Dirt Cheap Ignition Retard for Turbocharged Engines for Less Than $100.

Introduction: Dirt Cheap Ignition Retard for Turbocharged Engines for Less Than $100.

About: I work as a chemical operator. In my off time I enjoy spending time with my family and working on my "old" Fiats and my latest edition, my '81 Trabant 601.

If you have ever built a custom turbo system for your car, it's often nessessary to reduce the advance during boost to prevent engine knock.

The easiest method is to retard the static timing such as to TDC. The problem with doing this is the engine idles rough, runs poorly under cruise and fuel economy suffers.

This simple system allows you to have the best of both worlds without spending a lot of cash.

You can buy one of those ignition systems that requires multiple components and costs hundreds of dollars but why spend that much money if all you need is no more than 5 degrees retard? Especially if your running a low boost system (7 PSI).

This system uses only two main components. A GM HEI 5 pin control module and a pressure switch. I have used this system on both of my custom turbocharged cars and it works well. A Bosch fuel injected 1980 Fiat 2000 Spider and a Weber carburated 1987 Yugo 1500 cc.

It will work with virtually any electronic ignition that uses a magnetic trigger and a vacuum advance such as GM, Magneti Marelli, Ford Duraspark, Mopar, Bosch, etc used from the early 1970s up until the late 1980s. It will not work with point type distributors or more modern systems like Bosch Motronic which uses a computer to adjust the advance, systems that use crank sensors, or non adjustable distributors. After all by that time these systems incorporate a knock sensor to retard the timing if engine knock is detected anyway.

How the system works:

When the small pin on the module is grounded, the control module instantly retards the 5 crankshaft degrees. The pressure switch is used to toggle between boost and off boost conditions. When the switch detects 1 PSI it grounds the small pin and retards the ignition timing.

You will need:

GM HEI 5 pin control module (e.g. 1980 Oldsmobile Toronado V8)
Pressure switch: e.g. Honeywell/Stewart Warner part # 78628
Piece of aluminum block for control module (Lowe's Hardware metal stock section)
Heat sink grease (Radio Shack)
Other items: vacuum hose, nipple, tee, metal bracket, brass tee, etc. if bracket is desired.

There are several variations of the GM HEI module. About every three years GM upgraded the system. The one I am using is the second generation which was introduced around 1978 and used until around 1981 on GM trucks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. I read the reason for this retard function was to help high compression engines start easier. Just to make sure you get the correct module, just say you own a 1980 Oldsmobile Toronado V8. There is a third generation five pin module out there but it is designed to work with a knock sensor and can't be used for this application.

Step 1:

This photo is of a Fiat Marelli coil pack used on 1979+ Fiat 2000 Spiders and 131/Bravas. It holds a GM HEI 4 pin control module and the ignition coil.

Step 2:

This shows the GM HEI 5 pin module. There is a tab on the coil pack that blocks one of the connectors that must be removed.

Step 3:

The following photos shows the metal tab removed and checking the 5 pin module for clearance.

Step 4:

These next photos shows mounting the GM HEI 5 pin module in place of a Bosch control module. The photos are basically self explanatory. The GM module fits the Bosch heat sink/mounting pad. All that is required is to shave one of the mounting studs down flush with the pad, otherwise it conflicts with one of the contacts. I suppose if you did not want to do this, you could bend the conflicting tab at an angle and use an insulated connector to prevent shorting.

Step 5:

This next step shows how to wire the module up. The only two wires to be initially concerned with are the + and - wires that connect to the ignition coil. Pin "B" connects to the + side of the coil which powers the module. Pin "C" connects to the negative side of the coil and releases the stored energy from the coil. The module is grounded through the heat sink pad.

On the opposite side of the control module are the pins that goto the magentic trigger inside the distributor and the small pin that when grounded retards the timing.

For some reason there is a wire that goes to nowhere inside the wiring harness that leads to the magnetic pickup on Bosch systems. I just connected a ring terminal to this wire and it is grounded through the mounting pad. I assume this wire is used to absorb electrical noise.

Depending upon what brand of system you are using, you will have to play around with the polarities. I found on a Bosch system, it either works or it doesn't. If the engine misfires or idles rough, try reversing the polarities.

Step 6:

This step shows the pressure switch. The pressure switch needs to have a NO (normally open) and C (closed) connecter. Most switches have three terminals (C,NC,NO). Don't use the NC (normally closed) connector. And be aware there are some switches that just have a C and NC contacts. In this case this type of switch won't work.

Here is the part number for a suitable pressure switch which closes at 1 PSI with a C/NO terminal:

Stewart Warner / Hobbs part # 78628

If using a two pole switch, the polarities on the switch really doesn't matter. If you are using a three pole switch then The "C" terminal on the switch is grounded and the "NO" contact connects to the small pin on the control module.

I made this bracket by bending a piece of metal in a bench vice. I soldered a brass TEE to the bracket and capped off the other port. I'm taking the vacuum signal from the same hose that goes to the vacuum advance module. You could also take the pressure signal from the same line going to the boost gauge or fuel pressure regulator.

You can also drill and tap a 1/8" NPT hole in the intake plenum, intake manifold and mount it there if you did not want to fabricate a bracket.

Step 7: All Wired Up!

And finally the system is all wired up!

This is my ignition system on my 1987 Yugo GV with a tubocharged Fiat 1500cc engine.

Usually these switches come preset from the factory. But it's best to bench test the switch by connecting a piece of tubing and slightly blowing through the hose. If the switch closes with just the slight amount of pressure, you will hear a small click and it's good to go. If not, remove the rubber plug and back the allen screw out a few turns.

Now once the system is installed, start the engine. If the engine fails to start, reverse the polarities going to the magentic trigger.
Test the system by connecting a timing light and slightly blow through the hose to see if the timing is now retarded. The timing light should show a 5 degree (+/- 1 degree) reduction in advance.

The downside to the system is the ignition is retarded a full 10 degrees as soon as the turbo produces 1 PSI of boost. Some of the more expensive systems retard the timing progressively as boost rises. This is suppose to create a more smoother transition. Either way it get's the job done.

The other disadvantage is the amount of retard is fixed at 10 degrees. So you'll still have to play around with the static timing to see where your engine runs best. You may find all you need is 5 degrees retard to offset detonation at full boost. In that case you could advance the static timing 5 degrees and run more advance under offboost conditions which will improve fuel economy.

Did I miss anything? Comments welcome!

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    Question 2 years ago on Step 7

    Hi , been trying this on a 80 turbo trans am , have gone through 5 modules and none of them do anything when you ground the 5th pin? Can t get this trick to work.


    Answer 2 years ago

    There's one module used after 1981 or so that the fifth pin connects somehow to a knock sensor. Not directly to it but to the ECU.


    4 years ago

    do you have schematic for the hei on this setup?, thank you


    Question 5 years ago on Step 7


    Excellent write up. Can you explain something though?
    Im trying to find one of these modules and the pins are all labeled H, L, D and B, C
    Can you confirm these are the same as yours?
    It sort of looks like RLD, BC in the pics



    Answer 5 years ago

    Actually, I found it I think... Model number LX330T

    2018-03-15 08_34_03-Standard_T-Series LX330T Ignition Control Module _ eBay - Opera.png

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm glad I found this helpful write-up, turbofiat124. There are only a couple of things that I want to point out. First, I'm not sure how you became accustomed to discussing ignition timing in cam angle, instead of crankshaft angle, but I have never in my life heard of anyone say they're going to alter the timing by a certain amount of degrees of cam timing. Timing is done in crankshaft degrees. Maybe it's different with the European cars.

    The only other thing is, since I plan on using this great article to build my own setup, I looked up pressure switches, to order one. I found the Honeywell pdf for these pressure switches. (You can just google "honeywell 5000 series pressure switch".) Using a 15# switch because you're running 10# of boost, then adjusting it down to 1# is all wrong. 15# is not the pressure rating, it's the switching pressure. For all of their switches, from 0.5# to 24# set point, the operating pressure is 150#.

    If you want it to trigger at 1# of boost, get the 1# switch. It's safe to 150 pounds of pressure, proofed to 500#, and burst pressure is 750#.



    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your comments. I maybe confused. I was told this GM module would retard the timing 10 degrees when the 5th pin is grounded but when I tested it against the crankshaft using a timing light, it only showed 5 degree retard. So yes I maybe wrong about that. Or whoever originally posted this information originally was wrong. I just thought they meant camshaft degrees because a camshaft (on an OHC engine anyway) makes two revolutions for every one turn of the crankshaft. That has got me into trouble many times trying to reinstall a distributor.

    As far as the pressure switch. The one I am using should be have a range of 1 to 15 PSI. I have it set to close at 1 PSI so the module trips as soon as the turbo spools up. Yes the burst pressure maybe 150# but the switch can't be adjusted any higher than 15#. I'll have to check on that one.


    Reply 6 years ago

    5 at the cam and 10 at the crank is correct as the crank turns 2x speed of the cam on a 4 cycle motor. Cam cog is always bigger than the crank cog with a timing belt or chain.