My first action upon getting the car was, naturally, trying to get it to start. When I went to look at the car to buy it, the previous owner noted that it turned over and seemed to have compression, so I asked if we could try to start it. After throwing in a battery he noted that the ignition switch was inoperable and actually missing, but he was using a screwdriver jammed into the ignition cylinder to try and start it ( a screwdriver he kindly included with the vehicle!). He was correct— it did turn over and seem to have the desire to start, but ultimately wouldn't. No amount of starting fluid sprayed into the carb would do it. And so when I received the car in the garage that is where it was at.
My dad came over the first day I had it and we fiddled about for a couple of hours trying to get it started ourselves- cleaning off the rotor and cap contacts and wiggling spark plugs, all with no luck. By the end of it, the screwdriver method of turning the ignition to the start position no longer worked since it had bent the metal, and we had to give up for the day. Before we gave up, however, we determined that at the very least it wasn't getting spark.
I ordered new plugs, wires, cap, and rotor and waited a week for them to arrive. In the meantime my goal was to rig up a temporary starting mechanism. At this point I wasn't sure I wanted to spend too much money on the car, so I wasn't keen on buying a new ignition switch for $200. Here my collection of switches and buttons came into use. After cobbling together via various online PDFs and forum posts a crude understanding of the ignition circuit, I was able to wire up an ignition mechanism that would be easier than jamming a screwdriver in the steering column!
A simple toggle switch is wired to the battery lead, and the output of that is routed to the other wires that should be engaged when the vehicle is in the 'on' position. Another wire from that switch feeds a 2 inch green button on a longer wire, which feeds the ignition wire. With this setup I can engage the starter while not sitting in the vehicle, a setup I found to be quite useful!
-Big red wire is power
-2 red wires together and both green wires should be hot during 'on'
-Black wire goes to starter
So with an ignition system in place I put in the new cap, rotor, wires and plugs, applied generous amounts of starting fluid and tried it out. Still no luck. Could it be fuel, I thought? I undid the hose to the carb and turned it over — some old dark fuel dutifully pumped out. Good to know the fuel system works! ( Later I drained the old stuff out of the tank, which somehow doesn't have any leaks in it.) So it was still spark.
I'm no expert with vehicles using a mechanical ignition system, in fact this is only my second vehicle with one. After scratching my head and googling around I determined maybe it had something to do with these points everyone is talking about. An so I dissembled the distributor and cleaned off the contact areas on the points and adjusted the gap to .016.
This gave me a chance to set the base timing, so I followed a procedure documented somewhere to get the engine at TDC by looking at a mark towards the back of the camshaft sprocket. With that in place I turned the rotor to 90° behind the #1 mark on the edge of the distributor and put it back in. To my surprise it turned as I inserted it and ended up pointing right at #1! I slightly tightened it down so I could still turn it back and forth and crossed my fingers. Time to see whether these points were all that important.
So with my big green ignition button I stood outside the passenger door and held the distributor so I could rotate it. I pressed the button, held it down and the little 1.6 came to life! After rotating the distributor a bit I was able to find a steady idle, though the idle seemed high. I let it run for a minute or so like that before shutting it off. Then I remembered the choke was all the way out, so I put that back to normal and started it again. This time it seemed to run at a much more acceptable idle, surprisingly quiet too. It seemed the exhaust system was all still functional!
This was all very exciting to me... to start up an engine that hasn't run since I was 8 years old. I'd like to say it took some kind of skill or expertise, but that would be lying. All it needed was to follow the maintenance procedures to set the point gap and it started right up!
The only thing left between me and a running and driving project, or so I imagined at the time, was to try out the transmission and clutch.