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E: Engine Ignition Advance


Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
In these long long days of Covid isolation I have been mentally reviewing the preparation of my Comet in preparedness for when (if?) the restrictions on movement are lifted. For months now we have be confined to within 5km of our home .

So over the last 10 years having melted 3 or 4 pistons with the bike used only for touring I revisited the situation - in all cases there was no sign of lean running , actually in every case there were signs of being over rich!

So I now turned my mind to the ignition.

The ATD fitted as standard to ALL VIncent B and C series machines is a Lucas ATD model 47505A/D that provides an advance range at the magneto of 16º to 18º. This translates to an advance range of 32º to 36º at the crank. Depending on the individual ATD the actual advance can be anywhere within that range. And as the ‘fingers’ of the ATD wear, all be it slowly, then the advance range will increase.

It is generally acknowledged that the ignition sweet spot for easy and reliable starting is 4º BTDC (before top dead centre).

Reference to the Vincent Riders Handbook 10th edition advises ignition timing of 38/40º BTDC at full advance for twins but only 37/38º BTDC for singles. For twins this fits in exactly with an original unworn ATD and is close to the lower limit for singles. So why the need to fiddle with something that’s within the original specification? Compression ratio and fuel volatility.

Fuel Volatility: Vincent motors were designed over 70 years ago and were intended to operate on ‘pool’ fuel that had a very low octane rating, but more importantly burnt relatively slowly. Modern fuels have much higher octane ratings and burn much much faster. This faster burning means that combustion will happen much faster and with the ‘original’ ignition timing this results in peak combustion pressure inside the cylinder happening well BEFORE the piston reaches the top of its upward stroke. This has 2, both undesirable, effects. First it tries to force the piston back down the cylinder, before it has reached TDC putting a massive destructive load on the bottom end of the motor, especially the big end bearings. Another consequence of this is excessive heat generation that can lead to piston overheating and failure. Second effect of this faster burning is that almost, if not all, of the charge has been expended before the piston gets to TDC resulting in output power being diminished.

The remedy to the effect of increased fuel volatility is to lower the ignition timing at full advance. How much? On the basis of feedback in MPH across the years and suggested by Irving in “Tuning For Speed” and endorsed on the VOC Forum back in 2018, a reduction of around 4o is a reasonable starting point.

Compression Ratio: There is a tendency of motor rebuilders to use higher compression ratios (CR) that originally fitted at the works. Original for all B and C series, other than Shadows, was a CR of 6.8 to 1, Shadows were 7.3 to 1. It is now more common to find 8 to 1 or even slightly higher CR being used. Again, looking at the advice from Irving as the CR is increased the ignition advance should be reduced. Why? The increased compression ratio can result in an improvement in combustion efficiency which in itself results in an increase in the speed of burning of the fuel in the cylinder. Irving tells us that an increase of 3 in the CR should be matched by a reduction in ignition timing of 5o. So as the increase of the CR from 6.8 to 8 to 1 is around half that, it should be accompanied by a decrease in ignition advance of around 2.5º.

Conclusion: Allowing for both modern fuel and compression changes it appears that sensible maximum full advance to use on Vincent motors today is: For twins 38 less 4 less 2.5 gives 31.5º BTDC; for singles the result is 1º less thus 30.5º BTDC. You will recall that for starting 4º BTDC is optimal and advance at the ATD is half that at the crank.

Twins: 31.5º less 4 = 27.5, divided by 2 = 13.75º advance at the magneto

Singles 30.5º less 4 = 26.5, divided by 2 = 13.25º advance at the magneto .

Remember – the original ATD advance range at the magneto is 16 to 18º

Twin Spark Heads: All of the above relates to generally standard Vincent motor fitted with a single spark plug. If your motor is fitted with twin spark plug heads then based on experience in the field, its desirable to retard the crank shaft full advance by a further 4 degrees – or if you prefer retard the ATD advance by 2 more degrees – it’s the same thing. Result at the magneto is 11.75º for twins and 11.25º for singles.

OK - what have I got wrong??

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