The Black Box: Ignition

The Spyder now has a fully-programmable computerized spark advance system that looks like it belongs in there.

Getting there wasn’t so easy, but the troubles were in the interface, not the software. Here’s how it happened, from the beginning.

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The box itself (top photo) looks a fair bit like the voltage regulator you’d find in a real Spyder with a small generator. That’s why I mounted it there on the firewall with that bracket. Aside from being the correct spot for the regulator, it’s a good place for the ignition box—not much heat there and it should stay pretty dry.

CP Performance says the box will work with basically all the first and second generation points replacement modules, as well as a set of old school points and a condenser. In the instructions they include wiring diagrams for each of these options. I decided to leave the Pertronix that was already in the distributer in place.

I ran the Box’s wiring harness across on the firewall and measured the wires out to their respective destinations, then marked each one with a tape label before pulling it and crimping the proper spade and ring ends.

The green wire is not used in this configuration so I just rolled it up instead of cutting it.

One of my favorite things about the Black Box is it comes with a rev limiting feature. Just run the silver/grey wire to a switch that goes to ground and you have an on/off rev limiter switch. Ground it directly and the rev limiter will always be operating at whatever RPM you set it to.

I went ahead and just crimped the ring on to keep it simple.

Running the Black Box requires you to “lock out” the distributer advance, and in the bag of electrical bits is a special stepped washer to do the deed on most copies of the Bosch 009 disty—which is what I have.

Instructions say to set the distributer a certain way before pulling it for this mod. First you find top dead center, then you crank the engine counterclockwise to 70 degrees before TDC, then you set the distributer so it would fire #1 at 70 before.

Then you carefully pull it out and do the lock-out operation.

This is all very straightforward on a Beetle or Speedster. On a Spyder it takes a mirror or, in my case, a smart phone, to see the timing marks.

It was a bit fiddly but I got it squared away and pulled out the distributor.

Under a wad of felt in the shaft is that itty bitty screw. Hold the shaft steady, unscrew it, take the existing flat washer out (I think), replace it with the slightly thicker step washer, with the cupped side down, glue it in with blue (not red) Locktite and tighten as good as you can.

With that done I put the felt disc back on it, reinstalled the rotor and dropped the disty gingerly back in its hole, tightening the lock-down nut just a little. Then I connected the wires as instructed and draped the harness loosely back in place.

Now it was time to fire up the laptop and get this thing running.

The three-wire interface connector from the Black Box is basically a phono plug. The kit helpfully comes with a six-foot adaptor wire that transforms it into a serial cable. Really the perfect universal computer interface….in 1992.

To make it work in this century requires yet another adaptor, which turns the serial into a USB plug.

Ok no problem, But that thing needs a driver….which comes on a minidisk.

Which requires a stand-alone disk player to work….

—buuuut which is not, in fact, recognized by the modern Windows operating system… which meant it was off to the innerwebs to download a driver, which eventually I was able to do, but which then would not open because I did not have the correct unzipping program, which necessitated yet another download….

I finally got it all working as as soon as that was done,

With that I was able to open and upload the stock/standard spark map to the unit, and begin programming.

I put a timing light on the car and checked the idle timing. It was about 1 degree off so I turned the distributor ever so slightly and locked it all down tight: 13 before at idle.

Then I drove the car a few miles: it works. It already seems even a little better than it was.

But we’ve not yet begun to tune. Next I’ll see about improving the curve as is, and after that I’ll add the vacuum ports to make it even better. The Black Box should let me dial in the spark to make the most power and the best mileage the engine is capable of.


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