was retarded a lot, so I set it to 15°, then it ran smooth. So the crank is showing 15° advanced, and the handheld is locked at 15°, nice. Then I "unlocked" the timing in handheld, then it stopped, and it wont start. When I crank, nothing happens, and the it backfire, then nothing happens, like the timing is too much advanced.

    I have tested a lot of timing settings, but usually I have:
    Idle RPM 800
    Total RPM 2500
    Idle advance 6°
    Total Advance 36°
    Vacuum advance: 10°
    When I did all this, I have my instrument connected, first to Grey/White cable, and then to White/Yellow cable, and both time, it show the idler RPM, not exactly, but close.

  7. #7


    Hey! I thought of one thing! This is a Pontiac, and at Pontiac, the distributor spins counter-clockwise, not Clockwise as a Chevrolet, can that be an issue. Or or doesn't it matter? Since the Atomic still get pulses regaring to the RPM from the distributor!

  8. #8


    This is what I do on my SBF 302 and runs perfect. This tip is from my friend rollo1504:
    - Switch ignition on but DO NOT START engine.
    - Select LOCK TIMING in MSD.
    - Start the engine.
    - Take you timing light and set it to 15°.
    - Loosen your distributor so that he can be moved.
    - Turn the distributor until the timing matches with the 15° of your timing light.
    - Deactivate the LOCK TIMING to let MSD take over control.
    - Set your timing light according the total advance value xx°.
    - Rev the engine above total rpm value to have the advance timing coming all in.
    - Check with timing light on the balancer marks which should show xx°.
    IMPORTANT: If the engine starts pinging when revving up the total advance timing is too high -> Let engine idle again, decrease total timing (36°) to 34° and rev her up.
    Repeat these steps to find out your highest possible total timing value without having the engine pinging.

    After that, check the rotor phasing again.
    Locking Up the MSD Timing to 15° and moving the distributor to 15° with timing light means not it's 15° BTDC. This means the best position for the distributor to be accurate when MSD controls the timing.

  9. #9


    Thanks good input, but this is almost what I did last time (except the total timing, I don't get so far.).
    I had selected "Lock Timing" in the handheld, start the engine (it ran very bad).
    I use my timing light to adjust the distributor, to 15° at the crank (then it ran nice and smooth as a kitten).
    I then deactivated "Lock timing" and then it stopped.

    I'm very sure that I know exactly where TDC is, since I was extra careful when I installed a new camshaft, but now I started to wonder, could something be wrong?
    If the crank is showing 15°, and I have locked the timing, and when I unlock it, the timing is suddenly way off, why this? It should be somewhere around 6-9° If I set:
    Idle RPM 800
    Total RPM 2500
    Idle advance 6°
    And have set idle to 700 RPM.

    I'm planning to make a video and share in this forum, I think I know this pretty well, but to think you know something is the worst thing you can do.
    So any tips and help is very appreciated, since I put a lot of work into this, and didn't make it work

    Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #10


    Hi guys, and sorry if I spam this forum, but I'm starting get desperate XD.
    I've just got an idea, that maybe someone has a comment at.
    I'm very sure where TDC is, but to believe that you are right, is the worst thing you can do,
    so when I set the engine to 15° it actually maybe is say 5°?
    That had explain, if I unlock the timing, the Atomic, tries to change the timing from what it believes is 15° to 6-9°.
    If I had set the timing to be:
    Idle RPM 800
    Total RPM 2500
    Idle advance 6°
    idle target 700 RPM

    But in reality, it changes it from 5° to 5° retarded (-5°).
    So if I check TDC by:
    Remove spark-plug at cylinder #1.
    Screw in a stop, turn engine until cyl hit that stop.
    Mark that stop on damper.
    Turn the engine backwards, until cylinder #1 hit the stop.
    Mark it out, and see where the center of those two marks is.
    There should TDC be.
    Just to be sure that TDC is where I have set it. What do you think about that?

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