"Ole Blue" before restoration
1949 Willys Jeep CJ-3A:
Project “Ole Blue”
Part 18 – Timing is Everything
"Ole Blue" after restoration
Flywheel timing marks from service manual
Engine cutaway - distrubutor Paula and Evan coming up the hill Paula and Evan on a "highspeed" test drive after fixing the engine timing

There are a number of interesting stories surrounding the development of the jeep and Willys’ success in winning the military’s development contract.  The “Go-Devil” engine was a key component of the winning design.  Developed for the Willys motor cars in the late 1930s, it was a simple design that was reliable and easily maintained.  The “Go-Devil” saw duty as “stationary” engines in welders, generators and compressors in addition to the military and civilian versions of the jeep.  We aren’t sure if our engine started life as a welder or under the hood of a jeep.  In any case, a good jeep experience requires a good running engine and Ole Blue’s engine wasn’t running well.  It started easily and idled smoothly, but ran poorly under load and at high speed.  Our best guess was an ignition timing issue.

The old ways are best
As stated in the previous part, we determined from the distributor rotor position that the No. 2 (fourth in firing order) cylinder aligned with the top dead center (TDC) marking on the flywheel.

Barry dropped a note on the G503 forum asking for advice on timing the engine.  Here is the response he received from “Cuz (AKA Wes K)”:

“Using that flywheel timing mark with a timing light is tough and very inaccurate due to movement and accessibility and varying viewing angles. If you can now see the mark then your timing is at least close. Try the old fashioned way of static timing. Set the points to .020. Bring your # 2 TDC on compression. Slowly back the crank up until you can see the IGN timing mark. If the points are open now go a little further back until they close. Now slip a piece of clean white paper between the contacts. Now while maintaining a slight pull on the paper slowly rotate the crank forward until the paper pops loose. Where is your timing mark now? This is the point at which your # 2 plug is firing. If it's on the mark then no battle with the stuck distributor is necessary. If it is off you will have to free the housing by soaking with PB blaster and gently working it back and forth until you can swing it enough. Then start over.”

First we set the points to .020, then Barry placed the paper between the contacts while Evan used the fan to slowly rotate the crank, stopping when the paper “popped” free.  The IGN timing mark was visible, but not aligned with the mark on the bell housing cover.  We have a timing problem.

Degrees of freedom
Changing the timing is accomplished by loosening the clamp that holds the distributor housing in place and moving the housing.  Normally, the housing turns easily and most adjustments involve only slight movements.  Ole Blue’s distributor housing wasn’t moving.  It was stuck.  Neither Evan nor Barry could get any movement, so we applied liberal amounts of PB Blaster and improvised a tool.  Using an oil filter strap wrench, Evan began to apply force in both directions, being careful not to crush the housing.  After several minutes there was slight movement.  We took turns with the wrench and continued to gently but firmly increase the movement until the housing broke free and could be easily moved by hand.

On the mark
We could tell the reader how we knew exactly which direction to turn the housing so that we were advancing or retarding the timing.  But it wouldn’t be true and we do best with simple instructions.  This time, we aligned the IGN mark on the flywheel with the mark on the bell housing.  We moved the housing so the points just opened.  We repeated the paper test and the marks aligned!  Evan jumped behind the wheel and cranked the engine.  It didn’t start, but it had been a few weeks since our last test.  After a few more cranks the engine fired, much to the relief of all present.

The engine sounded good at both idle and when revved.  Barry suggested a driveway test was in order and Evan backed the jeep out of the garage and headed down the drive.  No backfiring or other unwanted engine noises were heard.  The smile on Evan’s face as he drove back to garage told Barry that we got it right the first time.

On the road again
Evan took Paula for a spin down to the bottom of drive. The quarter mile drive goes through the woods and up a steep hill and is one of the reasons that jeeps have always had a home here.  Another good test of engine performance and Evan reported that the engine performed flawlessly. 

It was Barry’s turn for a test ride and when they reached the bottom of the drive and the county road, temptation got the better of him and he told Evan to make a right turn onto the pavement.  It was another amazing moment that was six years in the making.

Knowing we were so not legal, Evan drove a short distance before turning the wheel over to Barry for the short drive home.  We had been driving in low range, so Barry shifted in to high range and quickly reached an amazing 30MPH!  At least at 30, the jeep drove straight and true.  In a couple of minutes we were parked safely in the garage.  It was a good jeep day.

Next up – Stay right there

Barry’s notes – In February of 2004 (Part 4) I looked at the parts and pieces spread across the garage floor and asked Evan “Do you think we will ever get this back together?”  He said we would and has always been confident that we would indeed drive it on the road.  I’ll confess to having some real doubts then.  But not now.