Electronic ignition - Harper's Pertronix unit
Moto Guzzi V700, V7 Special, Ambassador, 850 GT, 850 GT California, Eldorado, and 850 California Police models
- I purchased the Harper's High Output Electronic Ignition kit today (it's being shipped). I will post my experiences with this system here from installation to performance. Since I wasn't able to find any information on the web about other user's experiences before I spent my USD $330.00, I'll let you know if I think I spent my money wisely.
Harper's electronic ignition kit is brand new in the last 6 months (Fall, 2003) and is specifically designed for the V7 / V700, 750 Ambassador and 850 Eldorado loop frames. The installation promises to be quick and easy, as no modifications to the motorcycle are needed. To my knowledge, this is the only electronic ignition kit ever made for loop frames (and about 30 years tardy, too).
I do know of at least one person who adapted a Dyna III electronic ignition system and distributor from a Tonti frame bike to an Ambassador. This required a little creative grinding to the generator to allow sufficient room for the distributor assembly to rotate while setting the timing. He was happy with this set up and used it until the Dyna III went bad. Anticipating the eventual demise of the Dyna III, he was carrying a spare distributor with the points already set. A few minutes later, he was back on the road. I certainly plan to carry a spare set of points and condenser, for just such an occurrence - especially with an electronic ignition system that is as new as this one is.
- The kit arrives and is opened with eager anticipation. Contents fall into two classes: boring and exciting.
The boring contents are those items that I already have, are in good shape, and that I don't need to replace: 1 rotor, 1 distributor cap, 2 spark plug caps, 1 spark plug wire set, and 3 ignition wire boots. My perception is that these are just filler items intended to make the kit appear larger, more comprehensive, more impressive, and worth USD $330.00. That being said, it is nice to start off with brand new stuff all around.
The exciting items include the coil and the electronic ignition igniter. Both of these components are made by a company called Pertronix. Pertronix does NOT sell directly to the public. Additionally, Harper's Moto Guzzi has an exclusive agreement with Pertronix regarding the electronic ignition igniter. So, while you may be able to find the coil from another Pertronix dealer, and you can certainly find the boring pieces from any one of a number of sources, you won't be able to get a hold of the electronic ignition igniter - which is the brains of the system and is precisely what you need.
- The coil is their
Flame-Throwermodel, part number 40611 (black in color, epoxy filled, 3.0 Ohm, designed for 12 volt electrical systems, 40,000 available volts, draws a maximum of 4 amperes, but typically draws 2 amperes). If the coil goes bad outside of the 90 day warranty, a replacement can be had from a Pertronix dealer for around USD $50.00.
- The electronic ignition igniter is their
Ignitermodel, part number MR-121 (RPM range: 0 - 15,000; Coil resistance: 1.5 ohms or more). The igniter is a two-piece setup. One part is a plate that replaces the standard points plate. This piece has two wires that connect to the coil. The other part is a magnetic rotor that fits over the cam on the distributor shaft. Both of these pieces are labeled with the model number (MR-121).
Harper offers this warranty:
Harper Accessories warranties the Harper's Ignition against defects in materials and workmanship for a period of 90 days from date of purchase (must have invoice for return). Improper installation or any alteration of the product renders all warranties null and void. Warranty is limited to the replacement or repair of the product only, which is at the discretion of Harper Accessories.
However, the manufacturer of the coil (Pertronix) offers a 90 day warranty on the coil and a 30 month warranty on the electronic ignition igniter.
I am happy to see that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind the electronic ignition igniter for 30 months. I see that as the component most likely to fail, anyway. Too bad Harper Accessories isn't willing to do so. If I have trouble outside 90 days, I guess I'll try to deal directly with the manufacturer. Although since Harper's has an exclusive agreement with them, I'm doubtful that I'd get a replacement.
Installation instructions (taken directly from the installation sheet provided by Harper)
- Installation is very simple and straight forward. It is simply the removal and reinstallation of ignition parts that are normally changed during a tune-up.
- Remove the fuel tank from the bike and remove the old ignition coil, distributor cap, rotor, spark plug and coil wires, and points plate.
- Replace the old coil with the high output coil from the kit using the existing coil bracket. Note: Do not use any other coil with this igniter unit.
- Install the igniter plate in place of the old points plate being careful to reconnect the coil power wire 12 volt positive (+) to the positive (+) side of the coil along with the red wire from the igniter. Connect the black wire to the negative (-) terminal on the coil.
- Note: If your bike has a tachometer, the tach wire should be connected to the black (negative) (-) terminal on the coil.
- The magnetic rotor is shaped internally to fit over the points cam. It is a slip fit over the cam and will press on easily if aligned properly.
- Install the new distributor rotor and distributor cap with the new spark plug and coil wires.
- Check the ignition timing with a strobe light by revving the motor until the distributor is fully advanced and adjust the timing by turning the distributor until the full advance mark on the pulley is aligned with the arrow on the engine.
Additional installation instructions
Although my assumption was that the condenser is no longer needed, the above instructions don't make any mention of it. A quick call to Harper's and my thoughts were confirmed. Plus, I got another tidbit.
It is possible for loop frames to run with the distributor reversed 180° - using the standard points and condenser. However, loop frames won't run that way with the new electronic ignition. One way to quickly check if your distributor is properly inserted is to bring the left hand cylinder (number 2 cylinder) to top dead center on the compression stroke (free-play on both valves). At this point, you should be able to look at the distributor and determine which cam lobe the points are on: the wide lobe or the narrow lobe. If you are on the narrow lobe, then you are exactly where you need to be. If you are on the wide lobe, then you need remove the distributor, rotate the shaft that runs through the distributor 180°, and reinsert the distributor. Be sure to make careful observations (and maybe even a drawing) before removing the distributor so that you know exactly where the distributor needs to be located.
- Saturday morning arrives with temperatures between 25° and 30° Fahrenheit; a lovely Minnesota Spring day! Out to the garage and I commence installation following the instructions provided above. It really is an easy installation. The only aspect of the setup that was only mildly disappointing is that the leads on the coil are fastened with standard sized nuts, rather than metric. A 10 mm wrench comes close, but a 3⁄8 inch wrench is what's needed. That aside, the kit fit perfectly.
The engine started after a few cranks, but was running rough. I expected this as I knew I would need to adjust the timing. So I revved the engine, shot my timing gun at the pulley, and dialed the distributor in. This procedure requires the use of three hands unless you tighten the spring loaded adjusting screw on the underside of the twist grip throttle while the engine is revved, which is what I did. Now the engine was running great!
The test ride
- On go the gloves and helmet and I rode across the street to the grade school parking lot for a short warm-up ride. Everything seemed great, even the snow flurries! So off I headed for little faster test ride on city streets (top speed around 45 - 50 MPH). The engine revved well, idled nice, and cruised like it should. I was a little cold at this point, so I headed back home. The highway test will have to wait for warmer weather.
- Warmer weather has arrived! I took the Ambassador out for an 80 mile run. 40 miles were two-lane (twisties, straights, small towns; 35 - 70 MPH) and 40 miles were straight highway (70 - 80 MPH the whole way). The timing and ignition worked very well...the Ambassador just felt great. I didn't check the fuel mileage, but I will next time.
- I took the Ambassador out for a 100 mile spin through the Minnesota River Valley. Some twisties, some straights, several quaint Minnesota towns, beautiful scenery - especially at sunset, a very enjoyable ride. Timing and ignition were flawless and I was very happy with the performance at highway speeds (60 - 80 MPH), as well as throughout the rest of the range. The bike just seems to respond better to the throttle with the electronic ignition. My fuel mileage was 38.2 MPG
- I took the Ambassador up to Duluth, MN to purchase my Aerostich suit. It's about 187 miles each way on Interstate 35. I ran the bike about 70 the whole way there and back...never missed a lick! My fuel mileage was 38.2 MPG
- It's been a year now and I've ridden the Ambassador quite a bit. I've never had a lick of trouble with the electronic ignition. I'm quite pleased with this upgrade.
- In early October - while I had my transmission out to repair the leaking camshaft plug - I failed to properly insulate the wires going to the igniter module upon reassembly. The wires shorted and fried the igniter less than a mile from my house. Ugh. So, I gave Pertronix a call. After diagnosing the problem, we discovered that the igniter was indeed destroyed. Sending them my igniter and a copy of my original receipt, Pertronix sent me a new igniter. Great company. Great service. Great warranty coverage. Enough said.
- I was heading out for a ride but got no further than the front entrance to my subdivision. Bike died suddenly. I checked the petcocks and found that I had forgotten to turn them on. I turned them on, but the bike absolutely would not start. I thought maybe I had flooded it. No matter, I pushed the bike back to my house...hot, humid, sweaty, disgusted. Pulled both plugs to check for spark. None. Tested the coil, it is fine. Performed the battery of Pertronix tests from the last time I had been through this. The Pertronix unit failed every test. Out with the Pertronix unit, in with the tried and true points and condenser system. Crank the engine over and it roared to life. This time, I'm absolutely certain that nothing was grounding out on anything else...and I'm beginning to wonder about last time, too.
My initial conclusion
I'll be the first one to admit that I dislike points and condenser systems. Not just on Moto Guzzis, but on any machine. Yes, they work; but they've always taken more of my time and given me more headaches than I care to put up with. Given what I've said here, I may be a little biased in my opinion - so take that into consideration.
I'm glad I purchased this electronic ignition kit. My Ambassador runs better now than it ever has before. As long as the electronic ignition doesn't go out on me, I think I'll remain happy.
Now, if you are happy with your current system and don't want to change to electronic ignition, then don't. I think you are well justified in choosing to stay with a tried and true technology. It sure is easier to repair or replace points and condenser systems in the middle of nowhere on your around-the-world tour.
But, if you are of like mind when it comes to points and condenser systems, and are tired of fiddling around under your distributor cap, I recommend that you purchase this kit.
The following documents are applicable to installing and troubleshooting the Pertronix igniter. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!
My conclusion after a year and a half of use
While I was waiting on my replacement igniter module from Pertronix, I put the standard points and condenser back in and road it that way for a while. Performance seemed identical (contrary to my initial - perhaps optimistic - impression). On future projects, I highly doubt I will purchase another electronic ignition kit. Instead, I'll use the inexpensive, tried-and-true points and condenser set up.
With two failures of the Pertronix unit, I'm definitely sticking with points and a condenser.