Editor's Note: While this article
was written with the 914 specifically in mind, the MSD Ignition System can be installed on
any 12V Porsche.
What Does an MSD Ignition Do For You?
MSD ignition systems were first recommended to
me by a fellow who worked for the Colorado emissions testing authority as a way to improve
my emissions which also improving performance. I found exactly these results.
The MSD ignition systems combine the concept of
capacitive discharge ignition (made popular in the late 60's and early 70's) with multiple
spark discharge. On a simple point and coil ignition system, while the points are closed,
the coil builds up a magnetic field in its core by allowing current to flow at battery
voltage into the coil wires which are wrapped around the ferric core, like an
electro-magnet. When the points open, the magnetic field in the core of the coil collapses
and rapidly introduces a strong, high voltage current into the output side of the coil,
which becomes your plug spark. As RPM goes up, the charge time of the coil between sparks
goes down, as a result, the spark energy is lower as RPM increases. Capacitive discharge
solves this problem by providing a very quick higher voltage charge to the primary side of
the coil which is the same at all RPM levels.
Multiple Spark Discharge helps to provide
complete combustion at speeds up to 3000 RPM by issuing several sparks during each
combustion stroke. The number of sparks varies, but fills up 20 degrees of crank rotation.
Above 3000 RPM, there is not enough time for multiple sparks, so the MSD sy! stems then
provide a single high power spark. The result of multiple sparks is easier starting,
smoother idling, and smooth, crisp, powerful acceleration. An added bonus of more complete
ignition is cleaner emissions.
Which MSD Box to Pick:
MSD produces quite a few multiple spark
ignition systems. The "6" Series seems to be most widely used and appropriate
for 914s. The models in this series include units with and without "soft touch"
rev limiters, which keep you from over reving your engine. The rev limit is set either by
a plug in "pill" with a designated rev limit, or an external adjustable control.
Some units include shock mounts, which are really not necessary on a 914. Other units are
available to meet NASCAR specs, to provide spark retard as turbo boost pressure increases
on turbo cars, or to provide mult! i-step retards and rev limits for cars using nitrous
oxide systems; not of much interest to 914 enthusists. All Series 6 units are "legal
to sell, distribute, or install on non-OBD II vehicles in California according to
Executive Order E.O. D-40-2 and legal in all 50 states." Here is a simple matrix of
feature of the most popular models:
6A, 6200 (6246*)
6T, 6400 (6446*)
The long and short of it all is that the 6A, part number
6200 works for most street 914s and the 6AL, offering rev limiting, might be considered
* One important note. MSD makes units which are designed to prevent
cross-fire on odd-fire V6 engines. These units have been known as 4/6 cylinder units (p/n
6246 or 6446). While they will work on our 914s, you are leaving horsepower on the table
if you use these units. The multiple spark duration of these odd- fire units is only 10
degrees of crank rotation and they do not provide as strong a spark above 3000 RPM
according to the techs at MSD. (I was mistakenly recommended a 6246 an! d used it for many
years before I learned this. MSD gladly converted my 6246 to a 6200 and I can really feel
Other Parts You Need:
Our 914s have VDO tachometers in the instrument
panels which do not understand multiple sparks. The good news is that MSD sells a
"tach adapter", part number 8910. There is no way around this. Just order it
when you order your MSD 6 unit.
If you have decided to get an MSD unit which
uses rev limiter modules (a.k.a. "pills"), you will need to order the
appropriate pill. The Series 6 units come with pills for 3000, 6000, 7000, and 8000 RPM.
The kit of five pills from 5100 to 5900 RPM, in 200 RPM steps, is part number 87451, from
5000 to 5800, in 200 RPM steps, is p/n 8745. Sorry, but they are only sold i! n these kits
This is also the time to upgrade your spark
wires. The sparks from an MSD system in addition to being more numerous, are much hotter.
Quality 8mm spiral wound wires work well. MSD makes a set of universal
"Heli-Core" wires that you cut to fit. The four cylinder set is part number 3104
and costs about $30. Don't buy their custom VW set as those wires will not plug into your
Bosch distributor cap. If you call MSD and ask real nicely, they might send you a set of
their excellent quality VW boot seals (they call them insulators). These are very solid
and fit tightly in the holes in the engine tin. (Tips on how to install these below).
While you are shopping, pick up some di-electric silicone grease for the spark wires and
some plug wire spacers. Mr. Gasket makes a set of nice looking blue plastic spacers that
cost only a few dollars from places like AutoZone. !
New spark wires will most likely require that
your spark plugs have the screw-on slip-over connectors which you probably removed and
threw away when you installed your plugs, since normal VW type wires slip onto the
threaded rods at the top of the plugs. So, either find four of those spark plug top
thingees, or buy a new set of plugs. You can consider a plug one step cooler for use with
the MSD system.
You may also want to invest in a new coil at
this point. The Bosch "blue" coil works quite well with the MSD systems. MSD
also makes a series of "Blaster" coils which, of course, work well with the MSD
While you are at it, you should go ahead and
replace your points and condensor (for the last time), cap and rotor.
Finally, you will need two crimp-on ring terminals: 12
gauge wire, 1/4" hole, to attach to the battery connections after you trim them.
Also, one or two 1/4" cable clamps are useful to tie down the magnetic pickup wire
(which you do not use, but should not cut off) and main harness. All other jumpers,
hardware, connectors, etc. you will need are included with the Series 6 kit.
Where to Mount It?
This seems to be a subject of personal taste,
but I will submit that having the shortest wires is a sound objective in selecting a
mounting location for MSD unit. To this end, mounting on the firewall, under the rear
window, above and to the right of the coil, near the battery, keeps all wires nice and
short. As an added bonus, when you open the engine lid, people notice your investment in
an MSD unit...
The unit is simply mounted with 4 #8x3/4" sheet metal
screws provided with the kit. The tach adapter can be mounted directly below the MSD unit
with two similar sheet metal screws.
While mounting the unit, secure the two wires
coming out to the unit. The short wire harness, used for magnetic triggering and not by
you, can be turned under the unit and tied off with a wire clamp sharing the lower left
mounting screw. The long wire harness, which goes down to the coil, can similarly be
secured at the lower right mounting screw.
NOTE: Disconnect battery ground while installing MSD unit. The heavy red
wire should be connected directly to your positive battery terminal connector. I found the
best place to connect the heavy black ground wire was the chassis lug! located behind the
battery, where the battery ground strap connects. A disconnect on the ground lug of the
battery is handy to have. In both cases, dress the wires neatly and cut them to length,
replacing the lugs with new crimp-on terminals.
The wiring of the MSD unit is well illustrated
in the excellent manual which accompanies the unit, but for the record:
Red wire: Red wire formerly on + side of coil Also connect to one side
of 8910 tach adapter (use splicer in kit to attach directly to red wire)
Black wire: - side of coil
Orange wire: + side of coil
White wire: (green) wire from points, wire from tach (black/purple).
(You can fashion a one to two wire adapter or use a splice co! nnector here) Also connect
other side of 8910 tach adapter (use splicer in kit to attach directly to white wire)
When attaching these wires, I recommend sticking with the connectors
already in place and using jumpers to make the female-to-female connections. In the event
of an unlikely failure of the MSD unit, it is a trivial matter to drop back to standard
spark but reconnecting the red coil wire (+), green point wire (-), and black/purple tach
wire (-) back onto the coil and drive off.
Set Plug Gap, Connections, and Points:
Install your new points and go ahead and set
the dwell angle with the old ignition system.
As noted in the MSD installation manual, the
gap on your spark plugs should be increased well beyond the normal .028" to around !
.050". My spark plug gap tool only goes to .040" and that seems to work, but you
should experiment with gaps up to .060" in .005" increments. Install the new
plug tops to match your new spark plug wires too before you reinstall the plugs. Do not
over-torque your plugs and ruin your day...
Installing New Spark Cables:
If you are installing new spark cables at this
time (and you should), follow the cutting an crimping directions in the kit. Using the MSD
wires with their VW air seals, you need to know the tricks to getting these in the holes.
First apply silicone dielectric grease to the inside of the connectors, center of the air
seals, and, with a Q-tip, to the notch on the bottom of the air seals. Now slide the air
seal all the way up the spark plug boot. Connect the boot to the plug, then work the air
seal back down the ! boot and work it into the tin hole until it seals all the way around.
Spark plug cables should have good separation,
not cross, and stay away from all metal. The use of a few wire spacers are helpful here.
New wires are pretty firm and stand up on their own with the wire spacers holding them
Install MSD Iginition Decal on Tool Box and Go
Tony Wong (Tony_W@swbell.net)
the following advice:
I have a comment about this article which is my experiences with running
a MSD 6A with a Bosch Blue coil. I killed two MSD units before I figured out
that I had sparks arcing from the high tension lead to the trigger of the coil. This
burned out my MSD units and gave me different symptoms until I saw the spark jump
from the high tension tower to the trigger post.
After my first MSD burned out, I bought the second unit with a set of
their 8mm heili core wires. I don't know if it was because of the rubber
boots leaking or if the insulation material in the Bosch coil cannot stand the
intense firing but, this was not enough to prevent damage to my MSD. I will admit
that I did not know about or order the rest of the wire hardware but I know that the
only way to stop the arcing was to wrap more insulating material around the high
Also, beware of a foggy or high humidity day in which you will
definitely get sparks arcing from your coil to the nearest ground. In the future, if
I can buy another MSD, I want to use another coil recommended by MSD.