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Setting 911 Distributor Static Timing
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Pelican Technical Article:

Setting 911 Distributor Static Timing

Doug Suds


1 hour1 hr






Metric socket set and metric wrench set, pencil, screwdriver, spacer tool on fan pulley, spark plug wrench

Applicable Models:

Porsche 911 (1965-89)
Porsche 912 (1965-69)
Porsche 930 Turbo (1976-89)

Performance Gain:

A properly timed 911 engine

Complementary Modification:

Replace the distributor
Installing Distributor Body and Setting Static Ignition Timing

If the distributor body has been removed, without proper marking (oops), it must be aligned to the crankshaft with cylinder #1 at TDC (top-dead-center), while the ingnition rotor points to the spark plug wire for cylinder #1. This ensures that the cylinder is at the top of its stroke when the plug fires.

There are three timing marks (notches) on the crankshaft pulley, these indicate the TDC points for the three pairs of cylinders. There is also a notch on the fan assembly, this is the alignment point for the timing notches on the crankshaft pulley. There should be a "Z1" mark next to notch that is for TDC of cylinders #1 and #4. On my car (87 carrera), I couldn't see the "Z" markings on the pulley, but there is another way to tell which of the three markings is the Z1 point: there is another notch about five degrees before the Z1 notch.

The objective is to turn the crankshaft so that cylinder #1 is at TDC (the Z1 mark aligns with the notch on the fan assembly), then install the distributor so the rotor points to ignition wire #1. The Z1 mark on the crankshaft pully represents the TDC point for BOTH cylinders #1 and #4, so you need to make sure it points to cylinder #1. There are a few different ways to tell whether its pointing to cylinder #1 or #4.

Trial and error. You can align it to Z1 and try starting it, if it doesn't go then turn the crankshaft 360 degrees (clockwise) and try again (after aligning the rotor to wire #1). This will rotate it from #4 TDC to #1 TDC. This is the method I used. On my first attempt it was pointing to #4 (no fire), so I turned the crankshaft 360 degrees, adjusted the distributor so the rotor pointed to cylinder #1, and it fired fine.

Feel for air pressure. If you remove spark plug #1 and put your hand over the hole, you'll feel pressure when the crankshaft turns to the compression cycle for cylinder #1.

Use a pointer as a flag. If you remove spark plug #1 and stick something (like a screwdriver or pencil) in the hole, it will push out when cylinder #1 reaches TDC. But be sure there is room for the screwdriver or pencil to move freely! NOTE: Do not install the screwdriver or pencil into the cylinder until the cylinder is close to the top of travel. If installed too early, the item you choose to insert in the cylinder, can be caught at an angle, bending, breaking or damaging the engine.

Note: If you're unsure of the cylinder numbering, you'll find it on the labels in the engine tin. They are numbered as follows:

3 6 
2 5 
1 4 

You'll also find the firing order listed on the lables in the engine compartment, but just in case it's 1, 6, 2, 4, 3, 5.

Okay, now there are several different ways to turn the crankshaft to align it to the Z1 point.

Socket wrench on crankshaft pulley nut. If you can get a socket on the crankshaft pulley, you can turn it (clockwise) with a socket wrench. If it's difficult to turn, you can loosen all of the spark plugs to lower compression.

Spacer tool on fan pulley. There is a tool in the Porsche toolkit for turning the fan. You can crank the engine this way (clockwise), but you may need to put pressure on the fan belt so it doesn't slip. Once again, it's easier to turn if you loosen all of the spark plugs.

Rocking the car. With the car in fifth gear, you can rock it until the pulley aligns to the Z1 point.

Turning over the ignition. You can turn the ignition (with key) in short bursts until you get it close to the mark, then rock the car in fifth gear to get it exact. This is the method I used and it worked fine, even with just one person, as long as you have patience ;-)
Once you have the crankshaft sitting at TDC for cylinder #1, you need to install the distributor body so the rotor points to the ignition wire for spark plug #1. You'll notice a small notch on the distributor that aligns to the ignition point for spark plug #1. Put the rotor on the distributor shaft and turn the shaft so the rotor points to (just before) the notch on the distributor body. You will probably have to try it a few times until you get the gears to match up properly. Now install the distributor cap and you should be up and running. If it doesn't fire, you may be aligned to TDC for #4 instead of #1. If so, try rotating the crankshaft 360 degrees, then readjust the distributor rotor to point to the notch for cylinder #1.

On the DME-based cars (1984-1989 carreras) there is no dynamic adjustment of the timing (ie with a timing light) required because it's done automatically by the DME computer. On earlier cars, you have to adjust the dynamic timing with a timing light after setting the static timing.

Happy igniting! These procedures were brought to you from the various helpful people on this list who walked me through the procedure a while ago. There are too many names to list, but special thanks to Hamid, Andy, and Fred, who really helped me to understand how the ignition system works."

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Comments and Suggestions:
DennisS Comments: Anywhere else I moved the rotor it would not start. So I found the right setting. The car starts and then dies immediately. I have checked all the connections and everything is attached. Is this ignition of something else?
August 14, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: When it dies, what goes away? Spark fuel or compression? Something will be causing the stall, needs to be determined first. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
DennisS Comments: I used the procedure and I think everything is lined up. The car starts and then dies. So i guess it is close. Should i try removing the distributor and then moving it a little bit like one tooth and then reinstalling?

1976 911S - It ran before starting this but the distributor was dirty. I had it rebuilt.
August 14, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: When it dies, what goes away? Spark fuel or compression? Something will be causing the stall, needs to be determined first. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Oldman2020 Comments: WAYNE just installed your Canyon oil return tubes. There appears to be too much space between the circlip and the ring groove. Did not measure, however, it appears to be at least 3/16 of an inch between the short tube and the ring on my engine. Not going to change them NOW... looks prone to early failure.I may close the space with stainless wire wrap to close the gap.
May 18, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I'll have someone from our customer service / parts team contact you.. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Very pissed at you!! Comments: Thanks for the "STICK A PENCIL IN THERE!!!" It broke off and now is in the cylinder. THANKS!! 😡
March 11, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Use a small flexible grabber to get it out. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Marc Comments: Thanks a lot to Freiherr! I just used his method on my completely modified and rebuilt 2L engine. TDC cyl 1, air blocked and free in cyl 4. Then one turn of the crank and air free in cyl 1 and blocked in cyl 4. Now i'm sure if the engine will not start, I'll have to look for another reason than wrong position of the distibutor.
February 21, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What do you mean air free and air blocked? - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Freiherr Comments: Re finding 'compression TDC rather than Overlap TDC... I take out spark plug 1 and put a 2 foot long piece of fuel hose into the plug hole, then blow down it: if the cylinder is at Compression TDC the air can't escape, but if it's at overlap TDC the air leaks out via inlet & exhaust valves.. You can hear it through the intakes. This is a lot easier & quicker than using the other methods, and works every time. If you want to see the difference, try blowing down the tube in both OTDC and Comp TDC... The difference is reaaly obvious!
NB Any hose will do, so long as it fits snugly into the spark plug hole & seals OK. I use a piece of fuel hose with a taper at the spark plug end taper was done on my cheap old bench grinder...
September 16, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Erock Comments: Thanks for the information, it helped a lot. I looked on ALLDATA for awhile and didn't find the amount of info you have in just a few paragraphs. Thanks again.
July 9, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
nicky Comments: good day sir, can u help me with the corect firing order for mercedes 280 e six cylinder
October 19, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Knowing the year and model of your car is helpful. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
zz Comments: HI,sir.
I kown you are the distributor of pelican protective cases, but your price is higher , our company also produce the protective cases for years, The character of products is Anti shock, waterproof, airproof, dustproof, anti high or low temperature-40¡æ to 98¡æ, environment-friendly products. the quality of our products is as same as yours, but the price is much lower, I think the price maybe the disadvantage of your products¡£ so if you need, I hope we can cooperate.
Best Regards
Tel;86 010 87322709 86 13681317524
October 16, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the Info. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
nel Comments: What lift should there be in the main shaft of the ignition
distributor? is 3mm ok?
August 27, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I have never measured it, but the shaft will pull up a few MMs. 3 doesn't sound too high.- Nick at Pelican Parts  
Roberttry22 Comments: wires removed where is # 1 on the cap
August 14, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What vehicle? - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Danimal16 Comments: This is exactly the proceedures that will set the static timing. It is very straight forward for even the most inexperienced mechanic.
June 23, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the Info. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
jon Comments: sorry i honestly do not think that this is helpful. thanks anyways.
January 3, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Erning Comments: The instructions are very clear .It works. thank you very much.
December 13, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
ekbal Comments: i need of static timing light of old car
November 29, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Truncated message - Nick at Pelican Parts  
dave Comments: oops was appropriate.i have a old boat with a straight 6 and the distributor was stuck ,then it moved not out but turned,no prob i thought ha ha .thanks for your help.
July 9, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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